I recently reread C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and I’d like to start today’s post with one of the many quotes that stood out to me:
“Handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already.”
It’s a perfect way of describing the relationship between faith and works. We’re not saved by anything we do, but being saved inspires us to obedience and therefore faith-fueled action.
A Different Perspective on Law
This whole idea also makes me think of Psalm 119, which we were just looking at a couple months ago. The writer of Psalm 119 crafted a beautiful poem that pays homage to God’s law, precepts, and ordinances with every line. It’s a celebration of God’s precious words and of the positive effect following his instructions can have on our lives.
Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to Yahweh’s law. Blessed are those who keep his statutes, who seek him with their whole heart. (Psalm 119:1-2, all quotes from WEB translation)
I will delight myself in your commandments, because I love them. I reach out my hands for your commandments, which I love. I will meditate on your statutes. (Psalm 119:47-48)
How I love your law! It is my meditation all day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for your commandments are always with me. (Psalm 119:97-98)
When was the last time you thought of God’s commandments as a delight? Or felt like exclaiming, “I love His law!” All too often, modern churches describe God’s law either as a burden we’re well rid of or as something we still have to put up with and must fear breaking. The people closest to God, though, have historically seen His words as something precious; a gift given for our good. He is to be obeyed, but not out of a sense of obligation. We obey because we love, and because we are loved.
What The Law Shows Us
Paul has a lot to say about God’s law and it’s not (as some have taught) in order to do away with it. Let’s start with what He wrote to Timothy. In this letter, he’s charging Timothy to command certain men in Ephesus to stop teaching “a different doctrine” and instead devote themselves to “God’s stewardship, which is in faith.” When someone “misses the mark” (a Hebrew idiom for sin) and creates disputes instead of reaching the goal of the commandments, which is love out of a pure heart, they get themselves in trouble and use the law wrongfully (1 Tim. 1:3-7).
But we know that the law is good, if a person uses it lawfully, as knowing this, that law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane (1 Tim. 1:8-9)
He goes on to list some specific sins, ending by saying sin includes “any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine, according to the Good News of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:9-11). One of the central parts of the Good News is that we ought to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15). The Law tells us what we need to repent of so we can acknowledge our need for a savior. It’s not there to beat up righteous people — those who are already in a relationship with the Lord and follow Him as C.S. Lewis talked about. It lets us know when we’re sinning with the goal of showing us we need to get right with God by turning to Him and letting Him transform us.
Fear, Obedience, and Love
When we’re instructed to “fear the Lord,” it often means awe and reverence. There’s also a certain amount of fear in the sense of terror about what could happen if we disobey the just God who will judge the world (Heb. 10:26-31). One of the ways that “perfect love casts out fear” is by removing the reason for this terror. When we are “made perfect in love” — are in a trans formative relationship with Jesus Christ, following His lead, and letting Him perfect us — we have no reason to fear (1 John 4:15-21).
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:9-10)
God is love, and His two greatest commands for us center on loving Him and loving other people (Mark 12:29-31; Matt. 22:36-40). Every command in the law and the prophets has details explaining how to do that. Jesus put the law back in its proper context by taking away the extra regulations human beings added and by making it possible for us to live in unity with Him even though we still fall short of God’s perfect standard.
Putting the Law Inside Us
Back in the Old Testament, when God described how He would change things after Jesus established the New Covenant, He said, ““I will put my law in their inward parts, and I will write it in their heart (Jer. 31:33). The law didn’t go away, but our relationship to it shifted. After we enter the New Covenant, the law isn’t external imposing penalties on us, but an internal part of God’s process for making us part of His family.
The law is a self-revelation from God of what He’s like and what He expects from those who are trying to become like Him. We try to align with His expectations not because we have to “do this or else” but because we love the Lawgiver and want a relationship with Him. My favorite summary of what this means comes from Fill These Hearts by Christopher West:
“They’re free from the law — not free to break it (that’s license); they’re free to fulfill it because they don’t desire to break it. Christ didn’t come into this world to shove laws down our throats. He came into the world to align the desires of our hearts with the divine design so we would no longer need the laws.”
We have liberty within our relationship with God. Not liberty to sin (the definition of sin has not changed and it is still unacceptable) but liberty to fulfill the law through love (Gal. 5:13-14). And we can do that with joy instead of worry, knowing Jesus has freed us from sin and death. He makes it possible to walk with Him in the spirit and continues to offer forgiveness and guidance to help us stay on the right path.
Featured image credit: Shaun Menary via Lightstock