Over the next few posts I want to focus on the benefical uses of the law in the life of the believer. It has been rightly pointed out that the law of love or the ethic of love takes center place in the New Testament. I would argue that love, in fact, stood at the center of the Old Testament ethic and Mosaic Law as well, though this truth had been obscured by legalistic adherence to the external demands of the law to the neglect of the internal. Commands to love God and love neighbor appear in the Old Testament (Deut 6:5 & Lev 19:18) and are evident in the two table structure of the Ten Commandments.
That gives us some insight into one function of the law, specifically the Ten Commandments, in the life of the believer. We are called to love, but the Bible doesn’t leave it to us to determine all that this love entails. The moral law explicates the law of love. The moral law makes it clear that one cannot honestly claim to love God while worshipping idols, or to love ones neighbor while stealing from him. The New Testament gets us behind the externals of the law and makes it clear that we cannot claim to love our neighbor even if we do ‘loving things’ while harboring hatred in our hearts (though the Old Testament also spoke to the internals as well – see the 10th commandment for a good example).
So, to love God we must obey the commandments; however, we must not assume that obeying the commandments is the sum total of what it means to love God, or our neighbor. Love for God and Love for Neighbor must be lived out, but it would be a tragic mistake to think that living out love by doing loving things is enough. Love must flow from a heart that is warm towards God and Neighbor. The balance between legalism (focusing on doing the loving things without the affections) and a fuzzy love (feeling the affections but not living it out by doing loving deeds) is always a delicate one, but an absolutely essential one for the believer to maintain.
One thought on “the Benefits of the Law in the Life of the Believer, Pt. I”
Dan writes, “The moral law explicates the law of love.” At some point, you’ll have to explain what you mean by moral law, since that notion is more of a theological construct than a biblical distinction.
Dan goes on to say, “So, to love God we must obey the commandments.” Whence the “so”? Is it not possible that in fact the entire Law, not just some “moral” subset of it, is an explication of the law of love, yet an explication to a particular people in a particular period of history? Might it not also be possible that nowadays the Law as given on Sinai has been set aside (Heb. 7:18), being only a “shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things” (Heb. 10:1)? Or does this “moral law” distinction lead you to limit these statements in Hebrews to apply only to the “ceremonial” law? I think that’s reading too much theology into the text.
I would say that the Law reveals to us many aspects of God’s character, but that we have a greater and more perfect explication, which is Christ himself (Heb. 1:3; John 1:18). This does not in any way take away from the perfection of God’s Law. God can trump his own perfections, and have them remain perfect.
You say that to love God we must obey the commandments, by which I think you mean the Ten Commandments. I find a somewhat different usage of “commandment” in the N.T., e.g., 1 John 3:23. Moreover, our Lord gave us a new commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us. The second tablet of Moses was but a shadow and a pragmatic expression of this greater, further reaching commandment. Those with eyes and hearts to see could perhaps have seen this new commandment latent in the old, but it is not the same thing, not identical.
Allow me to aspire beyond my lived experience for a moment and speak as though I were more mature.
For my understanding of the applicability of OT Law to myself, I rely on what I see in the NT. What I see is a reverent setting aside of the old shadow for the new substance. If I walk by the Spirit, my actions will resemble in some measure the actions of OT saints obeying the Law of Moses, but not in entire. I will still reverently read the Law of Moses (with Luther), letting the Spirit apply it to my heart in a NT sort of way, convicting me of sin and leading me to repentance and worship.
When I read Ps. 19:7-10, regarding the perfections of God’s Law, I do not think it wrong to apply those same perfections to Christ himself: he is perfect, restoring the soul; he is sure, making wise the simple, etc. I do not pretend that this is what David meant, or that it is the primary meaning of the text, but it is a valid Christian applicability of the psalm text.
There can be a change of covenant without impugning God’s character. The Law was perfect, but not faultless, and the new covenant is “better” (Heb. 8:6-7). A tough paradox for sure, but I’m willing to live with it! 🙂
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