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 in your mind and heart. You’ll also encounter a full spectrum of thinking on the tensions that exist between the two in others. 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 under grace. On the other end you’ll find those who say that God’s law is still in effect, many of whom will attempt to obey it with the notion that they can win God’s approval. And to make matters more confounding, there are a few scriptures, when read out of context, that can be used to support both ends. Personal experiences can also lend its weight to one or the other depending on how one interprets their life. As for me, nothing could be more clear concerning my relationship with my Father in Heaven, and how His law applies to my life and how His grace sustains me. But In this letter I don’t want to attempt to explain that understanding. Rather, I simply want to give you something to think about as you contemplate God’s law and grace. To do this I’ll use a word picture.
Imagine a circular fence that encompasses a field, maybe something like a baseball field. In the center of that field imagine a temple. The fence will be a metaphor for God’s law and the temple you can imagine to be the dwelling place of Jehovah. Now, put yourself in the field between the temple and the fence, because if you are a follower of Christ, that’s where you live.
Now think of humanity in general. The Bible tells us that each of us begins our life outside of the fence, for all have broken God’s law and so, therefore, are unholy and unable to enter. The outside of the fence marks a place of rebellion against the law. For those who reside there, the fence is interpreted differently than for those on the inside. For them the law will have the feel and appearance of a prison, threatening to keep them locked up, denying them the freedom to follow their carnal desires. 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, this fence is seen as an offense to humanity. All men, so we are to think, have rights to be included in all things, divine or not, and they are to be free to decide for themselves with certainty whether their decisions are righteous or not. 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 are 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 unappealing, and we can’t have that.
Then perhaps there are those who see themselves as on the inside of the fence, but who in reality are not. For these, their gaze and desires are for what lies beyond the confines of the fence to the “good times” being had by all who do not abide in its restraint. Though they acknowledge the temple behind them, their concerns and priorities are with the fence and getting as close to what is beyond the fence as possible 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. Their interests are in what our Lord is doing in there, and eagerly waiting with perseverance any glimpse they might get of him. For these, the fence is behind them. It is not of much consequence and they’re not fixated on it. They do not concern themselves so much with possible loopholes in the fence that they may legally exploit. 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 our family, that I instruct you, that I spend time with you, and that I not harm you. Now let us suppose that I stay inside of “the fence” by dutifully keeping your law to the letter, but all the while my heart and my mind is fixed on the fence and beyond. My real and obvious love 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 laws and my duty to fulfill them. So, it only stands to reason that I would in many ways be ignoring you, ever meticulously focusing on your laws as I search for ways that I might keep them for you while still fulfilling my own true desires. Is it not obvious that such a relationship would be empty?
But you know that that’s 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 don’t cast each other out because of an infraction. We love each other.
As goes the relationship between people who love each other, perhaps we can say, so goes 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 a dynamic one because real life indeed is 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 that I have stood at the fence looking out with my back to the temple. Remembering back, I am thankful for the fence, which kept me within its confines. This is a reality of life as a worshiper of our God, just as it’s 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. Your affections will ebb and flow in everything that you love. The writer of Hebrews, therefore, bids us fix our eye on the author and perfecter of our faith so that we don’t become ensnared.
My prayer for you is that God will put a desire in your hearts to live your lives on the doorstep of the temple and that you would long for our Lord, to know him and to experience him. You may pray the same for me also.