“You’ve got to love the law” has a double meaning. You’ve got to love it—it is a command. But at the same time, “you’ve got to love it” because it is so good. Of course it is. It is a gift from your heavenly Father. It is meant to keep you safe and well and give you security and help you to negotiate life.
At a PGA Tour tournament in October 2015, Ben Crane disqualified himself after completing his second round. He did so at considerable financial cost. No matter—Crane believed the personal cost of not doing it would be greater (encouraged by a devotional article he had read that morning by Davis Love III, the distinguished former Ryder Cup captain).
Crane realized he had broken one of the more recondite rules of golf. If I followed the story rightly, while in a hazard looking for his ball, he leaned his club on a stone. He abandoned the ball, took the requisite penalty for doing so, played on, and finished his round. He would have made the Friday night cut comfortably; a very successful weekend financially beckoned. Then Ben Crane thought: “Should I have included a penalty for grounding my club in a hazard?” Sure enough (Rule 13.4a). So he disqualified himself.
(Got it? Hopefully, no readers will lie awake tonight now knowing the trophy was won illegally.)
Crane has been widely praised for his action. No avalanche of spiteful or demeaning attacks on cyberspace or hate mail for being narrow-minded. All honor to him. Intriguingly, no one seems to have said or written, “Ben Crane is such a legalist.”
No, we are not starting a new sports column this month. But how odd it is to see so much praise for his detailed attention to the rules of golf, and yet the opposite when it comes to the rules of life, the (much more straightforward) law of God, even in the church.
There is a problem somewhere.
Neither Jesus nor Paul had a problem with the law. Paul wrote that his gospel of grace upholds and establishes the law (Rom. 3:31)—even God’s laws in their negative form, since the “grace of God . . . teaches us to say ‘No’” (Titus 2:11–12 NIV). And remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17–19? Our attitude to the law is a litmus test of our relationship to the kingdom of God.
So what is the problem? The real problem is that we do not understand grace. If we did, we would also realize why John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” could write, “Ignorance of the nature and design of the law is at the bottom of most religious mistakes.”
There is a deep issue here. In Scripture, the person who understands grace loves law. (Incidentally, mere polemics against antinomianism can never produce this.)
Think again of Ben Crane. Why keep the complex rules of golf? Because you love the game. Something similar, but greater, is true of the believer. Love the Lord, and we will love His law—because it is His. All is rooted in this beautiful biblical simplicity.
Think of it in terms of three men and the three “stages” or “epochs” they represent: Adam, Moses, and Jesus.
At creation, God gave commandments. They expressed His will. And since He is a good, wise, loving, and generous God, His commandments are always for our best. He wants to be a Father to us.
As soon as God created man and woman as His image (Gen. 1:26–28—a hugely significant statement), He gave them statutes to follow (v. 29). The context here makes clear the rationale: He is Lord; they are His image. He made them to reflect Him. He is the cosmic Overlord, and they are the earthly under-lords. His goal is their mutual enjoyment of one another and creation in a communion of life (1:26–2:3). So, He has given them a start—a garden in Eden (2:7). He wants them to extend that garden to the ends of the earth, and to enjoy it as miniature creators, images imitating the great original Creator (1:28–29).
God’s creation commands then had in view our reflecting His image and glory. His image-bearers are made to be like Him. In one form or another, all divine commands have this principle enshrined in them: “You are my image and likeness. Be like me!” This is reflected in His command: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2).
Implied here is that God’s image-bearers are created, hardwired as it were, to reflect Him. Yes, there are external laws given to them, but those laws simply provide specific applications of the “laws” inbuilt in the divine image, laws that are already on the conscience.
It was instinctive then for Adam and Eve to imitate God, to be like Him, because they were created as His image and likeness—just as little Seth would instinctively behave like his father, Adam, because he was “in his likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3). Like father, like son.
But then came the fall: sin, lack of conformity to God’s revealed law, and distortion of the image resulted in malfunctions of the inner human instincts. The mirror image turned away from the gaze and the life of God, and since then all people (except Christ) have shared in this condition. The Lord remains the same. His design for His image remains the same. But the image is marred. The under-lord who was created to turn the dust into a garden has become dust himself:
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return. (Gen. 3:19)
We remain the image of God, and the laws that govern how we live best are unchanged. But now we are haggard and spent, twisted within, off center, distorted, carrying the aroma of death. Once chief operating officers, we are now vagrants who survive only by stealing from the Owner of the company (Yahweh and Son) who provided for us so generously. The law within functions still, but unreliably at best, not because the law is faulty but because we are.
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. (Rom. 2:14–15; see also 7:7–25)
But God wants His portrait—His image—back.