For as long as written legal systems have existed, many similarities emerge across centuries, geographic locations, and people groups.
The Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian legal code written in 1755 BC, makes murder, theft, and adultery capital crimes, punishable—in most cases—by death.
The Cuneiform law was used throughout ancient Middle East, by the Hittites, Hurrians, Sumerians, and Assyrians, and it also prescribes a death sentence for murder and robbery.
Traditional Chinese law, dating back to the 6th century BC, was a historically strict legal code. In this system, the emperor protected his power by imposing extremely harsh penalties on people who failed to do what the state commanded. And again, murder, adultery, theft, and lying all appear on the list of criminal actions.
How did all these various cultures separately create similar legal systems? Those who reject the Bible will be quick to say that Moses borrowed from Babylon and the Bible simply repeated earlier codes of law. However, the apostle Paul informs us in Romans 1 that every person understands the existence of God and has received the truth of God’s law, “written on their hearts.”
Paul writes: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice [immorality] deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:31).
Even today in America, murder, stealing, and lying before Congress or in front of a judge are serious legal violations and come with serious consequences.
God’s laws are just as relevant today as they were when Moses walked down Mount Sinai with stone tablets in his hands.
To understand why God gave us His written law, we must first understand the limitations of the law—what the law cannot do.
THE LAW CANNOT JUSTIFY FROM SIN.
The law is entirely incapable of offering atonement for sin and justification in the eyes of God. A policeman can give you a ticket for speeding but not forgiveness for breaking the law.
The truth is, no one perfectly keeps the requirements of the law (Romans 3:23). In fact, God’s plan for salvation has always been through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, and never through perfect fulfillment of the law (Acts 13:39).
THE LAW CANNOT PRODUCE PEACE.
It can be so easy to look at a moral person and think, “That person has it together. They do not need anything I can offer.” But don’t be fooled by your observations.
Even if someone were perfectly keeping the law—if that were actually achievable—they would not experience a guilt-free conscience. Morality never creates inner peace. The peace that comes from being forgiven does not depend on external morality, but an inward relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, what purpose does the law have in our lives today? If it cannot be followed perfectly, cannot bring about salvation and cannot give us peace, what’s the point?
THE LAW REVEALS GOD’S HOLINESS.
The holiness of God requires that God is separate from sin—God cannot sin. And God is glorified when His people strive to honor Him by pursuing holiness in their personal lives. God’s law provides His followers with the road signs to point us in the right direction.
THE LAW REVEALS MAN’S SINFULNESS.
Christians accept the truth of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” How do we know that we fall short? By comparing our lives to the standard – the law of God.
It’s easy to rationalize our sin, or excuse our bad behavior when compared to others, isn’t it? By comparing our lives to others, we look better than we are.
Perhaps you’re wasting time at work, justifying it by saying, “Well that other person spends hours on their phone at work.”
Maybe you’ve had to deal with this issue with your children, when you catch one in sin and they respond with, “My sister did something even worse . . . and they didn’t get caught!”
Another way we excuse sin is by labeling it with different terms. “I’m not a thief, I just withheld a little information on my tax returns.” “Nothing I said was a lie, I just chose to selectively withhold information.” “I’m not an adulterer in the literal sense, I just let my eyes wander on the internet.”
When we honestly compare ourselves to the standards of God’s law, we find ourselves falling dreadfully short of the standards He revealed.
THE LAW SHOWS OUR NEED FOR A SAVIOR.
Once we properly understand the holiness God demands from us, and how far we fall short of that holy standard, we rejoice in the hope of God’s promise that a Savior died to pay the penalty for all our sins.
Our efforts will always be inadequate. The work of Christ is sufficient. In Him we can have forgiveness from sin and the promise of a future home with Him in heaven.