Monday, March 20, 2017

consequences and benefits of the law

Regarding the law scripture tells us there are...

Benefits  (blessings) in following it

and

Consequences (curses) in not following it

(by law I mean God's moral law summarized in the greatest and second commandment)

Those benefits and consequences fall under two broader categories.

·        Legal
·        Practical

Legal benefits:

If we operated according to the law perfectly we would be operating in alignment with and according to God's will and our design. This would be honoring and pleasing to God and result in a harmonious and right standing and relationship with him. It would also result in a harmonious alignment with who we are and how the rest of creation is designed to function. We would be living as God has designed us to and therefore as his approved image bearers, instead of rebellious and condemned creatures, cut off from and outside of his love. 

This was what Adam had before he broke trust with God and would have continued to have had as long as he had not rejected God's instructions/direction to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Of course we do not and can not now live in perfect obedience due to our spiritually dead condition resulting from our rejecting God's direction/law i.e. in our present condition outside of Christ and apart from God's Spirit living in us revealing to us the beauty of God which stirs us in pursuing God, we have no innate resources to obey God as we were designed to. We are helpless spiritually. Without outside intervention we have no hope. 

Legal consequences:

When we operate outside the law (his design and will) we come under the rightful and just judgment and condemnation of God for dishonoring him and others. We go from being faithful children to self declared enemies. Ultimately enemies are rightfully tried, condemned and sentenced. They are in opposition to what is right and true; they are against the true order of things. Most importantly they are against the one who gives us the proper way to conduct ourselves for the benefit of all and for his honor. 

All harm or loss can not go unaddressed but must be restored/repaid back to those we harmed, who suffered loss.


Practical benefits:


When we operate according to our original design (which the law reveals and lays out for us) we are aligning ourselves with the reality of who God is and who we are. We are behaving exactly as we should; fulfilling our design as perfect image bearers of God, perfectly loving him according to who he is and the love and honor due him and also perfectly reflecting him to others; causing others to consider him and find perfect joy and delight in him through our displaying his worth/glory. 

This results in our operating to the maximum of our capacity and having the maximum impact for good. We are drawing near to God and thereby experiencing more of who God is (the author of love and life) and desires us to experience of him in all his glory. This results in our loving others as they were designed to be loved and our greatest joy in operating according to that design. 


Practical consequences:

Why are we now his enemies? Because this results in harm, loss and potential destruction to others (as well as our own harm) whom he created and loves e.g. "...you mess with those I love, you are messing with me..." 

That destruction is displayed in two ways. 

Dishonoring Him:

To dishonor God is to harm others because we are not displaying God by our words and deeds as he truly is (all loving, wise, powerful and glorious). We are not demonstrating to others the complete worthiness and greatness of God, through our total loyalty/obedience to him. This results in others being drawn away from him, not to him due to our behavior and hinders their experiencing him, the source of love, life and all things, which is to their benefit.  

In short we are denying others the love and life in and from God that we were designed to display and they are designed to experience through us as fellow image bearers. 

Dishonoring Others:

To harm others is also to dishonor God.  We dishonor God when we harm those who are in God's image and the objects of his love i.e. God places value on all his image bearers and their well being. After all they are like God and therefore his beloved creatures

When we operate outside the perimeters of our original design, it results also in our loss of love and life (i.e. God himself) with all the subsequent consequences i.e. pain suffering and eventual death.


The importance of the law; some additional thoughts:

In order to stay in harmonious relationship with anything (animate or inanimate), we must understand first that everything operates a*certain way.  We must align ourselves with how something operates if we are to enjoy all the benefits of our aligning ourselves with that design and not incur the natural consequences of violating the design of whatever/whoever that is.

*(i.e. according to absolute and objective laws/principles. For a discussion of the grounds for right and wrong/morality click here).

This starts with God first. God is the first cause of all things. He is also a certain way (he is love) and operates according to a specific purpose/end i.e. to multiply his love to others which only occurs when others see him in all his majesty. Therefore all he has created is designed to operate a certain way and toward a specific end (for us that means to receive his infinite love and reflect it back to him and out to others).  

When we do not follow his design (spelled out in the law) we are acting contrary to God's design and will. This results in our harming others (as well as ourselves), which in turn results in the necessity (i.e. requirement) that we restore those we have harmed (it is required because they are also designed for love and worthy of being treated with love by virtue of God's design). This violation is a practical result of not following the law (his will/design), which has legal consequences.

This also addresses the question of sin. What is it exactly? 

For sin to exist, there must be a violation of some objective reality, order or design i.e. for a violation to occur, there must be an order or design that can be violated.

Sin is simply rebellion from or violation of who God is (the God of love, life and all things), who we are and how he designed things to operate. 

God's declared moral law is simply God communicating in words how we are designed to operate. To disobey the law is to distrust and reject the Designer. 


How does violation of God's law harm others: a recap

First it dishonors God i.e. it minimizes or out right dismisses the honor and glory *rightly due him. A glory that belongs only to him because he alone is the cause and sustainer of all things.

It does not harm God in the sense God is diminished in his person/being in some way. 

Act 17:24  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything... 

God is self sustained within his being as Father, Son and Spirit and therefore needs no one outside himself. Whereas everything needs and depends on God. The very existence of everything is caused by him and depends entirely on his existence. We owe everything to him. He owes us nothing. 

Though he can never be diminished in his being, he can be diminished in the eyes of our fellow images bearers (and the rest of creation can thereby be harmed). This is displeasing to God because God is love and loves all of his creation and particularly those who are in his image (God said everything he created was good Gen 1:4 ff). This harm carries with it both legal and practical consequences.

It also dishonors and harms others. How? It is to their harm because God is the source of all things. If we live in a way that points others away from God as that source, instead of to him, it is to their harm. This is a practical consequence.

This destruction/harm must be restored, fixed or paid back. This is a legal consequence.

The challenge however is without God we do not have the resources to follow him perfectly or to adequately restore those we harm. We simply don't have the resources because we no longer have the source of them i.e. God. As rebels to God's will and design we have broken off relationship with the only one who gives life and love which enables us to live according to his design for us and fully pursue him. As rebellious image bearers we are cut off from the source of life and love, alone and powerless to carry out or pursue Gods design and will i.e. we are not able to see or pursue God on our own. A practical consequence.

This was the essence of God's warning that the day we act contrary to God's direction (which was to NOT eat of the tree of  the knowledge of God and evil) we will die i.e. he was warning us that we will cut ourselves off and no longer be connected to the source of love and life which enlivens, empowers and inspires us to pursue him. This resulted in our immediate spiritual death and eventually our physical death. Again a practical consequences.

 

The solution to our violation of God's law

Because Christ stepped in on our behalf and paid for the harm we have and do to others, and credited to us his track record of total faithfulness (Matt 5:17-18) to his father (as spelled out in the moral law), we are now looked upon as if we are those who perfectly obey God and therefore live in perfect harmony with his will and design (his moral law summed up in the greatest and second commandment) for us even though in reality we do not. He treats us (love us perfectly and infinitely, cares for us completely, receives and embraces us fully) as if we are perfect when we aren't.

Christ's work has totally secured  for us a right standing/status with God and therefore his infinite love for us as well, but this does not change the violation of our design or the need to operate according to God's will. There will still be practical consequences for not doing so, though no longer legal consequences i.e. if we are in Christ, there is no longer or every will be any judgment or condemnation again for violating God's will and the subsequent loss of God's love for us (Rom 8;1, 38-39).

There is still loss and harm to others however, when we do not love them as God does. And that loss must still be repaid. But because Christ has paid for it, we can now forgive those who violate us just as God offers to forgive them and us in Christ for violating him and others.


The outcome of that solution

Now as God's perfectly loved, fully accepted and embraced children, we are free from the condemnation of our violation of the law (God's perfect will and design). This freedom allows us (and also moves us) to now pursue God with all our heart soul mind and strength. It restores the love and trust we need to do so i.e. because God's love is now fully restored to us, this in turn increasingly restores our trust of him and love for him and the desire, will and strength to pursue him again (Rom 8:1-4).


This however does not spare us from the consequences of violated his will and design. Yet even in the pain of that violation/consequence God is working for our ultimate good and best. Our violations can no longer result in our ultimate harm but only in our ultimate gain (Rom 8:28-29) (though it still can cause temporary pain and suffering). 


Why are the legal and practical separate? 

For God's children, the legal and practical consequences and benefits are separated only because in our present state God has to deal with them separately given our ongoing propensity to sin i.e. even in Christ we are still inclined to go against God's law (will and design) and do. Even though in Christ we are just/righteous legally we are still unjust or unrighteous in practice (you could also say we are righteous objectively but not yet subjectively). We simply do not, in our present unglorified condition and present existence, love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength or our neighbor as ourselves. Once we are fully glorified this dichotomy will cease and we will be fully restored and whole as we were originally designed to be i.e. our experience will then match our legal status. 

Originally the legal and practical were both part of our experience simultaneously. But because of our rebellion, in order for God to freely pour out his love on us again, he had to address the legal consequence of our rebellion first and remove the barrier between us created by that rebellion. Eventually the full practical benefits (i.e. no more pain etc) will be our experience as well later in eternity  i.e. at our glorification.

To say it another way, God figured a way to love us even while we were still unlovely (not fully living/operating according to his will and design).  He did this by basing his love for us on the loveliness of another and not on ours (or our lack of loveliness). And because the loveliness of this other (Christ) is perfect, so now is God's love for us. 


Sin not only no longer interferes with or interrupts God's love for us, it now even becomes a tool God uses to teach us how to draw nearer to him. 

*For a fuller discussion of the basis for morality click here.

For additional discussions on how God uses sin to advance us click here.





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Grace to you
Jim Deal