There is a gargantuan wrestle going on in the body of Christ over Grace and Law. This struggle is not new by any stretch, but it has resurfaced again recently as one of the most significant points of discussion / contention in the church.
I want to take this moment and look at the law. I want to bring some perspective from the Word of God on “Law”.
The Law was never meant to make us righteous -
The law of God is a beautiful gift given by God for a specific purpose, well actually several specific purposes. Let’s talk about three of them:
- To reveal the character and nature of God to His people: One of the primary reasons God does ANYTHING that he does in regard to man is to show us what he is like. The Bible says this was his motivation for creation itself and it is his motivation for giving us the law as well. God wants His people to know Him. We get a glimpse of this in the first two of the ten commandments. The familiar "You shall have no other God’s before me” and “you shall not make yourself an idol" statements are followed immediately by His reason WHY we should not do these things “for I, the LORD your God am a jealous God”. He wanted them to know exactly how he felt about their hearts belonging to anyone else but Him. The rest of the ten commandments do not have such obvious revelations following them but they still reveal God for who He is. A God who cannot be controlled, and deserves the utmost respect therefore his name cannot be taken in vain. A God who cares about the health of His people and commands them to rest one day out of seven. etc. Through every law something else about God is revealed.
- To teach us wisdom in our dealings with one another: God wants a people who love and care for one another. So in his law He sets boundaries, He defines human relationships, He lays out rules for sex, money, government, etc. Every dimension of human life is explored and ordered by the law of God. What a caring and thoughtful Father he is. People often say that we aren’t given a handbook for marriage, or parenthood etc, but in many ways we are. In the law of God are the guiding principles that, when followed, lead to human flourishing.
- To demonstrate our need for a Savior: This purpose of the law is the most applicable to our discussion today. In Galatians 3:24 the Apostle Paul calls the law the “schoolmaster which leads us to Christ” (KJV). It was the yardstick of God’s perfection put up in front of a broken mankind to show us that we could not do life to the fullest without God’s help. When God originally gave the law he gave it alongside the sacrificial system. He new all along that humanity could not, by its own power, live up to the standard he set. That is why he gave us a way to “make up the difference” and it was the blood of bulls and goats. The law beautifully illustrates the brokenness of humanity. We were meant to look into the perfection of God’s law and understand immediately that we were not able to stand up next to it and survive, and then to turn to HIM in FAITH and ask for the help we so obviously required.
One purpose that is not found anywhere in scripture is that the law is a path to follow to make us acceptable to God. Scripture teaches that blessings come from obedience to the law and curses come from disobedience, but that is not the same thing. It was only ever faith in God’s merciful nature manifested through the SACRIFICES that made men acceptable to God, or gave them access to Him. Many of the problems the church has had in understanding our relationship to the law have arisen from a fundamental misunderstanding of the reason He gave us the law in the first place. God’s law was NEVER MEANT to make us more like Him. It was meant to show us that we WERE NOT like Him. It was meant to show us how much we NEEDED Him. That is what Paul is talking about in Romans 3:20 - "no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (emphasis mine).
It’s not You its ME: The law quite simply does not have the power to make us righteous. It never has. It was never meant to. When we turn to obedience to the law in an attempt to become more like Jesus it is like asking a ruler to make us taller. It will never work! The closer we get to the ruler the more obvious it becomes that we are have not grown an inch. The law does not make us better in regards to righteousness. It make us WORSE. Paul talks about this in Romans 7. He says that he was not a person who coveted until He was told NOT to covet and then he became the most covetous person imaginable. Why? If the law is a gift from God then why does it make us worse and not better? It’s easy its because we are messed up! The problem is not the perfection of the law but the imperfection of man! The Law is the revelation of the perfection of God! It shines forth the glory and beauty of our infinitely glorious creator! The problem is in US. In the sin filled human heart. Paul says the sin inside him took the opportunity of the law to create even more sin in him. Brokenness is all we have. It’s all we know before the cross. When broken human nature comes up against the revelation of God we get worse not better. We have no ability to respond correctly to the revelation of God outside of Christ.
Broken human hearts always respond in one of two ways to the glory of God in the Law.
- Rebellion - The first response of the human heart to the revelation of God’s perfect law is to see it and hate it and run as far from it as possible. How many times have you heard words like this, “you can’t judge me” or “you don’t get to tell me how to live my life”? That is a broken human heart knee jerking to the light. It is a fist shaking in the face of God. It is a human declaring that they will not be ruled. “I will be my OWN God!”
- Religion - The second response is more subtle and twice as dangerous because it sneaks up on us. I will call it religion though there are possibly better words for it. They treat the law as a ladder to lift themselves up to God’s level. They work so hard as to believe that they are now OWED something by God and not just God but everyone else as well. The spirit of religion is so sneaky, and their sinful hearts are so broken, that it convinces them that they are moving closer to God when in actuality they are doing the exact same thing as the out-right rebellious person. They too are saying, “I will be my own God”.
The Law is a beautiful thing when we see it from the other side of the Cross: It is only when we respond to the law the way God intended us to, in humility, repentance and faith that the law is able to act as the gift He always meant it to be. We see our sin. We see our inability. We see His glory. We see His mercy. We come to Christ and he washes us in His blood. He meets all the unreachable requirements of the law. He pays our debt to the law. By the law we die to the law and our endless struggle is finally put to rest. We stand via Grace through faith justified before God accepted, adopted, and glorified! The law becomes the beautiful friend who showed us Jesus and now teaches us His wisdom, and shows us His beauty.
Thank you Jesus for the Law.