Law Abiding

One of the challenges, it seems, of Lutheran theology is finding the appropriate ways to talk about the Law.

It’s ironic, because I think that Lutheran theology is the most Biblical Christian theology regarding the Law.  We neither (on paper) hold that it must still be fulfilled (by us), nor that it is irrelevant.  It neither serves as a source of fear and condemnation, but nor is it an anachronistic throwback to primitive times that can be ignored now that we are more enlightened and/or redeemed.  There is a healthy balance, a respect for the Law and an insistence that it pertains to every single person in creation – Christian or otherwise, while at the same time recognizing that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the Law.

So why is it that we struggle for words that are encouraging enough and strong enough in regards to the relationship between Christians and the Law?  I sat through a session of very intelligent men and women struggling to make the Law sound important without losing the equal importance of the Gospel.  And for a denomination that prides itself on Law and Gospel distinction, it was not necessarily a shining moment.  All of the attempts to make the Law sound relevant and important and valuable sounded so very flat and unconvincing in the blinding light of the Gospel.

It must remain that way unless we can speak about the integrity of the Law with creation.  The Law is not an extraneous addition, something God thinks up after the fact to keep us in line.  The Law is consummate with, woven into creation.  It is the way the universe was designed to function.  What is the nature of perfection?  Well, it is the fulfillment of the Law.

Adam and Eve in paradise before the Fall, let’s run through the checklist:

  1. Did they have any other Gods other than the one true and only God?  Nope.
  2. Did they misuse God’s name?  Nope.
  3. Did they remember the Sabbath to keep it holy?  I’m assuming so!
  4. Did they honor their parents?  Inasfar as God was their direct ‘parent’, yes!
  5. Did they murder anyone?  Nope.
  6. Did they commit adultery?  Nope.
  7. Did they steal?  Nope.
  8. Did they lie?  Nope.
  9. Did they covet?  Nope.
  10. Did they covet anything else?  Nope.

Some might argue that some of these aren’t actually applicable – there wasn’t anyone else around to commit adultery with or slander.  That’s a rather technical nit-picking.  By and large Christian theology is united in saying that prior to the incident with the Forbidden Fruit, Adam and Eve were perfect.  They obeyed the Law perfectly, and would continue to do so even as opportunities to violate the Law came into existence.  Their perfection was one of essence, not opportunity.

For the Christian, this is who we are as well.  Simultaneously vile sinners and holy, perfect saints, as St. Paul beautifully argues in the middle of his letter to the Romans.  This means that we sin and break the Law – most of us are pretty conscious of that.  But it also means that each of us is perfect and never violates the Law, a condition conveyed to us through the perfect obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.  It is a present reality for every Christian even though we plainly keep sinning.  It is the only reality that will persist when Christ returns.  Our sinfulness will be stripped from us, and we will see finally and clearly the perfect sons and daughters of God that the blood of Christ has made us.  We will be fully obedient to the Law.

Not some new, foreign law, but the Law of God as revealed at Mt. Sinai.  Obedience to the Law now for Christians is not a matter of avoiding God the Father’s wrath – that was sated in the sacrifice of the Son of God.  Rather, obedience to the Law – imperfectly and haltingly – is movement towards the new creation that already exists within us, waiting to be fully revealed.  Obedience to the Law is not awkward or contrived – it becomes natural because it is who we are already in Christ, and who we will be perfectly and eternally with him in glory.

The Law is good!  In Christ it no longer condemns but it continues to point the way, the way to a destination we have already arrived at but will only fully recognize when our Lord returns.

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