[If you think this post is directed at you, it isn’t, so please don’t take it that way. Regardless what conversations you and I may or may not have had in the distant or recent or immediate past. Really. Please don’t take offense.]
In Matthew 9, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for attending a reception Matthew gave in His honor after Christ had called Matthew. (This is one of the four times the Bible records Jesus “dining with” or “receiving” sinners.)
In response, Jesus tells them that they need to go learn what it means, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice”.
One man who clearly understood this was King David. He wrote, in Psalm 51:16-17, “For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a borken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise”.
This is the same man who wrote Psalm 119. Some excerpts follow:
How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the LORD.
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts
And regard Your ways.
Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from Your law.
Your testimonies also are my delight;
They are my counselors.
Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
So I will meditate on Your wonders.
My soul weeps because of grief;
Strengthen me according to Your word.
Remove the false way from me,
And graciously grant me Your law.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
And I will walk at liberty,
For I seek Your precepts.
I shall delight in Your commandments,
Which I love.
At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You
Because of Your righteous ordinances.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word.
If Your law had not been my delight,
Then I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget Your precepts,
For by them You have revived me.
O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I long for Your salvation, O LORD,
And Your law is my delight.
And in Psalm 19, we find:
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
The New Testament contains many passages devoted to showing that the ceremonial parts of the Old Testament law were fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice, and showing the utter inadequacy of any hope of being justified by one’s fulfillment of the moral law. Some Christians have taken this to mean that no part of God’s moral law is relevant to Christians today. After all, the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. This view is known as _antinomianism_. It is not the same as licentiousness, although sometimes it does lead there. A common variation of antinomianism among 21st century conservative evangelicals takes the view that we are subject to the Spirit _instead of_ the moral laws of God.
Is the Law bad? Should Christians ignore it? Is the very existence of the moral law antithetical to grace and Spirit and liberty? I do not believe the Bible teaches this at all.
Romans 6-8 is quite clear in identifying just what it is about the Law that is antithetical to Christianity, and just what we mean that we are “no longer under the law”.
Romans 8:2 For the _law_ of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has _set you free_ from the _law of sin and of death_.
It is the “law of sin and death” that we’ve been freed from. The wages of sin is death. The Law is not bad, it is merely weak _through the flesh_ (Romans 8:3) to produce righteousness. The Law is only “bad” insofar as it caused sin to increase (Romans 5:20) and condemned us (Romans 6:23). All the Law could do is condemn us and give sin the opportunity to enslave us (Romans 7:5, 7:7-11).
The Law is _good_. Romans 7:12 says “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”. Rom 7:14 tells us “the Law is spiritual”. Romans 7:16 says “the Law is good”.
The Law is not bad. It does not even enslave us! Romans 7:13 “Therefore did that which is good [the Law -RMW] become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was _sin_, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through _that which is good_, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.”
Christ did not come to annul the Law. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass form the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19) This immediately precedes Christ “tightening” the Law, as it were, in Matthew 5:21-48.
Nobody has ever been justified by the Law. Nobody. Ever! Not David, not Moses, not Abraham, not nobody! (Romans 3:20) The Law has never served that purpose. Salvation has always been by God’s grace through our faith in Him. That faith has been more or less clear at various points in history, but it’s always been based on faith in God’s goodness and mercy _alone_. See also Psalm 51.
So what is the moral Law good for? There are two scriptural purposes for the Law that have always been true and will always be true. The Law does not, and has not, and will not, justify anyone.
First of all, the Law gives us knowledge of our sins and shows us our need for God’s salvation.
* Romans 3:20 “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin
* Romans 4:15 “the Law brings about wrath”
* Romans 5:20 “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase”
This is the function of the Law to the lost. It condemns. It shows them that they are in fact slaves to sin, and hopeless before a holy and just God.
But does the Law have any purpose for one of God’s elect, one of His redeemed children? Certainly! The second purpose of the Law is to show us how to live.
* Romans 7:12 “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man”
* (All the verses from Psalm 19 and 119 I posted above).
Augustine wrote “The Law was given, in order that we might seek after grace. Grace was given, in order that we might fulfill the Law.”
This is not legalism. We are not justified, or even more accepted by God, based on our obedience to His moral law. Grace alone saves us. Works do not save, never have saved, never will save.
Christ summarized the Law as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself”. He clearly intended us to obey these two commands. How can we obey the summary but disregard that which was summarized? If the moral commands of the law are summarized in these two simple commands, then following the two greatest commandments will necessarily entail obedience to the moral commandments they encompass.
It’s “cool” to be an antinomian today. It’s hip to be into liberty and grace, and to cast a disdainful eye on approximately 2000 years of church history as the doings of a bunch of misguided legalists who didn’t “get” (as in, understand) grace. But it’s unbiblical. We should agree with the Bible that the Law is holy and spiritual and righteous and good! David found it a source of encouragement. So should we.
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:31)