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Monday, November 23, 2015

The Deficiency of the Law

Antinomians argue that we are no longer under the law. They hold that the law is pointless, meaningless, beside the point. Legalists argue that the law is essential, that keeping the law is necessary to please God if not to save. These are two diametrically opposed positions. Which is right? Neither.

Jesus claimed that the Law would not pass away (Matt 5:18). So much for antinomianism. Paul claimed that we are saved by grace apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). So much for legalism. So what is the point?

Many like to argue that the Bible isn't a rulebook, that we aren't to be concerned about obeying rules from the Bible. I would contend that it is logically impossible to read the Bible and come to that conclusion. So, are we supposed to become hard-working law followers? Paul complains that he is not.
But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Rom 7:16, 19, 22-23)
"The Law is good, but I'm a failure at it." That's his complaint. And I think any genuine Christian would share that same complaint.

What are we to do? Some would tell us we need to work at obeying God's law. We need to knuckle under and really get to it. We need to ... oh, what's the biblical phrase? ... "work out your salvation." (Phil 2:12) There is a sense in which this is true, but it is here that we run into the deficiency of the Law. As it turns out, the Law lacks the ability to make anyone good. We don't arrive at what God wants us to be by striving to follow a set of rules.

Note what Jesus said. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) There's that "keep My commandments" thing. They're important to keep. But notice the cause for keeping His commandments. "Love Me." Ah, now, see? There's the rub! Most of us think that if we work real hard we can become more obedient. Jesus argued that obedience (which, by the way, He obviously wants contrary to the antinomian view) was a product of love for Christ (contrary to the legalist view). If you are not being obedient, the trick is not to become more obedient, nor is the problem a problem of the will. The problem is a heart problem.

We tend to condense our Christian walk into steps, procedures, processes and the like. Jesus argued that the Christian walk, done rightly, was a natural product of loving Christ. Now, think about it for a moment. If it is true that if we love Christ we will keep His commandments, it is certainly true that His commandments are important. Thus, the function of the Law -- the rules of Scripture, if you will -- is to tell us precisely what those commandments are. Absolutely necessary. But if you aren't following them, recognize that the problem isn't sexual immorality or greed, idolatry or covetousness, gossip or slander, or any of the other rules we break. It is us. And the fix is to correct our lack of love for Christ. I suppose that would necessarily fall under the "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13) kind of thing.

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