This page gives brief definitions for words and terms that do not appear in the Bible but are important to understand in the context of the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary. They are described especially in relation to the spiritual contexts presented on this website. These terms are linked to from various pages on this site that use them.
Arbitrary (in connection with “law”)
Arbitrary (adjective): “subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion: an arbitrary decision.” (www.dictionary.com)
In the Traditional Legal Model, God, being sovereign, can make whatever laws He chooses and arbitrarily impose penalties for disobedience to them. This is in contrast to God’s laws being design laws with natural consequences. An example of an arbitrary law would be a speed limit of 60 km/hr. Someone chose that; it could have been 50 or 55 or 65 or 70 km/hr. Read a guest article with good examples of and discussion regarding arbitrary laws.
Linked to from Law – definition
Biblical Healing Model
God designed His law as the law of life, violations of which have intrinsic, natural consequences leading towards death. Those who rebel against His law of love will exhibit that rebellion in unrighteous acts – sins. This state of sinfulness causes condemnation in the conscience and has punishment built into it. When a person persists in rejection of and distrust in God, God honors that free-will choice and in “anger” leaves the sinner to the consequences (effectively, what some would call the penalty) of his choices.
If guilt brings conviction enough to cause a sinner to choose repentance, he will receive forgiveness which has already been granted by God to all. A realization of the grace and glory (character) of God to provide salvation leads the sinner to trust (have faith in) God; to be justified or set right with Him – what the Bible calls atonement – the condition of being “at one” with God. The repentant sinner then, as He beholds the righteousness of Christ, grows in sanctification towards perfection of character. Christ’s life (typified by His blood) and sacrifice frees (ransoms) us from what held us captive – the lies of Satan about the character of God and our own sinful natures.
Consequence (noun): the effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier: The accident was the consequence of reckless driving. (www.dictionary.com)
God made laws according to His nature and how He designed creation to function. He does not assign arbitrary penalties for disobedience but there are natural consequences for every transgression of natural law. Those consequences apply to what we call natural law (gravity etc) but also to any breaking of God’s law of love (acting selfishly) which ultimately leads, if not healed, to separation from God and thus death.
Design laws are the laws the Creator established for the universe to run on. They include all the natural laws of physics (gravity, light, atomic structure), laws of life (respiration, photosynthesis, enzymatic action) and also God’s moral laws. All deviations from design laws cause damage in some way. God, the Designer, seeks to have us understand His design laws for our own good and keep them for our benefit and protection.
The opposite of design or natural law is imposed law.
Within our human-law system, there are imposed penalties for breaking laws that must be arbitrarily imposed as there is nothing inherently wrong with breaking such laws. Driving 90 km/hr in an 80 km/hr zone doesn’t naturally cause any damage or hurt to anyone.
Believers in the penal substitution system (most of Christianity) deny that sin itself causes death and instead teach that sin is a legal problem with God’s laws which they understand to be imposed (rather than design) laws. Sin, in such a system, must be arbitrarily punished. This false belief makes God into One who is imposing His own will to do what He wants rather than a God of love Who is first of all doing what is best for His created beings.
The opposite of imposed law is design or natural law.
1. strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.
1. the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.
2. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
The source above adds that the word was first used in about 1830-40 explaining why it does not appear in Webster’s 1828 dictionary.
Legalism, the belief that one can be saved by obeying laws not meant to save us but only to regulate behavior and show the condition of the heart, was well-demonstrated by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
Legalism puts God’s acceptance of us based on our performance ahead of His acceptance of us based on relationship; His love for us. In fact, the Bible indicates that even our best performance doesn’t count for much:
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isa 64:6)
In what is the most-often used diagram on this website, legalism equates to focusing most on which of the three levels of sin? See Mopping up the Mess
Of course, the great danger in legalism is that one believing it to be the way of salvation will be less likely to seek a trusting relationship with Jesus who said:
“… I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’ (John 14:6)
Linked to from Law definition.
Human society uses a penal justice system based on payment of penalties for infractions of laws. Religion has adopted this as the penal substitution theory of atonement in which justice demands the imposition of punishment. Legal payment is either made by the sinner or by Jesus’ sacrifice on the sinner’s behalf.
Penal substitution is one of seven theories of the atonement. They correspond to the seven levels of moral development and are well described in this article by Dr. Timothy Jennings.
One who is sovereign has supreme power or authority; they answer to no one else. Obviously, only God has this in the truest sense and it is often said (even to excuse questionable acts of God) that because He is God He can do whatever He wants. Yes, God is sovereign but His sovereign will is to act within His character of love and that necessarily restricts what He can do. For example, scripture indicates that “… God, that cannot lie …” (Titus 1:2) God, being love (1 John 4:8), cannot do anything that is not in the best interests of another being.
Traditional Legal Model
God designed His law and imposed arbitrary penalties – ultimately, death – for violations which are called sins. Since He is a God of justice, evil stirs up His anger or wrath which must be appeased by a sacrifice including the shedding of blood. Those who finally reject salvation come under the awful curse of God Who will finally take vengeance by smiting them with fire from heaven – the second death.
A sinner whose guilty conscience brings conviction for his sinfulness can confess and be granted forgiveness because the ransom has been provided to legally cancel the debt. The propitiation brings atonement for the sins, the record of which is then erased from the books of heaven. The repentant sinner, by faith, is justified and declared to be (even if not actually) righteous. Having received salvation, he grows in sanctification towards perfection and, in the final investigative judgment, he will not come under condemnation.
Note that this website does not support this unBiblical but commonly-believed understanding of the gospel.