Love, Law, and the Gospel
Edwards describes at length what long-suffering does and does not look like. As we picked our way through a list of behaviors and attitudes which evidence an unforgiving or vengeful heart, there wasn't a single woman in the group who did not have a reaction, or a confession: some story, some experience, some attitude for which they're feeling convicted, or from which they'd learned. There was a lot of knowing, sympathetic laughter and many words of comfort and encouragement passed around. As we discussed the behaviors, many of them subtle, which may betray a heart that is not long-suffering but desires rather to return hurt for a wrong suffered, there came a point when one of the gals asked, "How do I know when I've crossed a line, what I should not do?" To which my response was along these lines, "I can't tell you that, because it's a matter of your heart. I can't give you a checklist. These are guidelines, helpful indicators, but only by relying on the Spirit can you know whether your thoughts or words have crossed the line into sin." At this the woman put to words a desire I believe most of us have had at some point or another in our Christian lives:
"But I want a list! I want it spelled out for me what to do and not to do!"
Our pastor just began a new teaching series this past Sunday night entitled, "The Law and the Gospel". I'm not sure where he's going with it yet, but I must say, the tension between the two has been on my mind a lot over the last week or so, and has looked on from the wings in my study of Christian love. It is easy to become bogged down in all the "requirements" of perfect love. "And so," I wonder, "what does Paul really mean when he says we have "died to the law", that "we are released from the law"?
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. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." Romans 7:4-6
This lady's frank question, as I pondered it the next morning, shed the light I needed and Paul's meaning began to come into focus. In spite of the slavery to which the law puts us, there is something about our flesh that prefers a list of ordinances to the whole-hearted abandon of faith. To submit to a list, is to submit a finite part of ourselves to the will of another - the part impacted by the rules, mainly our actions, and only a limited number of those. The rest of our lives and hearts, then, remain our own. We can do our list, count it done, whether our heart was in it or not, and feel secure in that. But the law of Christ is a much higher thing than a list of Ten. (Mt. 22:35-40; Gal. 15:4; James 2:8) The Law of Christ is not a series of restraints, but a heart entirely free of constraints. By freeing us from sin, to love God wildly, selflessly, and with all our hearts, Christ has freed us from rule of law. To one who loves in this way, the Law is no more than the vague shadow of which Christ is the substance. We have Christ, the object of our desires, what more need do we have of the shadow? (Heb. 10:1) And yet, the temptation is always there from our flesh, which is weak and limited, to cling to what it knows and prefers - that which is also weak and limited. Like Israel in the wilderness, we are constantly tempted to return to the familiarity and predictability of bondage, rather than face the uncertainties, risks, and seeming vulnerabilities of freedom....
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God....now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?God has given us the Spirit of His Son - the same Son who cried, "Abba, Father!" in the Garden of Gesthemene, whose love for God was so great He sacrificed all. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly; and how did He do it? Not through slavish obedience, but through the love of a Son for His Father.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit....So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' Romans 8: 1-4,12-16
God has given us, by His Spirit, hearts to love Him. We've been set free from the list of rules to walk in the freedom of love which encompasses and overshadows any "Thou shalt not". We no longer are slave to a code written in stone, but are free and walk in the power of children who adore their Father and want nothing more than to emulate and reflect His loving nature. Not only do we not need a list, but to turn back to living by one would severely limit our focus. When we serve God in the freedom of love, not only do we fulfill the law, we overflow it. Love doesn't just do no harm. Love heaps good upon good. Consider the testimony of Paul, who happily traded the law for the gospel:
"If anyone else thinks he has , I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel,of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:4-11
Paul counted his blameless life of obedience to the law, rubbish for the sake of Christ's righteousness. And so we, too, need to exchange our fleshy attempts at righteousness for the righteousness of God, which can only be found in Christ. We must not subject ourselves again to the yoke of bondage
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
"Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." Galatians 5:1-6Seeking to live by the rule of law has no value in the sight God, who looks to the heart, and whose principle command is that we love Him with all our hearts. (And it is only right that we do so.) To Him who is the Creator of all - the most magnificent and indescribable, the most loving, the picture of perfection and holiness, the most worthy of the love and adoration of all who exist - to Him, slavish obedience is an insult. Rather, love for Him should pour forth from His creatures - a love which desires what He desires and loves what He loves. This kind of love does not need a checklist. And this is why love is the fulfillment of the law:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10