The gospel is…the word about Jesus Christ and what he did for us in order to restore us to a right relationship with God. – Graeme Goldsworthy

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making Much of Ourselves: Misusing the Law

God's Law is a wonderful thing to be prized and celebrated (Ps. 19.7-11). The reason for this is it reflects His character (Ps. 119.37), instructing us in how we ought to live (Ps. 119.105). However, due to our rebellious nature passed down from the 1st Adam (Rom. 5.12), we fall pitifully below this divinely perfect standard of living. Consequently, as the apostle Paul explains, the Law reveals our sin (Rom. 3.19-20; Rom. 7.7-12; I Tim. 1.8-11). When we see we are completely unable to keep the Law, the Holy Spirit then reveals our desperate need of the One who perfectly obeyed it in thought, word, and deed (Heb. 4.15; I Pet. 2.22; I John 3.5). This is what qualified Him to be the substitutionary sacrifice for our Law-breaking (I Pet. 1.18-19; 2.24a; I John 2.1-2), receiving the eternal penalty on the cross that was due us (Is. 53.4-6). Those who place faith in the message of the gospel receive the positional righteousness of our flawless Law-Keeper, Jesus Christ, in exchange for the penalty He endured on the cross for our law-breaking (2 Cor. 5.17; I John 3.4-5).

God's Law - as it pertains to Christians in the new covenant era of redemptive history - is not a simple discussion. Theologians have debated this for centuries. Christians continue to debate its applicability to the present day, and will until the eschaton. I don't pretend for this blog to cover every issue related to the topic of the Law and the NT believer. (I hope you don't, either.) My express desire is to encourage you not to misuse it.

The issue I want to address is the misuse of the Mosaic Law in such a way so as to justify ourselves before God. This is when we take the Law and, like the Jews in the OT, see it as a means to make much of ourselves. Rather than allowing the Law to expose our deep and extensive sinfulness, it becomes a tool to feel more righteous about ourselves. This is the deception of Law-oriented religion. Individuals think they’re obeying it when the exact opposite is the case. This is because they have an erroneous standard of righteousness. Such religious self-deception causes an individual to think he is justified – has a righteous status – before God when in reality his own righteousness is keeping him from the very One to Whom the Law points and personifies (Luke 18.10-14; 24.25-27, 44-45; Matt. 5.17-19; John 5.37-40). Paul sums up the history of religious Israel in Romans 10:1-3: “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.”

Those who use the Law “to establish their own [righteousness]” have no need for Jesus. The gospel – because it doesn’t make much of their self-righteousness but of the glory of God in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4.3-6) – is “a stumbling block” to them (I Cor. 1.23). Rather than looking to the One to whom it points (Matt. 5.17-19; Luke 24.25-27, 44-45; John 5.37-40), they want to use it to set up a system of righteousness that’s erroneous (Matt. 5.20). This is exactly what Christ came to put a stop to, as Paul goes on to say in Romans 10.4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (emphasis mine).

I think this is what Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY, is speaking to in the following quote.

“Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God…Most people think of sin as failing to keep God’s rules of conduct, but, while not less than that, Jesus’ definition of sin goes beyond it…You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws. If you do that, then you have ‘rights.’ God owes you answered prayers, a good life, and a ticket to heaven when you die. You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own Savior…religious people commonly live very moral lives, but their goal is to get leverage over God, to control him, to put him in a position where they think he owes them…If…you believe that…then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior.”Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (37-38)

Is this you? Do you feel more accepted by God based upon what you’ve done or what you’re doing? Do you think that if you live by biblical principles God is absolutely obligated to give you the life you think you deserve? Are you disillusioned and bitter because you were told growing up in Christian subculture that if you lived by God’s Law He would do “x, y, and z” for you, only to find that His sweet providence has granted you a life of suffering and trials instead (cf. Phil. 3.1-11; 2 Cor. 6.3-10)? Could it perhaps be that you approached the Law as a sort of “spiritual” rabbit’s foot to be used (as a simplistic tool of divine cause and effect) to realize your personal desires rather than as something that points you to the greatest gift of all – Jesus Christ and His story? As Keller points out in the quote above – and in the book Prodigal God – such is the rebellion of moralists, Pharisees, and self-righteous religionists. And they – or shall I say “we” – have just as much of a need of forgiveness and redemption from our morality as the prodigal does from his immorality. Meditate on that. It will change you.

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