In a fallen world, some restraint on sin and evil is needed. God gave his law to Moses to achieve this restraint.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious (1 Tim 1:8-9).

God's law places a restraint on evil, but cannot remove it (only the cross can fully deal with sin and evil).

In the legal system that God gave through Moses, justice was voluntary because God gave his perfect law, but provided no police powers to enforce it. Judges could declare guilt and specify the restitution that the law requires to remedy a situation, but they had no coercive power to enforce their verdicts.

Judges have very limited authority. They are not able to give verdicts against all sin or evil, but only those that God has specified as crimes. A crime is a sin, which the civil government has been given authority to punish. Only a small subset of all sins are defined as crimes. The main sins that the bible defines as crimes are theft and murder. These are the two main crimes that the civil government has authority to punish.

The list of crimes specified in the Bible is not a standard of righteousness. Not committing any crime does not make a person righteous. Crimes are behaviour that prevent society from functioning. The Christian standard of righteousness is much higher (Matt 5:21-22).

A paradox of government is that negatively expressed laws give the greatest freedom. For example, imagine a situation where there are just two crimes, expressed as follows:

You shall not steal

You shall not kill

This gives the citizens great freedom. Provided that they do not steal or kill (which for most will not be hard for most), they can do what they like. This is an enormous freedom. They can also act, knowing that no one will harm them or take their property. These laws also severely limited the power of judges. If a person does not steal or kill, judges can place no further requirement on them. A legal system that retrains evil by prescribing a narrow range of behaviour is very freeing for law-abiding citizens.

A positive law robs people of freedom. For example, consider a positive law,

You shall be generous in all financial transactions

This law really limits the freedom of the people. Before they contemplate any financial transactions, they would have to check if it fits with the government's standards of generosity. Likewise, it gives the government enormous powers. It can check on every financial transaction to ensure that it is generous. Any legal system that tries to make people perfect is dangerous by setting positive standards.

A positive statement (like "Love your neighbour as yourself) is very good for personal motivation. However, it would be very dangerous, if the civil government attempted to enforce it.

This is the problem with the legal system that the Jews had created at the time of Jesus. They had thousands of rules and regulations, which attempted to make the people perfect. Jesus criticised them for placing an impossible burden on the people (Matt 23:1-3). In contrast, the law that God established is tremendously freeing. There are just Ten Commandments, each expressed negatively. They can be summed in two positive motivational statements

    1. Love God with all your heart

    2. Love your neighbour as yourself

Only two of the ten commands are specified as crimes punishable by judges. This gives citizens a tremendous range of things they can do, without interference by the civil governments. When nations have implemented laws based on the Ten Commandments, the result has been tremendous freedom for the population.

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