why we love God's law
"Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day... Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble." (Psalm 119:97, 165 ESV)
For many years of my younger Christian life, I thought that God's law was always in antithesis with God's grace. The writer of Psalm 119, however, sees God's law (Heb., תוֹרָה tôrāh, "instruction") in a more wholistic sense, as including God's words, statutes, precepts, promises, and life from God. And the psalmist, certainly a believer, loves -- really loves -- God's law.
HOW CAN WE LOVE GOD'S LAW? But how can we "love" his law when we are not "under the law"? Didn't Paul say, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law" (1 Cor 15:56)? And "The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me" (Rom 7:10). Yet, as I read Psalm 119, I see a beautiful poem of love for the law of the Lord, even his commandments. And now many years later, I totally resonate with that.
PSALM 119 AND PAUL. In the cases above where Paul speaks of the law, one use (or purpose) of God's law is in view, that is, to reveal our sin and failure, in order to drive us to Christ for mercy, forgiveness, and new life (Gal 3:24). Those who rely on the works of the law for justification are under a curse (Gal 3:10-13). The purpose of the law, however, was never to be a means of salvation, or of earning merit or acceptance from God. It is not the ladder to heaven, Jesus is. He came down to us, who could not keep the law. Christ himself did not despise the law, but rather, he himself fulfilled it (Matt 5:17-18). Being "in Christ" (united by faith to him) means that we are beyond the condemnation of the law (Rom 8:1). We are not under judgment, nor under the many stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant. But as Paul wrote, we are not "without law", but rather under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:20-21). It's a different covenant, one based upon grace, but still with God's original design as its end -- that we would be transformed to the image of Christ, which includes moral character.
GOD'S LAW is summarized in the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue (Ex 20; Deut 5), which is the core of divine moral law. Our Lord Jesus summarized this further as loving God wholeheartedly and our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:37-40). This divine purpose, this moral law, has never changed. God's grace and power will bring about our obedience, and only his grace and kindness will do that. But his law, a reflection of his holy nature, will forever be the moral foundation of the new heaven and earth (Ps 119:89; Rev 22:14-15). And so, we can say with the psalmist, "how I love your law!" One very practical application of this would be to memorize the Ten Commandments as an individual or family project.
ALL THIS TO SAY, there is more to God's law than revealing our sin. His law reflects the wonderful character of God, and of his Son Jesus, who fulfilled it. Practically, his law leads us in paths of righteousness (Ps 23:3). But more, it is a glorious vision of our destiny as those being conformed into the image of Christ. In that sense, we love God's law -- all of his precepts, promises, will, commandments, decrees, and promises -- because they are good, really good, and eternally good. It's the character of our Savior, and the future of the redeemed human race.
If you are struggling with putting this all together, may I recommend Delighting in the Law of the Lord, by Jerram Barrs (Crossway, 2013). It's excellent. Here's one excerpt:
"All biblical study of the law begins with the conviction that God’s own character stands behind the moral order of this world and behind the commandments that he gives to us his creatures. This is the fundamental reason why the Scriptures speak so positively about the law. Praising a set of commandments is an alien notion in our cultural context, but that is where the biblical view begins: with praise and thanksgiving for the law. ... God’s law is beautiful because it reveals God’s character. This is the most basic reason why we should love the law."