Personally Benefiting from the Bible’s Laws and Principles
“Also, your own servant has been warned by them; in the keeping of them there is a large reward.”—Ps. 19:11.
1. Under what law are Christian living today, and why are there many similarities in the Law given to Israel?
TODAY the followers of Jesus Christ are living under the law of the Christian system of things. The law is administered by Jesus Christ, not under Israel’s old law covenant, but under the new covenant put into operation by Christ’s shed blood. In the statutes under the Mosaic law covenant there are many similarities to those of the Christian system of things. This is to be expected because ‘the Law was holy, and the commandment holy and righteous and good.’ It was “spiritual.” (Rom. 7:12, 14) And as having a shadow of the good things to come, the Mosaic Law shows us God’s thinking and his manner of dealing with his people.—Heb. 10:1.
2. Why did the Jews under the Law need help, and what help was provided by Jehovah?
2 But the Law condemned the nation of Israel because of their violation of God’s covenant. They were said to be under a curse by it. (Gal. 3:10) For this very reason Jesus Christ died on a torture stake. By his death he could redeem the Jews from their sinfulness inherited from their forefather Adam. More than that, by the manner of his death he could remove the additional curse that the Law had brought on the Jews because of their violation of it. The apostle Paul, himself a Jew, explains this when he says: “Christ by purchase released us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of us, because it is written: ‘Accursed is every man hanged upon a stake.’” (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:23) Their atonement day sacrifices each year, the apostle says, sanctified to the extent of cleanness of the flesh, but were unable to impart to the Jews cleanness of conscience.—Heb. 9:9, 13, 14.
THE LAW OF THE CHRISTIAN SYSTEM
3. Are Christians condemned by the law of the Christian system, or is it easier to keep? Explain.
3 Are Christians similarly condemned by the law of the Christian system of things? Or, is the Christian law easier, so that they can live up to it? Neither! The law of the Christian system of things is of an even higher standard, for in Romans 3:31 the apostle Paul writes concerning Christian faith and says: “Do we, then, abolish law by means of our faith? Never may that happen! On the contrary, we establish law.” Through Christ Jesus, Jehovah restores all things as he purposed them at the beginning, when He performed the marriage of Adam and Eve. For example, under the Jewish law polygamy was practiced, and divorce was allowed on grounds besides that of adultery. It was not God’s time to restore marriage to its original status. Jesus Christ explained that the Law merely made a concession to the Jews because of their hardness of heart.—Matt. 19:7, 8.
4. What promise did Jehovah long ago make concerning his laws?
4 God had promised that he would in time enable his people to keep his laws completely: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I shall put inside you, and I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And my spirit I shall put inside you, and I will act so that in my regulations you will walk, and my judicial decisions you will keep and actually carry out.”—Ezek. 36:26, 27; Heb. 9:10.
NOT CONDEMNATION, BUT LIFE
5. What is the difference in the situation of Christians and ancient Israel as to God’s law?
5 What, then, is the difference in the situation of Christians from that of the Israelites who were under the Mosaic Law and were condemned by it? This: we would be hopelessly unable to keep the law of Christ (which is God’s law for Christians) were it not for the fact that he provided for us a better sacrifice than that arranged for under the Mosaic Law. (Heb. 9:23; 10:8-10) Whereas, up until the time of Pentecost, 33 C.E., all mankind was under the rule of ‘kings’ sin and death, now God’s undeserved kindness rules as king. (Rom. 5:14, 21) The sacrifice of Christ provides forgiveness of sin for all those putting faith in him, for we read in 1 John 2:2: “He is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s.”
6. Why could no one keep the Law, but how can Christians keep the law of Christ?
6 Now, no imperfect man under the perfect law set forth through Moses could keep it. For illustration, he might not be one committing murder or adultery; he might not be a thief; but the tenth commandment would convict him, because it prohibited wrong desire. An individual could never overcome the sinful flesh by his own efforts. Under the Law covenant, God’s spirit operated to help faithful men to be pleasing to him and to do the work he gave them. But under the law of Christ, God’s undeserved kindness through the sacrifice of Christ enters in. Through Christ the Christian can really come to know God and draw close to him. (1 John 2:3, 4, 14; 4:8) Forgiveness of sins gives him a clean conscience. (Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 3:21) He is actually on the road to life. (John 17:3; 2 Tim. 1:10) God’s spirit operates in a way to help him progressively to change his personality to come nearer to the image of God.—Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:10.
7. What help does Jehovah provide today so that we can keep his laws?
7 Though there is no rule for his every action, the Christian has God’s law written in his heart and God’s spirit dwells in him at all times, aiding him to discern the right course to take. The holy spirit empowers the individual to overcome the desires of the flesh. When, through his inherited sinfulness, he violates the law of God, undeserved kindness and mercy come in to forgive him on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. In this way he maintains a clean standing at all times before God. A Christian would be condemned only if he were to become a deliberate, rebellious breaker of God’s law. (Rom. 8:1-4) So in Hebrews 10:26-29 we read: “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition. Any man that has disregarded the law of Moses dies without compassion, upon the testimony of two or three. Of how much more severe a punishment, do you think, will the man be counted worthy who has trampled upon the Son of God and who has esteemed as of ordinary value the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has outraged the spirit of undeserved kindness with contempt?”
LAWS AND PRINCIPLES
8. When it comes to obedience to God’s instructions, why can we not make a distinction between “principle” and “law”?
8 A principle is defined as a general or fundamental truth; a comprehensive or fundamental law, doctrine or assumption on which others are based or from which others are derived; a governing law of conduct. When it comes to obedience to instructions from God, we cannot make a distinction between principles and laws. Every statement of God governing his people and every judicial decision of God is a law to them.
9. Although the two greatest commandments in the Law could not be enforced by human agency, can they nevertheless be call “laws”?
9 Jesus said the greatest commandment in the Mosaic Law was to love God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second was to love one’s neighbor as one’s own self. (Mark 12:29-33) Now, neither the Law to Israel nor the law of Christ states any specific punishment that human agents should apply to an Israelite failing to show love, unless that failure manifests itself in some overt wrong action, such as stealing, murder, and so forth. Nevertheless, although no punishment was decreed for one’s failure to love God and neighbor, the Christian writer James calls the command to love one’s neighbor a LAW, the “kingly law.”—Jas. 2:8.
10, 11. (a) Name various authorities that can enforce laws toward Christians. (b) Is it possible to avoid the consequences of violating a law of God that human agencies cannot enforce?
10 In discussing this matter, it is good to have in mind that there are different degrees of authority under the supreme authority of Jehovah God. For example, if we violate the law governing natural things, we find that it is enforced simply by means of processes that Jehovah has placed in these things themselves and in the way that they are related to one another. There is also the law of the husband over the wife, which confers relative authority, having its limiting boundaries. (Eph. 5:22-24) There is the law of the “superior authorities,” to whom God did not give authority, but whom he permits to exercise authority in the governmental field. This authority he commands the Christian to obey, but it too is a relative authority, inferior to that of God. Accordingly we read, in Romans 13:1-4: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God. Therefore he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves. For those ruling are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad. Do you, then, want to have no fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it; for it is God’s minister to you for your good. But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword; for it is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.”
11 Another authority exercised is that of the congregation over its members. It is relative, in that the congregation is answerable to God and Christ. Laws exist in the Christian arrangement that only God can enforce, such as to love one’s Christian brothers, to honor and respect others and their rights and to avoid wrong desire and covetousness. And he will enforce them. We cannot avoid the consequences of wrongdoing. God tells us plainly: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Gal. 6:7.
12. Who may enforce God’s law in matters in which the congregation does not have the power?
12 It is good to keep in mind that the angels are active to “collect out from [God’s] kingdom all . . . persons who are doing lawlessness.” (Matt. 13:41) Such individuals may not commit any wrong that the congregation can act upon to expel them. Nevertheless, they do not obey God’s law through Christ, for which cause the angels enforce the law by putting them out.
13. (a) How does the Christian’s dedication oblige him to obey every word of Jehovah? (b) In this respect, what is the contrast between the spirit of the world and the Christian’s attitude?
13 Christians must appreciate these facts. Their dedication is not to an organization nor to a work. Neither is it to a human or a government; it is only to the Creator himself, to Jehovah God, through Jesus Christ. Therefore, every command from his mouth is law to them and they know that they must live by it, just as Jesus said to the Devil: “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matt. 4:4) If they do not live by it, it will be enforced against them. The spirit of God motivates them to love him and not to think that they can choose which of his laws they will obey and which they will disobey or ignore. It is the spirit of the world to try to “get by” with wrongdoing. The world’s spirit is that, if a person does not get caught, he has actually evaded the penalties of the law. As one commentator remarked, many people live by an eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not get caught.”
ALL GOD’S LAWS ENFORCED
14. (a) Do those sinning and escaping detection go unpunished? (b) What rule did the apostle Paul state about this?
14 It is true that oftentimes an individual violates some law of the land and the crime is never uncovered. Therefore, that person does not suffer the penalty laid down by the law of the land. Some may commit adultery and may never be discovered. Consequently they think that they have evaded the penalties in the law of the family and the law of the land. Perhaps in some cases they even escape detection in the Christian congregation, at least for a time. As a result they feel they can continue sinning with impunity. As we read, in Ecclesiastes 8:11: “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad.” But do these people actually escape the consequences of their acts? No! Because all laws and principles of God are sure to be enforced, either through natural processes, by an agency of God, or by God himself. The apostle Paul states the governing rule in these matters: “The sins of some men are publicly manifest, leading directly to judgment, but as for other men their sins also become manifest later.”—1 Tim. 5:24.
PURPOSE OF CONGREGATIONAL ACTION
15. (a) What is the primary purpose of congregational action against a violator of God’s law? (b) When and toward whom is disciplinary action involved?
15 In the Christian congregation there are definite laws against adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, murder, stealing and other things, any of which, when committed by a Christian, would bring reproach from the world against the congregation. These things the Bible has put under the authority of the congregation, that is, it is required to take some action. (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 13) This action is not the punishment that the law calls for, at least not by any means the full punishment for the deed. The congregation acts, not primarily to punish the person, but to clear itself of reproach, uncleanness and contamination by cutting off (expelling) such a one from membership in the congregation. It may, if he is repentant, take disciplinary measures and place certain restrictions on him. If he is disfellowshiped (expelled), it is not to discipline him, but to get him out of God’s clean organization. The action also serves as an example working for the disciplining of the congregation. This is how we are to understand 1 Timothy 1:20; 5:20, where we read: “Hymenaeus and Alexander belong to these, and I have handed them over to Satan that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” “Reprove before all onlookers persons who practice sin, that the rest also may have fear.”
16. Why can we say that proper congregational action against a wrongdoer is an expression of God’s will?
16 The congregation acts according to the authority given it by God to maintain the congregation’s good standing before God and to vindicate God’s righteousness before the world. God himself has stated in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 that the practice of such things will keep one out of the Kingdom. In this case Jesus’ words apply: “Whatever things you [God’s earthly representatives] may bind on earth will be things bound in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18) God has already made his will clear in the matter. The Christian congregation carries it out by expelling the offender.
LOVE FOR NEIGHBOR
17. How is the law to love one’s neighbor more extensive than it was in the Law given to Israel?
17 On the other hand, in the Christian system of things there are also laws such as loving God and one’s fellowman; in fact, the Christian law in this matter is more extensive than the law of Moses. How? The latter law said: “You must love your fellow as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) But Jesus told his apostles: “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.” He went on to define that love, saying: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:12, 13) This is a LAW. In places such as Russia, Jehovah’s witnesses are doing just this. They love those who love God and his law, and at great danger to their freedom and even their lives they go to take to these people the good news of the Kingdom. A corollary law is that we should not love the world or be its friends. In 1 John 2:15 it is written: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Also, in James 4:4: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.”
18, 19. How is the law to attend Christian meetings one that the Christian should take as seriously as other laws of the Christian arrangement?
18 Then, there is a law that we should attend the Bible study meetings of God’s people, as set out in Hebrews 10:24, 25, which reads: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” We are commanded not even to have the desires and cravings of this world for material things and its yearnings for sensual satisfaction. (1 John 2:15, 16) On these things there is certainly a sanction or exacting of a penalty even though the application of the sanction is not within the authority of the congregation; it is to be applied by God himself. Therefore, one who obeys or disobeys one of these laws is certain to experience corresponding repayment. For that matter, does the person who violates the law on adultery and who is disfellowshiped have full punishment applied by the congregation? No, for if he does not repent, he will eventually receive the full punishment, death, not from the congregation, but at the hand of God.—Heb. 10:26-31.
19 Say, for purposes of illustration, that an individual persistently neglects to attend meetings. He comes to the point where he is completely disassociated from the congregation, not having any concern at all for Jehovah’s arrangements for His people to meet together. The congregation does not take any action against him; they have recognized his wrong course and have tried to help him; but he has on his own drifted away and disassociated himself. Now, if he remains in this state, is he, nonetheless, not in danger? He is in great peril, for in the coming “great tribulation” he will be destroyed just as surely as the individual who has taken an obviously wrong course.—Matt. 24:21, 22.
20. How will the law on bad associations be enforced on the violator?
20 Another example is the law against bad associations. Jehovah commanded the Israelites that they should not practice interfaith or make marriage alliances with the pagan nations, because it would result in turning their children from following their God. (Deut. 7:2-4) He tells his people today to be no part of the world and, furthermore, not even to associate in close relationship with those of the world. The apostle Paul points out the reason: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) The congregation will take no adverse action against a person for merely ignoring this law. But he is in an unfavorable position before God. Moreover, bad associations will in time surely lead him into overt acts, such as drunkenness, stealing or perhaps even worse, some form of bloodguilt through reckless driving, maybe accidental or intentional manslaughter.
21. How should we view counsel concerning traits, appearance and like matters, and what might we gain or lose by following or rejecting it?
21 Then at times we are admonished or warned, perhaps by the Bible, through The Watchtower, or by a responsible person in the congregation, regarding certain bad traits, or improper dress; or it might be we are following customs that are not compatible with Christian behavior. Our actions may be causing others to be offended or stumbled. They may give the wrong impression of our ministry to outsiders. We should not ignore such warning simply because there is no penalty that the congregation can apply. Rather, we should take heed and make over our personalities, not be governed by the deceptive desires of the old personality, but be made new in the force actuating our mind. (Eph. 4:22-24) We should not resist with the attitude that we do not want to let anyone else tell us what is best for us. Jehovah is really the one telling us, so that we can gain life. In God’s new order we will have to make spiritual progress first in order to achieve physical healing and perfection. If we do not make this effort now, will we be the kind of persons whom Jehovah will want to have in his new earth?
PREACHING AND TEACHING
22. How is obedience to the law to preach a matter of life or death to us?
22 Then there is the law stated by Jesus: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14; 2 Tim. 4:2) Since we are dedicated to Jehovah God and since Christ Jesus is God’s Chief Agent, by whose blood God purchased us, his words are a command, a law to us. (Acts 3:23; 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20) Again, at Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” Is an immediate penalty enforced if you do not preach? No. Nonetheless, refusal to preach the good news of the Kingdom can keep one out of God’s kingdom, just as can adultery, homosexuality and murder. In Romans 10:10 we read: “With the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.” Jesus expressed God’s mind on such things when, speaking about the Mosaic Law, he said: “Whoever, therefore, breaks one of these least commandments and teaches mankind to that effect, he will be called ‘least’ in relation to the kingdom of the heavens,” which means that he will not be there at all.—Matt. 5:19.
GUARD YOUR HEART
23. What is wrong with the person who is careful to obey only those laws that he knows humans will be able to enforce?
23 Consequently, a person may obey some of the laws of God because they are matters in which the congregation can take disciplinary or disfellowshiping action. But he may ignore others of God’s laws that will not be enforced by human authority. This person does not have the right mental attitude. He is thinking like the wicked man who says: “Jah does not see.” (Ps. 94:7) His spirit is bad and his attitude fleshly, not spiritual. He needs to make his mind over and get the “mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:14-16) Such a one does not have love in his heart for God or for his neighbor. He is thinking only of himself and he does not recognize that Jehovah God requires faithfulness in the least of things and that he demands an accounting in all things from his servants.—Luke 16:10; Rom. 14:12; Heb. 4:13.
24. What example do we have of the importance of guarding the heart?
24 A Christian must be sure that his heart is right, that it is motivating him in the right direction. Otherwise, he should give attention to his heart and begin to serve God because he loves him and his law. If a person does not love Jehovah with all his heart he will turn out to be like those mentioned by the apostle John who went out from the Christian congregation in the apostasy. John said: “Young children, it is the last hour [before the great apostasy fully manifests itself (after the apostles passed off the scene)], and, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there have come to be many antichrists; from which fact we gain the knowledge that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us. But they went out that it might be shown up that not all are of our sort.” (1 John 2:18, 19) These persons were not the right-thinking, loyal sort. They had failed to use their hearts and minds by calling upon God, studying the law of the Christ and then applying these principles in their lives.
THE CHRISTIAN CAN SUCCEED
25. Can Christians be successful in obeying the law of Christ, and what enables them to do so?
25 Happily Christians can obey the law of Christ and have God’s approval. This is possible through the undeserved kindness of God exercised toward us on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. It is not the letter of the law, but it is the spirit of God that directs us to success. (2 Cor. 3:6) If we are directed by the spirit, then we will not practice any wrongdoing. If we walk according to the spirit, we will do the works of the spirit and not those of the flesh. In fact, though we are not under the Mosaic Law, we can even keep the righteous requirement of that law by walking in accord with the spirit! (Rom. 8:4, 5) If, because of our fleshly weaknesses, we inadvertently break God’s law given through Christ, we will acknowledge it. We will be sorry for it, repent, turn around and change our course and call upon God through Christ Jesus to forgive us. Furthermore, we will turn to his organization for help, and we will succeed. This is possible for us because Christ is our great High Priest, who offered his life as a ransom. Jehovah will administer undeserved kindness and help in time of need. Accordingly, we read in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us, therefore, approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”
26. How can we profit in our Christian course by considering the faithful men of ancient times?
26 When we look back at the examples God has set forth for us in the past, we find that all those of faith ‘walked with God.’ They did it from the heart. They followed the way of truth. They did not have to have a written rule to guide every move they made, but their love for God was rewarded with his favor and he guided them in the way that they went so that they did not stumble to a complete fall. If we draw close to Jehovah, he will draw close to us. (Jas. 4:8) We must study his Word in order to do this. It is a storehouse of wisdom. In fact, wisdom is personified by the writer of Proverbs and is represented as saying: “Those loving me I myself love, and those looking for me are the ones that find me. Riches and glory are with me, hereditary values and righteousness. My fruitage is better than gold, even than refined gold, and my produce than choice silver. In the path of righteousness I walk, in the middle of the roadways of judgment, to cause those loving me to take possession of substance; and their storehouses I keep filled.”—Prov. 8:17-21.
27. How does Psalm 19:9 show us that the laws of Jehovah are correct from the spiritual, moral and physical viewpoints?
27 Yes, the laws of Jehovah can guide us to life and are correct from every viewpoint, spiritual, moral and physical. He says: “The fear of Jehovah is pure, standing forever. The judicial decisions of Jehovah are true; they have proved altogether righteous.”—Ps. 19:9.
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Every command of God is law to Christians, whether enforced by any human agency or not
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God’s law directs us to gather together for worship. If we persistently ignore it, will he preserve us through the “great tribulation”?
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Do we favorably respond to counsel from God’s Word on the need for modest dress?
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Is it truly love for Jehovah and his law that motivates you to preach about his kingdom? That is what pleases God