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the law as a code of conduct to show gratitude?

19-12-2014 - Posted by Andre Piet

image22 In the Reformed churches is “Hymn A- the ten commandments of the Lord” a familiar song. Especially the last verse of it:

Oh, that we obeyed your commandments! Show grace, o highest Majesty! Grant through faith in Christ, the power, To do those in gratitude.

The idea is that the Christian is supposed to keep the ten commandments. Not to be justified (as every Calvinist knows, all too well), but as “a rule of gratitude”. Nevertheless, that is a misplaced idea. God gave “the ten words”  to the people of Israel. He did not give these words to Adam, the progenitor of mankind. Neither to Noah and his sons after the flood. No, it would still take 430 years after the promise to Abraham (Gal.3:17), before God would give these words to one nation that He had separated from the other nations. Until Christ (Gal.3:24,25). Which is to say that “the ten words,” evidently, were not meant as a universal rule of life for all mankind. This does not take away from the fact that the “ten words” for the majority of people, indeed represent universal values, with the exception of the Sabbath’s command, which is a special sign between God and Israel (Ex.32:13). I know not a single, Biblical indication that the Sabbath was kept in the 2500 years(!) between Adam and Moses. But apart from that command, the remainder of the “ten words” have a general application. Or as Paul puts it in Romans 13:

9 For this: “You shall not commit adultery,” “you shall not murder,” “you shall not steal,” “you shall not testify falsely,” “you shall not covet,” and if there is any other precept, it is summed up in this saying, in this: “You shall love your associate as yourself.”  10 Love is not working evil to an associate. The complement, then, of law, is love.

Not to commit adultery, not to kill, not to steal, not to covet (i.e. what belongs to another), are moral values of all times and all places. Whoever upholds those values does no harm to his neighbour. However, does this express the thankfulness of a believer? Imagine: you have rescued a man from certain death, out of a burning house. As soon as he is safe, he says to you: I’m so grateful, I will try never to kill you, or steal something from you or run away with your wife. Sounds very stinting and minimal, don’t you think? Not really grateful, at all. For is it not obvious that we do not want to harm others? We do not want others to harm us either, do we? But love (agapé = God’s love) goes infinitely further! Love does not harm the other – that is true. But that is just negatively formulated. God’s love is positive and gives to the other generous grace (= gratuitous joy; Eph.4:32). Abundantly, to all men (Rom.5:17,18). The law says, “Thou shalt not steal.” Grace teaches (Eph.4:28):

Let him who steals by no means still be stealing: yet rather let him be toiling, working with his hands at what is good, that he may have to share with one who has need.

Whoever is happy with God’s (unconditional and unlimited) love for all people, may (!) walk in that love and, in that way, truly fulfill the law. Love is the name of the fruit of the Spirit and Paul, in Galatians 5:22,23, lists eight characteristics of that fruit:

22 Now the fruit of the Spirit is love: (1) joy, (2) peace, (3) patience, (4) kindness, (5) goodness, (6) faithfulness, (7) meekness, (8) self-control: against such things there is no law.

No man can realize this. Trying it, would only be frustrating. Neither is it the result of “the works of the flesh”; on the contrary, it is “the fruit of the Spirit”. The Evangel is the preaching of God’s love (Rom.5:5) and that is what it works-out in the one who believes it. Not with difficulty, but with joy, because it is HIS work! Is the law a code of conduct to show gratitude? No, writes Paul…

For I, through law, died to law, that I should be living to God.  With Christ have I been crucified, yet I am living; no longer I, but living in me is Christ. Now that which I am now living in flesh, I am living in faith that is of the Son of God, Who loves me, and gives Himself up for me. -Galatians 2:19,20-