I have been a fan of punk rock for a long time. Rise Against is my favorite band of the last decade; I love Irish Punk – Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. Decades ago, the classic punk band The Clash famously sang, “I fought the law, and the law won.” Punk is a movement based on fighting the man, resisting those in authority, pushing against the law.
Evangelicalism and Punk Rock might be cousins. And this doesn’t work.
Getting a job and respecting the police might get you labeled a conformist in the punk rock subculture. In evangelical circles, maybe even Protestant circles more broadly, speaking positively of the role of the law in the Christian life may get you labeled a legalist (or a Judaizer if your debate partner knows their New Testament).
How do we square our negative view of the law with Psalm 19? The psalmist writes,
“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.”
That’s just the beginning. The psalmist continues, adding that the law is trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, firm, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. The law makes one wise, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes, endures forever, warns God’s servants, and leads to reward. And that’s just verses 7-13!
The law is good and right when used goodly and rightly. It is not a means of salvation but makes us aware of our need. John Calvin called this the first use of the law. The law also has a civil use – it restrains evil in us and in society. “Thou shalt not murder” is an excellent law we all are happy to see enforced. Not many would object to these uses. But, when it comes to the third use, many good evangelicals balk. The law, in addition to exposing sin and restraining it, also shows us the way forward into righteousness and holiness.
Aren’t we free from the law, though? Yes, we’re free from misuse of the law as a means of salvation. Using the law in that way is like using a chain saw to trim your hair – a very dangerous misuse of a good thing (don’t try this, even if you’re desperate for a clip). The law is not a means to salvation, but it is a good thing, so good that God promised to write it on his people’s heart. The law is a good thing that defines the law of love Christ commands.
I have always bristled under arbitrary rules – ask the principal at Grace Christian Academy who tried unsuccessfully (though painfully – the paddle had holes drilled into it for greater speed!) to impress upon me the importance of following rules, even ones I didn’t agree with or understand. But God’s laws are not arbitrary. They come from the author of life, the designer of humanity, the lover of our souls. Any time I’ve tried to put together a piece of Ikea-like furniture without the directions, it ends in disaster. Life is far more complicated, and far more important, that a piece of modular furniture. Why would we not look to God’s law for guidance? Why not seek the wisdom God’s law gives?
Christian maturity is not setting aside the law and ‘living on love’. It’s saying yes to the Spirit and yes to the law that God has imprinted on our hearts. I pray that I will truly be able to say with the psalmist, “God, I love your law. It is a guide into your heart. It is precious to me, and I delight in it. Aide me, by the Spirit who indwells me, in loving it more rightly and following it more closely.”