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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 01/05/1990
"And now, Israel, what does the Lord require of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, and love him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord's commandments and his statutes, which I am commanding you today for your good?"
Have you ever been prejudiced against anything, only to discover later that it was good? Prejudice is an unthinking like or dislike that biases your reactions. It is literally to pre-judge, to judge something in advance, i.e. before the evidence is in. I vividly remember school desegregation back in 1964. We were fortunate in that the new black contingent at Lakeshore High School was led by the Rainey's. Young Rainey and his sisters were intelligent, talented, and athletic, and more importantly, neither had chips on their shoulders nor expected special treatment. We had to admit that, contrary to our pre-judgments about them, anyone who could help us beat the Headland Highlanders couldn't be all bad. They forced us to realize that prejudice was simply a form of ignorance.
As we begin these studies of God's Law, I am aware of the fact that we as good Protestants have some prejudices to overcome. The Law does not have terribly positive connotations for most of us. Martin Luther understandably divided Scripture into two parts, Law and Gospel. "Every word of Scripture is either a word of Law which condemns, or a word of Gospel which liberates." We are naturally more interested in being liberated than condemned! So Luther's approach set the tone for how Evangelicals tend to view the Law. His doctrines of SOLA FIDE, justification by faith alone, and SOLA GRATIA, salvation by grace alone, were good, they were true, and they were right. But if we follow them blindly, we can lose something. We even have a hymn that goes,
Free from the Law! Oh, happy condition! Jesus has died and there is remission.
If we follow those insights blindly, we can lose sight of the fact that there is also a strain of teaching in Scripture that looks at the Law positively.
We must therefore, as we saw last week, distinguish between the Law itself and the Pharisaic misinterpretation and misuse of the Law as a means of salvation. Christ is the end of the Law for salvation; i.e., he puts an end forever to works-righteousness. But he is not the end of the Law, period. The Law does indeed have the negative function of reproof, conviction, and condemnation. But once we are set free from the burden of works, once we are set free from the burden of trying to keep the ceremonial law, then we are free to see the Law as a good thing, for it reveals God's character, his will, and his Son. Therefore we study it because we love the God whom it reveals, Jesus to whom it drives us, Scripture which it unlocks, ourselves whom it prospers, and our children whom it nurtures in wisdom and righteousness. We study it because God loves us and gave us the Law as a blessing. It is a Curse when we misuse it as a way of salvation, but becomes a Blessing when we are freed from that error. Therefore today I simply want to reinforce the notion that the Law is good. In Deut. 10:13 it was commanded for our good. In 1 Tim. 1:8, we know that it is good if we use it lawfully. What is it good for?
We associate the Law with God's Wrath because we are sinners--we have broken it and are condemned by it. But when we turn to Christ in faith, we are set free from the guilt of sin, and therefore from the wrath of God and the curse of the Law. Because our salvation is no longer dependent on our success in keeping the Law, but rather on the righteousness of Christ, we are free to look at the Law differently. The association with Wrath is not therefore essential to the Law, but is an accident, occasioned by the fact that we are sinners. Once Christ has dealt with our sins, the Law which bef ore spoke only of God's wrath can now speak of other things.
Indeed, the very language of its first giving associates the Law with God's grace. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Ex. 20:2). That is the prolog to the Ten Commandments. What is God saying? "Because I am a God of grace--because I have already delivered you from bondage, not because you deserved it but only because of my promise to Abraham--because that's who I am, and that's what I have done, therefore you must live like this as my people." Not, "If you do these things you will be my people and I will save you." Rather, "Because you are my people and I have already saved you, this is how you must live." Keeping the Law, in its very original proclamation, was not a way of attaining salvation but a way of responding to God's salvation. The Pharisees had got the legal cart in front of the redemptive horse.
When we understand the Law in this way, Moses' prayer in Ex. 33:13 becomes very interesting. "Now therefore, if I have found favor in thy sight, let me know thy ways." God reveals his way to us as an expression of his favor--of his grace. Because God is merciful and gracious, he takes pity upon us poor sinners and reveals to us the path of blessing, the path of life. So the Law is indeed an expression of God's grace. But it can only be seen as such when we have resolutely turned away from seeing it as a means of salvation. When we try to use it THAT way, all it can do is condemn.
The Psalmist cries, "How blessed is he whose ways are blameless, who walks in the Law of the Lord" (119:1). Moses said that if we keep God's Law he will "love you and bless you and multiply you" (Deut. 7:13) and that "All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you will obey the Lord your God" (Deut. 28:2). In Scripture, "blessing" is a word for that deep and lasting happiness and well being that comes only from God. It sometimes comes in the form of specific gifts that bring blessing when they are received as tokens of his love. All things being equal, those who obey God's Law, not out of a legalistic spirit as if by doing so they could please him by their works, but as a response of gratitude for his grace, will be blessed. Efforts to obey the Law in a legalistic sense bring nothing but a curse. But "Evangelical Obedience" promotes blessing in our lives. We are specifically promised the blessings of health (Ex. 15:26), long life (Ex. 20:12), and general prosperity or success (Deut. 4:40, 5:29, Josh. 1:9, Ps. 1:1-6) as the rewards of obedience. And Jesus' commentary on the Law in Matthew 5 shows that every kind of spiritual and emotional blessing is involved as well. There is no absolute promise that everyone who obeys will experience these things. Some are martyred, for example, which is hardly compatible with long life, and others are persecuted, which can be a powerful depriver of health and wealth. The "Health and Wealth" gospel ("Name it and claim it!"--or, more accurately, "Blab it and grab it!") is a simplistic and ultimately heretical perversion of this truth. But it is generally true nonetheless that obedience in the right spirit promotes blessing--it is conducive to health, long life, and prosperity because it means living in accordance not just with a set of rules but with the way God designed the universe and human nature to work and to thrive.
Moses says that we should "keep and do" God's commandments "because that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples" (Deut. 4:6). "Thy commandments," says the writer of Psalm 119, "make me wiser than my enemies" (v. 8). The king is commanded to write out his own copy of the Law and read it all his days so that he may have political wisdom to govern the nation (Deut. 17:18-20). Forget the self-help books. If you want to be wise, study the Law of God.
Old Testament saints who understood the proper use of the Law seem to have taken great pleasure in it. The godly man's "delight is in the Law of the Lord" (Ps. 1:2). The precepts of the Lord "rejoice the heart" (Ps. 19:8). We are to pray that our eyes may be opened to "behold wonderful things out of thy Law" (Ps. 119:18). Even in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, that great enemy of works-righteousness, agrees "joyfully" with the Law in his inner man (Rom. 7:22). Why? In the first place, because of all the benefits we have listed above. but even more because in itself the Law reflects the wisdom, the goodness, the beauty of God's character. And those who love him must of course take great delight in that.
We must conclude that when Paul says in 2 Tim. 3:16 that ALL of Scripture is inspired and therefore PROFITABLE, he means to include the Law. Leaving behind the wrong use of the Law as a means of salvation, let me therefore end today's message with a summary of the right uses of the Law, moving from the more negative or grievous to the more positive and joyous.
First, the Law CONVICTS OF SIN. It cannot cleanse us of sin; it is a mirror, not a wash cloth. But the wash cloth works more efficiently when we use a mirror with it! Second, it FORMS THE CONSCIENCE. It helps to teach us right from wrong, and thereby hinders sin and restrains evil along with its hurtful consequences. Third, it INSTRUCTS IN HOLINESS. Holiness is wholeness of living; it is thus that the Law brings blessing. We must remember that the power to keep the Law comes from Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Law is a map, not a motor; but one needs both if one is to arrive at the destination of blessing. And fourth, it REVEALS THE CHARACTER OF GOD and therefore facilitates communion with him.
As we study the Law, we see the goodness and wisdom of God, and also the grace of God who shared these blessings with sinful men, and when that was not sufficient, gave his Son to keep the Law FOR us in Justification and keep it IN us in Sanctification. As we see all these things afresh, we should be led to worship and adore him--as we do even now.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams