Do you drive? People with cars have a worldview that is dramatically different from those without cars. With a working vehicle, you might go anywhere at any time, as long as you have gas and insurance, which most people do. When your car breaks down, you are brought to a screeching halt and feel that you’ve lost your freedom. But, those without cars are dependent upon others, public transportation, or their own feet, who travel on subways, trains, busses, taxies, or planes, and safely moving around is all-consuming. Our church session opened physical worship in our building last Sunday but asked all of us over 65 years of age to stay home. As you can imagine, there were various responses to this from “Okay, good to know what to do, to “Why shouldn’t I go, since I’m healthy?” Some of us embrace commands or directives from a source that we trust, and others just don’t like to be told what to do. However, as we mature spiritually with Christ, we can seem these as times when God “hems us in” for his purposes and glory, according to Psalm 139:5. When we obey God out of duty or lack of control, we don’t love him or his ways. A child who obeys to avoid punishment is doing so out of fear, not love. But when Christians love God, we love everything about him and from him, including his rules, restrictions, and laws; we obey with peace, knowing that he has planned for our best life.
In Michael Horton’s “Introducing Covenant Theology,” I can’t let go of one sentence in his summary on the covenant of law versus the covenant of grace. “While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life.” (1) Note that Horton is speaking of “God’s redeemed people,” that is, believers. Christians uphold the moral law as a way ‘of’ life, according to the Mosaic covenant (vs. a way ‘to’ life, through the gospel). Think about the implications of this: believers obey, follow, and even love God’s moral law, as a gift from God. I rejoice in the Lord’s sovereign control over my freedom, to keep me safe at home as much as possible right now, because I love his rulership, appointment of my governmental leaders, and work through my church elders. How did I arrive at this peaceful state and view? Through Scripture’s power to transform my mind and perspective on life (Romans 12:2; Titus 3:5). And, as Michael Horton expounds, this renewal in the Spirit is for all who are in Christ, through the Abrahamic covenant of grace—even Old Testament saints who knew the preincarnate Savior, such as the psalmists. With the author of Psalm 119, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil…I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” (vs. 162-165) Shall we not lovingly embrace God’s commands through Christ for personal peace? Let’s examine how the author of Psalm 119 thinks of God’s Law in these few verses.
He writes, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” (v. 162) The psalmist of 119 goes on and on about his delight, peace, help, and glory in God’s Word, for 176 verses! His praise and joy is for God’s commands and statutes in the Old Testament, but not because of the covenant of the Law, or Mosaic covenant. Both the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenants were in effect. (2) It is our relationship of mercy and personal redemption with God that supplies us with the love for all things godly. Jesus taught about the one who treasures the gospel, the most intimate covenant gift from God. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) “These parables [in Chapter 13] describe the kind of people who have already been made alive in Christ…Do you want to know the character of one who has been made alive by God? He says with David, ‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked’ (Ps. 84:10). He says of God’s laws, ‘They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold’ (Ps. 19:10). He declares, ‘Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path’ (Ps. 119:127–28)…Such a person has already had a change of values. He has recognized the poverty of all that comes from man and has seen the true splendor of the gospel.” (3) When we love Christ, we affectionately and expectantly embrace God’s commands.
This morning I confessed to the Lord (and now to you) that I don’t pray enough, because I don’t think to stop whatever I am doing to be quietly with the Lord. I met a neighbor when I stepped out of my apartment, whose husband is in hospice, and for whom I forgot to pray today. So after we had an extended, God-centered, convicting conversation, I returned to my apartment, went outside to the patio, without computer or phone, and prayed for a few minutes for them and others who are struggling. The psalmist wrote, “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules (vs. 162-163).” I despise my falsehood and loathe my hypocrisy; I serve the Lord but don’t follow his command to “pray unceasingly” according to 1 Timothy 5:17. “The psalmist knew that if he was serious about his discipleship, he would have to immerse himself in the Bible; and he knew that if he did immerse himself in the Bible, he would have to obey it. We sometimes think of obedience as something we just have to grit our teeth and do, but the psalmist thought of it as a joyous, natural response to what he learned about God when he studied his Word.” (4)
Lately, the Lord keeps drawing me to think of and pray for Yemen, a nation that is facing a crisis in the collapse of the health care system and potential famine. Eighty percent of Yemenites depend on food aid, according to the Aljazeera report. (5) I have no peace about going to Yemen to help, but calmness, knowing that God has placed me in America at this time to pray for the nation’s people to have food, health care, COVID-19 tests, and especially the grace of God in Jesus Christ through eternal salvation “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (v. 165). “Personal peace comes from personal obedience…The verse does not promise peace to those who perfectly keep God’s Law, for who can keep it? It promises peace to those who ‘love’ God’s Law, which means, I suppose, those who love it because they have found God to be merciful by reading it…The obedient are secure. Where else can we find security in this life? Our only true security is in God. Surely there is no security for any of us in this life except in loving and living by the unshakable and eternal Word of God.” (6)
What are your views and practical applications of God’s laws, commands, and statutes? What value do you place on your personal holiness, given to you by God and sustained by his Holy Spirit (not by your strength, determination, or efforts)? “While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life. As Paul warns, we do not receive justification and forgiveness by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, and then go on to sanctification as a matter of personal achievement. Not some of the blessings, but all of them are comprehended ‘in Christ.’ This spells the end of both legalism and antinomianism: none of the blessings are the result of our own achievement, and at the same time, those who inherit the blessing of justification are equally beneficiaries of regeneration and sanctification.” (7) Shall we not embrace David’s perspective? “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalms 19:7-11)
(1) Horton, Michael, “Introducing Covenant Theology,” Chapter 4, Baker Academic, eBook edition, 2020.
(2) I recommend Horton’s book (cited above) for a thorough, in-depth, theological study of the covenants, their establishment and operation throughout history.
(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 13:44-58, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(4) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 119:153-168, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(5) Two recent articles on Yemen’s crisis: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/announces-225m-emergency-food-aid-yemen-200506205148851.html
(6) Boice, Ibid.
(7) Horton, Ibid.
May 8, 2020