In giving a summary of what constitutes the true knowledge of God, we showed that we cannot form any just conception of the character of God, without feeling overawed by His majesty, and bound to do Him service. —John Calvin
Yesterday, a man I met for the first time asked me, “And what is the Lord doing in your life?” (Something about how he asked the question, the tone of his voice, and his manner in it disturbed me.) The manner of asking was a bit too casual, as if the utterance was mechanical. I suppressed my annoyance and answered as if the question were sincere. I said, “He is impressing upon me the beauty and sweetness of His law.” The man obviously was not prepared for my answer. He looked at me as though I was from another planet. He visibly recoiled from my words as if I was weird for uttering them.
We are living in an era in which the law of God is not given much attention either by secularists or by Christians. The law, we assume, is a relic of the past, part of the history of Judaeo-Christianity to be sure, but of no abiding relevance to the Christian life. We are living out, in practice, the antinomian heresy.
A recent survey by George Gallup Jr. revealed a startling trend in our culture. According to Gallup the evidence seems to indicate that there are not clear behavioral patterns that distinguish Christians from non- Christians in our society. We all seem to be marching to the same drummer, looking to the shifting standards of contemporary culture for the basis of what is acceptable conduct. What everybody else is doing seems to be our only ethical norm.
This pattern can only emerge in a society or a church wherein the law of God is eclipsed. The very word law seems to have an unpleasant ring to it in our evangelical circles.
Let’s try an experiment. I’m going to cite a few passages from Psalm 119 for our reflection. I’m asking that you read them existentially in the sense that you try to crawl into the skin of the writer and experience empathy. Try to feel what he felt when he wrote these lines thousands of years ago:
• Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (Ps. 119:97).
• Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, to the very end (Ps. 119:111–112).
• I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (Ps. 119:131).
• Trouble and anguish have overtaken me. Yet Your commandments are my delights (Ps. 119:143).
Does this sound like a modern Christian? Do we hear people talk about longing passionately for the law of God? Do we hear our friends expressing joy and delight in God’s commandments?
These sentiments are foreign to our culture. Some will surely say, “But that is Old Testament stuff. We’ve been redeemed from the law, now our focus is on the gospel, not the law.”
Let’s continue the experiment. Let’s read some excerpts from another biblical writer, only this time from the New Testament. Let’s hear from a man who loved the Gospel, preached it, and taught it as much as any mortal. Let’s hear from Paul:
• But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:6).
• What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through law (Rom. 7:8).
• Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good (Rom. 7:12).
• For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (Rom. 7:22).
Does this sound like a man who believed the law of God has no place in the Christian life? Read Paul carefully and you will find a man whose heart longed for the law of God as much as David’s.
Church history witnesses that at periods of revival and reformation there has been a profound awakening to the sweetness of God’s law that can easily degenerate into legalism, which usually provokes a response of antinomianism. Neither is biblical. The law drives us to the gospel. The gospel saves us from the curse of the law but in turn directs us back to the law to search its spirit, its goodness and its beauty. The law of God is still a lamp unto our feet. Without it we stumble and trip and grope in darkness.
For the Christian the greatest benefit of the law of God is its revelatory character. The law reveals to us the Law-Giver. It teaches us what is pleasing in His sight. We need to seek the law of God—to pant after it—to delight in it. Anything less is an offense against the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.