Another in our series on the Law from J.I. Packer — it’s PERSONAL. It is not about keeping law so we earn grace. It is about how to live the relationship of love for God and love for neighbor that has already been given by grace. Let me highlight one sentence from the paragraphs below:
“Law-keeping (that is, meeting the claims of our God, commandments 1–4, and our neighbor, commandments 5–10) is not an attempt to win God’s admiration and put him in our debt, but the form and substance of grateful personal response to his love.”
Here it is in context. Make sure you reread the Commandments, in Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Pay attention today to how it is only possible to live this law of love through the gospel:
Now, the Christian’s relationship with God the Creator is a personal, “I-you” affair throughout. To him God is not, as he is to some, a cosmic force to harness, an infinite “it” claiming no more from him than the genie of the lamp did from Aladdin. Christians know that God has called them into a relation of mutual love and service, of mutual listening and response, of asking, giving, taking, and sharing on both sides. Christians learn this from watching and listening to God incarnate in the Gospel stories, and from noting the words of invitation, command, and promise that God spoke through prophets and apostles. And the twice-stated formula of the Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17, Deuteronomy 5:6–21) makes it particularly plain.
For the Commandments are God’s edict to persons he has loved and saved, to whom he speaks in “I-you” terms at each point. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out … you shall … ” The ten directives, which embody the Creator’s intention for human life as such, are here presented as means of maintaining a redeemed relationship already given by grace. And for Christians today, as for the Jews at Sinai, law-keeping (that is, meeting the claims of our God, commandments 1–4, and our neighbor, commandments 5–10) is not an attempt to win God’s admiration and put him in our debt, but the form and substance of grateful personal response to his love.
About 14 years ago, I fell in love with the Old Testament. Tremper Longman III did a series of lectures at the Theological Institute at our church and taught us to bring our hearts and minds to Scripture. He showed us the dominant theme of grace written by the Author God in the Old Testament, and I fell in love with the stories and law and poetry and wisdom and prophecy as I saw it as never before.
One day around that time, I walked in our living room and found our then 3-year-old son, Robert, “reading” Tremper’s book, Making Sense of the Old Testament. Study the picture carefully. To “make sense of the Old Testament,” he did not need to turn the book around — he just needed to read it through the grid of grace. Today, I bring Packer’s argument against the arguments that the Ten Commandments are merely ‘outdated’ laws:
Some read the Old Testament as so much primitive groping and guesswork, which the New Testament sweeps away. But “God … spoke through the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1), of whom Moses was the greatest (see Deuteronomy 34:10–12); and his Commandments, given through Moses, set a moral and spiritual standard for living which is not superseded, but carries God’s authority forever. Note that Jesus’ twofold law of love, summarizing the Commandments, comes from Moses’ own God-taught elaboration of them (for that is what the Pentateuchal law-codes are). “Love your God” is from Deuteronomy 6:5, “love your neighbor” from Leviticus 19:18.
It cannot be too much stressed that Old Testament moral teaching (as distinct from the Old Testament revelation of grace) is not inferior to that of the New Testament, let alone the conventional standards of our time. The barbarities of lawless sex, violence, and exploitation, cutthroat business methods, class warfare, disregard for one’s family, and the like are sanctioned only by our modern secular society. The supposedly primitive Old Testament, and the 3000-year-old Commandments in particular, are bulwarks against all these things.
But (you say) doesn’t this sort of talk set the Old Testament above Christ? Can that be right? Surely teaching that antedates him by a millennium and a quarter must be inferior to his? Surely the Commandments are too negative, always and only saying “don’t…”? Surely we must look elsewhere for full Christian standards? Fair queries; but there is a twofold answer.
First, Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17) that he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it; that is, to be, and help others to be, all that God in the Commandments had required. What Jesus destroyed was inadequate expositions of the law, not the law itself (Matthew 5:21–48; 15:1–9; etc.). By giving truer expositions, he actually republished the law. The Sermon on the Mount itself consists of themes from the Decalogue developed in a Christian context.
For further study:
Read the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20:1-17. Then read Matthew 5:21-48 and 15:1-9. How does Jesus develop themes from the Decalogue in the context of grace?