God’s Design for Life

Donald Bloesch has observed:

[within dispensationalism] is an antinomian strand that views Christians in the church age or age of grace as under the gospel only and not also under the law. The law is something that is done away with, though the moral teachings of Jesus in the New Testament continue to have force. [1]

Bloesch recognizes that historic Christianity has always believed:

…the Christian is saved by grace alone but for the purpose of living a holy life. Our responsibility is not simply to receive and believe but to take up the cross and follow Christ in costly discipleship.[2]

The dispensationalist viewpoint forces one to believe in a “stringent separation of law and gospel” that “prevents them from acknowledging the unity and complementarity of law and gospel.” (Bloesch, 96)

Anglican theologian J.I. Packer points out:

the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love (Christian agape as well as sexual eros) is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.[3]

The key to maintaining a proper perspective on the Law is to:

Keep two truths in view. First, God’s law expresses his character. It reflects his own behavior; it alerts us to what he will love and hate to see in us. It is a recipe for holiness, consecrated conformity to God, which is his true image in man. And as such (this is the second truth) God’s law fits human nature. As cars, being made as they are, only work well with gas in the tank, so we, being made as we are, only find fulfillment in a life of law-keeping. This is what we were both made and redeemed for.[4] (emphasis mine)

With this in mind, John Calvin remarked,

If it cannot be denied that it [the Law] contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it.[5]

If these things are true, how shall we approach the Law of God? In what manner can a 3,000-year-old law code be helpful for us today? Once again J.I. Packer points the way.

Learning from the Law

What does God want to teach us today from the Commandments? Some talk as if there is nothing for modern man to learn from them, but that is not so. Though more than 3,000 years old, this ancient piece of divine instruction is a revelation of God’s mind and heart for all time, just as is the nearly-2,000-years-old gospel, and its relevance to us is at least threefold.

First, the Commandments show what sort of people God wants us to be. From the list of prohibitions, telling us what actions God hates, we learn the behavior he wishes and loves to see. What does God in the law say “No!” to? Unfaithfulness and irreverence to himself, and dishonor and damage to our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Jesus, asked that question, replied in effect: everyone we meet. So what does God want us to be? Persons free of these evils; persons who actively love the God who made them and their neighbors, whom he also made, every day of their lives; persons, in fact, just like Jesus, who was not only God’s eternal Son but also his perfect man. A tall order? Yes, but it should not cause surprise that our holy Creator requires us to reflect his moral glory. What else could possibly please him?

Three Uses

Rightly, Reformation theology did not separate God’s law from God himself, but thought of it personally and dynamically, as a word which God is continually publishing to the world through Scripture and conscience, and through which he works constantly in human lives. Spelling out this approach, Reformed theologians said that God’s law has three uses, or functions: first, to maintain order in society; second, to convince us of sin and drive us to Christ for life; third, to spur us on in obedience, by means of its standards and its sanctions, all of which express God’s own nature. It is the third use that is in view here.

The Law of Nature

Second, the Commandments show what sort of life-style is truly natural for us. Rightly have theologians understood the Commandments as declaring “natural” law, the law of our nature. This phrase means that what is commanded not only corresponds to (though going beyond) “the work of the law” written, more or less fully, on every man’s conscience (see Romans 2:12ff.), but also outlines the only form of conduct that fully satisfies human nature. Deviations from it, even where unconscious, are inescapably unfulfilling. [5]

Let us repeat that last once again. God is the Designer and Creator of us and the universe, as such He has outlined for His children enduring principles that describe “the only form of conduct that fully satisfies human nature” because “deviations from it…are inescapably unfulfilling.”

With this in mind St. Patrick’s-by-the-Rivers maintains:

We believe the Bible is a revelation of the righteousness of God, and a description of the lifestyle of the redeemed community throughout history. While God’s commandments are to be considered prescriptive, we acknowledge that they require adaptation from generation to generation. (Matthew 5:17-19; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) [6]

And now you know what we mean by that…

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[1] Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things : Resurrection, Judgment, Glory (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 96.

[2] Ibid.

[3] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, Originally Published: I Want to Be a Christian. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, c1977.; Includes Index. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1994), 232.

[4] Ibid. 279-280.

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II, vii, 13.

[6] http://stpatricksfw.org/statement-of-beliefs/

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