Many traditional mainstream churches have emphasized the forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of Christ, and they have minimized the importance of obeying God's law, saying the law is done away. Mr. Armstrong was raised in mainstream tradition, and after he learned the truth and began to preach the true gospel to the world and to the Church of God, he emphasized that which was not emphasized in the mainstream tradition he and many of us have come out of, and needed to be emphasized: obedience to the spiritual law of God.
He repeatedly taught that God's law defines a way of life that leads to happiness and everything good. He taught that the violation of that law, sin, results in suffering, destruction, and death. He taught God's law as a matter of cause and effect. Like the law of gravity, God's law works automatically, producing good results when obeyed and bad results when disobeyed. If you break God's law, it will break you, Mr. Armstrong would often say.
As a general principle, this is true.
In God's kingdom, obedience to the law of God by all of us in God's family will bring happiness to all. The way of life expressed by God's law, when universally practiced, results in universal happiness and peace.
But whether a person obeys or disobeys God's law affects not only that person but also those around him. One who sins can bring suffering to those who are obeying God's law. Thus, you may obey God's law, yet suffer because of the disobedience of others.
Moreover, in this life even converted members of God's Church have carnal, human nature to fight, and we do not win every battle. We have two natures within us, our carnal nature infused in our minds by Satan and God's nature given to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and these two natures war against each other in our minds. "I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:21-23). "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17). "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:14-20).
So we are not perfect yet in this life, and thus we do not obey God's law perfectly.
This is Satan's world, and it is a mixture of good and evil, with evil predominating.
Not only do we suffer in this life because of the sins of the world, we suffer because of our own sins, even if we are mostly obeying God. You might be obeying God 98%, but the 2% sin you commit may bring suffering upon you that might seem all out of proportion to the righteousness you practice. Why? Because God is teaching us lessons. God can bring the consequences of the 2% sin in our lives in a strong way to teach us to get rid of that 2% sin.
Let 20 cars go speeding 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, and they will get away with it. Let me try it, and I'll get caught and ticketed at the worst time of my life when I don't have the money to pay the fine. Others in the world seem to get away with a lot of sin, but I can't get away with anything. Why? God is teaching me, and He wants me to suffer so I learn.
So we may suffer in this life, even if we mostly obey God.
And sometimes we might think this is unfair. But it is not. Believe it or not, God does not promise a happy life in this world, Satan's world, if we obey God's law. Instead, God has given us the better promises of the New Covenant: God's Holy Spirit and eternal life.
Often a newly baptized member or soon-to-be-baptized prospective member will have the following expectation about his or her future Christian life: "I will obey God's law and I will be blessed in this physical life. Sure, I'll have a few trials along the way, but for the most part, I will be happy because I will live the way of life, God's way according to God's law, that produces happiness. I will find a good wife (or husband) in the Church, I will have a happy marriage, I will have happy, healthy children. I myself will be healthy because I will obey the laws of health, and I will prosper in my career because I will work hard and pay my tithes."
It is certainly not wrong to expect blessings to come because of obedience. Those blessings will certainly come, either in this temporary physical life or in God's kingdom to come. But there is no guarantee God will give us a happy life now in this world during our physical life. What God promises is the gift of His Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life in His kingdom. That is where we will find the true blessings.
Look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented" (Luke 16:19-25).
Did Lazarus obey God's law? He must have, or how could he be in God's kingdom with Abraham? Did his obedience lead to happiness in this physical life? No, for in the words of the parable, Lazarus received "evil things" in this life.
Did Paul have a happy life in this physical life? Was he physically blessed in the here and now? Speaking about Saul (to be renamed Paul), Christ said to Ananias, "For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake" (Acts 9:16). Paul later wrote, "Are they ministers of Christ? - I speak as a fool - I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
God can bring suffering on us in this life for several reasons: to teach us lessons, to correct us for our sins, or to test our faith. Will we have faith that God is good, fair, just, and merciful, even if we suffer after obeying God? Job had to learn the lesson of believing in God's righteousness more than his own, even when he suffered.
Yet we may have a tendency to question God's fairness when we suffer even when we are obedient. "I fasted, but things became worse." "I made progress in overcoming sin, yet I am suffering worse trials than before." "Why won't God answer my prayers? Doesn't God care that I am obeying His law?" Then, finally, we can be tempted to say to ourselves, "God isn't fair. He promised me blessings for obedience, and I am obeying, but God has not blessed me."
In effect, we can be looking for Old Covenant blessings under the New Covenant. But the promises of the New Covenant are not the same as the promises of the Old Covenant. In fact, as members of the Church of God, we are not entitled to the promises and blessings of the Old Covenant. That is actually good for us, because the promises of the New Covenant are far far better.
What does God promise for obedience under the Old Covenant? National and physical blessings in this life: health, prosperity, and safety. "Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all those who hate you" (Deuteronomy 7:12-15). "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God: Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you" (Deuteronomy 28:1-8).
What does God promise under the New Covenant? CORRECTION and TESTING! For what purpose? To prepare us for eternal life as His sons in the Kingdom of God. "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11). "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13). "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Why must we suffer in this life? Because God is making us perfect for eternal life as His sons in the Kingdom of God. And it is in the Kingdom of God that we will have the real blessings of happiness for eternity.
But too often, in our minds or emotions, we demand physical blessings in this life for our obedience, and we become discouraged when we do not receive them, wondering why God doesn't bless us.
Sometimes it is good to ask ourselves why God is withholding blessings, because God may want us to examine ourselves to learn our faults so we can repent and go to work on them, and withholding blessings or putting us through trials can be a way of getting our attention.
But we should never question or doubt God's fairness, justice, or righteousness as Job seems to have done (Job 27:1-4, 34:5). Nor should we become discouraged and think, "what's the use of obeying?" Notice again, "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him'...Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:5-12). "Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the wicked" (Proverbs 24:19).
We must learn the lesson of faith, and we must trust God that if we learn our lessons and continue to overcome and believe, trust, and obey God, and endure to the end, we will be rewarded and blessed in the Kingdom of God.
The spiritual law of God is the basic law and requirement of both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Both covenants promise blessings, and since God's law defines the way of life that produces blessings, the law of God must be a requirement of both covenants. You can't have a covenant that promises blessings without the requirement of obedience to the way of life that produces blessings. It is obedience to the law that produces the blessings promised in both covenants.
But the specific blessings and promises of the two covenants are different. The Old Covenant promises physical blessings in this life for the nation of Israel. The New Covenant promises the Holy Spirit now and eternal life of glory, honor, and joy in the Kingdom of God for Christians.
God teaches us lessons in this life. He tests us, teaches us, corrects us, and shapes our character. That is His number one priority at this time. If He gives us blessings now, it is to teach us. If He gives suffering and trials, it is to teach us. Under the New Covenant, our real blessing and reward will be in the Kingdom of God, not in this physical life in Satan's world.
Sometimes, in times of trial and suffering, we may feel we are not receiving the blessings we should have for obedience. When we think this way, we are looking for Old Covenant promises of physical blessings in this life, but we are not under the Old Covenant.
For us in the Church, it is in God's kingdom that our reward and blessings for obedience await us.