Posts tagged Scripture
Becoming a Selective Listener—In the Best Sense

Our so-called “information age”—when information has become the going commodity—involves voluminous data, assertions, thoughts, and opinions whizzing both from and toward us online. Within this environment, not only do false teachers exist—as in historical times—but they have now inherited the power to ask for attention through greater reach, even paying for more influence. 

Has ever a time existed when selectivity about whom we follow for spiritual guidance been a more vital skill? 

Unwise Listening

Regardless, this is not a new challenge. Even many years ago, Reformer John Calvin recognized a human propensity toward being unwise listeners. He noted

Men, of their own accord, choose to be deceived rather than to be properly instructed […] the world will have ears so refined, and so excessively desirous of novelty, that it will collect for itself various instructors, and will be incessantly carried away by new inventions.

Following Calvin and his wariness for theological ingenuity, to cultivate biblically-formed, selective listening skills can be considered a duty. In fact, being a passive listener does not appear to be a biblical category—and by “passive listening” here, I mean falsely believing that I am not choosing the messages I am influenced by because they come toward me online, outside my seeking. Instead, being swayed by fancy-sounding, yet sub-biblical teaching is, according to Calvin, a choice.

Selective Listening and Scripture

Psalm 1:1 shows a progression for falling away from the truth of Scripture: walkingwith wicked counsel, standing in the way of this counsel, and then openly sitting in congruence with evil. Again, Calvin writes that Psalm 1:1

…shows how by little and little men are ordinarily induced to turn aside from the right path. They do not, at the first step, advance so far as a proud contempt of God but having once begun to give ear to evil counsel, Satan leads them, step by step, farther astray, till they rush headlong into open transgression.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 reveals a similarly flawed pattern—listening to teachers who are not sound, taking action by turning from truth, and, finally, wandering off altogether. 

Both patterns begin with listening. 

When commenting on Psalm 19 and then on 2 Timothy 3:16, D. A. Carson laments that too often, our selective listening ironically applies to the Scriptures themselves:

Many people choose snippets and themes that soon constitute a grid for eliminating the rest [of Scripture]…Worst of all, Christians invest so little time and energy in learning what they claim to be the Word of God that it falls away by default.

The danger in contemporary evangelicalism is not formal rejection of Scripture, but an unrealistic assumption that we know the Bible while in fact we press “on” (in reality, slouch backwards) toward endless conferences on leadership, techniques, tools, gimmicks, agendas.

Becoming a Selective Listener by Knowing Scripture

Following from Carson’s thoughts, listening well to the full counsel of Scripture (Acts 20:27) grows wise listeners with the ability to select influences well. If you do not know where to begin, here are some thoughts I have collected while learning from others in my family, church, and Bible college/seminary on delving into further study of the fullness of Scripture:

1. Check your assumptions.

Begin your study of Scripture with an assumption that God is perfect and that, therefore, his holy words are always and absolutely best. If you come across a verse or concept that seems “off” to you, assume that your understanding can grow, rather than conjecturing a problem with God’s word choices or character.

2. Be a learner.

Go straight to the passages that are most challenging for you, and be prayerfully willing to engage in a learning process that humbly gleans from the wisdom of those who have already spent their lives in study. Everything changes when we become Christians—we are reborn into new people, and are given spiritual sight and hunger for God’s Word. Becoming Christians does not automatically make us experts on Christ and his Word, but propels us toward learning. So building Scriptural knowledge and wisdom is simply part of walking with Christ. 

3. Look back to different times.

Do not be overwhelmed with the quick, current Christian publishing environment—thinking you need to keep pace. While having present-day books is important (especially for putting theology into today’s language and for responding to current theological challenges that were not historically encountered head-on), not to mention enjoyable, becoming separated from the theological problems of one’s own generation often best comes through historical works. Read classic, doctrinal resources—primary sources. Some ideas of authors are: Irenaeus, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, or Carl F. H. Henry. 

4. Find a scholarly mentor.

If possible, search for a scholarly mentor who loves the gospel and is versed in the historic tradition of the Christian faith. Pursue this so that (1) you can ask questions about difficult areas of interpretation and viewpoints that differ from yours, and (2) you can be introduced to areas of thought outside of your context of which you would not have known to inquire. 

But first, ask a potential mentor about his or her beliefs. Here are some ideas:

  • Does he or she convey the full gospel message including the unpopular aspects—like repentance, the reality of hell, God’s holiness and wrath, and the necessity of receiving it with the kind of grateful response that leads to growth in righteousness?

  • Can he or she affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy?

  • Is he or she committed to a literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic?

  • Who are his or her theological influences, and similarly, what does this person believe about the gospel and Scripture?

  • Does he or she see the significance of describing differing viewpoints with accuracy?

If this kind of relationship is not available to you, “mentors” come in various forms; I have been shaped through pages of books, words of sermons, and lectures in the classroom or through recordings. Through these means, mentors can be numerous. For no scholar stands alone; faithful Christian scholars consider themselves part of a wider, conversing community—ideally seeking to challenge, correct, and steer each other collectively into the best possible exegesis. Much can be learned from listening in to these kinds of conversations through multiple sources.

Gladness in Growth

Transferring the plentiful information available to us into wisely-held knowledge almost invariably produces a keen awareness about how much one has yet to learn, and how little is already grasped. Do not take these thoughts as a reason for discouragement, but a cause for gladness that you have a concrete indication you are following those ahead of you. 

Keep following; I will too.

Has ever a time existed when selectivity about whom we follow for spiritual guidance been a more vital skill? 

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8 Words for Worshipful Meditation

The voice of the dinner host resounds throughout the dining room and kitchen, “Alright, the food is ready, friends! First, grab your silverware, plates, and napkins here, and then start going along this side of the table to get your food. Don’t forget, drinks are on the far counter—we have ice water, lemonade, and coffee.” 

For guests to follow instructions from their host about the meal he or she has prepared and provided is honoring to do. Similarly, as we hear what God’s Word teaches about itself, we are guided through the “meal” of meditation. 

Eight Words for Worshipful Meditation

Meditation has been defined as follows:

Act of calling to mind some supposition, pondering upon it, and correlating it to one’s own life. A wicked individual meditates upon violence (Prov. 24:2). The meditation of a righteous person contemplates God or His great spiritual truths (Pss. 63:6; 77:12; 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 97, 148; 143:5). He hopes to please God by meditation (Ps. 19:14). Thus meditation by God’s people is a reverent act of worship.[1]

To remember the ways God has said his Word is profitable toward our souls while we contemplate it in meditation is honoring to him and worshipful. As one way to help in this pursuit, below are 8 words taken from Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy 3:16 that God speaks concerning Scripture. Provided as well are some explanations about these words, followed by questions to guide us as we ponder and then correlate to life the principles and teachings we have studied throughout the Bible.

Reviving (Psalm 19:7a)

Matthew Henry writes that Scripture “is of use to convert the soul, to bring us back to ourselves, to our God, to our duty.” Scripture makes us turn to the Lord, it plunges his life-giving ways into more of the depths of our hearts.

How does this passage awaken my soul to the Lord and things eternal, and deaden me toward the world?

Making Wise (Psalm 19:7b)

Henry writes, “It will give us an insight into things divine and a foresight of things to come. It will employ us in the best work and secure to us our true interests.” Scripture causes us to see life in light of the greatness of God, helping us live with increasing temperance and diligence.

In light of this passage, how am I challenged to live, act, and make decisions in a more godly way?

Rejoicing (Psalm 19:8a)

Henry writes, “The law, as we see it in the hands of Christ, gives cause for joy; and, when it is written in our hearts, it lays a foundation for everlasting joy, by restoring us to our right mind.” Scripture gives joy to our lives; the person who knows and follows what is right and true is spared from great misery. 

What teachings, provisions, and promises in this passage bring joy to my life as I align with them and know my God better?

Enlightening (Psalm 19:8b)

Henry writes, “It brings us to a sight and sense of our sin and misery, and directs us in the way of duty.” Scripture gives us new understandings — it challenges our minds to see everything by holy light that glories in God.

What can I learn from this passage that I did not previously know—how does it change the way I think about what is true, valuable, etc.?

Teaching (2 Timothy 3:16)

John Calvin writes, “[Instruction] ranks above all the rest; for it will be to no purpose that you exhort or reprove, if you have not previously instructed.” Also, Matthew Henry refers to “teachings” as “doctrine.” Scripture instructs us, giving us information about God, our world, and ourselves that we simply could not otherwise know.

How does this passage help me understand God, his acts in this world, and his will for people?

Reproving and Correcting (2 Timothy 3:16)

Calvin writes, “Reproof and correction differ little from each other, except that the latter proceeds from the former; for the beginning of repentance is the knowledge of our sinfulness, and a conviction of the judgment of God.” Scripture confronts the sin and untruth in us; it stands contra evil and provides clarity about how to change.

How am I convicted as I read this passage? How do my ways not measure up to the holiness of God, and how can I be corrected?

Training (2 Timothy 3:16)

Calvin writes, “Instruction in righteousness means the rule of a good and holy life.” Scripture fills our lives with the abundant peace of living according to the everlasting ways of God.

According to this passage, in what ways can my life be filled with the righteousness God loves because I love him?

As we meditate upon God’s holy Word as he has intended, he teaches us to pray from our hearts, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

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Speak Scripture into Suffering

When my first daughter went to be with the Lord, one friend wrote to me, “There are no words.” There are no words to describe, quantify, or eliminate the pain of child loss—it was a depletion of my person in nearly every possible manner.

There are no words for the kinds of suffering we can endure on this earth. Yet, experiencing that kind of depletion is not a reason to despair with hopelessness, for it can give way to great rejoicing. Through it, the abundance and sufficiency of Scripture become unmistakable. There are divinely-inspired words—that can never be depleted—to speak into intense suffering.

God Speaks through His Word

Many who have not personally experienced intense suffering feel depleted of words the minute they hear about someone else’s deep pain. Perhaps that is you. You feel you cannot relate well to others’ agony. Perhaps you have heard the wide-spread advice that the best approach to someone who is suffering is to be present and only listen. Or, perhaps you have only had occasion to read or learn about what not to say when someone is suffering, so you are at a loss for exactly how to act or be. God’s Word is an abundant, sufficient help for you too.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom was familiar with her own suffering and that of others. She recounts that women with her in a Nazi prison camp would encircle her and her sister, pressing in closely and attentively, as they read the Word of God (thanks to a Bible God miraculously provided). Precisely during this level of suffering, they desperately needed and wanted the Word. The God speaking there—through those pages—was their only hope. This remarkable account shows the Word bringing hope and light to a dark and, from an earthly perspective, hopeless circumstance.

So as a Church, as disciplers, as teachers, as leaders, as friends, as one who is suffering intensely—right where you find yourself—let’s do well at speaking Scripture into suffering. In order to do so, we will need to learn the Word itself, not just verses we pluck from the book, but the meaning of passages and, then, the application of passages to our overall theology and the way we view the world. Then, we need to become good listeners. I have learned that there is no substitute for these—learning the Word and listening—and that when they are done well, I have much more to offer someone who is suffering in addition to myself.

Applying Scripture to the Aches of Suffering

Think about your life and heart. What often results in your own spiritual growth? You have an ache. And you bring it to the Lord and his Word. Whether through an article, a conversation with someone else, a lecture, a small group meeting, a sermon, a book, reading the Bible in the quietness of your home, you have a realization about that ache. That is, you learn what the Bible speaks into that ache. When you do, you grow. You are made more whole with the truth of his Word. One experience like this after another, after another is what carried me through grief.

So, if you have a suffering friend, listen for the ache when he or she speaks. If you cannot identify it or if you do not yet know how the Bible speaks into it, then be satisfied with being a good listener—after all, you would only be speaking for the benefit of your friend. Make no assumptions, for a response of biblical perspective to the ache they feel might not be the words you think they need to hear.

If you can indeed identify another’s ache and can grow to interpret and apply the Bible well to the aches you begin to hear around you, then trust that the Word of God is your sufficient and most compassionate resource to share with someone who is suffering.

SCRIPTURE FOR THE ACHE OF SUFFERING’S PRESENCE

When suffering is new, resonate with the ache. A sorrowful reaction to suffering is biblical.

  • When everything in life now feels meaningless, remember that there is reason for this feeling—the world is not as it should be (Ecclesiastes).

  • When the experience of grief is life-consuming, remember how consuming David’s grief was over his baby’s impending death (2 Samuel 12:15-17).

  • When suffering makes you feel lonely, read the Psalms to know you are truly not alone.

  • When you feel angry with the woeful way of the world, think of Jesus’ troubled, even angered, response to death because of death’s impact upon those grieving the loss of Lazarus (John 11:33).

  • When this life feels full of anguish, think of Jesus’ anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. The burden he felt when anticipating the cross demonstrates the miserable state of the world (Luke 22:44).

  • When suffering makes you feel ostracized, take heart that you are in good company when suffering (1 Peter 4:12).

  • When suffering makes you feel misunderstood, look to the account of Job and the mistaken assumptions of his friends (Job 4-31) or to the gospel accounts to see how constantly Jesus was unappreciated, misunderstood, unrecognized for who he is. People are flawed.

SCRIPTURE FOR THE ACHE OF SUFFERING’S PURPOSE

Listen for the aches longing for light, hope, comfort, or purpose amidst suffering.

  • When friends and family members do not meet all of your needs, be encouraged that the comfort we receive—even when given through others—is comfort ultimately from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).

  • When you see debilitating sickness or death overcoming your body or the body of someone you love, remember that we believers will one day have resurrected, glorified, and redeemed bodies just like his heavenly one (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:42).

  • When the force of emotion is strong and your words won’t suffice to express your heart, take comfort that the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for you (Romans 8:26).

  • When you feel forgotten in your suffering, remember that God memorializes every tear that falls from your eye (Psalm 56:8), just as he knows the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7).

  • When suffering severs a relationship, remember the ultimate relationship forsaking willingly endured within the Godhead for you (Matthew 27:46). God understands.

  • When you do not feel the compassion of others, remember that Jesus’ suffering (Is 53) and overcoming-power makes him a High Priest who relates to us and causes us to overcome with power too (Hebrews 4:14-16)—giving grace for the present and the promise of heaven.

  • When death or the fear of death seems to conquer you, remember that he has ultimately defeated death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

  • When you feel distant from God, dwell upon the truth that he has given a love that no suffering, pain, or heartache can pull away from you (Romans 8:38-39).

  • When suffering makes you feel unmoored, haphazardly walking through life while wondering when you will finally be free from earthly concerns, remember that you are truly and solidly anchored through Christ to the world to come (Hebrews 6:19).

  • When suffering makes life feel slow, remember that by God’s definition—in view of the eternal state—this suffering is light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).

  • When you need to be reminded of the treasures that can come alongside of suffering, learn why Jesus said that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2), or why Peter said that faith refined through suffering is gold (1 Peter 1:7). God’s glory can be evident in your faithfulness, giving you purpose and joy.

SCRIPTURE FOR THE ACHE OF SUFFERING’S PAIN

Listen for the ache of being stuck when suffering.

  • When you experience unending bitterness toward God, look to the story of Jeremiah, who also felt bitterness at his intense suffering. Hear how patient and sure were the words of exhortation and restoration that God spoke to him (Jeremiah 15:18-21).

  • When others avoid you or when you are tempted to always avoid others who do not fully understand, think of how you might give someone opportunity to enter into your mourning or suffering with you. Then, take heart that when you can share their joy, it truly becomes your own (Romans 12:15).

  • When you can think of no reason to not blame God for the suffering that has come into your life, look to Genesis 3; the original sin of Adam and Eve is what broke the world. God is One in whom there is no darkness (1 John 1:5), who created the world good (Genesis 1:31), who cannot tempt with evil (James 1:13), and so, cannot be convicted of wickedness, malice, or evil.

  • When you simply cannot understand your suffering within God’s sovereign plan, rest content that his ways are beyond yours (Romans 11:33; Matthew 18:2).

  • When suffering makes you stuck in a cycle of looking only inward, remember that you have gifts that can be employed for others’ good and God’s glory (1 Peter 4:10).

  • When you, Christian, are having difficulty being grateful for what you do have, remember the wrath from which you have been saved (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

  • When escape from suffering has become your focus, remember that Jesus Christ, and his good pleasure, is your reward (Matthew 25:23).

  • When you are tempted to blame yourself for circumstances beyond your control, remember that God has purposed all of the events in your life and the lives of those you love—including birth and death, and every circumstance in between (Psalm 139:16)—just as he planned from the beginning of creation that Jesus would die for us (1 Peter 1:20). Remember his sacrificial love as reason to move forward, and move forward in devotion to him.

  • When you question if your suffering has any meaning or purpose, trust in the sovereignty of God to bring his purposes to fruition through the circumstances of your life, all of which are a part of his plan (Genesis 50:20; Job 42:2).

  • When you question what miracle of goodness God can bring from your suffering, meditate on Romans 5:3-5 and trust that suffering can teach you, give you a depth of knowledge of God like never before, and bring encouragement when the genuineness of your faith becomes evident (1 Peter 1:17).

This list is far from exhaustive. What would you add?

Listen for the Ache

Whatever the circumstance, listen for the underlying yearning or longing. Let’s keep learning how to carefully apply Scripture to all of the aches we experience. The process of teaching and discipleship is God’s to faithfully lead. And our aches are often the impetus and route God uses for our growth in order to increasingly display his glory through changed and faithful lives. The kind of lives that display his glory like this are grown from his Word.

While it’s not ours to invent or assume others’ aches, it is ours to listen well, to acknowledge back to the sufferer what we hear, and trust that for every need of the heart, God has spoken abundantly and sufficiently in his Word. You can learn skillful application of his Word to human aches and be empowered to give others more than yourself—you can speak his Word. Take heart that this is your source of compassion for the sufferer and this is your source of comfort when suffering, for putting his salve of truth skillfully into our aches is always our good.

If or when a circumstance of suffering comes into your life that cannot be described in words, remember, he speaks.

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Comfort from the Uncomfortable Verses in Psalms

The scene in my life is familiar. Something weighs on my heart: a fear, a temptation, or a thought-battle. Seeking comfort, I naturally go to the Psalms.

I want to be on the path that is straight and narrow; Psalm 5 is my pick for prayer against temptation today. This Psalm readjusts my thinking about my position in this world, the heartache I’ve avoided by giving my life to Christ, and who I am before him.

My heart resonates with David’s prayers:

Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament… (v. 1)

For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness… (v. 4)

But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down… (v. 7)

But then, I come to this:

Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. (v. 10)

I either skim past it or take a moment to wonder how it could possibly mesh with what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43 about loving our enemies. It’s uncomfortable.

Remember God’s Old Covenant

Since there seems to be no solution, I usually choose the former—let’s move on?

Wait.

This is a Psalm of David. David was the king chosen by God, the king after God’s own heart. Well, did God’s heart change from the Old Testament to the New Testament regarding how we approach our enemies?

No, not at all.

David was to serve God and do his part to uphold the covenant between God and Israel. That included a unique mission given to Israel that isn’t given to us: Israel was to continue to carve out the Promised Land by warring against the people groups that possessed it.

What? Aren’t we at an even worse place than where we started?

No, remember one of those first verses: “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness.” Israel was given the special mission to war against nations who were committed to their wicked ways (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). God is just to judge evil whenever, in his infinite wisdom, he deems it right.

By choosing this mission for the nation of Israel, God sought to prevent the increased evil of Israel’s own disobedience—the disobedience that would threaten their ability to fulfill the conditional aspects of their blessed covenants with God (Exodus 19:5-6; 2 Samuel 7). God was being gracious to Israel with this mission.

Let’s return to the verse that gives some discomfort:

Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.

David is praying that God would cause to crumble what brought wickedness into the nation of Israel; David prayed in alignment with the specific covenant mission God gave him.[1]

Align Your Prayers with God’s New Covenant

Do you and I have this kind of mission of war today? No, of course not. We don’t have a nation to battle at God’s command; but, like David, we do have a covenant with God. We have a covenant that we participate in through Jesus Christ—a covenant through his blood, binding our hearts to his (Jeremiah 31).

Like David, we can think about what’s present in our daily lives that threatens to lead our hearts away from the depths and joys of this covenant.

I have evil pressing against me from every side. There are lies. There are half-truths posing as truths. There are vanities. There are whispers that tempt me to question the good work God has done in my life. These all threaten my heart; they pose to lead me astray.

With a new perspective on David’s prayer, I return to the reason I first went to the Psalms. Something weighs on my heart: a fear, a temptation, or a thought-battle. Seeking comfort, I naturally go to the Psalms—but now I go through the way of our new covenant. I enter into David’s prayer again:

When I read,

Make them bear their guilt (v. 10),

I pray,

God, bring every evil in my life to light so that I can see it.

When I read,

O God; let them fall by their own counsels (v. 10),

I pray,

God, show every evil in my life for what it is: a path to destruction. 

When I read,

Because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. (v. 10)

I pray,

God, let me hate everything that you hate. Cast it all aside. Defeat it in my life and in the lives of those around me as it is already truly defeated at the Cross.

Rejoice in God’s Promises

The conclusion of Psalm 5 means even more to me now.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield. (vv. 11-12)

He is our refuge and protection from the temptations, lies, and whispers that threaten our hearts. As David was praying for what threatened his old covenant, so we can equally pray his words against everything that threatens the depths of our joy and participation in our new covenant with God through Jesus Christ.

No longer do I feel uncomfortable with these verses in the Psalms. But, all the more, the Psalms give the comfort I first sought, for I have even more promises to claim and even more of God’s heart to see. We are on the side of Christ—the One victorious over all temptations; he is a shield against them.

As we come to him through the Psalms because we face whispers and lies that might lead us astray, he covers us with his favor and his protection. Let all who take refuge in him rejoice.

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3 Benefits of the Law for Those Under Grace

As Christians, we champion grace. Rightly so. We read, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), responding with an emphatic, Amen! The law is a great burden, one that you and I could not fulfill. Praise God that we are under his grace! Our salvation rests upon this.

In the New Testament (NT), the Old Testament (OT) law is described as something that “proved to be death” to us (Romans 7:10), “came to increase trespass” (Romans 5:20), and held us “captive” and “imprisoned” (Galatians 3:23).

So, in addition to being life-long advocates of the grace we have been given in Christ, we read these verses about the law and perhaps find ample reason to dismiss it. If the law proved to be death, came to increase trespass, and held us captive, are we not given reason to believe that Christianity in the NT has advanced in an alternate direction—away from the law of the OT?

However, we also have to contend with NT expressions. For example, in Matthew 5:17, Christ teaches that he is indeed not progressing away from the law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” If that is not enough to convince you that Christ did not intend for us to abandon the law, I submit to you Romans 3:31: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”

An important question we may have is of the correct interpretation of the OT law in the NT age—for example, how exactly does all of Leviticus apply to us today? My purpose here is to write about our attitude toward the law, not to answer our questions of interpretation. My hope is that we will be motivated to learn more about interpretation after reading of the benefits of that work.

So, if according to NT teachings, we are not moving away from the law—if God indeed did not push some proverbial re-set button with Christ, nullifying it for us—then we are left with this question: What benefit does the law possibly have for those under grace?

We See Our Need More Clearly

The law serves to inform us of and increase our awareness of our sin.

We need to be taught and instructed, then taught and instructed again. Do you not feel that too? We need definitions and designations about right and wrong—teachings to visit and revisit. We are indeed “prone to wander.” So, God gave the law as a concrete, definitive designation—reflective of his righteous and holy character—about how to honor him in this life he has given. How goodthat we have this gift!

Following the law out of a motivation of love for the Lord and his character is an incredibly life-giving way to live. Think of an area of sin over which you have gained freedom. How much more abundant is life on the other side of every sin! Being freed of sin is not merely the absence of that sinful behavior. Being freed of sin is deeper communion with God and lasting joy from faithfulness to him. That is why Paul could say that law promised life.

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. (Romans 7:10)

Yet, the law also proved to be death to those with a sinful nature. The law did not keep sinners from sinning. The law is holy, righteous, and good. But mankind has a propensity toward sin. Commandments plus the sin-nature do not function well together at all.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:11-12)

Perhaps you too have heard this oft-cited example:

If you draw “do not write here” on the chalkboard and leave the piece of chalk right underneath, our nature produces in us a desire to defy—to write on that chalkboard. So, whereas the law itself is a good provision for which to be thankful, mankind’s sinful nature becomes revealed clearly for what it is.

Christians can relate as Paul pinpoints the condition of our hearts: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). Later he speaks of himself: “Wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24)!

Wretched are we! The law is necessary for us. It is not to be neglected because through it we see ourselves more clearly, as Romans 4:15 teaches: “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” Our awareness of our sin is increased. It points us to the true source of our salvation, Christ: “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

We Praise Christ as One Who Fulfilled the Law

According to our great need that the law clearly demonstrated, God did something incredibly gracious. He sent Jesus Christ, who could be perfect in righteousness according to the ways of God. He made a way for us to trust him and be credited his righteousness—leading to eternal life.

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21).

Through the necessary awareness of sin that God gave us through the law, he is able to demonstrate his further grace in Christ. In stark contrast to the capabilities of mere man stands Christ. The more we understand of the law, the more we see his capability and magnificence to fulfill it. Praise him! Grace could only come to us because Christ did not minimize one measure of the law, but instead met it in full.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

When Jesus taught that a person’s righteousness must surpass the scribes and Pharisees, that would have been shocking to his audience, who viewed the scribes and Pharisees as the spiritual elite. Ultimately, when he said that righteousness must exceed the Pharisees,’ he was speaking of himself, who alone could do this perfectly.

We Love the Law with Hearts of Flesh

Whereas Christ already had the law in his heart, we have to have it written into ours (Hebrews 8:10).[1] Ezekiel 11:19 foreshadowed what we experience through new life in Christ: “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” The words above from Matthew 5 are followed by Christ’s teaching that hate is murder and lust is adultery. So, the law has not been demolished, but revealed to be all about one’s heart. Those who have hearts of flesh by faith through grace can love the law and have the law written there to stay.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:21-26)

God’s requirement of holiness for mankind has never changed from the beginning of time. But we changed; we sinned. Justly, God continued to require his “end of the deal,” that his righteous requirements be truly fulfilled. Grace, that is, being out from under the law of the OT, means that now, we are under the Christ who perfectly fulfilled the law—the one who gives the Holy Spirit to help us obey the law from the heart. Our faith in this Christ produces the desire to know the law of the Lord—to know his righteous ways and to see every possible fulfillment of his righteous ways in our hearts.

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. (Romans 8:3-4)

Grace leads us right back to the law through a different perspective. We can say, “Wretched I am,” “I am forgiven by grace through faith in Christ,” and “I long that God’s righteous requirements be fulfilled in me,” all in one breath.

His grace will always bring us to love the law that Christ embodied. When under grace, Christians are not only free from the law and from the sin that the law increased for those with sinful natures. More, we are freed to the law.

Through grace in Christ, we are freed to return to the law with the knowledge that the burden of it is not ours, but that the grace of finding the freedom of righteousness out of love for him is. How good to have such a God whose justice never sacrifices the righteousness that is our freedom, and whose fulfillment of the law enables us to pursue that righteousness while already having complete peace with him. What a Savior!

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

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