The Law - A Devotional Paraphrase

Inspired by Sermon 34 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley
By: Michael Roberts

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” Romans 7:12

Many, in certain theological circles, tell us that Christians need not concern ourselves with the law. Christians have been set free from the law! At one level this is true. The Apostle Paul clearly says that we are free from all regulations and rules found in the law of Moses. These rules and regulations can be a stumbling block to the heart of God. In other words, seeing true religion through the lens of legalism can blind us to the relationship of love that God wants for us. At the same time, however, Paul lifts high the moral law of God. We are not exempt from this law and we cannot lump this law in with the laws in which we are set free. This law has dominion over us as long as we live.

The moral law of God did not come into being with Moses and the birth of Israel. This law was present from the very beginning. When God first breathed into this new order of intelligent beings, God wrote this law upon their hearts, and, as a part of this law, gave them the freedom and power to choose between good and evil. This law included the freedom to rebel against God, and out of a desire to be like God, this freedom was used. In the metaphor of the Fall, when the law of God was broken, corruption came into the heart of humanity; the eyes of faith darkened; and the soul became “alienated from the life of God.” And yet, God’s mercy remained. Because of the hardness of heart that had come, God, in due time, gave the law in a new form. It was written on tablets and the Hebrew people were called to teach this law and to be its witness to the world. With this form of the law, it was possible to know the law of God and not know God. It was possible to hear this law and to live by it to some degree, but apart from a personal relationship with the giver of this law. And yet the goal and hope of the law was always to lead God’s people into covenant with God. Through the prophets, this law was accompanied with a promise that God would, once again, write this law upon our hearts (Jer 31:31-34). Even through hardened hearts, it was (and is) possible for us to know what is truly good – to do justice, to love mercifully, and to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8).

The nature of this moral law of God goes beyond specific regulations and rules. This law is an incorruptible picture of the High and Holy One who inhabits eternity. It is the heart of God disclosed to human beings. To use human words, it is a copy of the eternal mind, a transcript of the divine nature. Building upon our lesson from Paul, this law is characterized with three words: This law is holy, just, and good.

First, it is holy. It is pure religion undefiled. It is the way of pure, unpolluted worship of God (James 1:27). This is why Paul rejects the blasphemous supposition that the law of God is either sin itself or the cause of sin. It reveals sin, but never causes it. This law guides us into holiness.

Secondly, it is just. The law renders to all their due. It prescribes exactly what is right, what ought to be. It orders all things rightly. It gives us the confidence to say, “thy will be done.”

Next, the law is good. Out of goodness God imparted a divine copy of himself and bestowed upon humanity the same transcript of his own nature. Our perversions of this law do not overcome the truth that God’s law is good. It is life-giving. It is the way of mercy, grace, and love. God wants us to know God’s rule for creation.

I propose function of the law is to reveal our need for a Savior. The law reveals how short we fall of the glory of God. In the light of this law, we see that God wants more than obedience to outward commands, like “Thou shall not kill, or steal, or commit adultery, or bear false witness.” Jesus makes it clear the law of God extends to our hearts, our intentions, and all inward thoughts. The law reveals God’s call for us to be transformed from the inside out, and that we can’t do this on our own. We discover that we are indeed “poor in spirit,” lacking the resources within ourselves to live fruitfully and to connect our lives to eternity. In the light of the law, we see ourselves as mere sinners who can pay nothing to justify ourselves. Our “mouth is stopped as we stand guilty before God.”

Then, the second purpose of the law of God, which is the very will of God, is to bring the sinner to life, to life in Christ, to the one who reconciles the world to himself, not counting our sins against us, to the “true light who enlightens everyone.” (See II Cor 5; John 1). The law leads us to Christ. To grow in Christ’s love is to grow in the true law of God. This means that this law is characterized by mercy and truth. It is the law of love for God and all humanity. It is law of humility, kindness, patience, gentleness, and temperance. This law is written within us and softens our hardened hearts. This law moves us into the heights, depths, lengths, and breadth of God’s love, into the fullness of God where grace is answered by grace. The fruits of this law are “righteousness, and peace, and assurance forever.” This law is all that God wants, not just “from” us, but “for” us. It is the way of life.

So, in this light, how can we possibly adhere to the perspective that speaks evil of the law or ranks it with sin? Our calling is to declare its praise and make it honorable to all. Bind this law around your neck and write it on the tablet of your softened and opened hearts. Keep close to the law and it will keep you close to Christ. Amen.