Monday, February 12, 2018

The Law of Love

One of the ongoing debates in Christian circles is how much of the Old Testament law we are still accountable to, seeing as how the old covenant has been replaced by the new covenant in Jesus. ("Replaced," by the way, is a terrible theological word, particularly since Jesus Himself said He came to "fulfill" it.) 

But the answer to the question of accountability really depends upon how you think about the Old Testament law. Doesn't it?

Amazingly, most Christians would say that the Old Testament law was essentially arbitrary, that it was just a bunch of God's ideas for our living together. That the primary concern in the law was that we be "nice" to each other, the way God would have us be nice to each other. That the law was written because, left to ourselves, we are corrupt, evil, deceitful persons who would never figure out how to be "good" on our own. That without it, we'd all lie, cheat, steal, and murder. And that would be totally unbecoming of a people of God, so God gave us the law to keep us from it. 

In other words, He's just no fun. And there's no more rhyme or reason to the law than when your mom says you have to clean up your bedroom before you can play video games. It just seems like a good idea.

But what if the law wasn't just a good idea? What if it had nothing to do with our corrupt, evil, deceitful fallings? 

What if the law streams forth from the very heart of God Himself? 

Take, for example, the eighth commandment: Never lie. Lying seems like a terrible way to relate to one another; honesty seems like a good idea. So of course it makes sense that God, who is good, would tell us to choose the good thing - honesty. What if that's not it, though?

Because God is also truth. Right? God tells us that He is truth. We tell each other that God is truth. In Him, there is no falsity. In Him, there is no lie. 

Now, imagine that we say that God is truth, but then we go ahead and lie to each other. Imagine that we tell an unbeliever that God is truth, but then we lie to him. How is he supposed to ever believe that God is truth if we are nothing but liars? All of a sudden, it's not about being "nice" to one another or even being "good"; the very reputation of God is on the line. 

His people are to be known by truth because God is truth. A dishonest, deceitful, lying people can never authentically, realistically, believably claim that. 

Or take another commandment - never murder. Murder, of course, is not nice, so not murdering would, of course, be "good." But again, what if it's not about being good? What if the very heart of God, and His reputation, are at stake? We say that God is life. We cannot say that God is life if we are also murdering each other. No one would take us seriously. So again, it's not just about being "nice" or even being "good"; it's about declaring with our lives what we declare with our tongues - God is life. 

Spoiler alert: essentially every law in the Old Testament, particularly the so-called "civil" laws, can be read in this way - as revelations of God's character and heart. And if that's the case, it has to change the way that we read them. It has to change the way that we relate to them. 

So let's go back to the question. Just how much of the Old Testament law are we, as new covenant believers, still accountable to? 

That depends. Just how thoroughly is God still God?

Because if God is still truth, then we still must not lie. If God is still life, then we still must not murder. If God still provides, then we must not steal. If God is still sufficient, then we must not covet. If the character of God is fundamentally the same as it was when He gave us the laws that not only revealed Him but showed us how to reveal Him in our world, then of course we're still accountable to the law. 

Every single word of it that pours from the very heart of God. For it never was about our being "nice" or even being "good," but about our being "God's." And we still are, aren't we? 

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