O How I Love your Law!
The first Psalm declares to us that the way of blessing is found by a person’s delighting in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2). In the long Psalm, the writer declares: “O, how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps. 119:97).
Yet, an increasing number of pastors in our day would declare that if members of their churches expressed such sentiments, they would be rebuked for their legalism. Such pastors, in their endeavor to exalt the Lord’s grace, are guilty of denigrating the holy law of the Lord. They would maintain that the psalmists quoted above were simply being true to the limited light they had, and that they were making the best of the merely provisional revelation of God they possessed at the time they lived and wrote.
But, then, what are we to make of the Apostle Paul’s declaration in Rom. 7:22, where he says that he joyfully concurs with the law of God in the inner man? Surely the apostle that exalted the saving grace of Christ more than any other apostle cannot be a legalist!
The fact is that in our day believers are finding themselves increasingly misled by those who are prompted to rely on their own logic rather than upon the supra-rational divine gift of faith. What I mean is that all of the theological fads that have arisen in recent years are characterized by a tendency to subsume all heads of theology under one controlling rubric.
Thus, we have seen the Holy Spirit’s Person and work practically exaggerated to the point where the Father and Son are eclipsed. We have witnessed the Father’s adopting work magnified to the determent of the Son’s justifying work and Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work. We have been told that God’s supreme attribute is love, to the detriment of His holiness and justice. We have been urged, in the name of grace, to banish all thoughts of the law of God and of our seeking to keep it as we gratefully work out our salvation by the enabling power of the God who works in us to will and do His pleasure.
These changeable passions for subsuming all facets of the Person and work of our triune God under one main head are driven by an incapacity, if not a perversity, that cannot comprehend the balance, richness, and contours of the whole counsel of God. It is also a lazy man’s way to reduce all components of the revelation of God to one controlling feature that becomes the default mode for all theological reflection or endeavor.
The truth is that there is tension in the genuine gospel. For example, we must regard with utter reverence the holy law of God. Yet, we must not for a moment think that we save ourselves by our keeping of the law. Thus, we apprehend the grace of God, whereby in Christ the penalty of our violating God’s law has been both graciously and justly paid by Christ’s suffering and death, while His perfectly righteous life is imputed to us. Yet, this gracious transaction does not, when rightly understood, lead us to despise the law of God, but rather to concur in its holy nature and to seek to live with its just and beneficent precepts serving as our guide and goal.
Jesus Himself makes clear to us that we are all obliged to obey the moral law. He summed it up beyond the generally negative features of the Ten Commandments, telling us that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The very character of this law-its manifest righteousness, necessity, goodness-should make it clear to us all that we have been saved by God’s grace not to ignore, defy, or mock the law of God, but rather to revere it, and to strive to keep it, however faulty our striving will inevitably be, until we are perfected in sanctification, at which time we will have the law of God perfectly written in our hearts and issuing forth our own perfect and perpetual obedience to its holy precepts.
The legalist diminishes the law of God by reducing it to the dimensions of petty, outward regulations that he deludes himself into thinking that he can keep. He also despises the grace of God, viewing it as something he neither needs nor wants. The libertine diminishes the law of God by his conceiving of it as being only a provisional tool designed to convict sinners, and not as being also an abiding standard for believers. He, too, cheapens grace by his conceiving of it as divine indulgence that is indifferent to whether we live righteous or unrighteous lives. The truth is that the law of God is a holy, dreadful power that thunders condemnation against those sinners who are not in Christ. But after it works conviction in the elect, it then serves as the sweet standard for the blessed life of those who pass through its convicting power by the converting power of God’s grace in Christ. It is the essence of genuine divine grace that it not only saves us from our own violation of God’s law, but also fills us with growing desire to know, love, and gratefully obey the law of God for the pleasure and glory of the Lord who gave the law, as well as for our own highest blessing.
Pastor Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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