“Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (New American Standard Bible, Psalm 119:96).
For Christians, there are at least three implications for God’s law being broad
First, God’s law is broad in the sense that it captures not just your actions, but also your attitudes, and affections. Why is this significant?
Pharisees thought no sin was committed until you killed a person (Matthew 5:21-22), or committed the act of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), but Jesus said your attitudes and affections matter. Understanding that God’s law is broad meaning it includes not just the letter, but also the spirit, help us to relate accurately toward God’s law, and avoid having a narrow view of it’s moral requirements like the Pharisees.
Second, God’s law is broad in the sense that it captures everything to do with our relationship to God, and everything to do with our relationship to people. Jesus said that this broad law of relating to God and people is summarized in two greatest commandments.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
From the story of the Rich Young Ruler, we understand that he failed to see what love for your neighbour obligated him to do. Here’s how the story goes:
In Matthew 19, Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young ruler responded: “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
The Rich Young Ruler thought he perfectly kept the commandments of God, but Jesus said it wasn’t so. He failed to see that love your neighbour as yourself obligated him to assist the poor and needy according to his financial ability.
The Bible says there will be people in the last days who were satisfied and convinced that they kept the law of Christ, when in fact they didn’t. This will be God’s reply to such people:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:41-45).
We may keep the Sabbath, never take God’s name in vain, steal, kill, but we would still fall short of God’s broad law of love if we neglect other moral duties towards God and man that is revealed in His word. I cite a few of God’s moral commands toward our neighbour that are part of God’s broad law: accept one another (Rom 15:7), bear with one another (Col 3:13), serve one another (Gal 5:13), value one another (Philp 2:3), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), pray for one another (James 5:16), forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), help the needy (Proverbs 22:9), show no favoritism (James 2:9).
James stated that if we offend even in one point such as discriminating or showing favoritism against our neighbour, we break the whole royal law.
“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).
Attaining this high standard of righteousness is impossible for man. The disciples understood this enormity of law’s requirement after Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler.
“When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25).
Paul explained this to legalists who thought commandment keeping can save them:
“But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law” (Galatians 3;10)
Only way to be saved by the Law is to keep the law perfectly—every moment of every day for your entire life. People have a tendency to just cherry-pick a handful of things out of the Law like the Sabbath, tithes etc. But what Paul is saying, you can’t cherry-pick the Law. If you’re going to merit righteousness under the Law, it’s all the commandments (love others unconditionally, help the poor, don’t discriminate etc), and if you fail in one slightest detail ever in your life, then you are under a curse, and you are condemned.
The third implication of God’s law being broad is that it is impossible for man to meet this high moral standard of God’s righteousness. All our best efforts will produce righteousness that is below the law’s requirement and inadequate for salvation. Jesus warned:
“But I warn you–unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20, NLT).
God says the right actions we produce by ourselves are in fact filthy (Isaiah 64:6). Further, He says all have sinned, continue to fall short, and are guilty of breaking His law of love, and deserving death (Rom 3:23).
So what does all this mean? How do we attain this broad standard of God’s righteousness, if we need this righteousness to live with God forever?
How do we become right with God?
The gospel or good news is that we don’t attain or earn this righteousness, because we can’t. We receive righteousness of God as a gift on the basis of faith. Paul wrote:
“…and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9, NASB).
We receive the righteousness of God apart from the law, meaning it doesn’t come from obeying the law. It comes from another place; it comes from Jesus Himself. It’s His righteousness. So, Paul is saying I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ, His righteousness. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
Paul also wrote: “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” (Romans 3:21, NASB)
Paul also says this righteousness we receive is witnessed by the Law meaning God’s law witnesses this righteousness of God, and is fully satisfied that it is in harmony with itself.
So, we receive righteousness of God through faith in Christ, apart from counting on our own righteousness through obeying the law.
Two things happen to us when we receive this righteousness of God according to the Bible
First, when we repent of breaking His law and inability to keep it by ourselves and trust Jesus to save us, Jesus comes into our life, and He covers us with His righteousness. We are counted as if we were perfectly righteous, and we are declared innocent completely before God and His law. We call this justification, imputed righteousness – God declaring us righteous.
“But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners” (Romans 4:5, NLT)
Second, when Jesus came into our life, we were born again, and He took residence in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Paul said it this way, “I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
When Jesus lives in me, He will come out in my actions, attitudes, and affections. This way, Jesus helps us to keep the broad principles of His law (Romans 8:4) and avoid producing inadequate righteousness of the Pharisees, and Rich Young ruler etc.
In other words, as I trust Jesus daily, His Spirit will guide me and tell me where to go, what to do, who to help, by giving me the power to be like Jesus; and I will become more and more like Jesus. We call this sanctification, imparted righteousness – God making us righteous.
Praise God for Jesus! Our acceptance with God is all because of what Jesus did for us.He took the punishment for our sins (Isaiah 53:5) on the cross in which he had no share, so we can be saved by His righteousness which we have no share (Rom 5:19).
God’s law is holy, perfect, good but it is also broad. It captures not only our actions, but also our attitudes, and affections. It encompasses all the moral duties and commands stated in God’s word and deals with our relationship to God and man. Its standard is impossible for man to meet; our righteousness is like filthy garments, and all human effort will produce righteousness inadequate for salvation.
The gospel or good news is we receive righteousness of God as a gift on the basis of faith, and not by obeying the law. When we place our faith in His finished work on the cross, and trust Jesus that He took away our sins on the cross, we are counted in that moment as if we were perfectly righteous. In God’s plan, there is more. God wants us to be like Jesus. When Jesus lives in us, and we trust Him, He helps us to do the right thing and bear fruits of righteousness (Philp. 1:11).
Praise God for the gospel! Apart from Christ we are condemned, but with Him we are righteous.