God’s Grace ~ Part 15

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Kehilah
Modesto, Ca.

“The Proof of Our Love for God ~ Part B”

In my last post, we began to look at the topic of the proof of our love for God with respect to the impact of the Law and God’s Grace. I want to continue that discussion by looking at the impact of the Law and Love and contrasting the Law of the Tanakh with the freedom found in the Besorah.

Law and Love

Some people maintain that the “law of love” has replaced even the moral commands of Yeshua and that our only rule is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” They quote Sha’ul, who said, “Don’t owe anyone anything — except to love one another; for whoever loves his fellow human being has fulfilled Torah. For the commandments, ‘Don’t commit adultery,’ ‘Don’t murder,’ ‘Don’t steal,’ ‘Don’t covet,’ and any others are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not do harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fullness of Torah.” (Romans 13:8-10)

Some people understand Sha’ul to say that the Brit Hadashah principle of love has replaced the Tanakh principle of law. That is, whereas the Jewish nation in the Tanakh lived under a number of specific moral laws, the Kehilah in the Brit Hadashah has “come of age” and now lives by the higher principle of love.  Since love must be voluntary and cannot be compelled, so the thinking goes, love and law are mutually exclusive.

But if we realize the moral law is a transcript – a written reproduction – of the moral character of God and that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), we see that we cannot distinguish between law and love.  Both express the character of God.  They are, to use a figure of speech, two sides of the same coin.  In our case, love provides the motive for obeying the commands of the law, but the law provides specific direction for exercising love.

Most of us are familiar to some degree with the classic description of love given by Sha’ul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful, not proud, rude or selfish, not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not gloat over other people’s sins but takes its delight in the truth. Love always bears up, always trusts, always hopes, always endures.”

Sha’ul did not give a dictionary definition of love; instead, he described it in terms of specific attitudes and actions toward one another. What are these attitudes and actions?  They are nothing more than various expressions of the moral law of God.

Leviticus 19 is basically an amplification of the Ten Commandments as originally set forth in Exodus 20. Let’s consider verses 11-18 of Leviticus 19:  “Do not steal from, defraud or lie to each other. Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am Adonai. Do not oppress or rob your neighbor; specifically, you are not to keep back the wages of a hired worker all night until morning. Do not speak a curse against a deaf person or place an obstacle in the way of a blind person; rather, fear your God; I am Adonai. Do not be unjust in judging — show neither partiality to the poor nor deference to the mighty, but with justice judge your neighbor. Do not go around spreading slander among your people, but also don’t stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake; I am Adonai. Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly, so that you won’t carry sin because of him. Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai.”

Now, let’s paraphrase those verses using the format “Love does not,” which Sha’ul used in I Corinthians 13.  When we do this, the passage from Leviticus 19 reads as follows:  Love does not steal, it does not lie, it does not deceive. Love does not profane God’s name.  It does not defraud nor rob its neighbor.  It does not hold the wages of a hired man overnight.  Love does not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block in front of the blind.  Love does not pervert justice, nor show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great.  Instead, it judges its neighbor fairly.  Love does not slander another, nor do anything that endangers his life.  Love does not hate its brother, nor seek revenge, nor bear a grudge, but rather treats its neighbor as itself.

We can see from this paraphrase that the various expressions of God’s moral law, wherever they occur in Scripture, are simply a description of love in action.

The principle of love is not a “higher principle” over God’s moral law. Rather, it provides the motive and the motivation for obedience, while the law provides the direction for the biblical expressions of love.  The actions prescribed by God’s law would be hollow indeed if they were not motivated by love for both God and our neighbor.  I would much rather do business with someone who wanted to treat me fairly because he loved me than someone who deals fairly only because “it’s good for business.”

Law in the Tanakh

British Tanakh scholar and writer Gordon Wenham is especially helpful in this area when he wrote, “As far as basic principles of behavior are concerned the [Tanakh – OT] and the [Brit Hadashah – NT] are in broad agreement. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:20-31; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18)  With this double quotation from Deuteronomy and Leviticus Jesus drew out the quintessence of OT law and gave it his own seal of approval.  The ten commandments are often quoted by the NT.  Peter quotes the Levitical injunction to holiness.  (1 Pet.  1:16)  The examples could be multiplied to show that the NT advocates the same standard of personal morality as the OT.  This is to be expected, since the God of the OT is the God of the NT.  The people of God are supposed to imitate God.  If Leviticus summons men to be holy, for I am holy,” our Lord urges us: “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt.  5:48)  It is evident that the personal ethics of both testaments are similar.”

The principles underlying the Tanakh are valid and authoritative for Believers, but the particular applications found in the Tanakh may not be. The moral principles are the same today, but insofar as our situation often differs from the Tanakh setting, the application of the principles in our society may well be different too.  There is much I would like to share on this, but in the interest of keeping this post within a reasonable length I will defer to a later time.  Let me just say that except of the Temple sacrifices and some of the civil code that has been usurped by our governments, the remainder the law of God contained in the Tanakh has not been abolished.

The Freedom of the Besorah

“But,” some say, “didn’t Sha’ul say in Ephesians 2:15 that Yeshua by ‘destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances.’? Didn’t he say that Yeshua has freed us from the law and urge us to stand firm in that freedom?” (see Galatians 5:1)  We must honestly address these questions if we are to correctly understand the relationship of God’s Law to God’s Grace.

In answer to the first question, Sha’ul surely cannot mean that Yeshua abolished the moral will of God. Such a meaning would contradict what he wrote so abundantly elsewhere.  In fact, Sha’ul himself referred explicitly to the Ten Commandments later in the same letter:  “Children, what you should do in union with the Lord is obey your parents, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ – this is the first commandment that embodies a promise.” (Ephesians 6:1-2)

So Sha’ul cannot mean that Yeshua abolished the law of God as an expression of God’s moral will. Neither can he mean that the requirements of the law have now been changed to the desire of God.  The word abolished would not sustain such a meaning.  Sha’ul, then, surely meant that Yeshua abolished the curse of the law and the condemnation of the law for those who have faith in Him.

In the history of the United States, Patrick Henry cried out, “…give me liberty, or give me death!”  Because we know he uttered this in the context of the American Revolution, we readily understand he was speaking specifically of liberty from the rule of the British monarch.  He was not crying out for liberty from all civil law, but from what he considered the tyranny of unjust laws.

In the same manner, Sha’ul did not call for freedom in an absolute sense, but freedom from the bondage of the Jewish law system, which was abolished by Yeshua in His death. When we stop to think about it, there is no such thing as unqualified freedom.  Such “freedom” would not be freedom, it would be anarchy.  It would be everyone doing what is right in his own eyes; and given our sinful nature, it would be total chaos.

We have indeed been set free from the bondage and curse that results from breaking the law. And we have been called to freedom from works as a means of obtaining any merit with God.  But we have not been called to freedom from the law as an expression of God’s will for our daily living.

Sha’ul said, “For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s Law” and “I myself am a slave to the Law of God.” (Romans 7:22, 25 HCSB).  A few verses before he had characterized God’s law as “holy, just and good” (verse 12).  It seems inconceivable that Sha’ul would want to be free, or urge others to be free, from what was holy, just, and good – that in which he himself delighted.

Consequently, God’s Law is not opposed to God’s Grace, nor is it an enemy of grace. Neither is the law of God opposed to us as we seek to live by grace.  To live by grace means we understand that God’s blessing on our lives is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience but by the perfect obedience of Yeshua.  It means that out of a grateful response to the Grace of God, we seek to understand His will and to obey Him, not to be blessed, but because we have been blessed.  God needs no reason other than love to bless us. Though there are many reasons why it is to our benefit to obey, we need no other reason than love for Him.

I will close with this quote that I recently read in my devotions associated with Deuteronomy: “Too often Christians regard the Law merely as a set of legalisms, and they view Jewish people as trying to follow the letter of the Law. On the other hand [they] then proclaim that the New Covenant describes how God works in grace to redeem His people and shower His love on them. In no way should such a compartmentalization exist between the Old and New Testaments.  Deuteronomy describes how God blessed Israel and showered His love on them because of His grace and mercy.  What the Lord expected from Israel in return was an outpouring of love.  While some people misappropriated God’s intentions and developed a legalistic substitute, a remnant in every generation always deeply loved, honored, and served the Lord their God.” – Lewis Goldberg[1]

Click here for the PDF version.

 

[1] The 365-Day Devotional Commentary by Lawrence O. Richards

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s