In our day, whenever someone speaks of the law of God, the legalism buzzers start going off in our heads. “We’re not under law, we’re under grace!”
It’s true — we who believe are no longer under the law. We are free, we are sons:
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
– Romans 8:15 NASB
And obedience isn’t a matter of death to a son — thank God!
But neither is obedience a matter of indifference to a son. Rather, it’s a son’s joy to obey his father.
There is a wrong use of the law that is legalism, and this we must reject. But there is a right use of the law that is obedience, and this we embrace.
1. His delight is in the law of the LORD
Look at the central characteristic of the righteous man’s heart:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers…
– Psalm 1:1-3
2. Jesus and the command of the Father
And wasn’t it Jesus’ joy to do everything the Father commanded? Yes, it was His joy! God gave His son, sent His son — Jesus didn’t come autonomously, but in submission to the will of the Father:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” – John 3:16-17
Obedience is Jesus’ very food:
But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” … Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” – John 4:32, 34
All through John chapter 5, Jesus speaks of the Son and the Father, working together as loving, commanding father and obedient, following son:
Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” – John 5:19
Does the Son chafe at this? Does He wish He were autonomous, independent of the Father? Not at all. It is love for the Father to show the Son what He is doing and have the Son follow the Father’s lead:
“For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel…I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” – John 5:20,30
Jesus even goes so far as to say, “I can do nothing on My own initiative.” What! Couldn’t He if He wanted to? He’s God, He can do whatever He damn well pleases, can’t He?
But this is not how the Son of God thinks at all. He’s not seeking an opportunity to do His own thing. “I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Think of a human father and son, how it is kind for a father to let his son in on what he is doing and direct him to follow along. That’s Jesus’ example.
Is the freedom we have in Christ, then, a freedom to spurn that which Jesus did joyfully, as legalism? May it never be! How could it be love for Jesus to do nothing on His own but only what He receives from His Father, but legalism for us to walk the same road? Of course we won’t achieve perfect obedience in this life — but we groan, longing for hearts that perfectly obey, because we love our Father and want to obey Him, and we love our brothers and want to be a good example for them, and we love our sons and want to leave a godly legacy for them. We hate our sin, we work to mortify it, we love God’s law and we want to teach others to love it as well. We rebuke, exhort, and admonish our brother because we love him and we want to see him freed from sin’s deceitful entanglements.
Do we think that by any of this we earn God’s favor? Not at all. We are simply sons who love to obey our Father. His commands are not burdensome to us – we love them.
Observe the goodness of His law:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O LORD;
Teach me Your statutes.
With my lips I have told of
All the ordinances of Your mouth.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.
– Psalm 119:9-16
This is the great message of Romans 8: that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That God has fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law. That now we are free — free to live according to the Spirit, free to put to death the deeds of the body, just as we now long to do!
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
– Romans 8:12-13 NASB
How would we even know what the deeds of the body were except that our Father lovingly points them out to us in His law? We love the law of God.
4. The Westminster Confession: Of the Law of God
Here then is the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XIX: Of the Law of God.
I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
II. This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.
III. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a Church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.
IV. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.
VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.
VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.
We were bastards, the sons of a harlot, dead in our trespasses and slaves to the evil one (who was our father!), without hope and without God in the world. But God, in His great mercy, turned away His wrath from us through the blood of His Son, made us alive in Him, granted us faith, adopted us as sons, gave us an inheritance along with His firstborn, gives us brothers and sisters now, and promises us a heavenly inheritance of riches that will not fade. What a joy it is to obey such a Father as this!
Let us then learn to love the law of God, that examining ourselves thereby, we may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need we have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience.
Let us learn to pray as a son who loves his Father,
You have ordained Your precepts,
That we should keep them diligently.
Oh that my ways may be established
To keep Your statutes!
– Psalm 119:4-5