I am sure there is nothing new here but I had one of those connecting the dots moments last night. This post is completely me working out on paper what I am thinking through.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment. The question was intended to trip Him up but since He is the author and finisher of the Law, He had the perfect response.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22: 36-40)
What exactly does that mean? At first blush it doesn’t make much sense. Moses revealed Ten Commandments and now we read that there are two commandments that don’t sound much on the surface like the Ten. We read the Ten and it is “Do this” and “Don’t do that”. Yet Jesus says that the entire Law depends on these two commandments. So what is up with the other Ten Commandments? In order to understand this, we need to turn to Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13: 8-10)
Ah. Now it makes more sense. We read this passage last night before our time of prayer at the chapel and it really ties some things together for me. If we love God with all of our heart, soul and mind you will have no other gods before Him. You will not take His name in vain. You will not create graven idols of men or beasts to bow down before Him. Such a thing would be unthinkable. Likewise if you love your neighbor as yourself you will not lie to him or steal from him or covet what is his or even murder him. Having rules and regulations to regulate external behavior is important to prevent societal chaos but it is not the point of the Law.
You can follow the letter of the Ten Commandments and still be lost. This is the great error of the Jewish leaders of when Christ walked among them. They assumed that God was pleased by external adherence to the Law. What God is seeking is not mere external obedience, but a changed heart.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
We see a parallel passage regarding this idea of external obedience contrasted with a changed heart in Micah 6:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
External obedience is never going to suffice to please God nor was it ever intended to do so. It is also vividly clear from Scripture and human nature that the dead, unregenerate heart is incapable of the sort of “God and others first” love that is required to obey the commandments. The powerful promise of the New Covenant is that God will write His law upon our hearts rather than on tablets of stone (Jer 31:33; 2 Cor 3:3). Without the changed heart, we can never even begin to love God as we ought nor love one another and thus we can never live up to the Law no matter how close we adhere to the commandments. The Law is founded on love and without love the Law can never be fulfilled.
So this doctrine of love and the Law is essential, not in “how” we are saved but “what now” after we are saved. Our testimony and witness to the world is that we love one another, not that we obey the Law. Love and grace are not opposed to Law and obedience, rather obedience and the Law is dependent upon grace and love. That is beautifully lived out on the cross where Christ showed His love for His sheep in His sacrifice and by His grace saved us.
That is not to suggest that we are left with “Love God and love each other” and we are completely on our own to figure out what that means. There is ample support in the Bible to guide us in how we should live among unbelievers, how we should live with one another, what the church is (and is not), how believers should support and serve one another. God is fully aware of how prone to wander into our own devices we are and has left a myriad of commands and examples to fence us in. That is not a heavy yoke upon us but a joyous expression of a saved heart. John perhaps states it best when he wrote:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5: 1-5)
Those who are born again have overcome the world, not by military victories or political victories but by love lived out in His death on the cross.