Last week we discussed how the term “Judgment Seat” came about. We see in Exodus 18 how Moses’ father-in-law helps Moses look at judgment differently, minimizing the time he spends on the judgment seat. All this occurs before Moses visits God on Mount Sinai and receives the stone tablets containing the Law. Prior to receiving the Law, Moses’ judgment is the way the people of Israel learn the ways of God. In Exodus, we read,
“Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.’ “ (Exodus 24:12 NASB).
This is a very important point. The purpose of the Law is for instruction. The Law teaches us how to live a life that is pleasing to God. The Law is a “How-To” handbook for abiding with a God that can only co-exist with righteousness. If the Ten Commandments were published on the Internet today, perhaps the link would read, “10 Ways to Get Along with God.” Ah, but that’s the problem of the Law… no one can get it right all the time. In Romans, the Apostle Paul says “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23 NLT).
The criminal laws of the U.S. are divided into various levels of misdemeanors and felonies. Any first-year law student will tell you that the underlying reason for these divisions are differences in punishments. No culture exists that isn’t guided at least in part by the principle that the “punishment should fit the crime.” The human mind has an innate sense that some infractions are less evil than others. It’s easy to see how human reasoning views some people as “good” and some as “bad.” With this outlook, I might hope to stand before God one day and hear Him proclaim that for the most part, my intentions were good and He could often count on me to do the right thing. However, that’s not how it works.
Here’s where we really see the sting of the Law. The Creator and King of the universe has no fellowship with sin. Any sin, no matter how small, can separate us from God. The Apostle Paul says, “For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power.” (I Cor. 15:56 NLT). As is commonly quoted, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23 NLT).
It’s really pretty simple. The Law defines sin, which in turn, produces death. Without grace, the outcome of the Judgment Seat is always death. We are dead in our sins. Rules and order and law always sound efficient and orderly; but the byproduct of making the Law your co-conspirator is always death.
We said the purpose of the Law is instructional. That might be the grandest understatement in history. In fact, the Law is the most powerful educational tool ever created. It’s not that the Law teaches us right from wrong; we already know good and evil by nature. Paul writes to the churches of Galatia, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ,” (Galatians 3:24). In other words, when we stand “toe to toe” with the Law and understand its consequences, our eyes are opened and we clearly see our hopelessness before God. Our thoughts are immediately driven from judging those around us and for a moment, we see only our own shortcomings. It is at that point that we can see and believe the grace that has been afforded us in Christ Jesus. John 1:17 says, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” In Matthew 5:17, Jesus explains that He came not to abolish but to fulfill or complete the Law.
What then, is the real evidence of our salvation? The grace and mercy we extend to others is the only concrete expression of our thankfulness to God. We have been given understanding that our only hope is in Jesus. Grace and mercy saturate our lives. Grace emanates toward those with whom we interact. Grace flows between fellow believers; grace overtakes unbelievers we encounter. I’m thankful the Law came through Moses, but the Law is nothing but death to me, except that it taught me grace and truth are realized through Christ Jesus .
Still, we as individuals and groups of Christians continue to falter between the idea of communicating God’s anger or God’s grace. The redemption of Christ fulfills the Law, enabling us to stand by God’s grace. The Old Testament is typified by a hard and lonely Judgment Seat. However, Jesus sits upon a throne of grace and there’s no more welcoming place in the universe.
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16).