For Thanksgiving I took my family to California to visit family and friends. We drove out; it’s a 15-16 hour drive each way, but this afforded me the chance to listen to 3 audiobooks.
The first was The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Earlier this year I read A Farewell to Arms and loved it, particularly the ending, and how Hemingway is clearly expressing his own wrestling with faith and belief in God. However, The Sun Also Rises was not like that at all. Besides the detailed account of bull fighting, I didn’t really like the book.
The second book I listened to was The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson, on the topic of the Marrow Controversy, a debate which split the Scottish Presbyterian churches in the 18th Century over the topics of legalism and antinomianism (anti – nomos (law) = against the law).
Ferguson points out that legalism and antinomianism are like cousins who are more related to each other than they are to the gospel. The legalist looks to rules and performance to earn status and favor with God. Clearly this is a wrong and unbiblical view. But the other extreme is antinomianism – a rejection, even antagonism towards the Law, i.e. the moral commandments, rules and obligations which the Bible lays out.
The thinking behind antinomianism is that the Law served one purpose: to show us that we are sinners who need a Savior, and once that work is done, we have no further use for the Law, and we should have nothing to do with it in our lives, beyond historical reference.
It is true that the Law serves to show us that we are sinners who have not lived up to God’s perfect standards, and therefore we need a Savior. Romans and Galatians make this point crystal clear. But is this the only function of the Law in the life of a believer? The answer is: No.
So then what is the role of law in the life of a believer – one who has been set free in Christ – beyond just showing us that we are sinners who need a savior?
1. The Law points us to Christ as the Fulfiller of the Law
The Bible is full of moral principles and injunctions towards things like kindness, compassion, honesty, forgiveness, generosity, humility, etc. The problem is that very often we read these (or teach them) without reference to Christ. Paul writes in Galatians 3:24 “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” The Law shows us that we are sinners who desperately need a Savior. But, we see the perfect fulfillment of the Law in Christ—and only in Him! The Law points us to Christ not only by condemning us for breaking it, but by pointing to Christ who is the fulfillment of it! Jesus said: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
2. The Law Reveals God’s Character and Shows His Glory
The Law reveals the Glory of God, by showing us His holiness, how He is “other”, different, perfect and good. Where we fall short, He does not.
The Law leads us to reverence and worship of a God who is greater than us. This leads us to a posture of humility before God.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)
3. God’s Law is a playbook for the redeemed person to use in bringing Him pleasure
We ought not look to God’s moral injunctions as the means by which to garner His love or favor, nor as a way of earning or meriting anything from Him. But for the redeemed person, the Law becomes a playbook in our hands, which tells us what God likes and dislikes – and therefore how we, as people who love God, can bring joy and pleasure to His heart.
I recently taught a class at White Fields’ School of Ministry on the Minor Prophets. The last book, Malachi, talks a lot about obeying God by keeping His law, and specifically talks twice (in only three chapters) about tithing. The question I asked the students was: What is the role of keeping God’s Law, and specifically of tithing, for the New Testament believer?
The answer was that, as people who don’t relate to the Law as a means of earning or meriting anything from God, we approach it as a playbook which instructs us about what God loves and hates, and therefore helps us to respond in love to Him who has poured out His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and redeemed us from the pit and set us on a rock in Christ. When we obey His moral instructions and commands, it doesn’t make Him love us more, but it is a way that we can bring Him joy and pleasure.
May we not become antinomian in our view of the Law, but may we see it for the good and glorious thing that it is, and say with the Psalmist: “Oh, how I love your Law!” (Psalm 119)