To Disentangle, Define and Describe the Law of God
There is great misunderstanding about the Law of God. And to know the truth is to know freedom. To lack truth in any area of the Gospel of Christ, and by that I mean the whole of the redemptive plan of God is to return to bondage. Therefore to know what God says about the law is to know His truth and freedom.
I used to hear David’s words, repeated three times in Psalm 119, and almost pulled my hair out:
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Psalms 119.97
I hate the double-minded, but I love your law. Psalms 119.113
I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Psalms 119.163
How could David, of all people, so famous for his sins, love the law of God? This is what I wondered as a young man struggling with my sin in the far badlands of my prodigal journey? How could anyone love the Law of God? Indeed, I believe that there is great misunderstanding about this among believers today. Grace is advanced as if law has no place. If this is so, then how can this be?
And what about Paul? Were these in fact two religions? Did grace nullify the Law? Was there a conflict between Law and Love?
First, one must disentangle the word Law, as it is used in a given context, define it, and then describe its use in our lives.
1. We must disentangle the misunderstandings about Biblical Law
This is not as complicated as going through a law library in search of an archaic case! This is simply comparing Scripture to Scripture.
No writer in the Word of God is more concerned about becoming entangled in “the law” that the one who has been called “the Apostle of the heart set free,” the Apostle Paul. It is St. Paul who seemed to decry the corrupting influence of the law:
- For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3.28
- 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 7.6
- 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, Romans 8.3
- The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 1Corinthians 15.56
- I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2.21
- O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Galatians 3.1a
And yet, the Apostle of Grace will summon the Law of God repeatedly in his missionary, pastoral work to correct, rebuke, admonish and guide believers into truth. In fact, Paul, who will at once say,
- So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Romans 7.12
- Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13.10
- So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3.24
- Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6.2
- Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 1Timothy 1.8
So what is at work? Well, in this keynote address it is important to systematize the classical understanding of the Law of God in the Word as summarized, briefly and succinctly, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter Nineteen, “Of the Law of God.”
2. We must then Define the Revealed Types of Biblical Law
There are, therefore, three types of law typically understood in the Word of God:
The Theonomic, or the law governing ancient Israel when God governed directly through Moses. Thus from dietary laws to criminal law, the people of God were ruled under these laws. They are no more. There is no more ancient Israel. These laws leave us with principles, but not with regulations. Do they continue? Paul wrote:
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10.4
No. Christ has fulfilled the Mosaic or Theonomic laws of Israel. Thus Peter is commanded to eat anything he wants. It is a dramatic moment in redemptive history, when we see that this law was fulfilled in the Gospel. We are not under such law.
The second law is the Levitical or Ceremonial law. From the rules governing the priesthood to the sacrificial system of worship, the ancient people of God learned much about God and themselves. He is holy. We are sinners. He is righteous. We are not. But we need to either keep those laws in relationship to God or find One who will. But this law is fulfilled in Christ.
The great Scottish preacher and professor at Edinburgh, James Stewart, had a famous sermon, “The Rending of the Veil,” that began,
“It had been hanging there for years. It looked as if it might hang there for ever…”
But it did not. It was rent in twain by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So Hebrews tells us:
For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. Hebrews 7.28; and
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Hebrews 10.1
Thus the ceremonial law is completed with the death of Jesus Christ. The Law was a teacher to us, it taught us the Gospel truth that without the shedding of blood there can be no removal of sin. It taught us that God is worshipped according to His Word not according to our whims. It taught us holiness and righteousness and the attributes of Almighty God are fully embedded in the Ceremonial law of God, but in Christ it is complete! The WCF in XIX.iii we are told with unadorned simplicity:
“All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.”
The Moral Law
Thus when we survey the Scriptures we are left to see that there is what the Confession of Faith calls a Moral Law. This law summed up in the Ten Commandments, but given in various other admonitions and teachings, continues. And in this law, Calvin taught his famous three uses: to instruct, to govern society, and his famous third use, the practical use, to bring glory to God and blessing to the believer.
“The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns.”
It is this Law, the Moral Law, which is my concern today. And it is this third use, the “practical use,” which I seek to exposit today as we go to the Word of God. It is my belief that as we see that Paul taught the Law’s right use, in its third use, the practical use, we will see how David could say, “Lord I love Thy law.”
Let us Describe the Christian’s Use of The Third Type of Biblical Law
I now draw your attention to the Epistles of St. Paul to the Ephesians 4.1, 17; 5.1-2; 6.1-9:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4.1-6)
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (Ephesians 4.17)
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5.1-2)
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray.Lord, may the Words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. And let me preach as if never to preach again and as a dying man to dying men.
Walk before you can Follow
We all know the axiom, “You must walk before you run.” In the Bible, we might say “You must walk if you are to follow.” What do I mean?
There was a time in my life when I did not follow the Lord. I followed the things of this world. I followed the ways of the world and the desires of my own heart. It led me to many bad things and many sad consequences. But having been reared in the Church, I thought I was a follower of Jesus anyway. You know, “Once saved, always saved” and I could pretty much do what I wanted. One time when I was in the Navy as a teenager, I was following the ways of the world and was called on the carpet by a Mormon. You see I was arguing with him about his religion and calling him a heretic and telling him that he was terribly mistaken. I do not doubt that I was right, though one may find better ways of sharing truth. But at any rate, this Mormon, who certainly practiced his religion, told me, “Mike, your life does not reflect your doctrine. You are not walking with the Lord. And until your walk matches your talk, I think I will keep my own religion, thank you.”
“Ouch.” Or should I say, “Touché!” He was dead right. And years later when I heard the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, which showed me that I was a hypocrite and a liar and dead in my trespasses and sins and needing to be made alive in Christ by grace through faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me, I realized that you must walk after Jesus if you will follow after Jesus. Or to use my Mormon roommate’s words, “Until your walk matches your talk” you are not walking and therefore you are not following the Lord.
You must walk in holiness as you follow the Lord. And to walk and follow you need the Spirit to fall fresh on you. You will need, as Calvin said, to have experienced a change in your life. John Calvin wrote of these who could keep the law in His Institutes:
“[The] Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, …[so that] they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God.”
The third use of the Law is for believers whose hearts have been actuated by the transforming power of God in Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. The matter before us is how to walk after this One who commands us to keep His law.
A sidebar thought for you as we come into this: I teach my son some valuable things, but I also like to teach him some funny things. Having been instructed by such luminaries as Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers, when we go into a restaurant and the waiter says, “Walk this way” I try to imitate how he walks. While I find that amusing and my son does as well, my wife doesn’t (and the servers have never found out). But “walk this way” is a good way to think about walking in Ephesians.
In Ephesians chapters four and five, St. Paul uses the world “walk” three times and each time he uses it as the anchor for a new thought concerning how to walk. So let us then follow Paul in these passages and be instructed from Holy Scripture on how we must walk in order to follow.
Ephesians 4 and 5 helps us to see that we should be living out the Law daily in our lives for the glory of God and the good of our lives.
But how do we walk? How do we follow the famous third use of the Moral Law?
In Ephesians 4.1, Paul makes a turn from his amazing, far-reaching depiction of the glorious Bride of Christ. And he makes the turn by saying,
“I therefore as a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worth of the calling to which you have been called…” and he goes on to say that our walk must be one that is “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” for Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit…”
So the first way we walk is this way:
1. Walk Together
If you recall, it is quite reasonable to believe that this epistle, which lacks any tone whatsoever of correction, is rich in doctrinal and thus practical instruction for not just Ephesians, but other churches on the Asia Minor circuit. If so, this “therefore” walk this way first great application in the Epistle would have special meaning for all of the churches. They must walk together. But even if it were intended for Tychicus to deliver this epistle to only Ephesus, it still has meaning for unity within that one body.
How we need what Paul has to say in our churches today, as well as in the larger Body of Christ, the circuit of churches, say, in Cedar Falls, or Minneapolis, or Kansas City, or North Carolina. How we need to hear that if we come to see our position in Christ (chapters 1-3), then we ought to walk together. How could there be any other way to walk?
For as Paul says, we have a high calling (verse 1). We walk together because we were called into the glorious Body of Christ, not into a privatized, this-is-my-pew-and-you-better-move Christianity! Even when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, not “My Father…” but “Our Father…” One of the joys of a conference like this is to gather Christians from all over and to come together to sing and praise and focus on God’s Word together. We have a high calling, and so let us walk together in that calling in Christ.
Paul will say that we walk together and exhibit that togetherness in a love that is seeking, as Bryan Chapel called it in a fine book on marriage, “Each for the Other.” Indeed, marriage, as we will see in Chapter Five is the perfect metaphor for this way of life. Each of us giving to each other. Look at the loaded phrases in verses 2 and 3! It looks like words that I would use to prepare a wedding sermon:
“Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, unity, peace.”
These traits are to shown in our spiritual walk, because there is only one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Now why is he stressing this oneness theme? Because our lives flow from God and from His very Person and His Plan. If there is no Lord, one faith and one baptism, can there be twenty churches?
You know we have over 60 denominations present in our student body at Reformed Theological Seminary. Sixty! But, when I talk to students from these various ecclesiastical bodies do you know what I hear? One message. I hear the same questions about calling, about serving, about gifts, and about purpose and mission. Many gifts, Paul will say, but One giver. Many parts but one body.
It was my joy to have served Dr. D. James Kennedy as his intern at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. I spoke with his wife Anne just days ago and prayed with her. As Jim Dobson said at the funeral I remember so well, when that oak—speaking of Dr. Kennedy—fell in the forest a great noise reverberated throughout the woods. He was a giant indeed. And you have never known a more stout Presbyterian and ardent Calvinist. But one time he told the story of how his brother was dying. His brother was a teacher and an unbeliever.
He flew up to the Northeast where his brother was dying this man who had led hundreds and hundreds of people to Jesus Christ personally, and had founded a ministry that could boast of hundreds of thousands of people coming to Christ. But on that plane, in that seat, sat one man concerned about only one man: his own brother. He prayed that God would save his brother and that he would get to share the Gospel with him before he died. The plane landed, and Jim darted to the hospital. He rushed down the corridors as he had done so many times for others who were facing death. He located the room and went in. His brother was dead.
Dr. Kennedy walked out and went to his hotel room. He described the night as a sleepless encounter with God, like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, not for a blessing but for an answer: “How could you allow me to lead all of these others to eternal life and yet deny me my own brother? How? Why?” The tormented man dealt with these questions, without answers, until he went to the funeral. There, a young Pentecostal preacher, who served as the chaplain at the hospital where Jim’s brother was being cared for, had come to the service. He approached Jim and said, “Dr. Kennedy, I wanted you to know that I have taken Evangelism Explosion.” The remark, which Jim had heard hundreds of times before seemed particularly painful to hear. “Well, Son, that’s great.” “And Dr. Kennedy,” the chaplain went on, and Jim could hardly bare any more from this young, uneducated Pentecostal parson, “I just wanted you to know that I shared it with your brother. I shared Jesus with him. And your brother received Jesus Christ as his Lord. He died a Christian. I just thought you should know.” Dr. Kennedy then said, “Don’t ever talk ill of any uneducated Pentecostal minister around me!
We who love the Lord, who love His Word, who receive Him by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, may disagree on some things, and see things differently, through this dark glass. But this one thing is for sure: when faced with death and Hell, we walk together.
How is your walk with those outside of your own church? Or dare I ask, How are you walking in faith with those who share your own name?
The third use of the Law involves walking together—and this conference speaks well to that Biblical goal.
Paul makes another move, another transition, when in Chapter Four he begins to focus, not just on unity, but on holiness. For we read:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” (verse 17).
When we walk this way, the Biblical way,
2. Walk Away
The Psalmist wrote:
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Psalms 119.1
To walk His way, we must walk away. This is what David is telling us as he is saying that the one whose “way”—whose “walk” if you will—is without “tamiym” in the Hebrew—“upright, with integrity, undefiled, without spot.”
My Aunt Eva used to tell me that when confronted with sin, with course jokes, with ungodly talk, with foolish plans, just “walk away.” I tell my son that when you see something that is going to lead to trouble just walk away. When I was a boy and played football, every now and then a player would get it in an unlawful hit, or a cheap shot. My coach told me to just “walk away.”
We walk together when we follow the Lord in this glorious position we have in Christ. But we also walk away.
The Law of God requires that believers must walk away from old ways of thinking which are futile (17), useless, and good for nothing. We must walk away from the ignorance, which Paul says characterizes the old life (in verse 18). We must walk away because to walk in them again is to take part in the things that Paul says lead to a “callous” life (verse 19). Paul says “they became callous…” This is the judicial hardening of the life of one who turns away from God, in nature, but also one who turns from God in His Word. You have His Word. You have been taught. You have been called. You are part of the glorious Body of Christ.
You have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (4), so if you are His little child, how could you deny Him, we might ask a Christian in trouble, by your flirtatious relationship with the married man in the office which will lead to unimaginable pain and sorrow? Walk away. How, we might plead with an alarming number of men who claim Christ as Lord, can you continue to consume pornographic images into the mind that Christ is renewing in His Word? Walk away. You have been adopted by God through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (6) so how do you continue to gossip and speak ill of another believer? Walk away. You are redeemed through His blood (7) and “seated with Him at his right hand in the heavenly places” how can you ever entertain ideas that would deny the inerrancy of His Holy Word or the truths of the Gospel that your mother taught you as you sat on her lap as a child? Or that you heard prayed from the lips of your old father? How can you tolerate unbelief in your life? Walk away.
And in each charge I give you this day to “walk away” I connect your position in Christ to plea to repent. For Paul does this. This is not a moralistic hoop to jump through, this is a gracious appeal to hearts that have a relationship with Christ.
Why do we obey our parents? Because we love them. Love precedes law and empowers obedience. And so Paul prays for them as I pray for our lives today:
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remember you in my prayers…”
“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”
Out of love, out of awe and wonder, walk this way: Walk away from the old way of life and into a new, more compelling, and beautiful, even dazzling, present and future with Jesus Christ.
I implore you by the wounds of Jesus to walk this way. To do so is to fulfill the Law of God in our lives today.
And I invite you to focus on this final way to walk in Ephesians chapter five:
3. Walk Forward
Walk forward into a way of life in which, as a child of the Father, you now show the family traits. The third use of the Law is as the Confession of faith says,
“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.”
I was adopted. And they say that DNA is powerful and I am sure that it is. But in my life as I grow older, I have reflected more and more the traits of my Aunt Eva. Every now and then I will say something to John Michael and I will think, “That is exactly what Aunt Eva used to say to me!” I have found in my life and as a pastor that love is more powerful than DNA.
Christ’s love is the power to keep the law. We may have the DNA of original sin, but the love of Jesus has overpowered that lesser power. It must yield, through the exercise of the means of grace, to the power of love. And in love, an act of God’s grace towards us that brings about a new heart and mind, we respond to God. In short, we can only keep the Law, we must keep the Law, in love.
And so we can look in Ephesians 5.1 for one of the most touching passages in all of the Bible:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ, loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Maybe this is so touching to me because I have used it so many times in weddings. That passage is connected not only to the passages that follow on a return to “walking away” admonitions, but also to “walking forward” images about marriage. And then, in 6.1-4, about parents and children. And finally, in verses 5-9, about the relationships of masters and slaves. And in all of this Paul is calling us to walk a new way in the future with all of our relationships. What does that walk look like? How do we “walk like this?”
We walk in God’s love as “Christ loved us and gave Himself for us…” This is the way you walk forward from now on with your wife—you give your life to her. This is how she responds in loving submission to her husband—because of love.
So too you walk out of the love of Jesus Christ that saved a sinner like you. Such love, Paul, says, is a “fragrant offering and is a sacrifice to God.” Such love diffuses a fragrance that is attractive to those who want to see what real love looks like. And even in marriage, even in our love of our parents, and our love of our children, even in the way we treat our employees, or the way we give our best for our employers, God’s love is diffused into this old world.
The law of God is thus doxological. The law of God is evangelistic. It is the way of a transformed heart that cannot bear but to follow.
And you can only love that way if you know that love. Do you?
Following with a Limp
So over the span of Chapters 4 and 5 and the first part of 6, we have seen how to walk:
Walk together. Walk away. Walk forward.
And to walk in this Biblical pathway is to say with David, “Lord, I love Thy law.”
There was once a man whose walk was marred by the fact that he had a problem walking together with those who were following God. In fact, he dedicated his life to tripping them up in their walk by killing them. He not only could not walk together, he did not walk away from a life of religious snobbery that supported a system that kept the common man down while elevating the professional clergy. He could not walk away from that. He could not walk forward because he was stuck imitating a religious god of his own making. He walked in isolation from God and His people. And he walked backwards. He could not keep the Law of the flesh. But listen to what this man would then testify:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
And Paul would say,
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
“But,” you reply, “you don’t know me pastor. No one should imitate me! I don’t walk; I limp!”
Then let me speak directly to the one who is saying that his walk in sin has made him limp. I am speaking to the one who says that his walk—perhaps a long time ago—has taken him down, down, down to a life of degradation and shame. I am talking directly to the one who says “I cannot walk any longer like I have been walking! I am tired! I am tired of the walk in the Church!” I am talking to all of you who think that to walk after Christ is to walk with “goody-two-shoes.” None of us who now follow Jesus can claim to have a perfect walk. We limp from the old ways sometimes. We even stumble. And yes we even fall. But because Christ Jesus is with us, He is our strength, and in our weakness He is made strong, we are learning to run. We are learning to run like Paul ran. And we dare even say, “Look at us! If we who like Paul walked into sin now seek to walk away, come join the race! Look at us! If we like Paul once walked in isolation from the Church, the glorious Body of Christ, we now walk together! We are now a part of this Island of Misfit Toys, as I like to call the Church. The invitation is for others to come and “walk” with us and be healed, be put back together. Receive the grace. Be filled with the Spirit. Then follow the Law; and reap the blessing. That is what Paul is saying. That is what Calvin was saying. That is our confession. That is the Gospel. And that is the pathway to walk into abundant life and everlasting life.
If you once walked backward, away from the Father, come now and let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet He can wash them white as snow. And His compelling love will draw you towards Him. That is how we are learning to walk. That is how we say we are loving grace and loving the law of God too. Just like David. Just like Paul. Just like me. Just like all of us who are walking and walking and walking…to follow the sandals of One who walks along side of us, who kept that law perfectly and whose commands to His people are commands fulfilled in love.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Accordance Biblical Software 7.0.” 2010.
Chapell, Bryan. Each for the Other : Marriage as It’s Meant to Be. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998.
John Calvin, Beveridge, Henry (Translator). “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.” (1947). http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.txt.
Stewart, James. James Stewart: Walking with God, Edited by The Revd Gordon Grant. Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2006.
Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : With Main Concordance, Appendix to the Main Concordance, Key Verse Comparison Chart, Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, Dictionary of the Greek Testament. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1984.
“The Westminster Confession of Faith.” (1646). http://www.reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/WCF.htm.
 See Chapter XIX in “The Westminster Confession of Faith,” (1646). http://www.reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/WCF.htm.
 See Chapter XIX.iii in Ibid.
 In James Stewart, James Stewart: Walking with God, ed. The Revd Gordon Grant (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2006), 133.
 See “The Westminster Confession of Faith.”
 See XIX.iii, iv in Ibid.
 Bryan Chapell, Each for the Other : Marriage as It’s Meant to Be (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998).
 “MyIm; Dt from Strong’s number 8552” in the Hebrew Keys in “Accordance Biblical Software 7.0,” 2010; James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : With Main Concordance, Appendix to the Main Concordance, Key Verse Comparison Chart, Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, Dictionary of the Greek Testament (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1984).
 Chapter XIX, point VII, “The Westminster Confession of Faith.”
 Philippians 3.17