Law and Conscience (2)
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5.19
Salvation and works
The Law of God – the Ten Commandments and the precepts, rules, and civil codes that accompany them – are the Law of liberty, the royal Law which God intends should guide us in doing good works of love to God and neighbors, for His praise and glory (Matt. 22.34-40; Matt. 5.16). These constitute the foundational chapters of the rule book which the conscience consults in preparing us to act in good words and good works.
Make no mistake: Everyone has a rule book for life. You do. I do. Everyone does. So the question is not whether but which. And the Bible clearly teaches that the Law of God marks out the path of liberty, the broad place for us to flourish in loving God and our neighbors (Ps. 119.45). If we’re not walking that path and following those rules, we’re not in the path God intends for us, and we’re not basking in the freedom of the Spirit and Word of God (Jn. 8.32; 2 Cor. 3.12-18).
The Law of God provides the footprint for all of God’s revelation in Scripture. All the Bible unfolds according to and as elaboration of what Moses recorded in the first five books. The Law contains those good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 5.10). Ignorance of the Law of God is certainly no excuse for incompetence in Christian living. Indeed, it’s a formula for utter and complete failure.
I am not unaware that some readers are saying, “No, no!” even as they read these words. Some will want to say, “I’m not under Law! I’m under grace!” Some will even go so far as one evangelical theologian who wrote, “For the Christian, the Law is a dead and a useless thing.”
But your argument is not with me: it’s with the apostles James, Paul, and John, and the writer of Psalm 119, as we shall see. More than that, it’s with the Lord Jesus Himself, Who taught us that you cannot attain to greatness in His Kingdom without obedience to the Law of God and faithful urging of that Law on all the followers of Christ. That is, you cannot serve God and others as fully as Jesus intends apart from the Law of God (Mk. 10.42-45).
This is not salvation by works, but salvation unto them. But which works? The good works prescribed in the holy, righteous, and good Law of God (Rom. 7.12). Paul insisted that just because we cannot be saved by God’s Law, does not mean we do not establish the Law as the holy and righteous and good standard of righteousness for our lives (Rom. 3.31).
Called to keep the Law
Believers in Christ are called to confirm, work out, express, and enjoy the full power of their salvation by keeping the Law of God. Those who refuse, fail, or neglect to do so must consider that, despite having confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord, they may not have come to saving faith at all (Matt. 7.20; 1 Jn. 2.1-6; Jms. 2.14-26). Indeed, to the extent they continue to neglect the Law of God, they not only “praise the wicked” but even their prayers may become an abomination in God’s sight (Prov. 28.4, 9).
The reason is simple, as James explained. The Law of God is a liberating moral code. It does not encumber us with man-made obligations and traditions, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day tried to do. Nor does it leave us enslaved to personal whim or fashionable notions of truth, justice, goodness, and love. Rather, the Law liberates us from merely human protocols and priorities into the clear light of divinely-revealed truth. It sets us free from the confusion and uncertainty of our own best guesses or unchecked lusts into the unchanging reliability of God-given standards. It frees us from relativism and pragmatism into the light of life and truth. The Law of liberty helps us navigate the shoals of mere sentiment or passing fancy. It shatters the bonds of guilt and the allure of sin, bringing us to the forgiveness of Christ and the sweet attractiveness of the divine presence.
The Law of God liberates us from folly into glory; all who live and teach the Law of God discover the course of Christ’s Kingdom and walk the path of good works that Jesus Himself did (1 Jn. 2.1-6). To neglect reading, meditating, and obeying the Law of God is to play hooky from the school of the Spirit and to consign mind and heart to whim and self-interest, leaving the conscience to languish, tethered only to fleeting notions of goodness and truth. And when the conscience is not free to serve the Lord, the heart and mind will strive and quarrel over which should rule the soul, making not for a strong soul, but a feeble and fickle one.
I am not here considering the laws of sacrifice, diet, and cleansing, all of which pertained to the ancient priesthood of Israel. Those laws ceased when Jesus assumed the eternal priesthood from the tribe of Judah, rather than Levi (Heb. 7-10). They have some abiding value even now, as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 9, but we look to them only for principles and not specific practices.
And we’re not auguring for believers to take each statute of the civil code of Old Testament Israel and carry it out on their own authority. As we shall see, right use of the Law of God is a community endeavor, beginning with each individual, but coming to fullest expression within the Body of Christ as a whole.
What we are saying, echoing the apostles and the Lord, is that the Law of God is of enduring value for those who believe in Jesus – indeed, for all people – in learning to walk the path of holiness, righteousness, goodness, and love – the path of Christian discipleship (Rom. 7.12; 1 Jn. 5.1-3). We are unable to walk that path on our own strength, as we shall see; and we cannot walk that path to earn our salvation.
However, if we have come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord, and have been born again into the light of His truth, then taking up the Law of God, to obey and teach it, will lead us into the freedom of the sons and daughters of God, and liberate our consciences to guide us into every good work.
Perhaps you have a choice to make right now: Will you commit to learning, delighting in, obeying, and sharing the holy and righteous and good Law of God? Or will you leave your conscience to twist in the winds of mere sentiment, passing fancy, or wishful thinking?
1. We’re not saved by good works, but we’re not saved without them. Explain.
2. From what does the Law of liberty liberate us? How does it do that?
3. Why do you think many Christians are wary of the Law of God? What would you say to those who deny we have any continuing obligation to the Law?
Next steps – Transformation: Think about the people in your Personal Mission Field – the people you see in the places you go each day. How would they benefit from your knowing and obeying the Law of God more consistently?
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.