If we ignore the imperatives of Scripture, there is a Hole in Our Holiess. This is the premise of the 4th chapter in Kevin DeYoung’s book.
By and large, we hate commands. We don’t like being told what to do. Kids don’t like to listen to the parents or teachers. As adults we don’t like to listen to our bosses. We don’t just “question authority” we undermine and resist it.
“God cares enough to show us his ways and direct our paths. … Divine statues are a gift to us. God gives us law because he loves us.”
While others may try to lord it over us, God’s intention is good. It is evidence of love, but we read it as hate. The problem is not with Him, but us. Even as Christians, there is resistance not only to particular commands at particular moments, but to the Law period.
The Church has wrestled with the Law for quite some time. Scholars have landed in various positions. Among Calvinists, this is one of the many practical differences between Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. Historically, Reformed Theology has had a 3rd use for the law. We hold to a 3-fold distinction in the law that NCT rejects. We recognize the moral law, the civil law and the ceremonial law. They cannot ultimately be separated from each other. But they are distinguished and have a different relationship to Christ. The moral law reflects the character of God, and transcends all administrations of the covenant. The civil law is the application of the moral law to the nation of Israel as a theocracy, and includes the punishments for breaking particular laws. The ceremonial law is about the removal of guilt and pollution from breaking the moral law. It is also about maintaining the separation between Israel and the nations.
“Typically, this has meant that the moral law (e.g., the Ten Commandments) is directly normative, but the civil and judicial aspects of the law point to what is true for all people at all times.”
Jesus fulfilled the moral law so his personal righteousness could be imputed to us in justification. His fulfillment did not abrogate it. We are still called to personal holiness. We are not in a national theocracy anymore. But wise government can learn from the civil law. In the church, we can recognize how the moral law manifests itself. We now rebuke, admonish, correct and excommunicate. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law, removing our guilt and pollution.
All the purposes of the moral law have not been fulfilled. God’s character has not changed. What pleases Him has not changed. It is the law which reveals that to us. While we are no longer “under the law” with its power to condemn us, we are still under the authority to show us how to live as redeemed people.
The Grace of the Law
Law is not completely cut off from grace. After God redeemed Israel, He gave them Law. He told redeemed people how they were to live as God’s people. But many Christians, fearing legalism, are essentially allergic to the Law. They cringe at commands. But Paul teaches that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God’s law. The mind set on the Spirit … different story. The Spirit leads us into conformance to the moral law precisely because it reveals and reflects God’s character.
“There is nothing sub-Christian in talking about obedience to God’s commands. There is nothing inherently anti-gospel in being exhorted to keep the imperatives of Scripture. There is nothing ungracious about divine demands.”
Legalism happens when we think our obedience is necessary to gain or remain in God’s favor. Imperatives always follow indicatives. Or, grace precedes law. We obey because we have received grace, pardoning grace and sanctifying grace.
The Law of Love and the Love of Law
DeYoung then examines the common error of pitting law against love. They are not mutually exclusive. I love my kids. That doesn’t mean I’ve abolished all rules in my home. I give them rules because I love them. Some of those rules will expire as they mature. But some abide- stealing will be wrong whether they are 6 or 60. Same with murder.
Love, oddly enough, is commanded. This means it is part of the law. If the law does not matter, love doesn’t either. We cannot understand love apart from law (see Romans 12 for instance). But we cannot obey the law apart from love. We won’t obey, but lack one of the primary motives.
“Both the indicatives of Scripture and the imperatives are from God, for our good, and given in grace.”
DeYoung asserts that one reason we grow weary hearing about the law is that we just hear “do”. We don’t hear why we should obey. We don’t hear enough about His love for us as a motivation for giving it to us. We don’t hear enough about our responsive love for Him as a motivation for obeying it. But there are other motivations that Scripture gives us, including duty, God’s omnipresence & omniscience, it is right, it’s good, the example of God and Christ, assurance, and many more. He has 3 1/2 pages of them listed out.
In God’s economy, imperatives are not evil. If they are in yours, you really haven’t understood the Scriptures and grace. Yes, that is a serious statement. The gospel is the antidote for both legalism and license. Christ worked for us to save us from legalism thru His active and passive obedience. He now works in us to save us from license as He sanctifies us on account of that same active and passive obedience. If we are careless about sanctification, it usually means we haven’t really understood the Gospel.
So, what happens in your heart when you read or hear those imperatives? Or do you only have room for the indicatives?