We get intimidated by God’s metaphor of law in the Bible. But if we open it up, this metaphor reveals so much to us about who He is, and how kind He is to reveal Himself and His Principles in such clear strokes through the torah in hebrew, later called the nomis in the Greek.
There is still lots of debate on what Paul’s exact take on the Jewish law was. But if we break it down simply, the early church was trying to decide how much of the Jewish law was important for new Christians to follow. In Paul’s lines of thinking there are both senses of the Law. The actual Mosaic Laws that God gave to Moses, and then the idea of “the principle” of something–ie the law of the Spirit, the law of Christ, the law of sin and death etc. We need to hold both senses of the law in mind when reading Romans 7 and 8 for instance. Paul switches back and forth between senses. But Paul is clear on this. He is teaching us about the spirituality of the law. How to empower and incarnate the laws revealed to The Jews through Moses. In Galatians, he contrasts the way of faith versus the way of following the rules. He is telling us we cannot follow the rules without faith in Jesus.
The Mosaic law is holy perfect, but we are not. We have to come by faith as Abraham did, and ours is a faith in Jesus, who was the perfect embodiment of the Law. The Rules and Principles given to Moses are a perfect expression of God’s Thought. But we are not able to live them out apart from faith in Jesus. Lawlessness is sin (John), it is to move outside and against the commandments of God, and His Ways. It is to rebel against God’s Ways which are revealed in the Law. When we sin, we are joining in the ways against the law–ie we are lawless, and moving in the ways of the Man of Lawlessness, who gets fully exposed in the end.
But Paul points out, that we cannot just follow the rules, we need the One who embodied the rules of God perfectly, inside of us to live them out. The law is perfect, but I am an idiot, Paul is saying. I cannot do the things I read and study in the Law apart from Jesus who can and does. For example, don’t lust after what others have-ie don’t covet; but all of us do often want what others have. The poor want wealth, the wealthy want contentment; we are simply never satisfied with what we have. Yet, Jesus is, and He brings that contentment with our own part of the garden we were given to cultivate, tend and bring into wholeness. But we, by nature, always covets something on someone else’s field. We are just like that. we can’t naturally live by that law, or any of them really. So we must union with His Life to do so. To even follow one single principle of God. The empowerment for our ethics has to become more and more Jesus Himself.
When I met Rabbi Telushkin, i asked Him, what empowers his ethics. For we certainly cannot live up the high standards set by the Jewish Law. It’s still my question to those who do not have the Holy Spirit. How can you live well apart from the empowerment which comes by faith in Jesus. The Christian journey is really about union with Christ. Abiding in Him. We confess to come near, and then we stay “in Him” as Ephesians teaches over and over. Our ultimate spirituality is to be in Jesus. Union with Him is our goal. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. It has to get to that point of “not I, but Christ in me.” That is our daily destination through His Cross–confession, into thanks into praise and union with His Presence. Then we are useful and empowered to live out the laws of God. That is really the only way to live out any standard of ethics.
If we are embodied in Christ, then we read the law in a new Light! We hear the echo of the Voice within us–we see how they align and mirror one another. And we see that God is the same, yesterday today and forever.
Jeremiah taught us that the new covenant would include God writing His Laws on our hearts. That is and interiorization of the written law. He places them within us through His Son’s Life. That’s the new covenant. And Jeremiah saw this long before Jesus came and offered it. We are in a process of internalizing the laws of God into our hearts or core will. That embodiment or incarnation occurs through Jesus Christ being at the center of our lives, and allowed to grow His Life within us.
This growth is the sanctification process which is ongoing in this life. We keep yielding, and He keeps being true to Himself in us and His Law. He writes those laws within us-so they become living and very practical! This teaching of Jeremiah is echoed throughout the New Testament. When you come to Christianity, you do not come to a ruleless religion, but one which is about His Lawfulness being incarnated within us, ever increasingly. In this sense, Christianity is not adherence to rules, but embodiment of The One who is all the Holy Rules of The Father. Our job and practice is ongoing union through faith in Him daily. The fruit of this communion are the fruits of the Spirit, which should be ever growing in us; our ethical lives then spring from The Root of Christ within us.
Discernment is about distinguishing what is lawful (in Him) and what is unlawful (against or not in Him). When we spiritually discern we are having revealed to us, the inner motivations in each situation. We are seeing the heart of the matter. And we are seeing what in each situation is truly rooted and grounded in Christ. Is that area of Him or not. It is sheer vision of where Christ is in each situation, and what is deviated, thus deteriorating outside of Him. That thin line is the line between life and death. The two ways on earth–the law of the Spirit of Christ versus the law of sin and death, as Paul puts it. Those two ways are described throughout scriptures. In the first psalm they are named as the way of righteousness versus the ways of the wicked. The way of Life the way of deteriorating unto death. Things are either on a trajectory of living or dying. The two ways, have nuanced names throughout the bible, but the two ways have always been present. We are the choosers of which way to be in. And this is a daily choice. The Law describes the way of righteousness. Jesus lived that way out! As we receive Him, we are choosing to live in that way which leads from glory to glory into greater life-His Life!
We must get The Righteous One who was the fulfillment of all the laws and principle of God The Father within us deeply. We have to have Jesus in what Dallas Willard called, our “embodied will”-the very core of our beings, not just the visceral or surface will but the in the essence of our hearts.
I want to suggest we cannot live out ethically or have social justice without the laws of God being written on our hearts by Jesus. That is the essence of New Covenant spirituality! I want to suggest that all our efforts at helping the poor, stopping sex trafficking, negotiating peace between tribes and nations will not work apart from the Living Law being actively written on our hearts by the Living God through Jesus Christ actively living within us. Apart from Him we can do no good thing. We can eat from the tree of knowledge and know the right rules, but until we eat from The Tree of Life Himself we cannot live out those holy rules! We cannot move in the ways of righteousness without the Righteous One within us.
In a sense, which Paul hints at, we need the rules even before we can fully embody them, or allow Him to form Himself in that area. So John commends the young for overcoming through the word. The sense I get, is the young meet Jesus as they are claiming the promises which He has spoken. So there is this sense, depending on our level of spiritual maturity, that we have to believe in order to receive. When young, we need to be told, not to steal things. But as we get older we know not to steal because He has formed His Ethics within us. So the law is a guardian until we have embodied The Living Law in that area. As we grow up, we know why He told us that law, because we know Him. We don’t have to be told not to steal, because we know His Ways within us. Yet, the only way to truly know His Ways, is to allow Jesus and His Holy Spirit to form the true laws and ways of God within our hearts. God comes to instruct us internally through His Son and His Holy Spirit. The Torah comes to be written on our hearts. At first the Torah taste a bit bitter to our human nature, but as we grow in His Nature, The Law taste just like honey!