|Posted by thethousandmarch on April 8, 2013 at 7:20 PM|
The law makes clear my obligation to both God, my creator to whom I am indebted for my being, and to the rest of creation. The law shows me how I am to relate to God and his creation in such a way that I do and be that which I was created for. All of creation exists to glorify God – which means it exists to make the creator known. The law, written upon our conscience and revealed through prophets, is the guidance God has given us so that we may know what it is we exist to be.
Jesus said that the law and the prophets could be summed up in two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . [and] Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). This is the debt we owe our creator. It is our duty to love God and neighbor. This love is not something we give when we feel like it, or only when we are stirred by our passions. This love is not something which stands in contrast to the law, or removes the burden of the law. This love is the fulfillment of the law. This does not necessarily mean that I love God and my neighbor when my actions are in conformity to the law. But it does mean that I cannot claim to be acting in love to God and neighbor when my actions violate the law. The law shows me what actions love moves a person to do and refrain from; I must fulfill the law if I am to love.
We may disagree upon the finer points of what exactly it means for each of us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”, or which God we are to love with all our heart and how exactly God wishes us to demonstrate our devotion. However, I do not believe we can possibly disagree upon the following point; we all fail to live up to the standards we set for ourselves. I would say this is because our nature, that is our inner being, is corrupted by death. It appears to be self-evident that our spirits are diseased. As we grow some of us learn better than others how to cope with our chronic condition. Some are relatively better than others at doing good and loving others – we all have good in us – but no one manages to do good, or love, in all things. Whether we think we are good or bad we must all admit that we are not pure. In Psalm 24, the Psalmist asks the following:
Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . (vv 3-4a).
We may say that there are many paths to God, but every path which involves ascending the mountain of God requires the fulfillment of law.
Yet no one has fulfilled their obligation to God if they have not loved in all things. No one has earned payment, let alone reward, deserving anything from God unless they have done the job which God has given them. No one who is not pure in being, glorifying God as they were created, has earned approval from God. Broken things are thrown out. However, instead of destroying this creation, our Creator desires to redeem and fix it.
Though some make it farther than others up the mountain of God, no one has made it to the peak. But there is good news; God has come down the mountain to us. In God’s great mercy he has shown pity upon us and has made a way for us to be made whole. Many imagine that the means that God uses to redeem his creation is simply to forgive and ignore the creation’s brokenness. They believe that God so loves the world that he just asks you to do the best job you can do and as long as you’re not too bad as defined by your own culture’s values then God lets you into the heaven of your imagination. However if creation is broken and corrupt then someone must bear the cost of fixing it. If we do not bear that cost than God must.
Others believe that it is the creation itself which is corrupt. Therefore it is not our being which is impure, it is merely our flesh. We must escape the flesh through enlightenment and will thus escape corruption they claim. This means that at best the physical/temporal world is an illusion, at worst it is evil. Either way we can only escape its corrupting influence by a secret knowledge gained through enlightenment. I cannot believe that creation is not intended to be good and its creator is not good. I also cannot believe in a God who only reveals itself through secret knowledge to an elite few.
The Bible teaches that the Triune God has taken upon themself the flesh of a mortal man through the person of the Son in the man Jesus. The infinite has entered time and space, the Creator has inseparably joined with creation. The incarnate God did not come to abolish the law, he came to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). He does not change or lower the standard. He does not negate the requirement that only one with clean hands and a pure heart may ascend the mountain of the Lord. Jesus is the one with clean hands and a pure heart who fulfills the law and has ascended the mountain on our behalf. Now he may act as a mediator between God and man. And his righteousness is transferred to us, which makes it possible for us to enter into the Holy God’s presence and have it be said that we are good and will live, rather than we are corrupt and will die. Our sins are not simply ignored, or brushed to the side. Jesus has atoned for our sin and the sin of the world; he has made the payment for our sin; he has born the cost of our brokenness making our redemption possible.
Though some of us are better than others at acting good, none of us can fulfill the law. No one can make it to the peak and enter into God’s presence through their own efforts. No one makes it on their own merit, therefore no one can boast. Though some of us may get further up the mountain than others, we each fall short and must all accept the grace of God. And if it is by grace then our works have no part in our salvation and no one can despise another.
Now the redeemed still have an obligation to fulfill the law and love. The law still acts as our guide and shows us how we are to live, but it has no power to enable us to follow its precepts. It is God the Spirit who produces fruit in our lives. But this fruit, like our redemption is the work of God’s grace and therefore leaves no room for boasting, because we can take no credit for it.
This is the difference between the law and the Gospel. The law demands, the Gospel gives. The law requires, the Gospel fulfills. If what I have said about Jesus is false and he was just another good teacher, even a prophet, than what is the Gospel; what is the good news? Our faith in him is futile and we are still in the predicament of being under the law. Our only hope can be in ourselves – in our own rightness, goodness and wisdom. That is a terrible predicament for me.
But I do believe Jesus was more than a moral example for me to follow. I believe he is my savior and I trust him to not only begin the process of my salvation, but to complete it – meaning not only salvation is by grace, but so is sanctification. Unfortunately though many Christians have accepted the gift of God’s grace to get them on the right path they think they must complete the work of their redemption. They think they must win God’s approval, and can earn God’s blessings, and have earned the right to look down upon others who are not as good as them (in their own judgment). Perhaps those who are the most to be pitied, if they weren’t so destructive, are those living under the delusion that they are fulfilling the law.
Too many Pastors do not rightly distinguish the law from the Gospel and their teaching puts a burden upon their congregants they cannot bear. If you are simply giving advice and tips on how to modify behavior and using fear of punishment and promise of reward as motivation then you are only preaching the law, not the Gospel. And if our preaching of the law reassures people that they are doing a good job and are thankful that they are not like those pathetic sinners then we aren’t properly preaching the law. We must preach the law and if we do it as Jesus did we will make people aware of their need for the Gospel (and anger Pharisees). And our preaching of the law must always be followed by the proclamation of the Gospel.
I’m hardly a perfect man and I’m sure I’ve acted self-righteously and made others feel unjustly judged. I’ve certainly not always rightly distinguished the law from the Gospel and have made many failed attempts at justifying myself through my efforts to follow the law. Still, I put my faith in Jesus, God the Father’s only Son our Lord, and I trust (have faith) in his work and mercy. I do not believe that only those, or all those who profess to be Christians will enter into God’s Kingdom. I do believe that only those who trust in the promise of God and his work, rather than their own goodness will enter his Kingdom. And all those who enter will do so through the work of Jesus, being clothed with his righteousness, even if they did not know his name during their lifetime.
This is my faith, based upon the person and work of Jesus, the Gospel of God revealed in the Bible – claims made credible by the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus . If we are under the law than we must still live in fear of the law giver. If we are under the Gospel then we can stand boldly before God (Heb 4:16) because his perfect love for us has driven out all fear (I John 4:18).