The God of the Bible has always been gracious and loving. He graciously created this world with all its beauty and nourishment. He graciously fashioned man and woman with purpose. He lovingly chose Israel out of all the nations to be his special people. He graciously pursued that nation, even into exile. He lovingly sent his son, Jesus Christ, to save humanity. And he graciously called you to follow him. As Christians we should also remember that even God’s Law is love. God did not give the Mosaic Law in order to prove we cannot earn our salvation. Rather the Law was given in order to establish the height of love, and by contrast to illustrate the depth of sin to which we have fallen.
Christians can misuse the Law of God by writing it off. They say, ’The Law part of the Bible was the old time and now I live in the new time: the time of grace.” Yet I think it is important to remember that the Old Testament, in particular Deuteronomy, summarized the Law as: “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Certainly this kind of love belongs in the “new time.” Jesus acknowledged this foregone conclusion in several discussions, with an additional description of the singular Great Commandment to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).
Even a Pharisee strives to keep God’s Law of love
The Apostle Paul never wrote off God’s Law. In fact, his self-testimony in the final chapters of Acts is striking. In his testimony before Roman regent and Jewish high priest alike, he confesses to be a Pharisee. Not past tense ‘confessed to have been,’ but present tense ‘confesses to be’ a Pharisee (23:6, 26:5). In fact his language is very conciliatory in chapter twenty-six, speaking of Pharisaical Judaism personally as “our religion,” “promises given to our fathers,” and “our twelve tribes” (26:4-7). The feeling one gets from Luke’s retelling is that the Apostle to the Gentiles still considers himself to be a Pharisee, maybe even a true Pharisee, but that those things are “loss” and “rubbish” by comparison to knowing Christ so he doesn’t tout those “gains” anymore (Philippians 3:2-11).
This blog is not written to defend Pharisees, but we should clarify what we mean by the term. If the term means, “one who strives to follow God’s Law (which leads one to Christ) and pursue the resurrection,” then we have accurately described what Paul believes of himself. However if the term means “self-righteous and resistant before God and arrogant and unloving before humanity” we have not understood how Paul personally views this Jewish group. As a Pharisee, Paul humbly stood before the throne of God, yet was emboldened by his passion for the resurrection, saying:
That I may be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:9-11).
Christians can keep God’s Law of love by the Holy Spirit
If neither Jesus nor Paul writes off the Law then neither should any Christians. In fact, at the beginning of Romans chapter eight Paul declares something grand: Christians actually can fulfill the Law by the Holy Spirit. He says,
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3-4).
The Law cannot bring salvation, which was not its divinely intended purpose. But God sovereignly brought that salvation through fulfilling the Mosaic Law when Jesus became an “offering for sin.” Because of this salvation “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit!” Some say this “requirement” is Jesus’ righteous life imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, a righteousness we have when we stand before God as justified. Others admit that the activeness of the image “walk” means that this “requirement” may not be the static impartation of Christ’s righteousness but the active living of a life that “fulfills” the Law by the same Holy Spirit. I say, “Why not both?”
Later in Romans Paul summarizes the Law with part of the Great Commandment, saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (13:9). Love as the summary of the Law, Paul says, “is the fulfillment of the Law” (13:8, 10). However it is a mystery to me as to why the Apostle Paul never directly references his love for God. He never even quotes the first part of the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). In fact Paul only references human love for God five times of the one hundred and thirty-seven times he speaks of love (Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 2:9, 8:3, 16:22; Ephesians 6:24). That is only 4% of the time. Yet he never forgot the Law, or wrote it off. Rather he used it to drive him to “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
The Bible doesn’t condemn those who use the Law in any way, but those who misuse the Law for their own gain and twist it to control others. As Christians we must not be afraid to listen to the Law as it promotes love and challenges us to love deeper. We can use God’s Law correctly and let it drive us to Christ who sends his Spirit who leads us to love others. To conclude succinctly (Galatians 5:24): don’t write off the Law because it never stands against the fruit of the Spirit!