t was the first day of our (budget) vacation. My husband was driving along, minding his own business, when suddenly flashing blue lights appeared behind us. Two miles back my husband had found himself speeding down a hill, and had taken his foot off the gas pedal. Alas for good intentions! Frankly, I was hoping for a little mercy from the police officer, considering that it was the first day of vacation, budget and all. No such luck. the full force of the law was applied against us, and we drove away sadder but wiser.
That's the nature of law. If you transgress in any way and are caught, the penalty must be paid. Law demands justice for wrongs committed. It never, ever offers forgiveness. Now, I was hoping the police officer would not issue us a speeding ticket. However, I also knew that the only way he could do that is if he closed his eyes to the law. There is no mercy to be found in law.
When it comes to the law of God we are in no better shape - worse, in fact. First, God always knows when we mess up. Second, the penalty for breaking God's law is eternal death. God hates evil so much that His justice and anger are poured out against wrong-doing. God would not be a loving God if He did not hate evil so much. Third, sometimes people do not even know they are doing wrong. They are ignorant of God's law and when they realize their error the damage is already done. Even so, God cannot close His eyes to His law. So, God's law is a reflection of His perfect love, and when we transgress His law, we bring the death penalty down upon ourselves. God cannot allow a wrong-doer to share His eternal life. Justice must be satisfied. The death penalty must be paid.
Now for some good news. "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). God loves us so much that He paid the penalty for our wrong-doing Himself. God did not close His eyes to His law any more than our police officer did. However, He did something I have never seen a police officer do - He paid the penalty for us Himself. We can accept His gift of forgiveness, or we can throw it back in His face. However, we can never be justified before God by keeping His law. The reason, John tells us, is this: "If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).
Our Lord has not relaxed the commandments that we love God with our whole being and our neighbor as our self (Matt. 22:37-40). These are the requirements of the Law of Moses, and if anything, Jesus has made them stronger. Yet since wrong-doing under the old Law condemned a person to eternal death (Rom. 6:23; James 2:10), what hope have we under Christ's new, more demanding law?
The answer is a paradox: Jesus Christ's new law is mercy. As Jesus said, "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). Jesus demonstrated His compassion in many ways, confronting us with our hate and indifference toward others, and lack of trust in God. He healed the sick, encouraged the down-trodden, and ultimately give His own life to pay the penalty of law for even those who hated Him. Now God calls us to show the same compassion to others. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those that mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28). "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:2).
The Law of Moses had carefully defined for us what it means to love God and one's neighbor. The law of mercy is not a new law with God for it was taught throughout the Old Testament (Matt. 23:23). Indeed all men who have ever been saved have been saved by God's mercy. However, the law of mercy is new to us, as we see it exemplified and fulfilled in the life, teaching and sacrifice of Christ. Jesus has added new dimensions to our understanding of the compassion God demands we show to others. "Do not judge, and you will not, be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you ... For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:37-38).
The Law of Christ is the law of mercy. "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). We must "speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful" (James 2:12-13). The law that gives us freedom is the law of mercy. No other law frees us from the bondage of sin and the penalty of death. The nature of law is to demand justice, and the penalty for our breaking of God's law has to be paid. However, Jesus sacrificed Himself so that mercy might triumph over judgment (James 2:13).
The Law of Christ is not a new, easier law by which we may be justified. It is the mercy, by which we learn to love our Lord and one another as God has always wanted. This is the criteria by which Jesus will separate the righteous people from the cursed on the last day: "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was in prison and you came to visit me' "(Matthew 25:34-36). The Law of Christ is mercy.