Holy, Righteous, and Good (1)
Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Romans 7.12
To rephrase a well-known quote from Mark Twain, the reports of the obsolescence of the Law of God are greatly exaggerated.
Many Christians today want to believe that they are no longer bound by the moral teachings of the Law of God. Many are willing to accept the idea that the Ten Commandments are useful in helping us to recognize sin, but they insist that the Law of God has no role to play in directing our moral lives.
I recall the first time this view came to my attention. As a seminary student, I was reading a book of practical theology by a well-known Christian educator. At one point he raised the question, “What, then, is the Christian’s relationship to the Law?” I thought the answer to that would have been self-evident. The Law was the standard of morality throughout the Old Testament. Jesus fulfilled the Law. The Spirit was given to teach it to us. Paul submitted to the Law and taught it. John, James, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews put great stock in the Law of God.
The answer to the writer’s question seemed pretty clear to me. But the writer continued without flinching: “The Christian,” he wrote, “has no relationship to the Law. For the Christian, the Law is a dead and a useless thing.”
That would have come as a surprise to the writers of the New Testament, and to generations of theologians, pastors, and great saints who devoted their lives to living and teaching the commandments, statutes, precepts, rules, and testimonies of the Law of God as distinguishing marks and principal parameters of a life devoted to following Jesus.
Sadly, however, this view of the Law’s obsolescence has become that of a good many people today who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. The rejection of God’s Law – whether by denial, ignorance, dismissal, or neglect – is bad news for Christians, bad news for their churches, and bad news for the world.
But I have good news for us all: The Law of God is as ready and able to liberate us from sin and shape us for lives of love as it ever was, and to define and direct us in those good works that glorify God, build His Church, advance His Kingdom, bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, conduce to greatness in God’s Kingdom, and turn the world rightside-up for the Lord.
Why are we so ready to consign the Law of God to the grave? Why do so many pastors teach that we don’t need to learn or obey the commandments of God? What do we propose to put in place of the holy and righteous and good Law of God to help us in bringing holiness to completion in our own lives (2 Cor. 7.1)?
It is misguided to dismiss the Law of God as of no ongoing or practical use in the life of faith. To be sure, the Law of God will not save anyone. And Christians do not keep the Law of God because they hope that by doing so they will find favor with God and earn a spot in heaven.
But many in the Christian community have become gun-shy about “works righteousness”, so that any notion of having to submit to written rules is abhorrent to them – that in spite of the fact that New Testament writers appealed to the written Law of God over and over as the standard of righteousness for all the followers of Jesus Christ.
It is misguided to think that, because we aren’t saved by works – by keeping the Law of God – that works and Law-keeping have no place in the life of faith. In this series we will ask the question, “Which works should we embrace and adopt as the evidence of true and saving faith?” And we will answer that question, following the teaching of Scripture – especially the New Testament – and the works commanded and outlined in the Law of God.
In this study we’re going to review the teaching of the New Testament concerning the Christian’s calling to do good works of love. As we shall see, this is the undeniable, unequivocal, universal teaching of every writer in the New Testament.
But that begs the question, “Which works?” We want to answer, “The works of the Law of God, and all His Word.” The Law of God is to all subsequent revelation in Scripture as the acorn is to the oak. Everything God wants us to know for living holy and righteous and good lives is packed into His Law, and unpacked throughout subsequent Scripture to help us understand how to apply the Law for full and abundant life.
By the Law of God we mean the Ten Commandments and the civil statutes and religious precepts that derive from and elucidate those ten words throughout Exodus-Deuteronomy. Not all the statutes and precepts remain valid, since many applied to a situation that no longer exists. But even those religious laws that have been eclipsed by the work of Jesus, and those civil laws that are no longer relevant in our social and cultural context, contain principles and guidelines for loving God and our neighbors which remain valid today. We will see how the apostles understood and applied those various statutes, following the teaching of Jesus and the Spirit to derive abiding principles and practices promoting holiness, righteousness, and goodness among the followers of Christ.
We have been saved by the grace of God, freely, completely, and eternally through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We receive this salvation as a gift, by faith. But our salvation only begins at that point. We must work out that salvation in fear and trembling before the Lord (Phil. 2.12), for we have been saved for good works (Eph. 2.10), works that make us shine like lights in the darkness, works that reach others with the grace and truth of Jesus, and works that glorify God and exalt His holy and righteous and good Name before the watching world.
We are created, redeemed, justified, saved, and called for good works. And our loving Father has not left us to ourselves to figure out which works He has before ordained for us to do. He has shown us in His Law, and throughout all His Word, which works give evidence of true and saving faith, and mark us out as His children and followers of His Son. In this series, we will, first, establish the place of the Law of God as the foundation for good works. Then we will consider the role of good works in the life of the believer. Finally, we will return to the Law for a concise overview of how that holy and righteous and good body of teaching equips us for every good work to bless our neighbors, glorify God, and fill our lives with joy.
And we will answer the question, “Which works?” by insisting on those works which are holy and righteous and good – like God, like Jesus, and like God’s Law.
1. How would you describe your attitude toward the Law of God? Why do you think that way?
2. Do you agree that Christians have been saved to do good works? How shall we know which works are good, apart from the Law of God?
3. What do you hope to gain from this study of the good works to which we are called as Christians?
Next steps – Preparation: Give thanks and praise to God Who has called us to good works and Who, by His Word and Spirit, equips us for every good work to bless our neighbors and glorify Him. What opportunities for good works are before you today?
T. M. Moore
For additional insight to the contemporary relevance of God’s Law, download the three studies in our Scriptorium series, “The Law of God: Miscellanies” by clicking here.
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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.