What Good is The Law When There Is Grace?
Kristen and I have a group of friends that we have been meeting with almost weekly for about three years now. We get together in one anothers' homes. We laugh and eat together. We celebrate and mourn together. We encourage and correct each other. We talk about Jesus and pray for one another.
Most recently our discussions have been about Jesus' take on the Ten Commandments. In Matthew's account of Jesus' life, he preserves Jesus' teaching on the Ten Commandments. It is fascinating to hear his take on them.
But one question that rattles around all the time as we consider the law of God is this: if we are saved by grace through faith and not by following the law, if we are set free from the law, yet there are moral imperatives in the New Testament, what role does God's law (the Ten Commandments) and other imperatives play? Another way to ask the question is this: if we are saved by grace, then we don't have to follow God's Law, right?
The simple answer is "no", God's grace does not nullify the law or imperatives of God. Jesus said that he didn't come to abolish the law and that not a single part of it would pass away. Jesus loved God's perfect law. Like King David, God's word was like honey. It was sweet, good, and wonderful. God's Law was, is, and always will be perfect. We would do well to see the law the way Jesus saw it.
The law of God is right, good, perfect, and useful as it points out how right, good, and perfect God Himself is. The law of God is reflection of the perfection of God. It is a viewfinder through which we can see a glimpse of the holy righteousness of the God Most High. It points out far and away God's ways and nature are from ours.
The law of God is right, good, perfect, and useful as it points out my broken and sinful heart. It's not just that my actions break the law of God, but that my disobedient actions reveal a heart that is less that 100% pure and right with God. The law shows me my broken heart.
The law of God is right, good, perfect, and useful as it points out how incapable I am to make myself perfect. Jesus also raised the bar on the Ten Commandments in his sermon on the mount in Matthew's Gospel. He said things like anger is murder and lust is adultery. He wasn't being extreme for extreme's sake. He was making the point that none of us should think we can save ourselves by keeping the law. The law is completely and totally out of reach for us to save ourselves by our own obedience. Jesus saw the law as something that would drive us to depend on grace. It shows how desperate I am for a Savior that can make me right before God.
Jesus summed up the law by saying it was about loving God and loving other people. The law demands perfect vertical love for God and horizontal love for those around us. But the law of God does not have the power to produce what it demands. Rules cannot produce affections. Commands cannot create love. So we are stuck with a law that demands perfect love, but cannot create that in us and only shows our inability to create it in ourselves.
So how do we fulfill God's perfect law of love? What produces love in us that The Law requires of us? What creates a love for God and a love for other people inside of us where there is no love in us?
John, the disciple of Jesus, wrote in his first letter (1 John 4:19) that "we love because Christ first loved us." It is the love of Jesus fully and finally given in his life, death, and resurrection that produces in us what the law cannot produce. Love produces love. But it is not just any love that can produce the perfect love God requires. It is only God's perfect love that produce perfect love in us.
So the law has a massive and vital role in our lives. It's position is critical. But it's power is limited. The love of God in Jesus also has a position, a primary position because it hold ultimate power to produce what God desires in us- love.
So should we care about God's law? Yes! Should we look to God's law? Yes. Should we want to follow God's law? Yes. But we do it all in light of the love of God poured out in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
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