Thursday, February 7, 2013

Oh How I Love Thy Law - Psalm 119:97

Modern Christianity seems plagued by a hatred of God’s law. Sadly, even some of our brothers who love reformed theology insist that God’s moral law, as reflected in the Ten Commandments, no longer exists under the New Covenant. They make a strange distinction between the law of God and the law of Christ, as if there is a change in character between the persons of the Godhead. David’s words, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97) is not even in the realm of their consideration.

One certainly has to ask, what was God’s moral standard in the Old Covenant? Was it not the Ten Commandments? Were these ten words His standard by an arbitrary decree or were they holy because they reflected His holy character? What is the standard by which all men are judged? What is the measure of sin? What was the law Jesus was born under and which He perfectly obeyed? What is the standard of righteousness imputed to us? What is the “My law” written upon the hearts of God’s people in the New Covenant according to Jeremiah 31:33? The same God who wrote His law upon the stone tablets has now written His law upon the hearts of His people—not a different law but the one same law that is forever His standard of righteousness. Did the Ten Commandments have a historical beginning at Mount Sinai and a historical end at the cross? The answer has to clearly be no. The standard by which Cain was judged was the law of God and this same law remains the standard by which all men are judged. 

To declare God’s law obsolete and abrogated is most dangerous. To take God’s command, “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” and declare, “that’s not for me” is a bold declaration. We have no authority to dismiss certain of God’s commands. The claim often heard is, "Only the Old Testament laws repeated in the New Testament are binding upon Christians." Richard Barcellos writes in In Defense of the Decalogue, "It is simply not true that only those things from the Old Testament repeated in the New are still binding. Where is the exegetical basis for such a claim? There is none. Where does the New Testament tell us that the absence of Old Testament commands is the death knell of such commands? Unfortunately, many Evangelical Christians adhere to this maxim today. Yet it is simply a hermeneutical presupposition, not based on the exegesis of the text of Scripture, but instead imposed on the Scripture" (p.86).
Some argue, “But love is the fulfilling of the law.” Yes, but this is not to say that love “is” the law or that love has replaced the law. There must be a standard that love obeys. John Murray writes, "When we examine the witness of the Scripture itself as to the origin of the canons of behaviour which the Scripture approves, we do not find that love is allowed to discover or dictate its own standards or patterns of conduct" (Principles of Conduct, p.24). Love for God and our fellow man provides us with motivation for obedience to the law. "That love is its own law and the renewed consciousness its own monitor, is a fantasy which has no warrant from Scripture and runs counter to the witness of the biblical teaching" (Murray, Principles of Conduct, p.26).
It is our duty as Christians to obey God's law. But for us it is not a burden but a delight. We see God in His law and desire to reflect His holy character. His law has become our treasure and we glory in its richness. Charles Bridges wrote, "Oh, Christians! How much more is your portion to you than the miser's treasure! Hide it; watch it; retain it. You need not be afraid of covetousness in spiritual things: rather 'covet earnestly' to increase your store; and by living upon it and living in it, it will grow richer in extent, and more precious in value." Murray Brett writes, "Psalm 119 is the language of a person who is ravished by the moral beauty of God's law and the order and beauty that it brings to his own life as he conforms his heart, mind, and will to it. Delighting in God's law is experiencing personally the moral excellence of His law" (Growing Up in Grace, p.154). Brett adds, "Do you know this perfect complement between duty and delight? Has the boundless generosity of God warmed your cold heart so that you have become a true law-keeper? Is God's moral law your recreation? What a strange idea this is, especially to us Americans who live in a country where we have whatever else our heart could desire for recreation at our fingertips. But the psalmist insists that the law of God drowns out all other delights" (Growing Up in Grace, p.156).  



Chad C. said...

Excellent post Pastor Dale. The eternal God has an eternal Law. The Reformers and Puritan’s understood law and grace as complimentary aspects of God’s redemptive plan. They modeled their confessions (such as the 1689 LBC) off of this understanding. But today, law and grace are treated more like oil and water; they simply don’t mix. Having a clear understanding of what God requires of the believer affects how we live for God. Churches that teach the Decalogue as still binding tend to emphasize holiness because provides the right balance with the Gospel. Lord willing, the old saying, “What comes around goes around” will be proven to be true as it relates to Law and Gospel theology in Reformed circles. What is viewed as archaic today will be recognized as cutting edge tomorrow.

I would love to see more open, humble, honest debates that go to the Bible in the spirit of Christian unity. Here are some questions that should be asked by someone who may contemplate this issue:

1. Is the Bible clear about what sins Christ died for?
2. What Law does God write upon the heart of those in the New Covenant?
3. Why did the “Book of the Law” go beside the Ark of the Covenant but the Decalogue went inside of it? Does this mean that Israel understood them as distinct?
4. What Law convicted Paul of his sin?
5. What Law does Jesus and Paul refer to and expand regarding Christian ethics? Why does Paul point to the Decalogue for practical living in most of his letters?
6. Are there Trinitarian issues with having a Law of God in the OT and a Law of Christ in the NT? If God never changes then how can He have two moral standards to judge sin?
7. Could it be possible that the Decalogue is the true law of liberty? Those who live by it are free to not sin.
8. What is the role of the Law in our sanctification?
9. Why do we still use the 10 commandments in evangelism if we don’t believe it is still binding?
10. Does Occam’s razor apply here? After all, God is not the God of confusion.
11. Why do people who keep the Sabbath call it a delight? Is it to make them feel better about themselves or do they really delight in it? Are today’s Sabbatarians legalistic like the Pharisees or do they practice it like Jesus did?
12. Why do we call Sunday the "Lord's Day?" What is He really Lord over on that day that is different from other days? Does the 4th commandment say that it has to be on Saturday or do we read that into the text?
13. Why do the older SBC confessions like the Abstract of Principles and original Baptist Faith and Message teach that only acts of worship, mercy, and necessary are allowed on the Lord's Day? Why has that changed with recent confessions?
14. What does it really mean to be set apart from the world and has the church lost much influence by disregarding the Sabbath?
15. Is there a distinction between ceremonial Sabbaths (Col 2:18) and the 4th commandment Sabbath?
16. When people say things like, “We should keep the principles of the Sabbath and the tithe today, but we’re not required to keep them”, are they showing the Decalogue to be written on their consciences?
17. How did the Reformers and Puritans understand Law and Gospel theology? Why did Augustine call the Scriptures, “The Scriptures of the Law and the Gospel?”

Dale Crawford said...

Thanks Chad. Good questions.