I just included Bacon in the title to try to get you to read this. Shameful? (well that’s your opinion)!
I have been doing a lot of thinking about the role of laws, rules and regulations in the life of Christian. It is in part because I am preaching through the book of Galatians, but it is also because it keeps coming up in many conversations, blogs, books and sermons I have listened to. Maybe my ears are more attuned to it and it has been there all along, or maybe God is trying to get my attention.
Either way, I have been forced to consider the definition of Law in the New Testament and even particularly in the writings of Paul. The most obvious answer is that Paul, who was raised as a good Jewish boy, trained in the law, and studied under the Rabbi Gamaliel, refers to the Torah or Law of Moses when he speaks of Law. A large portion of the Old Testament is taken up with laws regulating life within the old covenant community of God. There were dietary law, laws about society, religious and ceremonial laws, laws about commerce . . . if you have read it you know what I am talking about. Paul knew what it meant to try to keep the Law of Moses. His former life as a Jew required him to attempt to the best of his ability to keep this Law. To a good Jew, the Law defined the desire of God for human life. It was an all encompassing way of living before God.
So when Paul says in Romans 3:20 “For by works of the law, no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Paul shows a radical shift in His understanding of the law. He has come to see the law as a sign, but not a savior. The Law then is first and foremost a sign of two different things. The law serves as a sign of the standard of God. And it equally is a sign of our inability to keep that standard. As Romans 3:20 says, “through the law we gain the knowledge of sin.” Without the law we may be tempted to think we are doing okay with God . . . but when we are made aware of the law, we suddenly realize how high the bar really is.
Signs are very static. They don’t adjust well to my life. They don’t take into account that my wife is in labor and we need to get to the hospital. They don’t flex to my preferences. In Galatians 3:21-22 Paul puts it this way, ” . . . For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” The law does not give life, it does not empower, it does not energize . . . the law is not a remedy, but a diagnostic tool.
So in light of the primary diagnostic role of the law, Paul says in Romans 8:3-4, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” In the end, the law was like leaving a kid alone in a room with a piece of chocolate cake for two hours with only one instruction . . . don’t eat the cake. Most likely the law will become weakened by desire or appetite . . . and the kid will eat the cake.
To some, this might sound like a lot of theory, but it has really be rocking my world. I have thought for many years that a person is saved by grace and then they primarily grow in faith through the law. But I have been guilty of picking and choosing which laws apply. I’ll eat some lobster . . . avoid tassels on my clothes (maybe country music is closer to God?) and I have never sacrificed an animal in a Temple. But then I turn to the law to point out adultery, murder, and sexual immorality as sin. I have lived a divided life, arbitrarily deciding which laws apply and which laws don’t.
But the clincher is that in Galatians 3:24-25 Paul emphatically states, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” Paul is clearly relinquishing the role of the Law in our lives. We do not any longer live according to laws, rules and regulations, but we live by faith.
So is the law to be utterly rejected? Is it without value? Do we just run off naked into craziness without any moral compass? Romans 8:1-11 deals with this very questions and the Holy Spirit is mentioned 11 times in these 11 verses! The Holy Spirit is now the one who drives things, not the Law. For the follower of Jesus Christ, the Spirit alive within takes the Word of God and breathes life into us. And that will lead us to the third use of the law. It does show us the standard that God has for us. As a follower of Jesus Christ, the law does not motivate us, only grace can truly do this. But in the illustration above, without the law, the kid just eats the cake, end of story. He would do so with no knowledge of a standard, no sense of guilt and no realization that there even is a desired outcome.
So when David says in Psalm 19:7-11 “The law of the Lord is perfect,reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” He is speaking about the law from the perspective of one who knows God and has experienced His grace! How do I know? Because look at the rest of the passage in Psalm 19:12-14 “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
You see David extolled the value of the law in that it showed Him the character of God. It showed His holiness. But in the face of such a law, David’s response was “Who can discern his errors?” David didn’t even trust his own self-diagnosis! And then he says some amazing things . . . not “give me more rules”, not “I am so good at keeping your law,” but “DECLARE me innocent from hidden faults.” David knew he had sins even he was unaware of. Notice how David is pleading for grace. Because the law has done its job, convicting him of how far he has fallen short of the standard, and rather than just putting on a game face and getting to the grindstone of the law, he turns to God for mercy! He boldly asks God to keep him from sin! He asks God to let his words and thoughts to be acceptable. Even David, knew what the law was for! Even King David under the Old Covenant, knew that it was going to need to be a life based on grace . . . or he was in deep trouble.
The law is great at what it was designed for . . . conviction of God’s Holiness and conviction of our own falleness, But when we try to stretch the Law into part of the solution, we make a mess! The law cannot produce a life pleasing to God, only the Spirit within us, empowering, convicting, and giving us new life, new purpose, new motivation can truly move us higher.
If you read this far . . . you are a trooper. I would love to hear your thoughts, or just post a comment to the effect that you endured to the end. 🙂