The Law is Good (1)
Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Romans 7.12
Seeking God’s goodness
In this series of studies we are trying to understand the goodness of God, and to learn about that goodness from as many sources as possible. We have been redeemed through Jesus Christ to do good works that glorify God (Eph. 2.10; Matt. 5.16). The Lord intends that we should be ready, diligent, and constant in doing good works, for by so doing we bring His goodness to light in the land of the living (Tit. 2.14, 3.1, 8, 14; Ps. 27.13).
But a life of good works will be difficult if we don’t understand the nature of God’s goodness.
We have seen that God alone is good, and that His goodness consists in the unity, holiness, harmony, order, creativity, and love which are shared by the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is good, and these are the primary attributes that define His goodness. God wants us to know His goodness, so He continuously reveals Himself and His goodness to us in the things He has made, both in the creation around us and in aspects of the culture people make and use each day. The psalmist encourages us to keep in mind that “The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (Ps. 33.5). If we can be more observant and discerning, we can discover the forms of God’s goodness in creation and culture, and can emulate that goodness in our daily lives.
Our calling is to do good works, and thus to show the goodness of God to a world where genuine goodness is increasingly in short supply. Diligence in this must characterize all aspects of our daily life. If we can bring the goodness of God to light in all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities, and help others to see the goodness of the Lord in creation and culture, we can improve our witness for Christ, and salt our spheres of influence with a sense of the nearness of Christ and His Kingdom. This is the purpose for which we have been saved, and doing good is how we validate our claim to be followers of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2.8-10; Jms. 2.14-29; Heb. 6.9-12).
But this generation of believers is in danger of neglecting one of the most important sources of God’s goodness. And that neglect is not only bad for the people around us, but for us who believe as well.
Dead and useless?
It’s now more than 40 years since, astonished, I first read the words of theologian Lawrence Richards, expressing the heart and mind of contemporary evangelicalism relative to the Law of God. In his book, Creative Bible Study – a best-seller at the time – Dr. Richards asked the question, “What, then, is the Christian’s relationship to law?” – meaning the Law of God. He answered his question by saying, “The Christian has no relationship to law. For the Christian, the law is a dead and a useless thing.”
Reading that, or hearing it from their pastors who read it, an entire generation of evangelical Christians breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! No more need to insist on unchanging moral norms! Now they were free to follow their spirits and live only in the grace of God! They were not under Law but under grace! No Pharisees here, that’s for sure.
Those who held this view took Paul’s declaration that we are not “under law” but are “under grace” (Rom. 6.14), wrested it from its immediate context of justification, and applied it across the board to our moral lives. Henceforth they would be free of any obligation to learn or obey the Law of God, and would instead be guided in all their morality by some vague notion of love. Of course, they would fall back on the Ten Commandments when expedient – as when indicting unbelievers for removing them from our schools – excepting, of course, the fourth commandment, from which most contemporary Christians have almost entirely broken free. But as for the rest of that large corpus of Biblical revelation, which the Bible itself treats as the acorn to the oak of Scripture, they have neglected, if not rejected it altogether.
Consequently, the Law of God, which Paul describes as holy and righteous and good, is scorned by the very people for whom it is intended. The Law of God teaches us how to love Him and our neighbors (Matt. 22.34-40). The Law of God is critical for seeking the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19). The Law of God liberates us from the blinding and binding power of sin (Jms. 2.8-13). The Law of God marks the path of love that Jesus walked, and that all must walk who would follow Him (1 Jn. 2.1-6; 5.1-3). The Law of God provided the framework within which the apostles ordered their churches (cf. 1 Cor. 5, 9; Jms. 2-5; 1 Jn. 5). The Law of God is the core curriculum of the Spirit, as He brings us into the presence of God’s glory and transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ (Ezek. 36.26, 27; 2 Cor. 3.12-18). Neglecting the Law of God is a major cause for the decline of true and selfless love in the world; it licenses the progress of evil; and it threatens to render the prayers of Law-neglecting believers an “abomination” or, we might say, “a dead and a useless thing” (Matt. 24.12; Prov. 28.4, 9).
Day and night
It’s no wonder the psalmist, echoing Moses, insisted that the righteous person, the one who embodies the goodness of God in all his ways, meditates on the Law of God day and night, hides it in his heart and embodies it in all his ways (Ps. 119.9-11; Deut. 6.1-9), keeps it diligently, delights in and loves it, and hastens to make sure his feet follow in its path (cf. Ps. 1; Deut. Ps. 119.4, 5, 35, 59, 60, 97).
If you are missing the Law of God in your relationship with Jesus, you are depriving yourself of a most important resource for bringing the goodness of God to light in the land of the living. The good works outlined in the Law of God are those “ordained of old” which God intends us to do in all our ways (Eph. 2.10). Yes, understanding the Law can be difficult. But we can learn from the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles how to read, study, and meditate in this most important corpus of Biblical literature, and thus we can discover the true freedom for goodness and love that God has prepared for us.
For, as Paul insisted, the Law of God is good. And in the lessons that follow in this series, we’ll see just why that is so.
1. Meditate on Psalm 1. How does the psalmist describe the righteous person’s relationship to the Law of God? Does that describe your relationship?
2. Meditate on Matthew 5.17-19. Can we seek the Kingdom of God apart from a Psalm 1 approach to the Law of God? Explain.
3. Jesus said the Law shows us the way to love God and our neighbor, and James said we should all live within the teaching of the Law. How can the Law of God begin to have a more commanding presence in your walk with the Lord?
Next steps – Preparation: Do you need to revisit your relationship to the Law of God? Review all the Scriptures mentioned in this article, then spend some time in prayer, listening for the Spirit to guide you in discovering a proper place for God’s Law in your Christian life.
T. M. Moore
Why is the Law so important? How can we understand it? What use does it have in our daily lives? These questions and more are addressed in our brief book, The Ground for Christian Ethics. This could be the most important book you’ll read this year. Order your copy by clicking here. Order several copies, and read and discuss it with some friends.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.