Reconciling Law and Mercy (Part Two)

I’ve posted portions of the main content of this post on Infernal Facebook recently, and it immediately generates the following comments:

  • That’s works-based salvation!
  • We’re not under the law!
  • That’s crucifying Christ daily!

No matter how carefully I try to explain this idea, it seems to elicit a pitchfork-wielding mob, screaming, “We’re not UNDER the law, you legalist!” I feel like I’m saying, “The sky is blue,” and people are responding, “No, the grass is green!” But, I’m not going to give up.

I’m not saying we’re “under the law” as in performance-based salvation. What I AM saying is that the Ten Commandments are still God’s law, and that He had a good reason for stating such. In fact, it’s probably an absolutely beautiful reason. But we have to get over our aversion to the mention of words “law” and “commandment” to see it.

Here’s some scripture to illustrate the importance of the commandments, and to encourage us:

Exodus 20:6 
but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 5:10
but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Daniel 9:4-5
I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, "O Lord, the great and terrible God, who keepest covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments and ordinances;

John 14:15
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:21
“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."

Did you notice that the in the fourth time the principle of loving God and keeping the commandments was spoke by Jesus, that is was in the fourth book of the New Testament (and Gospel), which was written by the fourth disciple Jesus picked – whom he specifically referred to as the one he loved? There’s a lot more of significance attached to the number four in my post The Real FantasticFour, if you haven’t read it already.

OK…back to the commandments.

While it’s completely true that we can’t justify ourselves before God by following the law because we will never be able to keep it to His standard, it doesn’t mean the law isn’t still important to God. Which seems more logical?

  1. In both the Old and the New Testament, the love of God and keeping of His commandments are joined together in principle, in the above verses. Therefore we should be doing our best to keep His commandments; or
  2. God is only saying His commandments are relevant to one group of people. It doesn’t please Him to see non-Jews obeying His commandments.

I’d say “2” is the most logical, given how consistent God is throughout the entire Bible.

That said, we must never be foolish enough to think that somehow we can earn our salvation through following the commandments. We sunk the ship from the first time we lied about who stole the cookies from the cookie jar, or pulled little Susie’s pigtails on the playground.

We are all sinners. I know - I hate being called that, too. But it’s reality, so we may as well get used to the name. It’ll keep us humble.

Satan as the Tempter: He’s Telling Us The Law Doesn’t Matter

So, what’s a healthy attitude toward the law?

Unfortunately, a prevailing attitude in the church today is that we don’t need to try to keep the commandments God has given to us, because by doing so we deny the grace of salvation through Jesus Christ. But do we really think that mutual exclusivity is the only option?

Are we only supposed to keep some of the commandments, like not murdering people, and not stealing – and then ignore the commandment about keeping the Sabbath or coveting your neighbors shiny, new Corvette?

Just kidding…nobody wants a Corvette. A McLaren P1...that just makes sense.

Maybe we can we weigh the commandments and decide which ones are relevant for life today, and which ones to discard as “outdated.” Let’s think about that for a moment, because there might be some significant dangers lurking on that horizon, if we head in that direction. Here there be dragons! 

What could go wrong if we "update" those commandments, you ask?
  • We might be tempted to discard a commandment if the sin we want to commit is seductive enough, and then comfort ourselves with the At Leasts. At least I didn’t kill someone. At least I didn’t scald a baby for Ba’al. The bar for obedience becomes entirely subjective.
  • The commandments we think are insignificant might be really important to God, and we might not understand why. Take the Sabbath, for example. Matthew 12:8 says Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is important, so his day probably is, too. There are more words in the Commandments about the Sabbath than any other Commandment. I don’t know exactly why, and even though it’s mentioned 170 times in the Bible (counting Sabbath, Sabbaths, and Sabbatical) I’ve seen very little in the way of a description of how to do it right. You can bet I won’t be taking the Pharisees 39 categories of forbidden activities as the correct interpretation, since Jesus schooled them soundly on this particular point. On the Sabbath day, I try not to accomplish anything for my own esteem, and rather spend the day enjoying my family, reading scripture, singing, relaxing...that kind of thing. Maybe we’re not given a bunch of rules because it’s not about rules. Maybe it’s about rest and trust. Maybe it means something completely different and I've got it all wrong. But I’m trying my best anyway.
  • If we get used to bending (revising) a commandment, we might be more inclined to discard one or more, altogether. That’s a very slippery slope and provides a perfect opportunity for Satan to play his next role as The Accuser. Don't give him any help.
  • The commandments are a gift. Getting used to averting your eyes when you see a hottie, so that you don’t start lusting after someone, is exactly what will keep you from adultery and coveting. Following the commandments keeps us out of self-inflicted harm, and intentional harm to others. It’s pretty clear why that leads to a more peaceful life. Not trouble-free, but more peaceful.
Unfortunately, the truth that blood sacrifices for atonement were done away with, because Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice for our sins, somehow got confused with not needing to follow the law at all. That sounds like a well-packaged excuse to keep living the life that we had prior to salvation, which is NOT pleasing to God, and the ideal reason for non-Christians to refuse to accept Christ while pointing to us as an example of hypocrisy. 

Again, that’s doing the devil’s work for him. Look at that crafty guy in Scripture:

Matthew 27:40
and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."

Matthew 4:3
And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."

Genesis 3:1-4
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'"

He’s always trying to get us to disobey God, isn't he? Apparently he’s as consistent as God is, but not in a good way. 

In fact, I suspect he’s the one who infiltrated the church to assure us that the Ten Commandments aren’t important anymore. Consider that for a moment. Maybe that’s what gets us so riled up when someone mentions the words Law and Commandment. And it’s a brilliant strategy, isn’t it? A persistent but subtle assault on the law beginning with one or two twists of scripture, which eventually gets carried into books by theologians, taught in seminaries, sung about in catchy songs…all designed to convince us that the law doesn’t matter. He started with something seemingly harmless…like not keeping Sabbath.

Do you think I’m making this up? Take a quick look at a recent poll about how relevant people think the commandments are today. Satan has been working harder at removing the Commandments than we have at upholding them.

I’m going to close this installment on my Law and Mercy series with one last thought, since this post is getting pretty long. Consider what Jesus said about the law.

Matthew 5:17-21
"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

Does it sound like Jesus said we can now do whatever we want? Did he give explicit permission to tamper with, modify, or ignore God’s commandments? I haven’t found one verse that I can interpret that way. Go to God about this topic, please. I think it’s really important. 

God willing, I’ve got a treat in store for you in the next installment. I’ve got a wild idea about the number 17, which is precisely the very verse number this important discourse on the law starts with in the excerpt above. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Keep looking up – our redemption draws nigh!