Law? Grace? Or Both?
I often hear some Christians make the statement that we are under grace meaning that we are no longer under the law and that we are not to enforce the death penalty, not even for murder. Not everyone believes the same thing on these issues. Some believe that, in the eyes of God, the death penalty is a just punishment for murder, but death is too severe a penalty for those who commit “lesser” sins/crimes such as sodomy, adultery, pedophilia, fornication, rebellion against parents, etc., sins/crimes that at one time carried with them the death penalty.
What I don’t understand is when God supposedly changed his stance on the punishment of such sins/crimes. Isn’t the God of the New Testament the same God as the Old Testament? Are these particular sins/crimes any less heinous than they were in OT times? Do they not still cause the same hurt and damage as in ancient times? Where in the scripture does Jesus call for a moratorium on the death penalty or the law in general? When did the sins/crimes which were once worthy of the death penalty become unworthy?
Jesus told us that he came to fulfil the law, not destroy it. (Matthew 5:17) He also said that we were to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40) So we see that we are still expected to obey the laws of God.
Matthew 5:19-20 “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The laws are for our protection spiritually, physically, individually and societally. Instead of our oxen we must make sure our cars are safe and not harmful to ourselves and others. The OT had safety codes for building, as we do today. It had “plumbing”ordinances, as we do today, etc., etc. Though our technology has changed, we still obey the spirit of the law.
I’m not saying that we are to be legalistic or that we are still under the curse of the law. Please do not misunderstand. I’m simply saying that while we ARE under grace, that grace does not negate God’s law. There has always been grace with God. Look at how He handled Adam and Eve's sins. He allowed them to live for a good long time instead of killing them on the spot. Look at how longsuffering He was toward mankind throughout history. He warned and warned and warned for hundreds of years before He passed judgment. Look at how longsuffering He continues to be with us today: both sinner and saint.
The difference in the grace that we’re under today is that Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice. God has made an easier way of salvation: no more blood sacrifice! We can now come boldly to the throne of grace through Jesus. WE are now priests and sons.
Some people misunderstand what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5. The Pharisees had made their own laws and perverted the law of God. Jesus was showing that our very actions are all a matter of the heart, as they always have been. If we love our neighbor, we won’t want to kill him. If we hate our neighbor, we’re killing him in our hearts, even if we don’t act out on that hatred. Both are sin. He was teaching that just because we refrain from killing someone doesn’t mean that our hearts are right with God. He was not saying that we do away with the death penalty.
Also, He was not saying that the law of an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth had been negated, rather he was saying that we are not to take the law into our own hands; we are to let the law/authorities handle it. If someone slaps us on the cheek, we're to walk away, if we're able, and refrain from retaliation (turn the other cheek). If we, for some reason, cannot get away from a person and that person continues to attack us, then by all means we are allowed to defend ourselves, but we're to keep the peace as much as we are able. If someone destroys our property, we are not to retaliate and destroy their property. We are to turn the other cheek, contact the authorities and let them handle it through the law. God has ordained our earthly governments to award restitution when necessary or carry out punishment for those who disobey the law.
Romans 13:1-7 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”
I often hear that the law of God was only for the Israelites. I disagree with that assessment, though I’ve not really heard an in depth explanation of that assessment. The only thing I’ve heard was that since Israel was a new nation that God had to be strict and nip sin/crime in the bud. Why would it be any different for the rest of the world? Did not God give Adam and Noah some system of law to pass down to their posterity, essentially non-Israelites? Isn’t the law our schoolmaster showing us that we are indeed sinners (Jew AND Gentile); thus, the need for a Savior? Are not sinners to ultimately be judged by the law of God? I think the law is for everyone, but it was the Israelites that recorded the law for all posterity. The law is written on all of our hearts. (The entire Bible is written to everyone, but especially to the Christian.) Of course the Christian community is more apt to obey the laws of God, though secular societies still follow God's law somewhat.
If Jesus were here ruling and reigning, He would certainly be enforcing His law and He will when He returns. Would one think that Jesus was unjust in ruling with a rod of iron by enforcing His law and meting out the just punishments?
Revelation 19:11-17 “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God;”
You may say, “Well, that is Jesus and He has that authority.” True, but I believe that if an earthly government decides to follow the Lord, then He is obligated to follow the law of God as given in the Holy Bible. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where God said that nations were not allowed to follow the law of God unless it was the nation of Israel.
Though I disagree with our founders on some things concerning the law (mainly that they didn't follow the law of God implicitly), I think they at least had good intentions. Many of the things that are legal now were not legal in their day (e.g., sodomy, abortion, adultery, divorce (or at least not easily obtained), pornography (even if it were hand drawn), the promotion of promiscuity, blasphemy, cohabitation, etc). Little by little these laws have been changed because they went against the sensibilities of some (live and let live and/or capital punishment is uncivilized), and the proclivities of others. This type of pity has been a detriment to our society. God has told us not to pity. For when we pity, it leads to leniency which leads to tolerance which leads to acceptance which leads to an indecent and broken society. The least we could have done was to continue to keep these actions illegal and enforce the law.
Deuteronomy 19:21 “And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
I also believe that promiscuity, premarital sex, women who have babies out of wedlock, homosexuality, etc. should be shameful as it once was not too terribly long ago. Even the church no longer deems these acts as shameful. What a travesty! (I'm not saying we're to be judgmental or condemning, so please do not get me wrong.) I truly believe that if it were a shame to engage in this type of behavior that it would deter most people from participating; or, at the very least, they would not be open about their immoral practices.
On a different blogpost my good friend Leo asks, “One question, ok two. Since the USA is not a theocracy, who would carry out the death penalty for sins such as for the sins of sodomy, adultery, rebellion against parents, etc. If such people repent should the powers that be still execute them? John 8:1-11 for the example of a repentant sinner.”
The government would carry out the death penalty for the sins you’ve named just as they carry out the death penalty for murder today. Though, I must remind you that if there is no confession of the crime, there must be two or more witnesses in order to mete out the death penalty. I believe forensic evidence can be considered a witness if there are no eye witnesses.
Yes, a person who has been duly convicted of a capital crime should still be executed even if they have repented. We see this with the thief on the cross. When our government used to mete out capital punishment swiftly and quickly they always gave the prisoner time to get right with God. I think that if our government executed prisoners quickly, their punishment would be much more of a deterrent. I think that it wouldn’t take too many executions of rebellious teens/young adults, adulterers, sodomites, etc. before people would begin to think twice before they committed a crime punishable by death.
As for the John 8:1-11 account of the adulteress, I have never seen that scripture as a moratorium on the death penalty. My bible teacher explains this beautifully, I think. I will cut and paste his exegesis of these verses of scripture. It is rather lengthy, but WELL worth the read. (All emphasis in original)
The Pericope de Adultera
Comment: If the woman were caught in the very act, where was the
man? God required that both should be stoned (Lev.20:10; Deu.22:22-24). Jesus knew the entire matter was a set up for the purpose of placing Him on the horns of a dilemma. If He said stone her according to the Law of the O.T., He would be in trouble with the Roman authorities. If He said to release her from the demand of the Law, the people would reject His claims as Messiah for Messiah would never go against the Word of God.
One reason that so many religious leaders and laymen oppose the inclusion of these verses, called the pericope de adultera in theologicalscholastic circles ("pericope" is a short selection from a book), is due to their lack of understanding it and thus an inability to properly exegete the story. The forgiveness which Christ bestowed upon the adulteress is contrary to the conviction of many that the punishment for adultery should be very severe. For most, the solution is to merely conclude that Jesus' coming to earth has somehow nullified the Laws of God; that God no longer punishes sin but has now "become" a God of mercy, love and compassion. The story seems to offer too many inexplicable contradictory problems for most, and since they cannot understand the verses – they raise their vote to exclude them from the Scriptures. It requires great humility to admit lack of insight. Such men rarely will humble their intellect before God, constantly labeling paradoxes contained within the covers of the Bible as "unfortunate scribal errors" simply because their wisdom has failed to unravel the paradox.
Far better to confess lack of scholarship, understanding or lack of revelation than to insist, as most do, that the short-coming must be with the Scriptures themselves (Man's pride and ego must be served at all cost!). Many of us are self deceived, imagining that we "believe" the Word of God. The Lord has deliberately written as He has to bring us to the point of honesty. When we are confronted with seemingly contradictory places in Scripture, what is our response? The response reveals the actual condition of the heart and ego. Do we now still believe or do we place our intellects above the Word, deciding that because we could not solve the apparent discrepancy – the Scripture must contain error.
Although not claiming inerrant insight into all such matters, we do not allow any errors within the Holy Writ – scribal or otherwise. We confess ignorance, even hardness of heart, in areas that result in our lack of revelation from above. We cannot explain all paradoxical parts of Scripture, but in calm assurance we rest in faith that the solutions are present within the pages of Scripture itself. No outside information need be brought to bear on the problem to "add light" to the Word. How does one add light to blinding revelation?
THE "PERICOPE" EXPLAINED
As to the story before us, we find Jesus conducting a "Bible study" at the Temple area. Suddenly the lesson is interrupted by a commotion as the scribes and Pharisees cast before Jesus and the "Church" a terrified believer, possibly clutching ashamedly at a bed sheet in an attempt to clothe herself and hide her humiliation. These religious leaders care nothing for her life or her shame. For them she is but the means, the bait for the trap with which they seek to hopelessly ensnare our Lord. These men are not "seekers of truth" as they pretend. Their motive is to secure the death of their antagonist, and if this woman must die also in securing that end, so be it.
When Jesus saw that the equally guilty man was not present, He knew their motive. Further, He knew the man must be of some importance, influential in the community or else the man would also now be before Him. Moreover it is quite possible that the man was himself one of the leaders – having deliberately seduced the woman thereby "sacrificing himself" to commit the act as part of a conspiracy for the very purpose of entrapping Jesus. "But what sayest thou?" that they might have something with which to accuse Him, they inquired. Thus, the real issue before us is actually that of "authority" (cp. verse 36!).
It is most important that the reader realize that Jesus did not set aside the Laws of God or make an exception with this woman as though God had changed His mind or had "softened" from the Old Testament to the New Testament – that God was a God of wrath in the Old but had somehow "evolved" into a God of love, grace, and compassion in the New. God loved and had compassion on the exposed adulterers all throughout the Old Testament. He certainly did not love or feel more compassion for her than any before her. It was always the sin itself that He hated, but His holy nature and justice then as now, called for righteous judgment and punishment. God never changes (Mal.3:6).
First, this was still the time of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant could not come into effect until the required blood of the Covenant was shed. But the reader must come to see that Jesus perfectly upheld the demand of the Law – Jesus actually told these religious unbelievers to stone her (verse 7)! He told them to obey the Law – but dealt with their consciences, bathed in murder as they were, by the prefacing remark "He that is without sin among you" let him cast the first stone. The idea behind this stipulation was twofold. First, Jesus caught them unawares in that rather than having the "Bible study group" carry out the stoning, Jesus called on the unregenerate scribes and Pharisees to perform the deed. Thus if they so did, it would be they whom the Roman authorities would come against and not Jesus. They would have fallen into the pit that they themselves had dug (Pro.26:27). The Romans had taken the power of life and death away from the conquered Jews (Joh.18:31), and Roman law did not condemn an adulteress to be put to death.
In the second place, Jesus is challenging them to merely obey the law to which they so devotedly cleave. Jesus is calling on the required two or three eye witnesses (Deu.17:6-7) to now step forward. If they are credible witnesses, they must now identify themselves and also make known the identity of the man. If they will not identify the man they will be disobeying the law and thus will incur guilt. The man having been summoned, the stoning could continue but the first stones must be cast by these same men.
The qualifying "without sin" in Scriptural context with regard to witnesses, does not mean "moral perfection" as many suppose, thereby creating a problem here that does not exist. The context refers to the witnesses not being guilty of sin with respect to their being false or unrighteous witnesses in the matter at hand (cp. Lev.20:10; Deu.17:6-7; Exo.23:1-2 & 7; Deu.19:15-19 and Pro.6:16-19). This is especially made clear in Exodus 23:1-2, 7. The Deuteronomy 19 passages continue the theme of dealing with false witnesses by God's charging the judges with the responsibility of having the sentence that would have been applied to the accused meted out to the false witness. The implication from Jesus' stipulation is that if they obey God, being innocent and without sin regarding this matter, God would doubtless protect them from the Roman authorities. If, however, they are not – well then, they could not expect to be so delivered could they? They would thus incur the same penalty.
What the Lord wrote upon the ground is not recorded, but whatever it was, it had the effect of convicting each of the accusers in his conscience. As one of the main functions of the Law was to convict of sin (Rom.3:20, 7:7 & 8b; 7:13), we are certain that which He wrote was Scripture and from the Law. Besides, it was the Law upon which they hoped to trap Jesus (vs.5), yet now through a word of wisdom (I Cor.12:8; Heb.2:4) the Lord Jesus had used the very same to ensnare them in their own pit. We do not wish to be dogmatic or presumptuous; nevertheless, we strongly maintain that the narrative's context makes plain that Jesus included at least part of Leviticus 20:10 in what He wrote the first time.
"And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death (Lev.20:10)."
We further affirm, judging from the effect upon these men bent as they were on the destruction of the Lord, the second time Jesus stooped down He wrote from Deuteronomy 19:15-19. These verses have the sobering effect of reminding any "unrighteous" or "false" witnesses that the penalty which they had hoped to inflict upon the accused, would instead be carried out on them! Even though the woman was actually guilty, without two or three of them stepping forward and identifying the man – they would be false and unrighteous with regard to the matter. Moreover, if they now come forward and attempt to only stone the woman, not being willing to also name the man, they will bring upon themselves the selfsame judgment. They filed out from the most honorable to those of the least repute (the probable sense). No one came forward.
The Lord Jesus did not condone the woman's adultery but, as merely the "second man" and the "last Adam" (I Cor.15:45,47), He had no authority to overturn the Roman law and have her stoned. What we are saying is that even though Jesus was God come down to earth, the Judge of all flesh – He had not come in that capacity at this time. This He shall do upon His return. As Philippians 2:5-8 and Hebrews 2:5-18 explain, Jesus took upon Himself the form of a servant, humbled Himself to human limitations, entered the arena of human affairs and though He never ceased to be God, He went about defeating the Devil and redeeming the fallen race purely as an unfallen man. In so doing, He demonstrated that the first Adam could have defeated Satan in the contest in Eden – that Satan is so limited that an unfallen man can defeat him and be victorious over temptation and sin by standing on God's Word, be it written as in Jesus' case (Mat.4:1-11) or only spoken as in Adam's case (Gen.2:16-17).
Thus the Judge had laid aside His Judicial Robe and had voluntarily accepted certain limitations including that of submission to the will of the Father in all matters. Jesus had divested Himself of all authority to act in the capacity as a Judge. Lest the reader doubt this or consider such a declaration offensive or demeaning to the person and Holy character of our Lord, remember that Jesus Himself so taught on another occasion (Luk.12:13-14).
Now observe what the Master teacher has accomplished. The Lord Jesus would not deal with the woman in the presence of unbelievers (I Cor.6:1 & 6). His tactic emptied the "Bible study" of the lost hypocrites. This freed Him to deal with her among and within the family of God. The unnamed woman was said to be standing "in the midst" (vs.9). Had everyone left, how could she have been "in the midst"? It does not say that all the people whom our Lord had been instructing went out, but only her accusers, having been convicted. The rest (vs.2) continued with their teacher, the adulteress being in their midst (cp. vs 3b, "in the midst"). Jesus is "left alone" in the sense that His antagonists, having departed, left Him with only true seekers – those of His own "family". It cannot mean "alone" in the absolute sense for we know that the woman was there. The "none" of verse 10 is with regard to the accusers who had burst in with her.
The point being made is that the Lord does not deal with His own concerning their sins in the presence of the wicked. Now that the "courtroom" had been cleared of the infidels, the problem at hand could be handled as a family matter. She is dealt with fully in accord with the principles of the Law, and with "Church" discipline! Jesus had not accepted the testimony of these wicked lost men, men with murder in their hearts, as being credible or valid against a sinning saint. The matter would be handled much as an unconfirmed bad report.
Now He, according to the exact instructions of the Law, brought the "court" to order – calling for the credible witnesses against her (vs.10)! Reader, see it clearly that Jesus is not abrogating the Law as nearly all teach. He said He had not come to do that (Mat.5:17-19)!
Two eye witnesses were required by the law to implement its being carried out (Joh.8:17) and the eye witnesses had to cast the first stones. The death penalty could not be meted out as there were none present. To now do so would actually violate the specific instructions so carefully detailed within the Law. As only an earthly human Judge – Jesus cannot now lawfully condemn her to death; there are no witnesses to her deed present! Truly, the Law had been used by Jesus "lawfully" (I Tim.1:8).
"But how do we know that she was a believer?", one protests – by the way Jesus handled the matter as explained above. Were she a pagan, the manner with which she was dealt within the "Bible study" would make no sense. Next, though not of itself conclusive, she addressed Jesus as "Lord" (vs.11).
Decisive, however, was Jesus' final remark to the woman. Were she unregenerate the Lord's words "go, and sin no more" would be meaningless and vacuous. In the first place, without the Holy Spirit's presence and power in her life, she would be helpless to refrain for long without sin again taking dominion over her.
Secondly and conclusively, she would be no better off with such instructions from Christ as she had been when she had been so unceremoniously brought to Him at the first – for she would still be lost and hell bound even if she never sinned again. The sin she had just committed would doom her apart from a sin substitute – a Savior. Such instructions would only benefit a believer who has fallen into the snare of sin.
But was not Jesus letting her off too easy for such a flagrant shameful sin? Shouldn't she have gotten what she deserved? First, we all deserve to be banished to hell forever – we all have dared to sin against a three times Holy God. By His marvelous plan of redemption through faith in Christ Jesus, God has made a way for Him to deal with us in both mercy and justice such that we are disciplined but not condemned. When He deals with our sin in any way that is less than eternal exile to the lake that forever burns with fire, we all get off "easy" – though it may not seem so at the moment.
Next, we affirm that she did not get off easily. Forever with her would be the humiliation of being caught in the very act of adultery. She had been brought out and terrified with the threat of public execution. What wild fear must have raced through her heart! Consider the shame of being thrust before your own local Bible study half covered – men so bent on the destruction of another would certainly not have allowed time for her to have made herself more "presentable". Brought low before those who know you and the fact of your hypocrisy laid open for all to see – was this really getting off "easy"?
But there is more. To be brought, degraded and disheveled, before the Savior face to face after having just failed Him so ignominiously would not be light discipline. Further, the Name of her God had been dishonored for now the scoffers would mock.
Finally, though forgiven of this sin – and let all observe and mark that Jesus did call adultery "sin", not an "affair between consenting adults" or "a meaningful relationship" – the woman had lost eternal rewards. Blessings that God desired to heap upon her for all eternity, He now in righteousness could not so shower. Oh reader, to forever lose something that He who loves you and died for you would have given you, is not that just punishment? Yes, for such is the actual discipline that was discharged.
Moreover, we do not know if further ramifications followed as venereal disease, pregnancy, loss of husband and/or children (if applicable in her case), loss of job, depression, guilt, etc. Having one's sins forgiven does not mean that the consequences of the sin are obliterated in this life. David was forgiven in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba, but the consequences that were set in motion by the sin followed David to his grave. It is to David's credit that he never accused God of dealing too severely with him or whined concerning the matter. For many, stoning would have been the preferred choice over the above. No, her sin was neither condoned nor soft peddled.
Lest the reader still have the slightest reservation that our major points have been inaccurate or mistaken, we call to his attention that these same points are confirmed, being presented afterward in the same chapter! Jesus asserted that He was not there to judge men (vs.15), not yet (cp. John 5:22; 18:36 - i.e.," now")! But if He does judge now (in questions other than civil or criminal matters) in "Family" matters and the like, His judgment will be true (vs.16). In the same verse, Jesus acknowledges that He is not executing this wisdom by His own God power and attributes, but by the power and wisdom of His Father (via the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Heb.2:4 etc.). He then brings up the point from the Law which calls for the necessity of at least the attestation of two witnesses in establishing truth (vs.17), and in verse 36 Jesus makes unmistakably clear that He has final authority.
Majestically, we have seen the Lord Jesus the Christ in an awesome display of wisdom, mercy, love and compassion employ only several Scriptures from the Law and merely 15 words (only 9 in the Greek) to vanquish the wicked. Then with only 21 words (Greek = 18), He both judged and restored a sinning saint. Truly – He is Worthy!
You are correct when you stated in a previous comment that Christians who commit sin will lose rewards in heaven, even if they get away with not having received the ultimate earthly punishment, whatever that may be. For they will be punished here on earth in some form because God is not mocked and we reap what we have sown.
So I guess my questions for the person who believes that we no longer have to obey the law or that capital punishment has been done away with, or only partially done away with are:
1) Where do you get that only the nation of Israel is to obey the Law of God and not the Christians of today?
2) When did this change [that the people of God are no longer required to obey and enforce the law of God] take place?
3) Why NOT execute people for these crimes? Are these crimes any less destructive spiritually, physically, individually and societally?
4) Where does it state in the bible that we are allowed to sentence someone to the death penalty for murder, but we are no longer allowed to sentence death for other crimes that once required the death penalty (e.g., homosexuality, adultery, pedophilia, etc.)?
5) Do you not see that executions in these matters would very likely be rare if we were to enforce God’s Law and do so quickly and swiftly?