Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

God's Beautiful, Holy, Good and Crushing Law

This was posted on the Resurgence blog today. It is pertinent to where we are going in our series "You Have Heard" from the Sermon On the Mount.

The Law Doesn't Give Life

The apostle Paul, a Jewish rabbi who had extensive respect for and acquaintance with God’s law (Acts 22:3) had some very shocking thoughts about it once he came to faith in Christ. Although he heartily agreed that it was “holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12), and although he knew the beautiful nature of God’s law, he also knew that the law could never bring sinners to life because no one could obey it. He confessed that all his obedience (and it was extensive) had no more value than a pile of manure (Phil. 3:8). He wrote:

By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight. (Rom. 3:20)

What then? Are we Jews [who have the written law] any better off [than Gentiles who didn’t]? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:9–11)

All [Jews and Gentiles] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23)

The very commandment that promised life [“Obey and you will live,” Deut. 30:16] proved to be death to me [because although Paul tried, he couldn’t obey it]. (Rom. 7:10)

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law [because our fundamental disobedience brings us under God’s curse rather than under his blessing]. (Gal. 3:10–11)

[The law is a] . . . ministry of death, carved in letters on stone. (2 Cor. 3:7)

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law. (Gal. 5:4)

Drowning in a Ministry of Death

These words about God’s law and our condition of lawlessness should make us stop and seriously question how we use it in our own lives and in the lives of our children. When we seek to have right standing (justification) before a holy God through compliance to it, we are severed, cut off, separated from the grace and righteousness provided by Jesus Christ. We are on our own. We are falling as sinners into the hands of a terrifyingly holy and allpowerful God. When we teach others to do the same thing, we aredrowning them in a “ministry of death.” Why death? Because that’s the inevitable result when sinners ignore Jesus Christ and seek holiness on their own.

The very law that was meant to bring life stirs up a desire for sin and kills us.

The Law Actually Hinders Us from Righteousness

This is serious business. It is no wonder then that the great reformer Martin Luther wrote, “The law of God, the most salutary [beneficial] doctrine of life, cannot advance humans on their way to righteousness, but rather hinders them.” The law of God, although beneficial and beautiful, cannot advance us on our way to righteousness because we cannot obey it. Although the law demands perfection in only two areas, none of us (reread the passages above if you need to), no, none of us fully complies. What are these two areas? Jesus laid them out for us in Matthew 22:36–40:

    "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these twocommandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

Pure, unadulterated, consistent love for God and pure, unadulterated consistent love for others is the summation of all the law God has given us in both the Old and New Testaments. Of course, the problem is that we never obey these simple commands. We always love ourselves more than we love God or others. We are always building idols in our hearts and worshiping and serving them. We are always more focused on what we want and how we might get it than we are on loving him and laying down our life for others. The law does show us the right way to live, but none of us obeys it. Not for one millisecond.

Crushed and Driven to Christ

The law of God also hinders our advance toward righteousness because, in our pride, we think that if we just try hard enough or repent deeply enough, we’ll be able to obey it. We read the promises of life for obedience and think that means that we can do it. The promises of life for obedience are not meant to build our self-confidence. They’re meant to make us long for obedience and then, when we fail again, they’re meant to crush us and drive us to Christ.

The law won’t make them good. It will make them despair of ever being good enough, and in that way it will make them open to the love, sacrifice, and welcome of their Savior, Jesus Christ.

In addition, the law defeats us by awakening the sin that is residentwithin us. As Paul said, “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Rom. 7:7–8). In other words, the very law that was meant to bring life stirs up a desire for sin and kills us. Again, that doesn’t mean that we don’t teach others God’s law. We are commanded to do so but not to make them good. We are commanded to give them the law so that they will be crushed by it and see their need for a Savior. The law won’t make them good. It will make them despair of ever being good enough, and in that way it will make them open to the love, sacrifice, and welcome of their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Yes, give them God’s law. Teach it to them and tell them that God commands obedience. But before you are done, give them grace and explain again the beautiful story of Christ’s perfect keeping of it for them. Jesus Christ was the only one who ever deserved to hear, “You are good,” but he relinquished his right relationship with the law and his Father and suffered as a lawbreaker. This is the message we all need to hear, and it is the only message that will transform our hearts.

Adapted from Give them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, © 2011. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

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