on the place of law

My third installment in the series Law, Legalism, and Life examines The Place of Law [Morning Message, 7.1.07]. I was working on this proposition: ‘The goal in preaching Christian standards is not to impose law on the Christian church – no law can achieve the goals of sanctification and personal devotion.’

First, law, especially God’s Law, is defined. God has authority to impose law and his people yield their wills to God’s authority.

Second, the design of law is to protect sovereignty and promote the general good. Likewise, God’s Law protect’s God’s glory and promotes order and well-being in society, but it is designed for more than that. God’s law imposes a spiritual dimension and accountability to God in the mix. When God’s laws are broken, man is spiritually accountable, for he has sinned. In the end, we need to see that God’s Law is designed for man’s good, not man’s grief.

Finally, however, we come to the crux of the matter with respect to law. Law has a defect – it can call us to account (conviction) but it cannot change us (conversion). I noted four defects that manifest the inability of law to change hearts: First, men cannot keep the law. ‘Most of the time’ isn’t good enough. The Law demands perfection. Second, there is a danger of making the law an end in itself. The keeping of the law becomes an idol and men construct a labyrinth of means to keep from breaking the letter of the law (Pharisaism). Third, as mentioned, it is impossible for the Law to make man righteous. Law is imposed by power (authority). If I have the power, I can make a man conform to my law, but I cannot change his heart. He can still be ‘standing up on the inside’ to cite an old illustration of a little boy made to sit in the corner by his mother. For the power of law to have any lasting effect, something has to happen to the heart first. Fourth, the Law is not enough. In other words, the Law actually only expresses a minimum standard. The Ten Commandments say, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Is that all there is to the standard? That is the bare minimum! God says, be ye holy as I am holy. Jesus said that if you hate, you are guilty. The law isn’t enough. Don’t congratulate yourself if you can keep a law or two, you need to be perfectly holy, just like God.

In the end, we need to learn the lesson of repentance, just like Job. Laws are good and are meant for good, but the real lesson we need to learn is not to congratulate ourselves for law-keeping but to fall on our faces before our holy God and shut our mouths. We have nothing to say to him with whom we have to do. We must bow our hearts in repentance and ask for God to change us. No amount of lawkeeping will bring about the change we need.

Next week I will look at what God thinks of our good works.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

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