Laws in Christ's Day

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the April 5, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson


“These are the laws you are to set before them” Exodus 21:1, NIV

In the 2014 television series, “The 100,” mankind is faced with a post-apocalyptic world that has been devastated half a century before by nuclear holocaust. The small, surviving remnant of humanity has been biding its time on a satellite in high orbit above the Earth. In order to determine if the planet is now habitable, they decide to send 100 teenagers to the planet surface and monitor them like guinea pigs for any ill results. The results of the project are critical as the satellite has reached the end of its useful life and is decaying around them.

The thesis of this series is similar to other "teen exploitation by evil adults" movies like 1968’s “Wild in the Streets” that popularized Jack Weinberg’s saw “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” There are stereotypical characterizations of teenagers and a few evil adults, but there is an intriguing exploration in the opening episodes of what role rules or laws play in society. Those teens that have been punished and imprisoned on the satellite because of societal restrictions see an opportunity for a new beginning without such constraints. That group rallies around a charismatic leader who declares, “There are no rules!” to cheering and applause. In a ceremony of liberation, a number of the teens destroy their monitoring bracelets to cut their link to the highly structured colony in the satellite above. This sets the stage for the struggle between those who want no restrictions and those who see rules as beneficial for everyone.

A telling moment arrives later in episode two when a returning party brings back an animal that they have killed and roasts it for dinner. The charismatic anti-nomian states “Only those without monitoring bracelets will be allowed to have something to eat from the kill.” However, Jasper, played by Devon Bostick, walks over and takes part of the kill without removing his bracelet. When challenged for this, he replies, “I thought there are no rules.” He is then allowed to take his share without further challenge as his logic stymies the opposition. This does not prevent them from enforcing the “rule” against others who are weaker, though. Ironically, their revolution was against the adults who used the rules to control and oppress others, but the default position they fall back to when allowed the freedom to create a new and different society is to do exactly the same thing. Without a common agreement about the necessity for rules and what those rules should be, perhaps this is the result when only self-interest is the motivation for societal interactions.

Maybe it is an underlying concern about an apparent, inherent selfishness in humanity that causes some to fear the idea of setting aside the law in favor of a grace based spiritual walk. They confuse the idea of not being condemned by the law[i] with the statement, as in the television series, “There are no rules!” Perhaps the use of labels like “anti-nomian” only adds to the confusion. Even the person who said, “There are no rules!” was soon making them for others and therefore was not purely anti-nomian. He was only against the rules that restrained his behavior. Just as there are far more people who profess agnosticism rather than atheism, something which is difficult to prove beyond a doubt, so there are likely far more people who are opposed to laws that chafe them as opposed to being against all laws. Even profligate criminals have been known to call the police when someone causes harm to them or their property by breaking the law. Perhaps the true anti-nomian is simply a “straw man” thrown up for sake of argument when one feels that another should be observing a rule or law that they themselves have been observing. In the converse, the term “legalist” may be a similar construction when faced with someone who is observing a law that another deems unnecessary.

For instance, In spite of Paul’s counsel regarding such things,[ii] one brother or sister may see the observation of certain rules about eating and drinking as being salvific and therefore obligatory to all. Another may see such an imposition as simply being a desire by one to control the spiritual experience of another and call that legalism, even though what they were intending was to rebel against that persons attempt at control, not against any idea of obedience. The one with the rules, based on the claim of legalism, may mistakenly feel that the person is simply against all spiritual rules. Sometimes it is hard not to appear controlling, even though we may usurp the authority of God when we do. Paul perhaps exhibited controlling behavior when he said those who do not work should not eat.[iii] At times we may forget that even the best intentions can be expressed in less than ideal ways. When we do that and then set up “straw men” of accusations to justify our positions, we may only end up making ourselves look even more controlling.

The Bible appears to come down often on the side of rules and their necessity. This is true whether we are talking about the rules codified by Moses or those put in place by Gentiles. Even Jesus’ parents submitted to the taxation requirements of the Roman Empire at the time of His birth.[iv] This presents an interesting contrast to modern Christians who protest on supposedly Christian principles against paying their taxes for fear of what those taxes will be used for. It would be surprising if Joseph and Mary agreed with everything the Roman Empire did with the money they raised through the census taxation. Just as today, there were most likely those who saw it as a religious duty to resist the Empire. However, then as now, they tended to be seen as extremists who did not represent the accepted thinking of the body of believers. Paul actually seemed to counsel the same course as Mary and Joseph in contradiction to such anti-law ideas.[v]

While many may say that we are saved by grace and not by obedience, they are perhaps not saying that there should be no obedience. Rather they may simply be saying that obedience is not salvific, but it is an outgrowth of a salvific relationship with Christ. In other words, to quote Morris Venden, “An apple tree bears apples because it is an apple tree, never in order to be one.”[vi] The implication of this is that the Christian does not do good works to be a Christian, and perhaps not even to prove he is a Christian, but as a result of being a Christian. You see if it is done to prove one is a Christian, then it sets up a slippery slope of control and condemnation. First one must decide what constitutes good works. Then, that standard is applied to other Christians in judgment, and finally those who do not conform to the standard are condemned as not being Christian. While in theory this may be seen as being profitable for “purifying” the church, in practice, every step is fraught with issues of context and perspective. Perhaps this is why judgment is reserved to God, and we are to ignore the “tares” or weeds in the meantime.[vii]

For example, some might include in their list of good works, going to church each week, while another might include feeding the homeless. How would the two be reconciled if someone skipped church to feed the homeless, or if someone hurried to get to church and neglected to provide an adequate breakfast for themselves and their family? As much as we might wish it to be so, Christianity is not necessarily a simple choice between “black-and-white.” When we lend consideration to the context, what we may have previously judged to be un-Christian, may be anything but. Perhaps this is why the founders of Seventh-day Adventism were wisely opposed to creedal statements of belief. They knew they could be misused to judge and condemn those who may have done nothing in opposition to Christ. Ellen White, one of those founders, said of Christianity, “It is not a creed.”[viii]

Perhaps as we have progressed through this article it has been apparent that rules or laws are intrinsic to society, but that these rules whether imposed from within or without the church are not salvific. Sometimes these rules may be about control rather than beneficial harmony. The rules may also distort our ability to have a clear perspective on the situation, especially if we make the people unquestioningly subservient to the rules rather than the other way around.[ix] We shall explore further the interface between faith and practice, or as some would have it, grace and the law as we move forward with these studies.


[i] Romans 8:1-4

[ii] Romans 14:17

[iii] 2 Thessalonians 3:10

[iv] Luke 2:1-5

[v] Romans 13:1-7

[vi] Venden, Morris L. “95 Theses on Righteousness by Faith: Apologies to Martin Luther,” Pacific Press Publishing, 2003, pg 16.

[vii] Matthew 13:24-30

[viii] White, Ellen G. “Testimonies to Ministers,” Pacific Press Publishing, 1962, pg 421.

[ix] Mark 2:27



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