The Whole Christ: The Law of God
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. -Psalm 119:97
How many of us might say the same thing? I can’t recall the last time I looked through the Ten Commandments and thought something remotely like this. This sounds like a super-Christian if there were such a thing. The law here is listed in Strong’s Concordance as Torah, the Hebrew name for the first five books of the Old Testament. We see from this that there is a whole lot more instruction here than just the Ten Commandments. In their time this would be a reference to the entirety of the scriptures revealed up to that point in time. In “The Inerrant Word”, John MacArthur describes this term as synecdoche, referring to a part that represents the whole. If I said I got a new set of wheels you’d know I was talking about a vehicle. Likewise, ‘law’ here is a reference to scripture in general, not just the Ten Commandments. As New Testament era Christians, we have the entirety of the Bible, God’s revealed instruction. Since the psalmist is referring to God’s word, this same love for the Torah can be applied to the entirety of the Bible. For the sake of brevity I'm focusing on the law in the sense of a reflection of God's moral character and not the civil/ceremonial aspects.
Viewing the Law in Terms of Our Standing
Yet it can also be said that the entirety of the law or Torah can be summed up in the Decalogue (10 Commandments). Even further, it can be summed up as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself”. I expanded the meaning of ‘law’ to show that the whole Bible is for our instruction and deserving of our devotion, and then centralized it to the Decalogue for the sake of focusing on the all encompassing law given. This law, before anything else, is a reflection of the nature and character of God. The Marrow of Modern Divinity addresses the Law in three phases. I call them phases because the Law itself does not change but has different functions in relation to mankind. They are as follows:
The Natural Law: In this case, the Law is the Decalogue in terms of the relation to God’s nature. It is the Law that is written on man’s heart, whether it is followed or not. Before the fall it was imprinted on Adam in a way that it could be carried out fully without deviation.
The Law of Works: After the fall, sin so corrupted us that we became completely unable to fulfill it. Failing to meet the standard of an infinite God is deserving of punishment, which for a finite being is eternal. The Law then becomes a system we follow to merit salvation, yet it condemns us because we cannot.
The Law of Christ: The good news is that Christ was sent to fulfill the law and take the punishment for those who cannot fulfill the Law (which is everyone). Those in Christ receive forgiveness based on His merit- not ours, and the Law changes (in terms of our relation to it) from an impossible standard to reach to a way to live our lives. There is no condemnation for them, as it becomes a rule of life to the believer marked by grace.
Those Ten Commandments don’t change, but in relation to mankind, their function is radically different. It is amazing to think that those who were once hopelessly bound to obey the Law in every aspect are now free from the penalty that comes with failing, even though they have failed. Some questions arise from this discovery. If we are free from condemnation, then do we have to follow the Law? What place does the Law really have in the Christian’s life? Depending on your natural disposition, it is very easy to fall into one of two major errors. These errors are known as Legalism and Antinomianism. Next week I will discuss the concepts of both and misconceptions some may have about them. I found their descriptions revealed inclinations in me I didn’t even know I had. Take time to look at both subjects, their relation to each other, and their relation to the Law. Because these errors are so subtle, it can be very easy to miss their symptoms in our own hearts. More on this next time.
Until then I recommend reading The Whole Christ as it is a very comprehensive and enlightening work on The Marrow Controversy and this subject in general.