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What Does the Bible Say About..Knowing Laws?

With all the Laws, man’s and the Bible’s, how does one stay on the right side when you can't know them all? Is there somewhere in the Bible that tells use what to do?


You don’t need to know all the laws of your government. Sometimes they will tell you what laws you need to know in a given situation (by posting speed limit signs, for instance). Some laws you may never need to know, or only need to know if you are in a given circumstance (such as needing to know real estate law only if you are a realtor or are buying or selling property). Some laws are so part of the culture that they don’t need to be taught to most people (such as laws against murder). Some laws may not apply to most people (election campaign finance laws, diplomatic immunity, etc.). People tend to learn the laws that apply to them and count on experts to let them know about the laws that they don’t know. Nevertheless, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” If you break a law without knowing about it, you are still liable to the punishment appropriate to that law.

Now, how does that apply to God’s laws? Is there somewhere in the Bible that tells us what to do? Yes, there is. God gave the Jewish nation a lot of laws (some say 613). And yet the rabbis (including Jesus) said that the Law was summed up in two statements. “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.” (Matthew 22:37-40) If these were the summary of the Law of Moses, how much easier should it be to summarize the Law of Christ. “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4:21)

Now there are things God considers sinful, primarily because they are unloving. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) There are similar lists that may contain the same or different sins. But they can all be summed up by saying, “anything you would want men to do to you, that is what you should do to them.” (Matthew 7:12)

Your question, though, reveals an attitude that is unfortunately shared by many people. It is the idea that if I do everything right I will go to heaven and if I do anything wrong I will go to hell. This is sometimes called legalism. It shows itself in the idea that one can counteract sin by doing penance. Others take the idea that enough good deeds overcome any bad deeds. Some may even go so far as to create a formula for how many good deeds are needed to overcome a particular type of bad deed. This attitude also shows itself in classifying sin as big or little, mortal or venial, deadly or not so deadly. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to counteract this idea.

“As many as are under the works of legalism are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not to do all things which are written in the book of the law.” (Galatians 3:10) “Christ has become ineffective to you, any of you who is justified by legalism; you are fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4) “For, my brothers, you have been called to liberty; only do not use your liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

Under the laws of man, if you break a law you are liable to the punishment of the law, even if you were unaware of it. In the kingdom of Christ, the church, if you unknowingly sin, someone else (Christ) has already taken the punishment. “If we walk in the light, as he [God] is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son continually cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) We don’t have to know every detail about what is sin, because God will forgive those that are his. As long as we have received forgiveness of sins, that forgiveness continues as long as we are trying to do what God wants.