We overemphasize God's law when we think that we have to please God to win His favor, but we underemphasize the law if we think that God doesn't care if we follow it.
Legalism on one hand, antinomianism on the other. That's next on Renewing Your Mind. This week, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson has helped us bring the gospel into sharp focus. He's done that through the lens of an eighteenth-century church dispute. Twelve Scottish pastors read a book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity. It caused them to reconsider the nature of salvation itself.
Those twelve Marrow men, as they came to be known, did a great service to the church in their day and to us three centuries later. We've been talking recently about these problems, endemic problems, really, in the Christian life of legalism and antinomianism. And one of the things we've been seeing so interestingly is that legalism is the basic problem. It was what was injected into the relationship between the Lord and Eve in the Garden of Eden by the serpent, who very subtly turns her into a legalist, distorts the law.
Distorts the commandments of God and gives her the sense that God is not a gracious God giving kind commandments for their benefit, but God is a kind of jealous person who doesn't want any joy, any happiness, wants to restrict their lives. And then the reaction that sets in of antinomianism. And in our study we were seeing last time how there is, throughout the history of the Christian church, a sense in the masters of the spiritual life that antinomians are never fully and finally delivered from legalism. Only the grace of God in the gospel can deliver us from legalism. But in many ways the problem is not simply that we don't understand the gospel well, it is that we also don't understand the law well. So how do we begin to understand the relationship that a Christian believer has to the law of God?
Paul has a very striking way of putting this in 1 Corinthians 9 verse 21. He says that yes, it's true that in Christ Jesus from one point of view we are set free from the law, but from another point of view he says, I am in law to Christ. And if you just step back from that expression and think about it, Paul is not speaking there in terms of family relationships, but that expression in law is a very good way of thinking about the relationship that we now have as Christians to the law. We are not directly related to the law as though in order to be saved we needed to keep the law because Christ has kept the law for us. But as you remember Paul says in Romans 7, we have had an old husband who has died and so we are now free to marry another, to marry Christ. And so through faith by the ministry of the Spirit, we are united to Christ.
The Bible uses that metaphor, doesn't it? We are married to Christ. But when we are married to Christ, what happens to the law? Well, the law becomes our in-law. The law becomes our in-law. Now, I remember my Latin teacher at school telling me that the oldest recorded joke in the world was about a mother-in-law.
And we are all familiar with that kind of difficulty. A man marries a woman he loves and it's a case of marry me, marry my mother. You can't have me as your wife without having my mother as your mother-in-law. Now she is not directly related to you. But if you are a right-thinking husband, you want not only to love your wife but to please your mother-in-law. There may be times when the mother-in-law who wants the very best for this relationship proves to be slightly irritating to you. But if you love your wife, through your wife you are related to her mother.
She is your mother-in-law. And as you grow in wisdom and in grace, you live in a way that more and more pleases your mother-in-law for this reason that you are more and more pleasing your wife, blessing your wife. And in a sense, all illustrations break down, but in a sense that's a good illustration, isn't it, of how we are related to the law. We can't say to Christ, I want you but I don't want your Father's commandments. I never liked your Father's commandments and they always condemned me. And he says, marry me and I will have borne all the judgment of God against your breach of the commandments, but marry me and you will become the in-law of the law. The law and you through me will be related to one another. So that by God's grace, what Paul had said in Romans 8, 3, and 4 begins to become true, that in Christ's flesh the law fulfilled its penalties fully paid in order that now married to Christ through the Spirit, the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Ralph Erskine, whom I mentioned last time, used to relax at the end of the Lord's day by turning the themes of his sermons into verse, put this very point in verse in his Gospel sonnets. This is how he puts it. He says, thus gospel grace and law commands both bind and loose each other's hands. They can't agree on any terms, yet hug each other in their arms. Those that divide them cannot be the friends of truth and verity.
Yet those that dare confound the two destroy them both and gender both. This paradox none can decipher that plow not with the gospel heifer. And so he adds, to run, to work, the law commands, the gospel gives me feet and hands, the one requires that I obey, the other does the power convey.
Well, he may have had a hard Sunday that day, the poetry is not the best in the world, but the point is clear, isn't it? That the law and the gospel harmonize in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it's this that points us in the direction of the gospel cure for our antinomianism. It's our union with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit who in that bond leads us to love the law and be obedient to the law. Now sometimes it's just at this point that Christians can have difficulties because when you read through the New Testament, especially for example in Paul's letters and also in the letter to the Hebrews, there seem to be some very negative things said about the law. For example, Paul speaking about the law in 2 Corinthians 3 speaks about the law as having no glory at all. Yes, it seemed to have glory in Moses' day, but now he says, from our point of view, it has no glory at all.
Doesn't that suggest that we can be done with the law? Maybe an illustration will help here. And again, of course, illustrations break down. I remember going to school when I was four years old and I've no memory of doing anything but loving elementary school. I was having the time of my life. But then I went to high school and I realized that the teachers in elementary school had been dragons. They hadn't taught me very much.
Didn't get any Latin in elementary school or trigonometry in elementary school. And so now I look back on elementary school and I think, you know, that was like being in prison. But now there's this wonderful freedom to study all these subjects with these people who seem to know so much and then I leave school and I go off to university. And I remember first lecture in the English Lit class at university, a very distinguished Shakespeare expert is the professor. I had been studying one of Shakespeare's plays for six months in my last year in high school. I learned more about that play in this man's first lecture than I'd learned in all the six months. Suddenly, I'm free from all that.
These people, my teachers, they didn't really know anything but these people. And I live in a day when they put money in your pocket to go to university. I've more money than I've ever had in my life.
Of all these hours, I have to go to half a dozen lectures, sit a few exams, write the occasional paper. I can read my Bible. I can read other books.
I can go and play golf. Boy, this is really living. This is really living. And these long vacations, oh yes, there are still exams at the end. And in the Scottish system, there really were exams at the end. And in a sense, since the last exams you sat were the only ones that would matter for the rest of your life.
It's a fair amount of pressure. And then I become a minister of the gospel and there are no more exams, except I realize there's at least an exam every Sunday. But this is freedom for me. And so, you see, at each stage of my life, I was having the time of my life. I never noticed that there were any restrictions really placed on me. There was so much to enjoy.
There was freedom until I moved on to the next stage and then by comparison saw that the previous stage had been so restricting. And it seems to me that that's how the New Testament Christians who had gone through the barrier between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, that's how they saw things. In fact, Paul says precisely this at the end of Galatians 3, beginning of Galatians 4. He says, as Old Covenant believers, we were like underage children. We were heirs, but none of the inheritance was actually coming to us.
We were still waiting for it. Now we have entered into the full privileges of sonship and we say what no Old Testament believer ever said, never said, Abba, Father. And so we are to understand that when the New Testament seems to speak critically of the law, it's not an absolute statement.
It's really saying, now look at how the law worked. There were the commandments of God and then those commandments were surrounded by civil regulations. And then there were all those regulations about the liturgy so that you were restricted and constrained because just like children, just exactly like children, God was saying, it's for your good that I don't just let you loose. But then when you look back, you understand that the Mosaic administration, the law in that sense by comparison with the internationalism and the liberty and the sense of God being Abba, Father, all of this is gloriously new and so by comparison those old days look as though they were the shadow lands and now you're beginning to live in the sunshine.
And the fact of the matter is there is more yet to come. We may be enjoying the Christian life now, but it's little compared to the glory that is to be revealed. So you see God moves His purposes on in these staging posts. Remember I said the problem was not just that antinomians misunderstood the gospel, it was that they misunderstood the law. So let me take a few minutes in our session on this occasion just to explore how the Bible thinks about the law of God. And to walk us through a series of stages in biblical theology that I think very much help us to appreciate why God gave the law and how the law functions. To do that, we actually do well I think to begin with Romans 2, 14 and 15. Romans 2, 14 and 15 is an interesting statement Paul makes. He's thinking about the New Testament age and he says a very striking thing there in chapter 2 verses 14 and 15. He says, Gentiles who do not have the law by nature may do what the law requires and they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. What's he saying here? He's saying you look around the world and you see that there are Gentiles who live according to the commandments of God as though the faded image of those commandments was still on their hearts. They don't do it perfectly. He goes on to say their thoughts excuse them sometimes and other times accuse them.
Now why is this? He says they show, Romans 2, 15, that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Now there are some scholars who think that Paul is speaking here about believers who are Gentiles.
It seems to me that it's quite inappropriate in the section of Romans where he's dealing with the ungodly, whether they are Jew or Gentile, to think that suddenly he starts speaking about Gentile Christians. Now I think what he's saying is this, that in the creation of man, God wrote his law into our constitution so that instinctively we did what pleased God. It was in our DNA. Just as later on, legalism is injected into our DNA. And he's saying that the image of God has not been destroyed by the fall.
It has been seriously marred by the fall. But it shouldn't surprise us that in every culture there will be echoes of those laws that God built into our constitution. And Paul seems to me to be alluding to that here in Romans chapter 2. Actually, the Marrow of Modern Divinity put this rather well. Listen to this. Adam heard as much of the law in the garden as Israel did at Sinai, but only in fewer words and without thunder. You see what he's saying?
And then we move on to the next stage. Here is fallen man. His mind is darkened. His heart is twisted. The law of God has been written into his life because he is the image of God. He reflects the character of God, but now it's distorted. It's as though the mirror is smashed and broken, and the law of God is no longer clear.
Sometimes, yes, you know. If you read some of the scholarly work, you will notice that especially unbelieving scholars are always looking for parallels to the Ten Commandments in the ancient Near East to try to show that the Ten Commandments are dependent on the laws of the ancient Near East. And stubbornly resist the notion, no, of course there will be similarities between the law of God and the laws of the ancient Near East in different countries because the works of the law, however damaged, they may seem to be still written on the human heart. So what happens at Mount Sinai is that what was written on the heart and has now become unclear is now made clear by God by writing it on tablets of stone so that we can be in no doubt what the law of God that was originally written in our hearts was meant to say.
But it was also given to a community, a particular ethnic community, and so there are certain particularly ethnic dimensions that surround it, this people in this land at this time. But also, as we discover in the New Testament, they're God's children in a period when they're under age, Paul puts it in Galatians 3 and 4. So what do you do with underage children? I wouldn't have been able to do it, my wife would have been able to do it, but neither of us sat down with our children when they were three and explained to them how electricity works. But we did say, whatever you do, don't go and poke that thing into that socket in the wall.
We covered over the sockets in the wall because the easiest way to guard them was to give them negative commands. And when God carries His children, as the Old Testament Scriptures describe it, as He carries them through the desert, it is of course natural that since He's speaking to sinners and to children under age that by and large the Ten Commandments come in a negative form, not because God is a negative God, but because it's the best way for children under age to learn positive principles, which is why when Jesus explains the commandments in Matthew 5, 21 to 48, He says, don't you see that these negative statements enshrine positive commands because God wants you to live again, He wants to recreate you after His image and likeness as He had created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And at the very heart of that relationship, yes there were civil dimensions, yes there were liturgical, ceremonial dimensions, the very heart of that relationship was the Ten Commandments. Sometimes scholars say, well, the law was the law. No Old Testament believer thought of the law as anything but one single sheet of paper. It didn't make these distinctions that theologians have made between moral and ceremonial and civil. You know that's not true. I tell you why it's not true. The only part of the law that was placed in the Ark of the Covenant was the Ten Commandments.
That said something. That said that yes, there is a unity in the law God gives to us, but there is also a dimension to the law God gives us that is rooted and grounded in these commandments that are placed in the Ark of the Covenant, indicating that they belong to the very heart of the relationship. This is the lifestyle that is pleasing to the Heavenly Father. And yes, of course the ceremonial law was given until Christ came.
But then as Calvin says, when the noonday sun arises, you don't go around striking matches in order to be able to see. The liturgy drops out because the great high priest has come. And yes, the civil laws are abrogated because they were given for this nation that had its purpose in God's economy until Christ came. It had a very special purpose in God. It was God's servant until God's final servant came. And so the laws that governed Israel are not laws that are to be distributed internationally. They belong to a particular people in a particular place at a particular time.
Yes, we may learn lessons from them. And so there is stage three of fulfillment in Jesus Christ. And this is of course what Paul is saying in Romans chapter 8. The condemnation of the law as well as obedience to the law both meet in Jesus Christ.
And then there is the fulfillment of the law in us, a fourth stage. The very point that Paul makes in that pivotal statement in Romans 8, 3 and 4, that Christ bore the judgment of God against our breach of the law, not in order for us to say, law is no longer relevant but in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Very interesting thing that people sometimes quote Jeremiah 31 in this context, don't they? We don't live in the days of the old covenant. We live in the days of the new covenant and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But the question is, what does the Holy Spirit do? What is the promise of the new covenant? The promise of the new covenant is that when the Spirit of Christ comes and indwells believers, what does He do? He writes the law of God into our hearts. And we're bound to ask the question, well, which law of God does He write into our hearts? The answer, the same law of God that was written for Israel and placed at the heart of the relationship in the ark of the covenant. Because what the Spirit does is transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ that we may be restored to the likeness of the heavenly Father. In a sense so that we may be restored to Eden, but not only restored to Eden, prepared for the new Eden that will come, when thank God by the Spirit in the presence of Christ, at last the commandments of God will be easy to obey. That makes you say, doesn't it, even so, come, Lord Jesus.
And aren't you thankful for that gift? The law of the Lord written on our hearts. We've heard from Dr. Sinclair Ferguson this week here on Renewing Your Mind. His teaching series is called The Whole Christ. And over the past several days, we've heard that there are two extremes when it comes to interpreting our justification.
Dr. Ferguson helped us see that either overemphasizing the law or discounting the law flow from the same error. You may want to bring this teaching series to others in your church. The series is formatted in 12 24-minute sessions.
It's easy to structure a Sunday school class or small group study around it. You can request the complete series when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. We'll send you the two-DVD set and add the digital copy of the study guide to your online learning library. Our staff is at home celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, so this is an online offer only. Again, the website address is renewingyourmind.org.
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One click from your computer or phone, and you'll be listening to the program right away. You can sign up at renewingyourmind.org. Well, in 1 Peter, we find an admonition to submit to earthly authorities. Next week, R.C. Sproul helps us understand Peter's instruction for living in submission to Christ. We hope you'll join us for that, beginning Monday, here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
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