Friday, December 4, 2009

Whip & Spur? or Bit & Bridle?

Apart from faith in Christ, the Law of God has a different meaning than it has for believers. God's Law has imposed a heavy burden on many people since Old Testament times. If you are obligated to do what the Law demands, or when you are trying to achieve your own righteousness by works of the Law, the Ten Commandments can be such a burden. By itself, the Law rules by terror and force.

Consider the picture on the left. It shows a horse being driven by whips and spurs. That is what it is like to live under the merciless coercion of pure Law. For many horses, the result is often the same as for people ruled by such a Law. They become bitter, sullen, resentful. Some rebel and fight against their master. Others lose their fighting spirit and give up in despair.

Now look at the picture on the right. This shows a horse being led, gently, with a bit and bridle. The horse follows willingly, guided by the lightest touch. This is how the Law now functions for us in our new life, as baptized believers in Christ. To the extent that we are a new creation, born again by water and the Spirit (John 3:5), our will has been transformed. And so has our relationship with God's Law. It no longer rules us with terror or force, but through the Spirit's response within us. "Having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22). And so, in gratitude for God's unconditional forgiveness in Christ, we respond with a desire to live as pleases God. We love God as He has first loved us (1 John 4:19).

At the same time, it is also true that "the Law always accuses." While we are in this life, we remain infected by the incurable disease of sin. And so the Law must also condemn the "old Adam" in us. God's Law will still often frighten us with its threats and condemn us with guilt. But it always does this in order to lead us back to Christ and His gospel of forgiveness and life. God afflicts us with the Law so that He can heal us with His Gospel. Thus He gives us the gift of repentance and forces us to rely on Jesus' righteousness alone. And He also gives us a hunger for Word and Sacrament, so that He me continue to strengthen the "new creation" He began in us at our Baptism.

God wants you to look at His Law, especially His Ten Commandments, in a new way. He wants you to see them with Christ at the center. He wants you to see the Ten Commandments, not merely as His demand for your life, but also as the work Jesus completed for you. There is nothing left in the Ten Commandments, or any other Law, that you must accomplish in order to win God's favor. All has been done for you, as Jesus said: "It is finished" (John 19:30). So the Ten Commandments are also a testimony to Jesus' unique faithfulness to God, and His total commitment to your salvation. With Jesus at the center of your view, you can now begin to follow the Ten Commandments, not as a cowering slave, but as a beloved disciple.

Learn the Ten Commandments by heart. Repeat them aloud every day. Let their reminder of your sinfulness humble you. But also, let their portrait of the perfect love of Jesus set you free from endless terror, shame, and hopelessness. Be assured that God forgives all your sins for Jesus' sake. Then you, too, will discover the joy of walking freely after God's Law of Love, like the horse on the right. "Now may the God of peace...make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" (Hebrews 13:20-21).

No comments: