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Posts Tagged ‘law

Sweeter than honey

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My pastors are preaching through Jesus’s sermon on the mount. It’s refreshing to be reminded of the rightful place of God’s law in the Christian life. Sometimes it is easy for us to dismiss the place of law for the Christian; after all, we are not under law, but under grace. And since the law cannot save us, is there any use for it other than to condemn us and drive our miserable souls to Jesus?

If we were to stop there, the godly sentiments of Psalm 119 are left sounding completely foreign to us. How then are we to understand the law as a source of blessing and delight?

Protestants have historically recognized three uses of the law: to restrain our wickedness, to reveal sin, and to direct and guide the lives of Christians. We might say that this third use, often called the “rule of life,” is to be led in the pleasant “paths of righteousness.” It is in this way that the law brings us life and joy rather than condemnation. And in fact God always intended for his people to relate to his law this way. We can see this in the very giving of the law: he introduces it by emphasizing that “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20). Israel was to obey God as those who were already saved, whom God had already chosen to dwell among — not as those who were trying to earn God’s favor and salvation in the first place. It is true that God is holy, that none of us is without sin, and we cannot approach him without suffering the curse of the law. But God knows our frame; he understood that we would sin. He made temporary provision for sins in the sacrificial system, and made permanent provision for our sins in Jesus, who became a curse for us.

Judicially the law does accuse us, and we must deal judicially with the law through Jesus or else suffer condemnation and wrath. But as Trinitarians we know that there are always complementary facets. Relationally God’s people deal with the law as those who are adopted sons. God is the father who puts a dollar in our grubby little hands to buy him a birthday present, and then delights in our present! Calvin puts it this way:

When God is reconciled to us, there is no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many spots, they will be acceptable to him, and though we labour under many defects, we shall yet be approved by him. How so? Because he will spare us; for a father is indulgent to his children, and though he may see a blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is pleased with every small attention when he sees his son submissive, and does not require from him what he requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not our obedience, however defective it may be.

Because the law comes to us from a wise and loving father, a wise and good king and shepherd, and a life-giving helper, we ought to count it as a delight — and we can be confident that patient trust and persistent obedience will bring us true blessing. And because we are sons, we ought also to be growing in the law, seeking to imitate our father by meditating on his law and obeying it.

The fact that law is instruction from our father means that it helps to make us wise and mature. That should come as no surprise: Solomon, who excelled all the kings of the earth in wisdom, gave us the book of Proverbs, which is itself an extended meditation on the ten commandments. Consider: it comes to us in the context of the fifth commandment (“my son”), and teaches us about the fourth commandment (work), the sixth commandment (anger), the seventh commandment (the forbidden woman), and others. Jesus, the one greater than Solomon, does exactly the same in the sermon on the mount, drawing wisdom from God’s law (“you have heard”) to teach us how we ought to tend the soil of our hearts and to warn us of the ensnaring and hardening effects of sin.

Paul speaks similarly of maturity in Galatians 4. The law is a guardian or tutor, under which we are indistinguishable from slaves. But in Jesus the Son we receive adoption as sons; we are no longer under the tutor but are heirs come into our inheritance. And yet clearly this does not mean we should put our tutor and lessons out of mind. True, there are some parts of our discipline and training (e.g., dietary laws) from which we are now set free, just as a child no longer drinks from a bottle, a runner in a marathon is no longer running sprints, and a pianist on stage is no longer playing scales and etudes. But God intends that even in the freedom of sonship we live out of all of our training; and there is a great deal of the law that we must still obey and build upon with patience and persistence. In fact, God now imprints his law on our minds and hearts (Hebrews 8-10).

Since we now deal with the law relationally, our obedience is not a matter of earning and keeping God’s favor but is a matter of loyalty and allegiance to God. And so the law may sober us but it cannot terrify us. In fact, we must follow the pattern of David, Solomon and Jesus: we should train ourselves to think of God’s expectations for his sons as a delight, as the path of blessing and protection; and we should labor to grow in wisdom and maturity through studying God’s law, meditating on it and disciplining ourselves to obey it.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 23, 2011 at 11:17 am


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Chapter summaries in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 1 – Moses explains the law to Israel before they enter Canaan. He recalls his appointing leaders and Israel’s former rebellion at entering the land.
Deuteronomy 2 – Moses recalls Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and Israel’s defeat of Heshbon.
Deuteronomy 3 – Moses recalls Israel’s defeat of Bashan; Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh’s possessing the land; and Moses’ being forbidden to enter the land.
Deuteronomy 4 – Moses charges Israel to obey God’s law, warns against idolatry, proclaims God’s greatness, and establishes three cities of refuge east of the Jordan.
Deuteronomy 5 – Moses repeats the ten commandments, and urges Israel to remain faithful to God.
Deuteronomy 6 – Moses commands Israel to love God, keep his commands and teach their children God’s commands; he urges Israel not to forget or to test the LORD, and again to teach their children to fear and obey the LORD.
Deuteronomy 7 – God commands Israel to utterly destroy the Canaanites, reminding Israel that they are set apart to the LORD, that God loves Israel and that his power will go before them.
Deuteronomy 8 – Moses again urges Israel to remain faithful to God, reminding them of God’s incredible goodness to them, and warning that they will perish otherwise.
Deuteronomy 9 – Moses warns Israel to take no pride in their victories, for God’s favor is not at all upon them for their righteousness; on the contrary, he reminds them of their many sins.
Deuteronomy 10 – Moses recounts God’s sparing Israel after the golden calf; he reminds Israel of God’s greatness, his goodness to them, and instructs them to fear, obey, love and serve the LORD, and also to circumcise their hearts.
Deuteronomy 11 – Moses urges Israel to love and obey God and to teach their children continually; he reminds them of the destruction of Pharaoh and entices them with rich promises and severe warnings concerning the fruitfulness of the land.
Deuteronomy 12 – Israel is to destroy all Canaanite places of worship, not seek after Canaanite gods, and bring worship and offerings to God in only one place; they may eat meat but not blood anywhere; they may not alter God’s commands in any way.
Deuteronomy 13 – Death is commanded for all who go after other gods, even to whole cities.
Deuteronomy 14 – Laws concerning clean and unclean food; tithes are commanded.
Deuteronomy 15 – The establishment of the seventh year, the year of release; firstborn livestock are to be dedicated to the LORD.
Deuteronomy 16 – Israel is to celebrate Passover, the feast of weeks, and the feast of booths; bribery and idolatry are forbidden.
Deuteronomy 17 – Death by stoning for doing what is evil; judges and priests are to adjudicate matters of the law; Israels kings are to remain humble and faithful to the LORD and his law.
Deuteronomy 18 – Provision for the Levites through tithes; laws against child sacrifice and divination; God will send prophets, but false prophets are to be put to death.
Deuteronomy 19 – Laws concerning the cities of refuge, property boundaries, and witnesses.
Deuteronomy 20 – Laws concerning war — the victory is God’s, sending men home, offering terms of peace, devotion to destruction, and care for trees.
Deuteronomy 21 – Laws concerning unsolved murders, female captives, inheritance, rebellious children, and hanging on a tree.
Deuteronomy 22 – Laws concerning fellow Israelites’ property, separation, and marriage.
Deuteronomy 23 – Laws concerning acceptance into the assembly, excrement, prostitution, interest, vows, and produce.
Deuteronomy 24 – Laws concerning marriage; miscellaneous laws ensuring justice.
Deuteronomy 25 – Laws concerning justice.
Deuteronomy 26 – A tithe is commanded after entering the land to recount God’s deliverance; summing up of Israel’s responsibility as God’s possession.
Deuteronomy 27 – An altar is to be built on entering the land; curses are also to be proclaimed and affirmed.
Deuteronomy 28 – Numerous blessings and curses are pronounced.
Deuteronomy 29 – Moses recounts God’s power, judgments and deliverance, warning Israel not to disobey lest God judge them.
Deuteronomy 30 – If Israel rebels but then repents, God will restore them. God’s commandment is not out of reach, but life and death are in it.
Deuteronomy 31 – Moses charges Joshua and Israel; God charges Israel.
Deuteronomy 32 – Moses sings of God’s greatness, faithfulness, judgment and compassion, in spite of Israel’s sin. God orders Moses to Mt. Nebo.
Deuteronomy 33 – Moses blesses Israel and praises God.
Deuteronomy 34 – Moses sees the land from Nebo, dies, and is buried by God. Joshua takes command.

Written by Scott Moonen

November 24, 2007 at 7:19 am

Posted in Bible Chapter Summaries

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Conviction and the cure

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My pastors have been preaching through Exodus, and just finished ten weeks in the ten commandments. They have done an incredible job of helping us to feel the weight and glory of God’s holiness; but without letting us forget that the law sits on the bedrock foundation of the gospel (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you . . . out of the house of slavery”), and that our reading of the law absolutely must be infused with gospel hope.

Yet it is still so tempting for me to hear such a message and nurse my conviction, without really going any farther. Perhaps I resolve to change some things, but in reality my ears are tuning out the very gospel hope and power that are the only way I can possibly move beyond conviction. Mark Lauterbach critiques his sermons on this point, but we should also critique our listening — are our ears tuned in to savor conviction, or savor the gospel:

Is conviction of sin the measure of a sermon? … I used to notice that people would give me the most response to a sermon that was the most demanding. “Oh Pastor, that was such a wonderful sermon, I was so very convicted.” Should I have found this encouraging?

[But] while conviction is a gift to us, it is always conviction to lead people to the cross. I know the arguments about people needing to be slain by the law — and agree that awareness of need of forgiveness is crucial. But if I leave them there, I have not been faithful to the Savior. Conviction should drive people to the cross — and they should leave with hope toward the Savior.

We want to welcome the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and repent, but we shouldn’t get off the bus there. Our conviction should drive us to look upward to our Savior rather than inward on our sin; the gospel is our only hope and power for forgiveness and for real change.

How do we make that something more than a mantra? How can we practically seize this gospel power to change? Here are some regular practices that can strengthen our faith and empower our obedience; please comment to add more:

  1. Regularly recount the gospel to ourselves, thanking God that our sins are completely forgiven and that we approach him clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
  2. Regularly acknowledge that whatever success we have in obedience is a gift from God.
  3. Regularly pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to change, knowing that this grace and help will surely be given to us because of the cross.
  4. Remind ourselves of the reasons that we should obey. Regularly feed our souls with these truths as a way of provoking joyful, grateful, faith-filled obedience:
    1. God is my creator, and he is good; he knows what is best for me.
    2. True and lasting joy are only found in God and in pleasing him; these idols that I cling to cannot compare to God’s glory and beauty and goodness and joy.
    3. God has saved me from condemnation and wrath, and my gratitude at this precious gift should overflow in obedience.
    4. God is my loving father and I should reflect his character.
    5. Christ has purchased my very life with his blood and I should reflect his character.
    6. The Holy Spirit indwells me and empowers me to reflect Christ’s character.
  5. Read books that fuel our appreciation for the gospel and our love for God, such as Jerry Bridges’ The Gospel For Real Life, C. J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life, and John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God (download, purchase).

Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch

Toplady on mercy, first and last

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A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
I come with Your righteousness on, my humble offering to bring.
The judgments of Your holy law with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which Your goodness began, the arm of Your strength will complete;
Your promise is yes and amen, and never was forfeited yet.
The future or things that are now, no power below or above,
Can make You Your purpose forgo, or sever my soul from Your love.

My name from the palms of Your hands eternity will not erase;
Impressed on Your heart it remains, in marks of indelible grace.
Yes I to the end will endure, until I bow down at Your throne;
Forever and always secure, a debtor to mercy alone.

— Augustus Toplady, A Debtor to Mercy Alone, as modified by Bob Kauflin