law book in the shape of a heart

Ravenous for Holiness

How I love Your Law! It is my meditation all the day. Psalm 119:97 NASB20

Blessed is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,Nor stand in the path of sinners,Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the Law of the LORD,And on His Law he meditates day and night. Psa 1:1-2 NASB20

Real Law, Real Obedience

When people object to a gospel of strong grace and genuine justification that endures to eternity, they do so from an honest and admirable concern for the holiness of God and the holiness of the Law. They think, you can’t and shouldn’t simply “believe” your way out of the consequences of your actions in a cheap or effortless way. You have to actually change your behavior. There must be true discipleship and genuine transformation.

The subtext is clear: you can’t say you love the law unless you do the law. Anything less is disingenuous theological trickery. Go read the book of James, the sermon on the mount, the end of Revelation, 1 Corinthians 6, and on and on. Not to mention Psalm 119. It’s so clear that all this “hypergrace” talk is blasphemy, just antinomian heresy.

Loving the Whole Law

Now, I would say that the truth is quite the opposite. I actually think it is helpful to actively and urgently try to obey the law. But if we only love the law that we can obey, we do not love the whole law. We love the doable law. We love the law that affirms us, and the law that is close and just on the other side of a practical repentance. But if we obey the law of avoiding adultery, yet we secretly dream of a spouse who is not our own, we transgress the law of coveting. We must not only avoid adultery, we must not even want any other person besides our spouse. Jesus in the sermon on the mount is not giving us new revelation about the law when he says that if we even look at a woman we have committed adultery. He is simply expositing the existing law.

So if we are to love the whole law, the real law, the holy law, we must love it all. We must love the law which we do not ever think we can really obey. We must never even want the house/car/career/life that is not ours. We must be perfectly content and happy with what is actually ours. We must have genuine gratitude. As life throws its sufferings and crosses at us, we must say “not my will but Thine be done.”

Obedience vs Love

It is not enough to obey God. We must love him – with all of our mind, heart, soul, and strength. Love implies a lingering, an effortless joy, a sense of play and easy repose. It implies that we like God and His ways. He is our party. This is very different from obeying God. Mere obedience says, I will do what I must do, but I do not have to like it. God is my job, but my joy is elsewhere. God is a day spent with my in-laws when I would rather be out fishing. This is not the true essence of the law. Idolatry is coveting and wanting and finding enjoyment of anything outside of God. There is not a single human who has ever lived besides Jesus Himself who can say they have experienced such holiness.

Now, also, one might say, I have repented of these other loves, and I have arrived at a true love of God. I’m skeptical of course, but let’s throw such a one a bone and go along with this pretense. The problem is, you have not been so throughout your entire life. And so you are asking to be justified because you have recently changed in a way that you could not possibly promise to uphold. And even if you could, it could not make up for your past. It would be like a murderer demanding release because he repented of murder. Repentance does not absolve you. You remain guilty. Your primary need is not repentance, you are making promises you probably can’t keep. Your primary need is salvation.

But what about this statement from Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15)? This is exactly in line with my whole point here. Remember that this statement comes in the context that, at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He is seemingly exasperated at the ignorance and lack of faith in his closest disciples. John the Apostle later says, “in this is love, not that we love God, but that God loved us” (1 John 4:10). We don’t love Him, and we don’t keep His commandments. Is it really so crazy to think that Christianity is not about obedience as much as it is about forgiveness? How many times do we have to go back to Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, all the parables about lost coins and sheep and sons and tax-gathering sinners beating their chests? Yes indeed, if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. We don’t keep His commandments because we really don’t love Him. But also remember that His first commandment is to BELIEVE (John 6:29). And what is it that we believe? We believe that He loves us (1 John 4:16)

Why then the Law?

Gal 3:24 NASB95 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor [to lead us] to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

If the law is going to be a tutor that leads us to Christ, we must not love only the parts we think we can pull off or that we think we can promise to pull off going forward. It is not enough to love the law we can repent ourselves into. And we must not entertain any nonsense about being “enabled” to do the law when we all know this is a load of nonsense that no one ever truly embodies. If it were so, and our “enabled” obedience is yet imperfect, why then do we still need endless needling sermons and imperatives and pressure to do better? Is the Holy Spirit so weak and futile and useless? This whole line of thinking betrays the fact that we still live under law and not under faith. Our true transformation in Christ is tangential to the law, and is not contingent upon our success at any so-called “personal holiness.” Our personal holiness is a fiction and is not the basis of our assurance of salvation.

No, indeed, in Christ we are able to love the whole law, the law which affirms us and the law which condemns us. The law which says don’t commit adultery and the law which says we should never even want to commit adultery. The law which says, not to simply obey God, but to love God. The law which urges us to find rest and solace and peace and contentment and even affection in God and only God. To trust God to the point of shedding blood. This is the true law. This is the law of the conscience, the law which is so precisely telling us moment by moment what is right and good and true.

Only this law can lead us to understand our helplessness in the face of our own sinfulness and evil. Only this law is a true mirror of the soul. Only this law can show us our true helplessness and our true wretchedness. Only this law is a tutor, that teaches us to cling to Christ, not as an example for how to live, but as a savior.

How is Any of this Law and Sin and Judgement Good?

And this is the beauty of all this terrible talk of sin and judgement and wretchedness. The deeper our wretchedness and sinfulness is revealed, the more we realize we should rightly be condemned, the more foundationally the grace and mercy of God defines us. The more the true holiness of the law wounds us, the more deeply the blood of Christ redeems and heals us. As a truer apprehension of the law leads us to depend less and less on our own works, the more sure our justification becomes in our own minds and experience.

And so we come in Christ, under grace and not under the law, to love the whole law more and more, and as we live in true confession under it, the more we are purified into dependence on the lavish grace of God. So we come to depend upon ourselves less and less, and to trust in Christ more and more. And certainly, under this new paradigm of grace, we may come into alignment with the law – but it is always descriptive and never prescriptive.

Moses vs. Jesus

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. Jhn 1:17 NASB95

There is also this constant drone of objection to gospel proclamation: “All of this theology is well and good, grace and election and the blood of Christ and the cross and all of that. Good for you for emphasizing all of that good stuff. But we need more practical instruction on how to live the Christian life. You just aren’t giving us enough practical application! You need to teach your people to love the law more.”

Oh my goodness, how sick I am from hearing that!!!! The law is not practical! Moses did not realize the law. He didn’t make it real in his life. He didn’t obey it. He gave it! There is a world of difference. The law is an ideal. But Jesus made grace real. Grace meets us as we are and administers the love of God where we actually live. It blesses us not as we deserve, but as we are. In so doing, it gives us the space and breadth and safety to see the law as it is, in all of its idealistic utopian majesty, even though we don’t measure up to it. All of this “useless” theology about justification and and redemption and the blood of Christ and the cross of Christ and salvation and such gives us the grace we need to go on living in the midst of our actual sinful failed diseased suffering miserable lives with hope and even a sense of joy. Grace is far more practical than law. It grants us the blessings of God as we are, and not as we should be. We will never be as we should be in this life.

[Gal 3:21-28 NASB95] 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor [to lead us] to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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