Why do we have the Law?

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. ~Galatians 3:19
Today, someone online quoted this scripture, as part of a discussion about how the Law of Moses relates to us today. Here are some other translations that shed more light on the intent of that verse:

NLT:
Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people.
Aramaic Bible in plain English:
Why therefore is there The Written Law? It was added because of apostasy until The Seed would come to whom The Promise belonged, and The Written Law was given by Angels in the hand of a mediator.
God's WORD Translation:
What, then, is the purpose of the laws given to Moses? They were added to identify what wrongdoing is. Moses' laws did this until the descendant to whom the promise was given came to Abraham. It was put into effect through angels, using a mediator.
Weymouth New Testament:
Why then was the Law given? It was imposed later on for the sake of defining sin, until the seed should come to whom God had made the promise; and its details were laid down by a mediator with the help of angels.
Taking these additional translations into account, it becomes clear that the Law of Moses was given to teach and instruct.

Gill's Exposition has this to say:
"Wherefore why then serveth the law?".... If this be the case, might an objector say, why was the law given? what ends and purposes are to be served by it? of what use can it be? there had as good been no law at all, if the inheritance is not of it, and there is no justification by it. To which it is answered,
it was added because of transgressions; four hundred and thirty years after the covenant made with Abraham; it did not succeed it, nor take the place of it, and so make it null and void; but was over and above added unto it, for the sake of restraining transgressions; which had there been no law, men would not have been accountable for them; and they would have gone into them without fear, and with impunity; but the law was given, to lay a restraint on men, by forbidding such and such things, on pain of death; and also for the detecting, discovering, and making known transgressions, what they are, their nature and consequences; these the law charges men with, sets them before them, in their true light and proper colours; and convicts them of them, stops their mouths, and pronounces them guilty before God. . . .
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Lehi talked about this to Jacob in 2 Nephi 2:
5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.
 6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
 7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
 8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
 9 Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.
 10 And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement—
 11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
 12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
 13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
More from Gill:
"till the seed should come, to whom the promise was made": either Christ the seed of the woman, and of Abraham, who was to come in the flesh, and is come; and to whom the grand promise of life, and all the promises of the covenant were made; not for himself, but for those he represented, and in whom they are all secure: until whose coming to finish transgression, and bring in everlasting righteousness, the law was to continue in the form in which, and the use for which it was added, and then to cease as the ministration of Moses; for through the coming of Christ it received its full accomplishment, and came to an end; the ceremonial law was utterly abolished, and the moral law ceased to be a covenant of works, though it continues a rule of walk and conversation; and the whole Mosaic economy was no more: or else the seed here intends the spiritual seed of Abraham; particularly among the Gentiles, to whom the promise of blessedness, of justification, and eternal life was made; and the sense be, that till such time that a generation of faithful men, of believers in Christ, should arise among the Gentiles, the law was to continue with the Jews; but when they should spring up, the middle wall of partition should be broken down, and Abraham's spiritual seed among Jews and Gentiles make up one body, one people, and be fellow heirs and partakers of the promise of God in Christ, through the Gospel. . .
The key phrase there is "the ceremonial law was utterly abolished, and the moral law ceased to be a covenant of works, though it continues a rule of walk [how we live our lives] and conversation".

Some definitions, before we go on:

  • fulfilled: correct interpretation and performance of the commandments given by God. The law is "fulfilled" when it brings about the goal for which it was given, which only happens when people understand it the way God intended, and obey it so it can bear the desired fruit in their lives.
  • end: purpose, as in "for this end". That was a common usage in the early 1800's, as well.

Reading through various scriptures that talk about the law being fulfilled is eye opening when read with these definitions in mind. There are too many to all list here, but I'll share a couple.

3 Nephi 1:25:
But it came to pass that they soon became converted, and were convinced of the error which they were in, for it was made known unto them that the law was not yet fulfilled, {not yet properly understood, applied and obeyed} and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled; therefore in this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults.
3 Nephi 15:5:
Behold, I am He that gave the law, and I am He who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in Me is fulfilled {rightly performed so that it accomplishes its purposes}, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end {a purpose}.
And here are two talking about the end, or purpose, of the law:

2 Nephi 11:4:
4 Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.
And 2 Nephi 25:25:
25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
The purpose of the law was to teach men what sin IS. To show what God doesn't want people to do, and to set punishments for transgression, and to try to move the Israelites towards loving one another, if by no other way than preventing offenses through stiff punishments.

When Christ came, He was the fulfillment of the law because He lived it, every whit. His life showed the end, or purpose, of the Law, because through His actions, He became Righteousness.

Both the Law and Christ are halves of the same whole . . . one outlining what we shouldn't do, and the Other showing what we should, and the ultimate and ideal outcome that the law was trying to point toward.

Redemption: I do not think it means what you think it means.

"25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." ~2 Nephi 2:25, 27
Now, every LDS seminary student has heard these verses a thousand times. Most Mormons folk have heard them nearly that much. They're Scripture Mastery verses, intended for memorization, just two of the 25 passages from the Book of Mormon course.

Such a stellar job had been done of teaching these two verses that I had never paid much attention to what lay between them on the page: verse 26.
"26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."
When I read that, I did a triple-take. Did that just say what I think it said?

I read it again. 

And again. 

I stared, then stared some more. And I saw this looking back at me from the page:
"And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day . . ."
There it was! The doctrine of grace, explained. In the Book of Mormon! The way my own baptism of fire taught me to understand it! I was seriously stoked for days about this discovery, and told at least a half dozen people. (And have continued to share it ever since. I'm still pretty stoked about it. lol)

You see, this verse is what informed my understanding of salvation for most of my life:
"23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." 2 Nephi 25:23
Until the baptism of fire, I had understood the underlined words to mean we had to work our behinds off during our lives, and then, after it was all over and we left this life, THEN Jesus saved us, because we still weren't good enough. (Remember King Benjamin's "less than the dust of the earth"? Yeah. That.) 

We were saved by grace after we've done everything right we could possibly do right on earth. That's what "after all we can do" means, right?

Wrong.

All my life, I had ignored verse 20:
"20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved." 2 Nephi 25:20
 This verse speaks in a context of grace. The story of the brass serpent is such a powerful example of this . . . they only had to believe enough to look! And the water springing from the rock: Moses only had to ask. And even then, when he messed up and hit the rock instead of speaking to it, the Lord still gave His people the water they needed.

Key elements of 2 Nephi 25:26 have different meaning for me now. Here they are:

1) Redeemed from the Fall.

The Fall sent Adam & Eve out of the Garden of Eden, and out of the presence of God. It was the introduction of sin into the world, of mankind's willful following after of his or her own nature. So what does "redeemed from the fall" mean?

It means we have been brought back into the presence of the Father & Son.

This doesn't mean that if we try really, REALLY hard, we'll be brought back into the presence of the Father & the Son. It means we already have been brought back into the presence of Ahman and Jehovah. Their presence is all around us. Always. 24/7/365. Never a minute that we're not literally swimming in their presence. We're just deaf & blind to it, utterly unaware because we haven't been taught it's there . . . or even that it's possible to be in God's presence.

I'm reminded of a phrase from the 80's movie "Better Off Dead" that I watched on TV in the 90's, (since I was only nine when it came out), when Lane & Charles are at the top of the insane ski run. Lane is psyching himself up to take off down the mountain, and crazy Charles is freaking out about the snow that's everywhere, all around him, throat tight with excitement and nearly guy-screaming: 

"This is pure snow! It's everywhere! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?"

We're all in that very same situation, surrounded by the presence of God . . . and we wander around, wondering when we'll ever get to experience these things we've heard so much about, possibly even shushing those who, in their excitement, are trying to tell us about it. We have so many barriers in our minds, so many "I'll be worthy when's"  that we don't open our hearts & minds to what's available to us right now.

There are different levels of the presence of God, from spiritual awareness, to hearing, feeling or seeing in the Spirit, and then on to hearing, seeing and feeling in the flesh. But no matter which of these different ways you experience being in the presence of God, you're in the presence of God! Isn't that awesome? Amazing? Wonderful?

As our hearts become more open and willing to accept Him, to submit to Him, we can experience the presence of God more fully. For some, like King Lamoni's father, Paul, and many others, it's nearly immediate. For some, it takes more time as we figure out how to soften our hearts and leave behind the unbelief and unforgiveness, the fear and anger that shuts Him out. (More on unbelief/fear and unforgiveness/anger later.)

But whether the wind-up is long or short, the forgiveness we are told to receive is instant, complete, and changes us fundamentally.

2) Knowledge from Fall + Jesus' Atoning Sacrifice = free forever
Knowing good from evil*  is where humankind was up until Jesus won. When He claimed the victory and was seated in heavenly places upon His Father's throne, He then claimed the right to forgive everyone.

Everyone.

Forgiveness isn't simply not wishing someone harm, or even saying you wish them well. It is opening your heart to God fully, not keeping in reserve any corners of anger or pain, so His love can flow through you totally and fully for others. Forgiveness is allowing that love to flow through you for the person you have forgiven, in fullness. Nothing hindering or redirecting that gift that God gives so freely to us, and that we must give freely to all if we are to receive it in any measure.

Jesus loves everyone, unconditionally. He forgives everyone, totally. The only unknown quantity here is who will turn to Him and totally let go of what they're holding in their hearts so they can receive what He has to offer. Receiving a remission of your sins is instant. The Baptism of Fire and the Holy Spirit comes and burns it all away. You really do receive not only a remission of your sins and become a new creature born from the ashes, but can receive visions and feel as though you're surrounded by warmth. Some feel surrounded by fire, but not burned, or even uncomfortable.

*(We come to know good from evil as we make wrong choices and mess up. how else do you actually know what wrong is, until you've done it? You can know about wrongdoing, as Adam & Eve did after being told by God to not eat the fruit of that tree, beause they would die. But they didn't know what all that really meant, didn't know what the sorrow or consequences really were until they experienced them.)

3) We will NOT be acted upon until "the great and last day" of judgement.
Up until Jesus' Victory, God was required by justice and according to the law to strike people down. A whole lot of them, if the Old Testament is any example.  But since the battle was finished and Christ was seated on His Father's throne, the mercy of God has held sway. Mercy is what sustains us in our current state, what allows us to have access to the Love of Jesus Christ despite our uncleanness before Him. 

People still bear many of the consequences of their actions according to natural law and the agency of others, but God no longer is required to actually mete out direct punishments, like the earth opening and swallowing hundreds of the camp of Israel. Yeeee-ahhh. I'm so glad Jesus won. Aren't you? ;o)

We are not saved by grace after we've done everything. We are saved by grace, despite all we can do.

So.

What are we waiting for?

(We'll talk about that next . . . )

You Can Only Fool Yourself

Now go and completely destroy  the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.” ~1 Samuel 15:3
God's instructions are clear, simple, and straightforward. We best understand them through His Spirit, but even without the Holy Spirit's assistance, we can easily understand the meaning of His word.
Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality. ~1 Samuel 15:9
But how often and quickly do we humans take what God has said, and then put our own spin on it? How readily do we add to His instructions and will because it is appealing to us? We tell ourselves that we're fulfilling His command, but in breaking what we see as only part of His word, we disregard it completely. Adding even just a drop of gasoline to a tall glass of milk makes it completely undesirable.
Then the Lord  said to Samuel,  “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord  all night. Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. ~1 Samuel 15:10-12
The Lord cannot look upon sin with any degree of allowance. No matter what we personally believe our state of obedience is, wrong thinking about that state won't save us. Justification, excuses, they don't change what we've done. When we continue on in our idolatrous ways (putting our own desires or fear of mortals above and before what He instructed us) we utterly reject the God of Israel, our Savior and Redeemer, who gave everything for us. When we're in harmony with God, and listen to His Spirit, we are alive to the tragedy and loss that idolatry is. My heart goes out to Samuel, who had to go through that--had to witness Saul falling from the Lord's favor, despite the pleadings of an entire night.
Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.” When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord  bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!” ~1 Samuel 15:12-13
And meanwhile, those who have rationalized their idolatry continue on, having convinced themselves that all is well, they are blessed, and the Lord will be so, so pleased with what they've done. (After all, they worked their tails off getting it done, and look at what they accomplished!)
But Samuel replied,  “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” ~22-23
Samuel lays it out so clearly here: don't do it. When we transform the holy word of God, we break His command. Obedience to what God actually said, what He actually commanded is what He wants. Not the fat of rams. Not sacrifices. All of those things are already His . . . all He wants is our love. He wants a real, close, familiar relationship with each of us, so He can continually reveal to us more of the true extent of His love. Saul had convinced himself that he had done what the Lord commanded--but his delusion was no guard against the truth of what he had done.

I've been feeling lately that this time is one of urgent preparation, that I and my family need to draw close to the Lord, for the time is far spent. I need to know God, truly, for myself, and have a living, constant connection with Him as I go through each moment.

Father, thank you. Thank you for Your love, your patience, and the incredible Gift of Your Son that makes my happiness and peace and intimacy with You and Him so much easier. I praise You for Your eagerness to reveal Yourself to me, for the way you continually offer peace and freedom, righteousness and rejoicing, even in the hardest times. Lord, I pray that the hearts of those who profess Your name will be softened. That those who do many things in Your name might have a radical encounter with Your love, and be changed forever. Open their hearts and minds to know You, the only true and living God. You are good, faithful, kind and loving, and I rejoice that I can trust You completely, in everything, because You are perfectly just, too. I know that anything I endure for You will bring support and strength down from Heaven, and that You will redeem the pain, redeem the time, and bless me on every hand for what I might experience because I follow You. Lord, bless and guard my family. Lead them in the ways of truth and righteousness. Reveal Yourself to us more each day, and always show us better how to follow You, how to follow, Jesus, how to follow the Word of God. In Jesus' beautiful name, amen!

On Sabbath Observance

A friend recently asked a question about Sabbath observance on facebook. I wanted to keep a record of my response, as I'm pretty pleased with what I learned as I wrote it. :o)

We've been reevaluating how we spend our Sabbaths, because they weren't doing our family any good. Spending time together is important, but it felt like Sundays should be more than just hanging out in our living room. It was beginning to feel like our Sundays weren't much different from the Puritan Sabbaths you read about from over a hundred years ago, where they all sat in their living room, dressed in their Sunday best, and could do nothing but read scripture or ponder or pray silently, from sun-up to sun-down. We weren't tying our children to kitchen chairs ;o), but we felt so isolated--and we knew that was doing no good for the Kingdom of God. We were put here to have relationships with each other, and with God. I've long felt a lot of pressure to feel like the company of my husband and children should be all I need . . . but really, our life as a family is SO much better when we reach out to others, and spend time with them. (Spending time as a family doesn't mean your family needs to be alone, either.) Yes, visiting the sick or elderly is part of that, but so is just spending time with other families or people we know. Wherever we go, whatever we do, the Light of Christ should shine from us, illuminating the world. We don't have to be preaching or reading scripture or cloistering ourselves in our homes to keep our modern Sabbath holy. The Sabbath is something we live, something we create in our hearts, that floods the world around us and bathes it in our Savior's love. In Christ's time, Saturdays were the Sabbath--the day of rest. Sundays were the day the believers gathered to celebrate the Victory of Christ over sin and death. It was a day to have a big'ol Resurrection Party. Building relationships is what Christ is about. (Hello, Eternal Families!) But it's not just about that kind of family. It's about loving and being kind to everyone around us--the family of God. Our modern communities are so fractured and brittle . . . and I say if you help repair that through your daughter's friendships at a birthday party, then go for it. My question, if I were in your situation, would be: How am I approaching this party? Am I going to distract myself from the fact that I'm not living every minute bathed in the love and light of Jesus Christ? Or will I shine His love into the hearts and lives of those I'll be with? I'm not saying that every Sunday should be spent at parties, or that we should never have family time. Each family is different . . . there are some Sundays, when our family has felt besieged and battered, that Vern and I gather the children around us and we all soak up one another's comforting company. Sometimes we're blessed with an unexpected visit from a friend or ward member that loves us a whole lot--those visits are especial treasures, because someone listened to the Holy Ghost and came when we were in need. But there are plenty of other days when we have an abundance of Christ's love to share, and I feel like always staying home puts that light under a bushel. (I'm wracking my brain, trying to remember where in the scriptures it says that Sundays are a family day . . . I've read it in a ton of secular books & magazines, but can't remember if/where it's in the word of God . . . ) But really, it's not about birthday parties on a certain day of the week. That's the spirit of the old law, the law of performances and ordinances that Christ fulfilled with His victory. It's about the state of our hearts, and whether or not we're living the will of our Lord. "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt 22:36-40 KJV) If there are traditions or practices in our lives that don't support and help us fulfill those two commandments, then those traditions need close and prayerful examination to determine if they're really doing what Jesus Himself told us to do. Bottom line: if Christ is enthroned in your heart, you can listen to what it says, and know that He'll be pleased with your choice.

I Choose to Walk in Christ!

Scripture: Jeremiah 46:28

Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, for I am with you,” says the Lord . “I will completely destroy the nations to which I have exiled you, but I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you, but with justice; I cannot let you go unpunished.”

Observation:

This was life under the law.  Israel merited justice, because they hadn't turned to Christ.  The Old Testament is full of examples of the Lord forgiving His people . . . but if they refuse to repent, justice claims its due, and as it says in the last phrase, the Lord cannot let the unrepentant go unpunished.

Application:

I'm SO glad I have been given the chance to know Christ.  To walk in His sacrifice each and every day.  To live in a completely new and different way . . . a gentler, merciful, loving way.  To not feel compulsion to beat myself up for each and every shortcoming or failure, and to have the simple ease of forgiving all men in the same way flow from that forgiveness I feel surrounding me that comes from my Savior.

I feel like I should write and write about this.  It's radically revolutionary to the way I was taught.  I was taught something like this:

Sin:Repentance = 1:1

When, in reality, when you have been washed clean, it's a much more organic, constant process.  I can stumble and mess up in a whole bunch of ways during a period of time, but it just takes one coming back to Jesus to make it all right again.  (Apologizing & restoring if I've hurt or destroyed along my merry way, of course.)  But it's not a game of trying to remember each and every blunder I've made, asking forgiveness for each and every one, and torturing myself over and over, trying to remember them all, and to make proper atonement for each myself.  I just have to turn to Christ, and He comes and walks me through it all, healing and fixing and teaching along the way.  This is SO much better than the "old" way, living under justice, instead of mercy.  This is grace.

Prayer: 

Father, I praise you for your incredible gift of Jesus.  I praise Jesus for His astounding love and sacrifice . . . every minute of every day, for His whole life, He lived blameless, so he could pay for the wreckage I create, blundering through life with the best intentions.  I have trouble, some days, with living blameless for three minutes, let alone 33 years.  Guide me today, show me the path You want me to tread.  Teach me Your will, Your ways, Your love and Your forgiveness each and every day.  I glory that Your mercy is brand-spankin-new every morning.  That I'm continually presented with a shiny new chance to live in Your will for me, to drink from the fountain of Living Water, and to be filled!  You are so, so Good, God of mine, and I will rejoice in You forever.  (And oh, what a wonderful eternity that will be! :o)  In Jesus' most precious name I pray, amen.