Following Jesus Together - September 21, 2022
“O Love ever burning, never quenched! O Charity, my God, set me on fire with Your love! You command me to exercise self-control. Give me the grace to do as You command, and command me to do what You will!” ~Augustine, Confessions, X.29
Who is God’s Law For? – Part 2
We live in an interesting world, full of contradictions and complications. Consider this: The Ten Commandments used to be hung in American courthouses. Prayer and the Bible used to be included in public education. But now, we are seeing the fruit of a long concentrated effort to free American public life from the shackles of Biblical morality. One of the strangest experiences for me in Uganda was teaching Jesus in a government school to students (Christian, Muslim and traditional beliefs). We were mixing things that I had never seen mixed.
At the very same time, Christian values are in the air we breathe, even in New York. (See https://www.thegoodbook.com/the-air-we-breathe by Glen Scrivener) Our non-Christian neighbors often aren’t aware of how ‘biblical’ their values are. Things like compassion, kindness, freedom of religion, forgiveness are the fruit of a culture that has been shaped by the Bible and by the teachings of Jesus. “Don’t judge!”
Here’s one example: In conversations about abortion Christians are blasted as immoral by their secular neighbors for wanting to protect all life (mother and child in the womb). The immoveable law of compassion is used as a hammer to tell pro-life Christians that they are evil. How can you put your moral shackles on a scared single mother and a potentially unwanted child? Do you see the contradiction? Compassion for the weak and vulnerable is a distinctive Christian value. It is something traced directly to Jesus. Compassion is not found in the natural world. You don’t see a lion’s heart melt with compassion when he sees a helpless baby zebra. He eats it. Yet, they want to argue that the laws of the land should be based on the Jesus commanded value of compassion.
Gen Scrivener gets it right when he says, “In order to pursue the kingdom without the King, we have had to dethrone the person of Christ and install abstract values instead. The problem should be obvious: persons can forgive you; values cannot. Values can only judge you.”
So who is God’s moral law for?
For now, I will leave aside the question of how to apply biblical morality to those outside the church. That’s a separate discussion.
Look at the Ten Commandments. Who are they addressed to? It is for those whom God has entered into a covenant relationship with. They are applied to the people God redeemed and rescued from slavery, Israel. “What other God has spoken face to face with you?” (Deuteronomy 5:1-6)
Psalm 147:19 -20 describes Israel’s relationship with God’s rules this way: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules.”
Israel had something distinct. Their unique privilege is to know what God expects. They heard God’s voice. His rules are written down and able to be meditated on and memorized. Therefore, God’s moral law, because it is given in the context of His personal relationship with Israel…is first, for Israel.
What about Christians? Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, 23-24) The context for keeping Jesus’ commandments are a new covenant relationship with Jesus. God’s moral laws are for Christians.
This is what the Westminster Larger Catechism is after in Question 97: How does the moral law apply specifically to the saved?
- Although those who are saved and believe in Christ are freed from the moral law as a covenant of works, so that they are neither justified nor condemned by it, nonetheless, in addition to the general applicability of the moral law to all humans, it specifically shows believers how much they owe to Christ for fulfilling it and for enduring its curse in their place and for their good. This recognition spurs believers on to a greater thankfulness, so that they try all the harder to observe the law as their personal standard for living.
Since obedience to God’s moral law is expected of Christians, we should not be surprised if our neighbors who don’t love Jesus, don’t care about Biblical morality. They may even be offended by it, because they do not know Jesus.
Here’s what this Biblical view of the law frees us to do as Christians in the world: Go be surprisingly less judgy in a world that constantly judges us!
Consider an unchurched young couple living together. They don’t know Jesus. They have never been to church. Our task may be to defend the goodness and beauty and truth of marriage in a friendly dialogue together. But our primary task is to aim for the 1st commandment before the 7th commandment. We want to hear them say, “Jesus rescued me from slavery to sin and because He loves me, I now want to obey. Now that Jesus is my King – I want to keep His commands.” Our gospel conversations start with Jesus before behavior.
If we look at our neighbors, demanding them to live up to Christian ideals we will lead with judgment. But, if we look at our neighbors through the lens of all people needing Jesus, we will lead with compassion. They are still enslaved to death, suffering under the tyranny of sin and Satan. We know how miserable and lonely that is, because that is our story!
So, as those grateful for the grace God showed us while we were guilty, may we learn to see the moral law as a guide for our gratitude. Our neighbors may just thank us!
9:00am – Sunday School – Join Ruling Elder John Van Voorhis for a discussion on WHAT to pray for, learning from Jesus and examples in the New Testament.
10:15am – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 – Loving the Lord Your God: Keep Yourself from Idols – The 2nd commandment is all about how God legislates the way we imagine Him to be. We do not have the freedom to create images. Why does God care about how we imagine and worship Him?
Come and see on Sunday!