I never really considered myself a rebel. My first and only trip to the principal’s office was in my pre-school days; caught red-handed running through the pitch black sanctuary to watch my light up shoes shine bright into the darkness. That one trip to see the pre-school director was enough to keep me in line for my remaining school years. I grew up surrounded by teachings about God’s law and people who led me to exemplify it. By the end of 1st grade I had the 10 Commandments perfectly memorized. By middle school my teachers were challenging my classmates and I to memorize not just verses but entire chapters of the Bible. And I was all for it.
In a group of peers I was often the one that stood firmly inside the boundaries given to us while others stepped outside of them- and from there I would remind them that these rules were given to us and we were meant to follow them. It wasn’t that I planned to tattle-tell or get my friends in trouble. Rather that my own conscience wouldn’t allow me to cross those invisible lines. I just couldn’t break the rules. At the heart of it was perhaps fear of the consequences more than anything else. But follow the the rules, I did.
Somewhere between graduating high school and starting real life things began to change. Moving to the mission field and living in another country was in part the cause for the shift. The standards by which I had always measured my own and often others righteousness suddenly didn’t apply. I still wouldn’t suggest breaking any one of the 10 commandments. But I have become aware that there has always been a more subtle set of laws I didn’t even realize I was ascribing to. Laws that often meant very little in any context other than the one they were created in. And this challenged me to question how valid they are- even in their original context. And let me be clear: I grew up in a church where legalism was mentioned in sermons as a bad thing. Where others self-imposed rules were given as examples of putting too much emphasis on outward works and not enough on inward attitudes. But I learned through observation and experience that certain expectations were to be met if I wanted to be considered a good, obedient Christian. Some of those unspoken rules could have been things like:
- Always be at church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and for any extra activities.
- Don’t wear jeans on Sunday morning.
- Don’t read Harry Potter books or even think about watching the movies.
- Make sure you go to the altar every now and then to pray about something.
And for the longest time I thought doing these things somehow made me more holy than those who didn’t. As if reading Harry Potter or wearing jeans at the wrong time could mean someone was less godly than me. Slowly I began to realize that there were good, godly, holy people around me who didn’t always show up to church on a Wednesday night. There were even some who wore jeans to Sunday service. But yet their heart was so tuned into the message that I wondered why it even really mattered what pants they had on. Furthermore, here in Mexico my church doesn’t even do altar calls! So how was I supposed to go to the altar often enough to maintain my holy status??
As I grew out of these old rules I also felt a wall go up around my heart about any ‘extra’ rules at all. People who spent more time talking about God’s laws and how to follow them seemed less and less appealing. And even now I don’t love it when people try and tell me that I shouldn’t do something that isn’t actually in the Bible. I didn’t set out to be a rebel. I simply grew tired holding up the weight of the unspoken law that rested on my shoulders. It was exhausting trying to be that person and trying to make sure everyone else was too.
I’m currently reading Jen Wilkin’s book Ten Words to Live By. One of the first things Jen says is this: ”law and grace have come to be pitted against one another as enemies, when in fact, they are friends (p. 13).” Having once lived in a teaching that leaned heavy on the law, being exposed to a grace saturated gospel felt like freedom. It felt like something so very different from what I had experienced before. So much so that it was hard to even accept it for a season. And while walking in grace will inevitably do away with many of the rules created by man, it should only grow a love and appreciation for the law that is written by God.
But how can this be? Can grace really lead us to love the law? And can the law really lead us to grace? Absolutely. King David wrote more than one Psalm extolling the goodness of God’s law. And wouldn’t he know better than most about God’s grace as well? It was the grace of God that brought him to meditate on his law both day and night. To find comfort in the boundaries set before him in God’s Word. The phrase that catches many eyes and ears is when David says to ‘delight in the law of the Lord.’ Delight is a big word. He doesn’t just say obey, appreciate, or be content with obeying the Lord’s law. But to actually delight- to take pleasure and joy- from said law.
Truthfully I feel like I am not quite there yet. I don’t hate the law but I don’t love it. I don’t read the 10 Commandments and get excited about them. I don’t think with fondness about telling others how they need to obey the Lord. I’d rather tell them about how much he loves them or about the ways he has been good to me. But the gospel is incomplete if it doesn’t contain both grace and the law. One without the other just isn’t enough. It’s incomplete. James 2:8 says, ”If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ”Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
And 1 John 5:3 says this: ”For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
These two verses give me a look into the heart of God and his intentions in creating His law. It isn’t just to protect me from harm or to keep me from sin- though it certainly is both of those things. But it is primarily the way that I can show my love for God, invite his sanctifying power into my life, and show his love and grace to others. The law then is not the ends in and of itself. But rather a means to keep the greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)
And so I find my answer: If I can love to learn God and to learn others then I can and must learn to love his law in the process. For delighting in his law is not a form of elevated legalism, but it is to delight in the very heart of God to make me right with him and right with my neighbor. And those are things I dearly long to take great joy and pleasure in.