No evangelical Christian will tell you that you have to keep the law in order to grow in righteousness and become more like Jesus. But just try to do or say anything to the contrary and it will feel like all hell is raining down on you. Some would say that we keep the law out of love for Christ. So we look to the law as sort of a standard and a guide by which we can express our love for Christ and be more like him. This is close, but actually backwards. Let me explain. There are 3 main purposes for the law:
1) To reveal the holiness of God
2) To reveal the sinfulness of man
3) To point men to Christ
If a Christian came to me seeking to know how he might grow in righteousness I would not point him to the law since, Paul tells us, the law was given so that sin (not righteousness) might increase. Instead, I would point him to Christ through the law as Christ fulfilled the law. Through the law we can know sin and what God requires of men who sin and, therefore, see what Christ did on behalf of sinful men to settle the debt of sin before God. Thus the law must point to and elevate Christ, not become some standard for measuring a successful Christian walk, nor an avenue of expressing love to God. We don’t look to the law or use obedience to express love to God, rather our love for God expresses itself through obedience. The law is the proof, not the means.
The bottom line is that, as Christians, we are called to become more like Christ. How do we do that? By looking to Christ, not law. Looking to law will make us more sinful. Looking to Christ will make us more like Christ. For example, let’s say I invited you to come see the Grand Canyon. You come, step right up to the edge of it and pull out an old tourist’s guide book of the Grand Canyon. You look at the guide, read its descriptions of the canyon, and look at the black and white photos and insist that it is just as good as the real thing. This would obviously be absurd. There is nothing that can take your breath away and inspire you as the absolute majesty and overpowering reality of the real life Grand Canyon. Yet everyday Christians insist on growing more like Christ by looking at the law (Christ’s guide book), instead of looking at the absolute majesty and overpowering reality of the real life Jesus.
You want to be more like Jesus? Then look at Jesus and be overpowered by his glory. Everything else is just a cheap guide book.
So, here is the question of the hour. Where is the proper place of the law in the life of the believer? Well once again, let me remind you, I am not against the law (I’m not an antinomian). I am against the improper use of the law in sanctification. The Law was given to a specific people at a specific time under a specific (and no longer existing) covenant. In the words of Martin Luther: “If Moses scares you with his stupid Ten Commandments, say to him at once—’Take yourself off to your Jews!” We are not Israel. The 10 commandments were given to Israel and therefore, along with the entire rest of the law, apply, in there original form, only to Israel.
Remember the words of Paul in Romans 7:
“Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
Paul equates the Law with marriage and divorce, he says the Law is dead, therefore we are free to be married to Christ. I want to see the law used properly in the life of a Christian. What does that look like? Paul says in Romans 6:16,18:
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”
I believe this is a reference to the Old Testament promise of the New Covenant that you and I and every believer who trusts in Christ alone, through grace alone, by faith alone for their justification now enjoys. Specifically, Ezekiel 36:25-28:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
This is the New Covenant promise that we have: The law is no longer merely an external list, but an internal promise. That’s what being born again does, it raises us to new life, writes the law on our hearts, and puts the Spirit within us to live out the law, through love, in faithful and loving obedience to Christ. Obedience is now the result of love. We obey Christ out of love. Looking to obey the law as a means to attain favor with God, or some how make God like you will in the end only produce despair. However, trusting Christ for your favor with God will produce love, which will, in the end, produce obedience. Real obedience. True obedience. Obedience from the heart.