Why This Is Foreign to Us
“Delighting in the Law of the Lord” feels like a strange title for an article, and in many ways it is. It seems contradictory to delight in a set of rules and statutes, especially because we live in a time where people value setting their own rules and being their own lawgivers. We all feel this. Since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided they wanted to make their own laws rather than follow God’s Law that commanded them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, it is in our nature to push back against rules put before us. However, this is not the example set before us in Scripture.
The Necessity of the Law
Many often wonder why the Bible is full of so many laws when we serve a God of grace. It is easy to brush past these and say that they do not matter to study or read. However, Paul often writes in defense of the necessity of the Law. He says in Romans 3, “Through the Law comes knowledge of sin.” Later in Romans 7, he writes,
What then shall we say? That the Law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the Law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.
Since the very beginning, the Law has been a reminder of God’s authority over our own. In her book, Even Better Than Eden, Nancy Guthrie writes about the command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: “To eat of it was to assume the right to decide for oneself what is good and what is evil rather than depend on God to define good and evil. This prohibition was essentially a call to faith, a call to let God be God rather than usurp his authority.” Even before Adam and Eve sinned, God’s commands were reminders that humanity is called to obey the God of the universe, even if we do not fully understand His commands.
However, it was more than just a reminder of God’s authority. The Law was to be a vivid image to us that we are radically insufficient and sinful in the sight of God. If God had just decided that Adam and Eve should not eat of that tree but not told them, Eve eating the fruit from that tree would not have shown her her sin. The Law also showed them that their sin was costly and that something needed to die in order to atone for their transgression. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God clothed them with the skin of a slaughtered animal to show them that life needed to be given up in order to cover them in their shame.
Moving forward, the Levitical laws would have made it very clear to the Israelites that their sin was costly. These laws showed them that a spotless lamb had to atone for their sins. And it made them long for a day when a perfect Lamb would be the perfect sacrifice for their sins.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see again and again the Israelites disobeying the commands God has given them, and God providing punishment and deliverance. Since the very beginning, we have needed the Law to show us that God has the ultimate authority over our lives, that we ultimately fail at obeying Him, and that the cost of our disobedience is death.
The Fulfillment of the Law
Paul writes in Romans 5, “Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Since Genesis 3:15 where an offspring is promised to crush the head of the serpent, the whole Old Testament showed our need for a spotless lamb to atone for our sins, a rescuer to deliver us from bondage, a way for God to dwell with his people again. And then it happened. God sent his son Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life submitting to God’s authority. Jesus was the spotless Lamb that made atonement for our sins. And when Jesus died, the veil tore. He made a way for God’s dwelling place to be with man.
Derek W.H. Thomas captures this well in his book, How the Gospel Brings Us All The Way Home. He writes,
The Law cannot put us in a right standing with God. It knows how to do only one thing: condemn us. It is relentless and unforgiving in this task. It is not because the Law itself is sinful or desires our condemnation. The Law says, “Do this and live,” but we cannot. The problem lies in us, not in the Law. The Law is good but we are sinful…It is not the Law that is at fault. The problem lies in our inability to do what the Law demands.
We need the Law to show us our own sin and insufficiency, but we also need the Law to show us how Jesus beautifully fulfills it. But what does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the Law? It means that He kept every commandment of the Law without fail. It means that if we have faith in Christ, His record becomes our own. Our “file,” so to speak, of what we have done in our life, is replaced with all the wonderful things that Jesus has done. He not only paid the price for us (death) but he also lived the law-abiding life that we never could.
The Call to Obedience
So what does this mean for us? In Romans 3 Paul writes, “Do we then overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Law.” Jesus’s fulfillment of the Law does not mean that we do not pursue obedience, but it does change how we obey. Because we are secure in our status before God, our pursuit of obedience is not out of thinking that our obedience will make God love us more or make us deserve more. Because our God loves us steadfastly, we obey out of gratitude and not out of obligation. We obey because we believe that God gives us commands out of love and that his commands are for our good and that they come from the creator of the universe who knows best. God’s Law remains a reminder that God is the authority over how we live, but the punishment that comes if we fail to uphold the Law has been abolished. We are free from the punishment of sin because Christ has taken it, so we can obey out of joy because we trust God as a loving authority over how we ought to live.
The Beauty of the Law
So we are called to obedience even though the Law has been fulfilled in Christ. But why should this obedience be more than begrudging and reluctant? Why are we called to delight in the Law? There are many reasons for this. First, as Jay Sklay, an Old Testament scholar, often says, “The Law provides a window into the heart of the lawgiver.” We can delight in the commands we are given because they show us more about the heart of the God who gave them. For example, when we hear Jesus say that we should “love our neighbor as ourselves,” we get a window into the heart of God that he is a God who values community. As a triune God, we know that He is in the most perfect community, and as He has made us in His image, he wants us to experience a community where we love each other the best we can and are loved that way in return. We can delight in commands He gives us because it shows us more of who He is and what He values.
We can also delight in the Law because it is for our good and is the key to living life the way God designed. Psalm 119 is full of 176 verses of the psalmist delighting and rejoicing in the commands of God. The psalmist writes,
Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.
Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
Here we see the psalmist expressing delight and longing for the commands of God. This longing for the commands of God and to do what is right is rooted in the knowledge that God’s Law is for our good.
Delighting in the Law
With the knowledge that God’s Law shows us our need for Him, that Jesus fills that need, and that the Law shows us more about God and more about how to live life the way the Creator designed it, we can begin to delight in the Law. Our obedience moves from this crushing sense of “I have to” to this wonderful sense of “I get to.” We can join the psalmist in delighting and even panting for the Law of the Lord, in this giddy obedience modeled for us.