Potatoes, pigeons, and disrupting a wedding—struggling to find a connection? Each of these objects or actions is the basis for some strange pieces of Australian legislation still in effect today!
Thinking of selling or purchasing more than 100 pounds of potatoes in Western Australia? Well, at that quantity, these tasty little morsels could land you a $1,460 fine under Section 22 of the Marketing of Potatoes Act 1946. And injuring a homing pigeon in Victoria or South Australia is an offense under the respective Summary Offenses Act of those states. Finally, in South Australia, obstructing or disturbing a wedding, funeral, or any religious service is an offense attracting a maximum penalty of $7,300 or two years’ imprisonment (Summary Offenses Act 1953 [SA] Section 7A).
What do these strange laws have to do with the law of God? Answer: Not a lot. They are merely examples of dated legislation, laws that made more sense in past social contexts than they do today.
So is this true of God’s law? Do laws handwritten on tablets of stone (commonly known as the Ten Commandments) and delivered to the Israelites all those millennia ago still hold relevance for our lives today? God gave them to humans and inscribed them on stone. They made their way to parchment, then paper, and today, projected onto screens. They seem so old, but their timeless principles have required every generation to grapple with the question, Do the Ten Commandments still hold true? For me, the answer is yes! I wholeheartedly believe that these laws continue to be relevant today.
learning to love
Growing up as the youngest and only girl, with two brothers who towered over me in both age and height, led to an easy education by observation—watching both the actions and resulting consequences of my brothers’ behavior. Much like a miniature scientist (minus the lab coat), I would watch my brothers test the limits and learn exactly where each and every line was placed so that years later, when my turn came, I already knew and didn’t have to risk searching for it.
The Israelites’ experience was not like mine. Their role in history paralleled the role of my older brothers. After being slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, surely their decision-making abilities were impaired, along with their competence for self-care. Much like the care that my parents took in raising their children and teaching us how to care for ourselves, God, the Israelites’ Father, gave them the Ten Commandments as an act of love. As a hands-on parent, God inscribed these guidelines with His own finger, passing them to His children for their benefit and protection (Exodus 31:18).
That love is the same love that God has for us today, and those same commandments are for our benefit and protection, just as they were for the Israelites all those years ago. While our environment has changed—note the ongoing tech explosion—our need for a Savior remains. Unlike laws written by humans who cannot know the future—laws that fade in importance—our God knew the future when He gave us the Ten Commandments. He knew how the world would change, and He knew we would still need His guidance to protect us from the sin that threatens to infringe on our values. Our world has changed, but our spiritual needs remain. God knew this when He gave us His law all those years ago.
living with purpose
The purpose of God’s law is to guide us through life, protect us, and show us the way. Knowing and understanding God’s law is almost like your teacher allowing you to take a “cheat sheet” into your exam, containing all the formulas you will need for the scenarios you will face. But is God’s law a ticket or a barrier? Does following God’s law grant you a place in heaven? Or does the inability to always follow God’s law present an obstacle to eternal life? Personally, I do not subscribe to either of these theories. God’s law is neither a ticket nor a barrier.
We cannot earn our way to heaven because if that was the requirement, no one would be there—none of us. Nothing we can do on our own is capable of earning us eternal life. “For by grace you have been saved through faith . . . ; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, NKJV). Eternal life is not granted to those who earn it or work the hardest; it is given to those who by faith accept the gift.
And what does faith mean? Accepting that God as our Creator sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from death and evil. No fine print and no expiration date. This process is not based on anything we have done or anything we will do. Jesus’ death and life on our behalf is an undeserved gift with no strings attached.
Once again, if following God’s law does not earn us eternal life, then why should we follow it? Well, what if we turned the question on its head? Instead of always asking why I should follow God’s law, what if we asked, Well, why wouldn’t I? God’s law has been crafted by the Creator of the universe, the Creator of you and of me. You don’t question the washing instructions that come with a new clothing purchase because you know that the manufacturer knows best what their product is made of and how to care for it. So why do we question our Creator, who knows what we are made of and how to care for us?
matters of the heart
Jesus lived a life that fulfilled the law. He claims in Matthew 5:17 that the purpose of His mission on earth was to fulfill the law of God, not destroy it. Jesus lived a life in harmony with God’s law and challenged human beings to live a life that is not just about outward appearances of obedience. He wanted hearts and behavior, so He illustrated the concept by noting the sixth and seventh commandments. He expanded the prohibition against murder to include the mere wish to murder a person. Why? Because a deep and abiding desire to take the life of another human being violates the spirit of God’s law. The same idea applies to adultery. If we lust in our minds, our hearts are subsequently sullied and damaged.
In the end, the commandments deal with matters of the heart. This is why Jesus was careful to often talk with His Father and tune His life accordingly. When He came down from the mountain and moved among the multitudes, He loved the people like His Father did because He was naturally in harmony with God’s will. Resting in His Father’s love, Jesus did not worry about the needs of this life (Matthew 5–7). He knew His father had it all under control. And so He urged His followers to live with the same abandon. Give your worries to God and rest in His generous provision.
The answer to the question we posed at the outset, Are God’s laws still relevant? is a resounding yes. They are still essential because the passing millennia have not changed the human heart. We are still self-centered and burdened with the cares of this life. God’s law helps us understand that security and happiness spring from right relationships with God and with our fellow human beings.
Brianna Watson is a policy officer for the Australian government in Canberra, Australia.