The Need for Restoration (5)
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22.37-40
In a very real sense, the human soul is spiritual palimpsest. A palimpsest is an ancient manuscript which has been “used again”, thus the meaning of the word palimpsest. A scribe or writer would find an old manuscript – typically parchment or vellum – which was considered no longer essential, and he would scrape off as much of the old writing as possible. When that was done, he would use the material to write new content over what would be the still-barely-visible remains of the previous text. Some excellent New Testament manuscripts are palimpsests.
The human soul is like that. All people are born into the world made in the image of God. As part of what that entails, God “writes” His Law on the heart of every human being (Rom. 2.14, 15). Thus, as C. S. Lewis observed in The Abolition of Man, and as natural law theorists have argued for centuries, every person has a sense of right and wrong built into their soul. This is one explanation for why there is yet so much good in a world that continues on the path of rejecting God.
Yet like those ancient scribes, we consider the Law of God no longer essential, scrape it off our memory and conscience, and try to bury it under new narratives, which strike us as more appealing, interesting, or likely to satisfy our desires, and which narratives Paul summarizes under the rubric of “the lie” (Rom. 1.18-25).
When people come to faith in Jesus Christ, receiving Him as Savior and Lord, then King Jesus begins writing the Law on their hearts. As He does, the Law comes back clear and pristine, and the lie, like disappearing ink, fades away. That Law is still there, but it needs some serious refreshing, and it takes a lifetime of meditating day and night in God’s Law for that palimpsest soul to be restored.
The question to each of us is: Am I working with the Spirit to scrape off the old narrative of my unbelieving life, and submitting to that Holy Scribe as He rewrites the Law of God on my heart? If not, there’s no hope of your being able to restore the key relationships of your life – your relationship with God, and your relationship with your neighbors.
Relating to God
Jesus insisted that the Law of God is the key to loving God as He commands (Deut. 6.4, 5). This should not surprise us. As the writer of Hebrews explained, all the Law of God points to Jesus – the priesthood, the sacrifices and offerings, and everything that related to the tabernacle. We no longer observe those protocols and practices, because they point us to Jesus. We look to Jesus, and Jesus brings us into the love of God. We love Jesus as we keep His commandments, and His commandments include the Law of God and all His Word (Jn. 14.15).
The Law of God guides us in how to love God, and how thus to restore and maintain the reconciled relationship we have with Him. The Law outlines the forms and elements of worship: humility, singing, praise and thanksgiving, offerings, and the like. The Law teaches us to fear God – a commandment echoed by our Lord Jesus Christ (Deut. 10.12, 13; cf. Matt. 10.28). Fearing God leads to obedience, gratitude, and increased love for God – a reconciled and restored relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.
The Law of God teaches us to recognize and turn away from sin (Rom. 7.7). God hates sin, and when we hate sin (Ps. 97.10), we show that our relationship with God is what it should be. We cannot know sin apart from the Law of God; in giving us His Law, God leads us to regard sin in the same way He does, and not as before we knew Him, making up the rules for our lives however suited us.
If we neglect the Law of God, God will not hear our prayers (Ps. 66.18). Worse, He will consider our prayers an abomination (Prov. 28.9) and regard us as unrestored and on the side of His enemies (Prov. 25.4).
Now some may not like to think the Law of God is as important as this. Indeed, looking at the state of the Law among believers today, it would seem that many are of the opinion that the Law is not for us. To the extent this is so, it explains why our relationships with God are so lacking in vitality and power. The Holy Spirit intends to rewrite God’s Law on your heart. Are you helping or hindering that work?
Relating to others
According to Jesus, love is the defining mark of a believer (Jn. 15.35). Paul said the same (1 Cor. 13). And John was only echoing Jesus in Matthew 22.37-40 when he said that love means keeping the commandments of God – which is not hard to do, because we have the Spirit of God working in us to that end (1 Jn. 5.1-3; Phil. 2.13).
Human relationships as God intends them – for good, and not for evil (Jer. 29.11) – are conducted according to the teaching of God’s Law. The first four of God’s commandments guide us in restoring and maintaining our relationship with God. The last six do the same for our relationships with people. The laws, precepts, and statutes that group around the last six commandments address all kinds of human relationships, showing us what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. When Zacchaeus, overflowing with the grace of Jesus, resolved to keep the Law in showing love to his neighbors, Jesus excitedly exclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk. 19.1-9; cf. Ex. 22.1; Lev. 6.5).
The Law of God teaches us how to relate to our parents, our neighbor’s property and possessions, governing authorities, immigrants, the poor, and many other kinds and groups of people. The love that comes from God infuses all our relationships with power for holiness, righteousness, and goodness (Rom. 7.12). As we work to restore our relationship with God to ever-greater levels of intimacy and intensity, we will find that love for our neighbors increases accordingly. The Law of God – the acorn to the oak of all His Word – is essential in this great work of restoration.
If we do not take seriously our duty of reading, studying, meditating, talking about, and practicing the Law of God, then the love we need for relating to God and our neighbors will, as Jesus insisted, “grow cold” (Matt. 24.12).
We need to submit to the Spirit – following Jesus and the apostles – as He rewrites the Law of God on the palimpsest of our soul. We shall have neither the wisdom nor inclination to work at restoring relationships apart from the Law of God. The Law will not save us. But we will not be able to know the fullness of our great salvation without it; and if we continue to neglect it, we may ultimately prove not to be saved at all.
1. Why do so many Christians think the Law of God no longer matters?
2. What did Jesus say about keeping the Law in Matthew 5.17-19? What did He mean by that?
3. We don’t keep the Law to be saved, but because we are saved. Explain that in the light of Ephesians 2.8-10.
Next Steps – Preparation: Add daily meditation in the commandments of God to your time with the Lord. How will you do that?
T. M. Moore
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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.