CultureWatch

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Loving God and Keeping the Commandments

Jun 18, 2011

A sad situation is enveloping large parts of the evangelical church today, especially those associated with the emergent church. Increasingly we are being told that love is the only thing that matters in the Christian life, and any talk of obedience or keeping God’s commandments is somehow legalistic or in fact counter to love. Thus a new antinomianism is creeping through our churches.

We hear it said more and more today that ‘love cannot be commanded’ and that the Christian walk has nothing to do with rules, regulations, laws, commandments and the like. It is all about a love relationship – end of story. Now with all dangerous teachings, there is of course a good amount of truth here.

Yes of course at rock bottom the Christian life is one of a personal love relationship with the Father through the Son via the Holy Spirit. And of course it is true that we are saved by grace through faith, not by seeking to keep the law of God. But once we are justified, there is the matter of sanctification.

We are to grow in grace as we seek to do that which is pleasing to God. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that once we are justified by faith, we can live however we will. The free grace of God is not meant to become license for us. This truth is found in both Testaments. In the Old Testament Israel was freely saved by Yahweh’s grace. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and freed them to serve him.

We read about this mighty deliverance in Exodus 1-19. But in Ex 20 we read about the giving of the law. The law followed God’s gracious saving act. Israel was meant to show their gratitude for God’s deliverance by obeying him and keeping his commands. This did not save them – they were already saved.

In the same way today we are saved by what Christ has done on our behalf. We cannot save ourselves. But once saved, we gratefully seek to do His will and please him. The Scriptures everywhere speak to these truths. Love and obedience go together. Let me cite just a few passages given by Moses:

Deut 6:5-6 – Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
Deut 10:12-13 – And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Deut 11:1 – Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.
Deut 30:16 – For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.

Notice how loving God and keeping his commandments are intimately connected. But I already hear the protests of some: “Yes, but that was in the Old Testament. We are no longer under the law today so none of that applies to us anymore”. Well, sorry to burst the bubble of these critics, but we find the same teachings in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus said exactly the same thing as Moses did. Consider just a few quotes as given to us by John in his gospel:

John 14:21 – Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
John 14:23 – Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
John 15: 10 – If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
John 15:14 – You are my friends if you do what I command.

And consider these words from John’s epistles:

1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
1 John 3:24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 5:2-3 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.
2 John 6: And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

These eight statements by John should make it crystal clear that there is absolutely no dichotomy whatsoever between loving God and obeying God. There is no disjunction at all between having a love relationship with Christ and keeping his commandments.

Most of Christendom has recognised these truths. The Puritans have especially rightly emphasised this close relationship between love and law. Let me here conclude with the thoughts of Ernest Kevan, the first principle of the London Bible College, who knew the great value of studying the Puritans. As he said in Moral Law (P&R, 1991):

“The bestowal of the power for a holy life needs to be accompanied by instruction in the pattern of it. In what does sanctified behaviour consist? It consists in pleasing God. What is it that pleases God? The doing of His will. Where is His will to be discerned? In His holy Law. The Law, then, is the Christian’s rule of life, and the believer finds that he delights in the Law of God after the inward man (Rom. 7:22). The Christian is not lawless, ‘but under the law to Christ’ (1 Cor 9:21)….

“To insist upon this function of the Law of God in the life of the believer is not to become legalistic. Legalism is an abuse of the Law: it is a reliance on Law-keeping for acceptance with God, and the proud or the servile observance of laws is no part of the grace of God. The joyfully rendered obedience of love, however, is a quite different thing and is of the very essence of Christian life. For a man to obey God because he loves to do so is not legalism; it is liberty: but, let it be remembered, it is still obedience….

“A sovereign is no less a sovereign because his subjects love him. God does not cease to be God as soon as His people are reconciled to Him; He does not forfeit all rights to command as soon as people come to love Him. There is, therefore, nothing incompatible between love and obedience; for in the truly sanctified life there is loving obedience and obedient love.”

Kevan is of course simply drawing upon the wealth of wisdom found in the writings of those who have gone before, including the Puritans. They rightly knew that the good news of the Gospel makes no sense without the bad news. Grace and law, in other words, are intimately associated.

Without a clear concept of the law and its demands, we will not have a clear concept of our need for Christ. As John Bunyan rightly stated, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Saviour.”

The reason so much of our gospel preaching today is so anaemic and ineffective is because we have truncated the good news to a sentimental and sloppy notion of love. We instead need to tie in biblical love with biblical holiness. And until we restore obedience to our understanding of the Christian’s love relationship with Christ, we will continue to flounder and lose our voice.

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24 Responses to Loving God and Keeping the Commandments

  • I hope this is getting read more than the non-rush of comments indicates, Bill. A very good article. Thank you for setting it out so clearly.
    John Symons

  • Many thanks John

    Hopefully your comment will get the ball rolling. If not, thanks for the kind words.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • How can it be otherwise? If the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, how can then the process of sanctification belittle sin as if it were no longer abhorrent to God? 1 Peter 1:2 shows that the process of sanctification leads us to what? Obedience. These people who say that obedience is not required as a sign of true faith in Christ either do not know their bibles very well or are quite content in their ignorance, both to their hurt, but also sadly to the discredit of the truth. 2 Peter 2:2.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Hi Bill,

    You mentioned “In the Old Testament Israel was freely saved by Yahweh’s grace. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and freed them to serve him.” But what about all those sacrificial laws they were acquired to obey. I thought that a couple of times a year one had to take a perfect lamb free of defects to be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins. I assume this was a requirement not an option they could ignore. I also often wonder today, since sacrifices ended after the destruction of the temple what Jews do today.

    Carl Strehlow

  • Thanks Carl

    But salvation has always been by grace through faith. Do we really think that sinners can save themselves? Do we really think that all those animal sacrifices could do the trick? Simply read Hebrews 10:1-4 for example:

    The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

    These sacrifices were of course simply a temporary covering, awaiting the real and only fully efficacious sacrifice, that of Jesus. The Israelites were to be obedient in this regard, and do what Yahweh commanded, but salvation comes only from God, not our own human actions. It is the same today. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are to do what God commands of us. And there are hundreds of commandments given us in the New Testament. We obey these commands not in order to get saved, but to demonstrate that we really are saved.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill,

    perfectly answered. I remember when I first read all those sacrificial laws how overwhelming it would have been to the Israelites of old. I know they don’t apply to us as Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, dying on the cross. I constantly need to have this drummed into me that ‘salvation comes only from God, not our own human actions’, as I still fall in the trap and think that I have to do good works in order to be saved. But I also think I need to be an example of my Christian faith by doing ‘good deeds’ and so on. But it is hard when there are so many groups and people who would hate, just for believing on God. It is sad as I don’t want to hate them. They are so threatening though.

    Carl Strehlow

  • Romans 6:1-2, What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
    Great article Bill.
    Duan Ziegelaar

  • A couple more verses.
    Revelation 12:17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
    Revelation 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
    Revelation 22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
    Greg Sadler

  • One of your best Bill! great stuff!
    Anna Cook

  • Many thanks Anna.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Amen Bill! I am a bit puzzled sometimes by Christians who seem confused by all this and are even inconsistent sometimes with their own understanding, belief or practice.

    My most recent personal experience showed me some Christians who would say “Amen” to all you wrote, but when it comes to the ten commandments, they say “Amen” to nine of them and keep them as you say, out of love for God and willingness to serve Him – all of them except the one about keeping the Sabbath holy.

    I have been accused by the some who love the law, and live it because they love (believing that we should not lie, steal, covet, commit adultery, commit murder etc), as being legalistic with my interpretation of keeping the Sabbath because of my choice not to work on Sundays. I made this choice out of my love for God and wanting to show this by the choices I make. I haven’t imposed this understanding on others or expected it of others, but have been told by some well meaning folk, “That won’t save you, you know.”

    Of course it won’t…I have made this choice because I HAVE been saved…and have the freedom to make the choice. The choice is my celebration of my salvation, not an action to try to earn it.

    Kerry Letheby

  • Rushdoony’s little volume ‘Law & Liberty’ provides some good insight on this important subject (www.chalcedon.edu). In particular, I enjoyed his illustration of us operating in terms of God’s law as much the same as a fish in water. If you take the fish out, death ensues – it is when the fish is swimming in the water that true Liberty exists. So it is for us, if we operate in terms of God’s law – it is life to us through salvation in Christ. Disobedience results in certain death on every level. Thanks be to God that we have been made alive in Christ and have been restored to life and liberty!

    Well written article Bill, thanks.

    Isaac Overton, ACT

  • The liberal arm of the Catholic Church in Australia is DEFINITELY guilty of this one-sidedness!! I challenge any Catholic to argue otherwise.
    Jane Petridge

  • Great article Bill,
    fully agree Duan, yet there are those within the church who do not seem to read or understand Romans 6:1-2. Or perhaps that just ignore it.

    They also want to ignore 1Cor 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    I have even heard it suggested from a pulpit that we could justify adding the words “neither straight nor gay” to Galations 3:28 ”There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    Such offensive politically correct rubbish is Biblically equivalent to saying that there is neither righteousness nor unrighteousness in Christ!

    One of the problems of sin is disbelief: many people, even those who claim to be Christian, do not believe the Bible means what it says. I’ve even heard a Christian training other Christians state emphatically, repeatedly: “the Bible doesn’t mean what it says – it means what it means.”

    They seem to be sustained by a stubborn vincible ignorance. They know what the Bible says, but they simply don’t want to believe it, so they invent comfortable ‘interpretations’!

    Peter Newland

  • Thank you Bill.
    You stated that Christian life is one of a personal love relationship with the Father through the Son and via the Holy Spirit. Last Sunday our priest, when explaining the Trinity stated “the Trinity is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived”. I believe you live that mystery in your writings. Well done.
    Madge Fahy

  • Thanks Madge
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for another good article, Bill, and everyone else for your comments on this and on many other articles. The help that this site has given me in my Christian walk is incalculable. I’ve been reading articles off and on for the past year and a bit and, looking back, am deeply thankful for the nourishment you’ve all given, in terms of learning the scriptures, the doctrines, and the issues of our faith. It is refreshing to see that there are many here who have not ‘bowed the knee”. I do not often post comments but do not take that to mean that I have not read, and thought about, and at times discussed articles with churchmates and coworkers. God bless you all!
    Dan Brinkman

  • Many thanks Dan for your kind and encouraging words. Bless you.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • In a word, brilliant. Thanks Bill.
    Peter Jackel

  • Someone, I think it was Steven Covey, put this very well by saying that Love is a verb rather than a noun. We love by doing (or not doing) things; actions, not just by feeling loveing.

    While people rubbish the commandments as legalistic and negative etc, who in all honesty could deny that the world would instantly become a better place if everyone began obeying them from tomorrow morning at 9.00 o’clock.

    Why are they considered onerous? They are not complicated or difficult to understand. To paraphrase, they are there for us, not us for them. How can we love others by lying, cheating, stealing, murdering or having intimate relationships with other peoples’ partners?

    David Williams

  • A bit late into this discussion and I see that someone else has beaten me to the punch regarding R J Rushdoony. However, his seminal works is not the ‘little’ Law and Liberty but the massive three-volume Institutes of Biblical Law.
    Steve Swartz

  • There are some who say that if you are filled with the Holy Spirit you will always do the will of God. This is only true if what is done when we are ‘spirit-filled’ fits the will of God as found in the Scriptures. Indeed, it is better to say that the sign of a ‘spirit-filled’ person is that they do the will of God with joy (Psalm 40:8). Too often we find that if we fail to gird up our minds with the will of God – in the times we are ‘spirit-filled’ – we do things that can’t be can’t be justified by Scripture. Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 stresses the need for ‘knowledge and discernment’ as precursors for a spirit-filled life. Likewise Psalm 119:9-11 shows the essentiality of the knowledge of God’s will.

    Geoffrey Bullock

  • Hi Bill, I hope this isn’t too dumb a question, but are you referring to ALL the laws of the OT minus the ceremonial laws to do with the sacrifices? There seem to be a few that are ridiculed these days and yet I don’t understand why they aren’t taught if the purpose of the law is to make us conscience of sin and teach us holiness.

    “You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together. 20Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free.…”

    So here is my question: why do we still say we no longer need to wear clothing woven of two types of material? I have heard both David Pawson and Mark Driscoll say this is not to be obeyed, yet it completely makes sense to me. I have a health background and the skin is the largest organ in the body. Cloth made from 1 natural fibre will breathe WAY more than mixed in my opinion – but I can’t prove it. I did decide to try it out. I was the eczema kid. So about 18 months ago, whilst fighting an autoimmune disease, I switched all my clothing to 100% cotton. My monthly blood work was radically improved. When my christian Dr asked what I had done differently, I told him. He said he had never seen such a huge improvement in anyone’s blood work in such a short time in all his life. I didn’t even have eczema at the time of the change. I used to ask every pastor I could, ‘Why did we throw this one out” and all the answers didn’t make sense to me. It is in the middle of other laws that we continue to obey.

    So back to my question, do you mean all the laws? How do we determine what is in and what is out? Is the don’t cut the hair at the sides in? What about the tassels? See, I love the Lord and I just want to obey because I hate sin. I know this is not todo with my salvation. I just want to obey. But first I need to understand what to obey so I can then do it. (I know of several others who wrestle with this question also and have been unable to find anyone to answer it to their satisfaction.)
    Thanks for your time.

  • Thanks Sharon. The moral law is what I have in mind, and I discuss it in more detail here:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/30/leviticus-law-and-love/

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