Over the last week or so I have been reading Spengler, who argues that one of the reasons that people have children is that they have hope. But one of his lines, in his most recent book, which resonated is his assertion that God is a God of love and therefore he is a God of covenant, of laws. As I read his descriptions of worship in the synagogue, this Calvinist rejoiced. For the personal relationship between man and God is celebrated there. The symbolism of the prayers is that of love.
And from covenants come laws.
1Then God spoke all these words:
2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13You shall not murder.
14You shall not commit adultery.
15You shall not steal.
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Throughout the Bible, the relationships are firstly between man and God, and then between man and man. The Talmudic scholars correctly distilled the law into two comments… love the LORD… with all your heart, and mind and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself. The law is a contract, and outworking, that comes from this relationship. And it is good. It gives us the standards of morality: and indeed a hope.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the LORD are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
The problem is that we cannot keep the Law. We do not fulfil its standards — if we do this externally we definitely fail internally. Paul pointed out he kept all the commands except… he coveted. He desired that which is not his. Jesus pointed out that contemptuous hate for your brother is akin to murder, and lust akin to adultery. No man can keep these standards.
But the covenant is not dependent on what we do, It flows from the work of God.
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
We tend to forget this. Yes, God is a god of laws. It flows from his vary nature, and nature declares the greatness of God in its regularity and laws. Yes, the moral standards of God have not changed. The outworkings have — we do not have periods of jubilee (perhaps we should) but we are commanded to care for the widows and orphans.
Tullian Tchvidijian puts it this way.
Unconditionality, on the other hand, is incomprehensible. We are deeply conditioned against unconditionality because we’ve been told in a thousand different ways that accomplishment always precedes acceptance, that achievement always precedes approval. When we hear, “Of course you don’t deserve it, but I’m giving it to you anyway,” we wonder, “What is this really about? What’s the catch?” Internal bells and alarms start to go off, and we begin saying “wait a minute…this sounds too good to be true.”
You see, everything in our world demands two-way love. Everything is conditional. If I achieve, we reason, only then will I receive everything I long for: love, approval, significance, respect, and so on. Be good. Bring home the bacon. Keep your act together….Then (and only then) will you have what you want. That’s how our world works. But grace isn’t from our world. It’s otherworldly. It’s unconditional. Grace is upside-down, to-do-list wrecking, scandalous and way-too free. It’s one-way love.
Now, this should let us relax. It is not about us. It is not reciprocal. It flows from God. Our relationship with God is like our relationship with our children — we love them regardless of what happens.
We can therefore relax about the laws. We must, indeed, ought to be moral. But as we look at Jesus, we do not look elsewhere. (Basic habit changing trick — do something else when you think of doing the old habit),
And at the same time, we have hope. Like Children, we fail. Repeatedly. But it is God who preserves us.