This week we come to Question 7 of the New City Catechism, found in Part 1 (questions 1-20), which focuses on God, creation and the fall, and the law.
Question 7: What does the law of God require?
Answer: Personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience; that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. What God forbids should never be done and what God commands should always be done.
God’s law reflects his holy character. It is given to all people at all times as a law written on the heart (Rom. 2:12-16). Instinctively, we know that some things are good and right while others are wrong, and God has given us the gift of conscience to warn and convict us of our sinful actions. Human conscience is not a perfect standard of good and evil, but it is one testimony to God’s holy law written on our hearts.
In addition to the law of nature, God also gave his law in written form to Israel. This law, known as the Mosaic Law, outlined standards of conduct that would make Israel a distinct people among the pagan nations of the world. It included many regulations that no longer apply to us in the new covenant era (e.g., regulations for the priesthood, food laws, various civil laws unique to the ancient world), but the whole Mosaic Law taken together points toward one overarching standard of righteousness: love for God and neighbor.
When he was asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). Arbitrary laws are bad laws. They serve no purpose greater than themselves. But all of God’s commandments have as their goal that we should be people who love him above all else, and love our neighbors as ourselves. This is how God designed humanity to function, and therefore love for God and neighbor is the ultimate standard by which to measure all of our actions.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Mark 12:28-34. Why do you think Jesus told the man in this story, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”? What did the man seem to understand that many others did not?