The Law Of God, Prison Or Sanctuary?*
As you live out your Christian faith you will discover that God’s law and His grace can at times be difficult to reconcile. You will encounter a full spectrum of thinking concerning the tensions that exist between the two. On one end of that spectrum there are those who would say that the law of God has been abolished and that we can live as we please because we are under grace. On the other end you will find those who say that God’s law is still in effect, many of whom will attempt to obey it in order to gain God’s approval. And, within the scriptures, there is texts to support both. Experience can also lend its weight behind one or the other depending on how one interprets life. In this letter I simply want to give you something to think about as you contemplate where the correct place on the spectrum is; and please know that I believe that there is a correct, as well as an incorrect, place to be. To do this I will use a metaphor.
Imagine for me a circular fence that encompasses a field with a temple at the center. The fence will represent God’s law and the temple the dwelling place of Jehovah. Now, put yourself in the courtyard between the temple and the fence, because if you are a follower of Christ, that’s where you will live.
All of humanity begins outside of the fence, for all men have broken God’s law and so therefore are unholy and banished from entering. All on the outside of the fence are living in rebellion against the law. For them, the fence will be seen differently than it is for those who live on the inside. For some it will have the feel and appearance of a prison, threatening to keep them locked up, denying them the freedom to appease their flesh. These will not want any part of the law’s protective presence.
And then there are others who will hate the fence simply because it exists. Fences, by their very nature, exclude and divide, and for that reason the fence is passionately hated. All men, so it is thought, have rights to be included in all things, divine or not, and to decide for themselves with certainty that their decisions are righteous. Therefore these will want the fence destroyed and so they may well devote their entire lives to those ends. They hate God’s law and desire rather to live under the illusion that there is no distinctions between men. “God loves everyone unconditionally” they will say, and there is no need for any fences that might be misinterpreted as God loving some more than others. And besides, such fences make God look like a kill-joy in the sight of our fellow man.
Then perhaps there are those who see themselves as on the inside of the fence, but who are not. For these, their gaze and desires are for what lies beyond its confines of the fence to the “good times” being had by all who do not suffer its restraint. Though they acknowledge the temple behind them, their concerns and priority is with the fence, and getting as close to what is beyond the fence while convincing themselves that they are still on the inside.
But then there are some who spend their time at the door of the temple, wondering about what our Lord is doing in there, and eagerly waiting with perseverance for any glimpse they might have the occasion to gain. For these, the fence is behind them. It is not of much concern and they are not fixated on it. They do not concern themselves so much with possible loop holes and such. Their interests lie with the Lord of the Temple.
With this perspective in mind let us change our metaphor a bit to bring it down to a more personal level. Let us look at another circle with you at the center, me in the courtyard, and your “law” for me as the fence. Your law would be, let us say, that I love you, that I provide for you, that I protect you and your mother and sibling, that I instruct you, that I spend time with you, and that I not harm or hurt you. Now let us suppose that I keep all of these laws to the letter, out of duty, but all the while my heart and my mind is elsewhere. My real and obvious desire is to do other things that have nothing to do with you, but still, I keep your law to the best of my ability. My relationship with you, therefore, is governed by these laws, and my duty to fulfill them. So, it only stands to reason that I would in many ways ignore you, ever focusing on your laws as I search for ways that I might keep them for you while still fulfilling my own true desires. It is obvious that such a relationship would be empty. But you know that this is not how our relationship works. The fact is that I love you. I don’t obey these “laws”, I fulfill them without burden because of this love, and you do the same for me also, because you love me. Do we fulfill them perfectly? Of course not. We transgress often, and the sting of the law is there when we do, but we are not cast out, because we love each other.
As goes the relationship between people who love each other, perhaps we can say, so goes, in part anyway, our relationship with God. But let me add one last nuance to consider so that I might take the metaphor from a static picture to real life, which is always dynamic. I would love to say that my life before you has exemplified someone standing at the door of the temple attempting to get a glimpse of our Lord. But we all know it hasn’t. I can only say that there have been episodes in my life where this has been the case. There have also been times in when I have stood at the fence looking out, my back to the temple. Looking back, I am thankful for the fence, which kept me in the “courtyard”. This is a reality of life as a worshiper of our God, just as it is a reality of life in human relationships. If you are in Christ, your life will be lived between the fence and the temple, at different times closer to one than the other.
My prayer for you is that God will put a desire in your hearts to live your lives on the doorstep of the temple, that you would long for our Lord, to know Him and to experience Him. You may pray the same for me also.