Standards We Cannot Keep

By Randall Hardy

Many Christians who have argued over the years for godly laws in Britain have unfortunately failed to convey the prime reason why this or any other nation would benefit from adopting such standards. I suggest we have mistaken the by-products of having Biblical thinking as the driving force behind our national legislation for its objective. Consequently many have the impression that if we reinstate those laws which once reflected the Old Testament Jewish Law, then the God of the Bible will reward us with multiple blessings, and not threaten us with judgement. Is this why our government (or any other) should build like wise men on the rock of divine revelation, or is there a better reason?

History Which is Honest

To answer this, we need first to ask another question - is it possible for any country to do what pleases The LORD in order to earn His blessing? History tells us it is impossible for individuals or societies to live righteously according to Godís standards.  Few people read the Bible, and amongst those few, even fewer want to face up to that awful theme which runs through its record of life on earth. The day The LORD finished creation, he pronounced it ďvery goodĒ, but it is not long before we read of the pinnacle of that creation fouling things up. Adam (the culprit) becomes the pattern for people and societies from then on. The Bible is unique in that it does not hide the faults of its heroes. We read of jealousy leading to murder as Adamís first two children come to blows, literally. Soon afterwards, when society had degenerated very quickly into violence and corruption, The LORD stepped in to prevent men and women from destroying the human race completely. Noah was the man through whom He ensured our survival. He kept him safe through the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen. Incredibly even he, despite the horror of the world from which he had escaped, soon forgot his Saviour and got himself drunk. By the time his great-grandchildren had grown up, the human race had again come to imagine that they were wiser than God, and He had to intervene once more at Babel to prevent our arrogance from bringing the world to a premature end. Our struggle to communicate today owing to many different languages should constantly remind us that humans are unable to please God through our own efforts.

So far we have only considered the first few chapters of the Bibleís history of the world. Those who went to Sunday School as children may still recall names like Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah from stories of those who did great things for God. These were indeed great men of faith, and loved by The LORD, but we are also told that Abraham was ready to lie more than once in order to save his own skin. The Bible highlights an instance when Moses lost his temper and another when David committed adultery. Neither does it conceal that Davidís son Solomon, though very wise, was also the biggest bigamist of all time. Immediately after winning a confrontation with the prophets of a pagan god, it notes that the prophet Elijah plunged himself into a bout of deep depression because God hadnít done what he wanted. We find a similarly honest record about the ďgreatsĒ in the New Testament. Paul for example, ignored the teaching of Jesus on making vows, and this eventually led to his arrest and many years in custody. (This mistake could have contributed to the strength of his later warning to the Galatian Christians not to try and mix salvation through faith in Jesus Christ with earning it through law-keeping).

The Truth of the Matter

It is important to recognise that these are not isolated cases of champions of faith being shown to have feet of clay. We see the same problem arising in the two faith communities of Biblical history. Israel was never the shining example it promised to be. Before The LORD gave them the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, He told them the terms of the covenant He was about to make with them, and they readily agreed to them with the promise, ďAll that The LORD has spoken we will do.Ē Just forty days later, they were urging Aaron to make them a golden idol to worship. Their fickleness continues throughout their history, which is littered with failure after failure to do what The LORD commanded them through prophets and priests. The Church cannot boast success either. Just as many of the Old Testament writings were the product of Israelís failures, so too a large part of the New Testament was written to counter bad teaching and practices which had taken root in the church. Though the Bibleís record covers the first sixty to seventy years of church history, we should not think it took as long as that for those wrong ideas to gain a foothold. It seems that many who were converted in those wonderful days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost tried to merge law-keeping and the gospel. It was this teaching that Paul found it necessary to warn the Galatian believers to have nothing to do with.

You may be thinking that this is a very dark portrayal of the Bibleís story. It would be if it were not vital to the message of the gospel, and a key to understanding its relevance to individuals and societies today. Christians have been at fault in telling those who live around us and those who govern our society that God has got standards which we are expected to live up to. The truth is the very opposite  - The Lord has standards He knows we canít live up to. His first-hand history of the human race makes this very clear, as it records over and over again the personal and corporate failures to keep those standards on the part of those who knew Him best. If that was true of those who were committed to Him, what must have been happening in those nations which had turned away from a knowledge of Him?

The Purpose of the Law

This vital truth is so often overlooked that it necessary to spell it out again, God knows that it is impossible for people to live by the standards He gave to the nation of Israel, including the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, these laws dealt with peopleís actions, and Jesus taught that as such their standards were much lower than the righteousness His Father really demanded. Example, the Law said, ďDonít murderĒ, but the real standard of God is, ďDonít hateĒ. Like His Father, Jesus was concerned about the attitude of the inner person, not solely the actions of the outer one. The Law which God gave through Moses only focussed on outward actions, and yet He knew that even that was too demanding for people to keep. No wonder David, in one of his many psalms, sang with gladness, ďHe knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.Ē God was not being mischievous when He set standards they could not live by for the Israelites. Neither does He expect any of todayís nations to achieve the impossible. He has a far more important purpose for His Law than just an eternal graduation exam, and we need to appreciate what that is if we are to understand what is happening in todayís world.

I have already referred to Paulís emphasis on the dangers of seeking to mix law-keeping with faith in Jesus Christ. To the Galatians [1], Paul describes Godís law as a tutor - the task of a tutor is to prepare a person for what lies ahead. The LORD prepared Israel for a better way by seeking to teach them two vital truths. Sadly it seems the majority failed to appreciate these. The first thing we can learn from Godís standards is, what is right and what is wrong - not a popular concept either today or with Israel in times past. Secondly, through the Law we can recognise that we are completely unable to please our Creator. To realise this is not a failure, but a first step on the road to being put right with Him. Whilst any person or nation thinks it is possible for them to make themselves acceptable to The LORD by living up to His standards, there is no hope for them. When we face up to our lack of righteousness, then we are ready to give up on trying to keep Godís laws, and we can turn instead to seeking His acceptance through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. However, without a knowledge of Godís standards in the first place, we will never come to that better position.

Wise in Whose Eyes?

The LORD commanded the kings and priests to teach successive generations of Israelites His Law. Why? So they knew what was right and what was wrong, and so their own inability to please God of themselves was impressed upon them. Without the knowledge of the first, the second is not possible, for unless we know what our Creator expects of us, how can we know if we are pleasing Him or not? In Jewish history there are long periods when the leaders failed to teach the people the Law, so they were left with no knowledge of His minimal standards. They were left to do what was right in their own eyes. When there was a king who loved The LORD and sought to make His standards known, there was a period of knowing His protection and provision. However, when a subsequent king failed to continue the teaching of Godís standards, the people soon turned back to living according to their pleasures. In such periods God raised up prophets to warn the people of the dangers they were in. These dangers were both physical and spiritual, but without a knowledge of good and bad the people were undiscerning. At best they ignored the prophets, at worst they turned on them and murdered them.

It has been said that the one thing we learn from history is that we donít learn from history. Today we continue that habit. Thinking we are wiser than those who preceded us upon this earth, we fail to take notice of the outcome of their foolishness. In my previous article, I highlighted how Western nations in the last hundred years have turned to evolution as an alternative to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This gospel has formed the foundations of many of our societies in various ways. Though the hearts of the people were often lukewarm or even cold towards Him, Godís Law became the foundation for our secular laws and also much of our thinking. Yet His Law cuts directly across our desires and ambitions, setting standards we donít like because we canít keep them. Rather than learning to seek The LORD and His mercy as a result of this gulf, we have chosen an alternative course. Instead of admitting His Law shows we are wrong, we have decided not just that His standards are mistaken, but also that He is irrelevant, a mere figment of the imagination of the weak. In nation after nation, the West, whose civilisation was built on the benefits of Christian morals, has decided to rid their statute books of The LORDís standards over recent decades. What is the alternative we have turned to? Not quite ďeveryone doing what is right in their own eyesĒ, but doing what is right according to human understanding, rather than divine wisdom. For now it is not our Creator who is telling us what is right and wrong, but other people.

Godlessness is Our Goal

There can be no doubt that there has been a concerted effort in Western nations to create secular societies. On the whole, that objective seems to have been almost achieved - even amongst those who hold on to a form of religion, the majority embrace a materialistic, rationalist and humanistic mindset. As we enter the 21st century, there is no place in societyís thinking for those who dare believe that an eternal God created the universe, much less that He is in charge of the affairs of the nations now. Besides recording an honest history of mankindís inability to live as The LORD requires, the Bible leaves the attentive reader in no doubt that nations have always and only been established according to Godís will. Daniel was influential in the governments of the most powerful empires of his day. He continually reminded their emperors that it was heaven, not they, who ruled on the earth. He sought to show these pagan rulers that it was God and not they themselves who fixed their borders, the length of their supremacy and which nation would succeed them. Such concepts are dismissed today with the same unbelief that Nebuchadnezzar showed when he boasted that his own might had made him ruler of many nations. His empire did not last long after his death. In the same way, the collective Western desire to become a godless society is nurturing the collapse of its culture.

When people believe that governments are established by human authority, those in government are always motivated by human values and ambitions. In all types of dictatorships, it is the character of the dictator that sets the standard for government. This is rarely thoroughly moral. What many see as a democracyís greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Every democratic politician knows that to get elected, he must promise to give the people what they want. So the desires of the masses become the standards that shape the laws of society. Contrary to popular opinion, human nature is not essentially good. It has no desire to put others before itself - only in exceptional circumstances will it lay down its own life for the benefit of another. By nature we are pleasure-seeking individuals, thinking more of enjoyment today, with no accounting of the price we will pay tomorrow. By contrast, the standards that God has given us teach us to pay more attention to the long-term outcomes of our attitudes and actions. But these are not the standards that win elections and please the majority. Basic human desires are to live in comfort and pleasure, but these need to be hedged around with wise limits, or else what we seek for ourselves robs others of the things we covet. Our short-term desires have caused our Western democracies to turn steadily away from the standards given by God to those dictated to us by our untrustworthy nature. Instead of admitting that we canít live up to His definition of righteousness, and pleading with Him for His mercy, we have decided instead to reject Him as God and create standards that sanction our selfishness.

Caught Up in the Crowd?

We want to satisfy our desires, be they material, sexual or magical. To do this, we have begun to call good things that God has declared bad. What has been the outcome of our enlightenment? Murder, violence, theft, divorce, adultery, fornication, rape, paedophilia, gambling, abortion and so on, have all blossomed. From the top of society to the bottom, all seek to deny the connection between our rejection of the Christian gospel and the explosion of social breakdown. No matter how loud the protest that these things are not related, the truth is that they are! We have discarded The LORDís standards because they do not suit us, and have substituted our (home-made) human ones, designed by our own short-term self-interest. We are now determined not to admit that we are reaping what we have sown, and we resist any suggestion that we should return to the standards of our Creator. This corporate stubbornness will drive Britain, along with other nations, into escalating social collapse. Why should this be? Because our laws no longer teach people what is really good and what is really bad. Consequently the majority are also unaware of their need to cry to The LORD for help to live this life by faith in Christ - the one man who did manage to live up to the highest standards of God.

The West has travelled a long way down the road of secularism - it is almost true to say that there is no knowledge of God in our lands. Certainly our education systems, our newspapers, our broadcasters, our entertainment industry, as well as our governments, seem committed to driving every residue to Christianity from our minds. Amongst the few who recognise what is happening, some are wondering if there is a way back. Can the trend be reversed? I do not say this lightly but, given the global spread of this determination to establish godless societies everywhere, I doubt it very much. Whilst denying the very existence of God, our secular attitudes are taking us down the very paths The LORD told His prophets to describe as the inevitable result of turning our backs on Him. The press of the crowd is strong, and leaves few with time to think where they are going. Whilst I see no hope for the Western nations as a whole, I am confident that even in the midst of this godless throng, those who wake up to the need to agree with their Creator and call good what He calls good, and bad what He calls bad, are indeed able to call on Him to rescue them from the pathway of destruction. Whatever our place in society today, we each have to choose the way we will go. Either we will agree with our neighbours and pretend that God is irrelevant. Or we will stand up, by His mercy and grace, and accept that His standards are right, acknowledging that we need to be saved from our sins through the death of His sinless son, Jesus Christ? If the latter is the path you desire, donít look for many to be travelling with you, for the message of the cross has always been foolishness to those whose minds and hearts are focussed on secular ambitions.

[1]   For those who are interested, the theme of this article is based on Paulís letter to the Galatians. I recommend that it is read through to get the overall message, and then particular attention is paid to Chapter 3.

This article was first published in The Christian Standard, the journal of the National Council for Christian Standards in Society.

This study is intended as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting The LORD to the writer. To send an email click here.

© Randall Hardy, May 2002. This paper may only be copied in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage requires the written permission of the author.

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