Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Do as I have done to you"

The “good news” of the Christian faith is simple: Christ has set us free from the Law – its curse, its guilt, and the need to observe every “letter” of the Law to earn credit from God. Christ died and rose again to give us God’s full and complete forgiveness, totally for free. It is simple, but it is so hard for many people to accept.

One common objection to this “good news” is: if we are free from the Law, what is to keep us from becoming completely wicked? How can this “good news” motivate us to do good works? The apostle Paul faced this objection, and answered it: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). Even Jesus answered the same objection: “I came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

In the picture Jesus is washing His disciples’ feet, the same night when He was betrayed and arrested. That night Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). Later that same evening, Jesus added: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

What an astounding statement! In the final hours before His suffering and death, Jesus gathers up the whole Law and transforms it into a single commandment: LOVE. Where does He get the right to do this? Well, He is not really introducing something new. In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus proved from Scripture that the entire Law of God boils down to loving God and your neighbor. Even Jesus’ enemies could make no answer to this!

But there is another, more important reason for Jesus to reduce God’s Law to “love.” Jesus fulfilled the whole Law for us, in detail. So we are freed from the Law, including all the ceremonial rules of the Old Testament church. We are even freed from the literal meaning of the Third Commandment!

Jesus was sacrificed for us, and the sacrifices of the old Law pointed to Him. Jesus’ Sabbath rest in the tomb brings us relief from the strict requirement of the Sabbath; He is our true Sabbath rest. By the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ death and resurrection free us from all Law, as far as seeking God’s favor is concerned.

Yet Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor. This is not a “new and improved law” that we have to accomplish. It transforms the old law into a fitting response for sinners who have been forgiven freely, through faith in Jesus. Love is the law for forgiven sinners.

We have been freed from the “letter” of the Law. Now we can begin to live according to its “spirit.” The Ten Commandments remain a clear, simple guide to how we should love God and our neighbor – in response to God’s free and boundless forgiveness. We love as we have first been loved (1 John 4:19).

IMAGE: Christ washing the Apostles' feet, fresco, 13th c., San Pellegrino, Bominaco, Italy. Photo Credit: Scala / Art Resource, NY

No comments: