4.7.2 The law as a guide to righteous conduct

The function of the law given by God is to instruct mankind in the conduct that is pleasing to God. It constitutes God's kind help in life, which provides human beings with concrete rules of conduct. Thus the law leads man to do good works and seeks to help him avoid evil.


Of central importance within the Mosaic Law were the commandments concerning food and purity, as well as the instructions concerning the observance of the Sabbath and the exercise of the priestly service. This law provided mankind with a standard for the appropriate worship of God as well as the correct way of interacting with each other: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6: 8).


To act in accordance with "God's word"–that is the law–means above all to remain faithful to God and not worship idols. A person's humbleness is demonstrated by his obedience toward God. On an interpersonal level, to "practise love" means to respect and esteem others. Jesus Christ expresses this fundamental requirement of the law in the Sermon on the Mount: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the prophets" (Matthew 7: 12).


The devout of the old covenant assumed that the law's requirements could be fulfilled and thereby serve to the attainment of salvation. However, there are also several passages in the Old Testament that attest to an awareness of the fact that man is incapable of completely fulfilling all prescriptions of the law (Psalm 19: 12). In general, however, the conviction stood: those who fulfilled the law were righteous and would receive salvation. Those who transgressed against the law were sinners who stood under threat of judgement.