Christians and the Law

What role does the law have in the life of a Christian?

Well, you know there are some people who think the law has no place in the life of a Christian. They think that the law and the gospel are two opposing principles; that you can have one or the other, but not both. They think of the law as an onerous burden, from which we are delivered by Christ.

But let me recite for you a few verses from the 119th Psalm, the longest Psalm, and indeed the longest chapter in the Bible…and it’s entirely devoted to singing the praises of God’s law.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! (v. 1).

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (v. 18).

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (v. 20).

Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! (v. 29).
What’s this? Graciously teach me your law? But I thought law and grace were opposing principles. I thought they were incompatible, irreconcilable.

That’s not what the Psalmists thinks, is it? He sees God’s law as a gift of grace: “graciously teach me your law.” Later he will say, "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).

Are you able to say this? Do you love God’s Law? Do you delight in it?

We could go through the whole of Psalm 119, all 176 verses of it, and nearly every verse speaks of the glory of God’s Law. The Psalmist, whoever he is, whether David, as some believe, or Ezra as others suppose, was inspired by the Holy Spirit. And what does he say? The Law is a bad thing, something we would be very glad to be rid of? No, he magnifies God’s Law as good and holy and as graciously given to Israel.

Consider Psalm 147
He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules (Ps. 147:19-20a).
This was a blessed privilege given only to Israel, to which the Psalmist responds by saying, “Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 147:20b). Praise the Lord that he has given us his statutes and rules—his Law.

In Romans three, Paul says,
What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God [i.e., the Law and the Prophets] (Rom. 3:1-2)
And in chapter nine, in speaking of the many gifts God had given to Israel, he says,
To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises (Rom. 9:4)
Now, I should say that the Law is useless as an instrument of justification, and some of the apparently negative things Paul says in the NT about the Law, he says because of the misuse that many Jews made of the Law. He says in First Timothy, “We know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8). But many Jews, especially among the Pharisees, looked upon the Law as a ladder of merit. The more commandments I obey, the greater my righteousness…and the greater my standing with God. But Paul disavows using the Law like this. He says there a lot of people who “have confidence in the flesh.” He means, in their merits as Law-keepers.
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless (Phil. 3:4b-6).
He goes on to say, however, that despite whatever confidence he might think to put in himself, he would “rather be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9).

We cannot trust in our obedience to the law to save us; we must trust in the mercy of God as it is offered to us in Jesus Christ. But this doesn’t mean the law has no place in the life of a Christian. It most certainly does. The law is of great use to us in informing us of the will of God. It teaches us our duty both to God and to our neighbor. It is the standard of righteousness, the rule of the Christian life. It shows us what behavior is pleasing and displeasing to God.

Let us learn to say with the Psalmist, “Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day!”


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