Read in Light of Galatians 3:24
The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24)
As we saw in the last letter, we should never let our Bible reading produce in us any emotion that defies the fruit of the Spirit, one aspect of which is joy (Gal. 5:22-23). This is to say that God wants us to be joyful in Christ, and our Bible reading must foster and nurture that joy. Therefore, when we encounter the judgments and dooms in Scripture, we should read them as a child of God ought to read them: as warnings, which we should be in awe of, but also as what God will never do to his children, for he has assured us that all things work together for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28). Faith in God’s steadfast love should lead us to rejoice in his salvation (Psa. 13:5). Curses and judgments, whether recorded in Scripture or seen in life, should not eradicate joy.
But there is a difficulty. God’s judgments come upon people because of their sin, and God wants us to be convicted of sin, right? But conviction hardly seems compatible with joy, and clearly God wants us to experience both. He tells us to “be afflicted and mourn and weep” (James 4:9), and he tells us to rejoice always (Phil. 4). But how can these things go together?
The short answer to this question is that conviction is a doorway to a right sort of joy. There is flippant worldly happiness and there is biblical Christ-centered joy; you can’t have the biblical joy without conviction of sin and tenderness toward God’s commands. True repentance is a necessary prerequisite to biblical happiness. It may be that our lack of joy in the Lord is due to a hard heart about God’s commands and a tolerance of sin in our life.
We should not ignore God’s commands and curses as we blithely say without conviction of sin, “Oh well, Jesus forgives me.” This is presumption, not faith. Tolerating sin while taking comfort in the sacrifice is no basis for joy but only for a guilty conscience. Christ came to make us a people zealous of good works, not apathetic toward them! See Titus 2:11-14.
This means that one of the most important things in our Bible reading is that we take God’s law and judgments seriously and not reject them for their severity. The Bible tells us to “behold the goodness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22).
Therefore, an important question is, How do you respond to the law of God? Here are a few points, not given as a check-off list! Use them to evaluate your response to God’s commands and judgments in the Bible.
Let God’s law convict you. If you read, “Love is patient, love is kind,” and you recognize you are not, then do not ignore the commands but instantly humble yourself and repent before God. If you read “be quick to listen, slow to speak” and you realize you are the opposite, do not rush past conviction and say “well Jesus forgives me.” This is to desire joy at the expense of conviction, and it actually ruins joy. No, instantly humble yourself and repent before God. If you read “redeem the time,” and you realize you waste time, do not tolerate it. If you read “be courageous” and you realize that you are fearful…. you get the idea. Mortify sin by God’s grace and Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Don’t short-circuit joy by failing to fight sin.
Let conviction drive you to Christ, who perfectly kept the law for you and who paid the penalty of death for your sin on the cross. Let your dismay over your sin turn your eyes on Christ who never did or thought or felt anything sinful. And remember—his righteousness is your own if you are a believer (1 Cor. 1:30). His death was in your stead, all your guilt was laid on him (Isa. 53:6). Rejoice that, as your surety, his work perfectly and completely deals with all your sin and the wrath of God against it. There truly is no curse against you, if you find refuge in him (Rom. 8:1). The joy of this becomes palpable if you’ve really let conviction do its work. Don’t think that this experience of fleeing to Christ is a one time thing. We are to be rooted in Christ and built up in him (Col. 2:6-7). We are to hold our first confidence steadfast to the end (Heb. 3:14). We don’t just hold our doctrinal positions firm to the end, but our original confidence in Christ. This implies that we continually cling to him, and that only happens when we are aware of our need of him. The older we grow in the Lord the more sensitive we should become to our sinfulness. Our experience of being saved was a one-time thing, but it has continuing results as we keep on going to Christ for cleansing. When we find rest in Christ, let your experience cause you to view the commands of God as having no threat left in them for you. Perfect love casts out fear. Welcome God’s commands as your delight and seek to obey them by the Spirit without fear of judgments and dooms.
When people realize conviction and repentance is a big deal, they might begin to emphasize sorrow for sin too much. They might begin to wonder if their repentance is good enough. Sometimes in past centuries, when people were generally more serious about God, people even began to think that they had to have a certain amount of moaning on their face before they had the right to think they were saved. This is to think of repentance as savior, when Christ is savior. Be careful of this sort of thing! If you can’t remember all the sins you need to confess, don’t shrink back from God; he has your back, and he’s had your back for a long, long time—he chose you before the world began (Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9)! Your sins are old news to him. If you fear that you haven’t been sorry enough for your sins, realize that the Bible does not say that your acceptance with God is based on perfect repentance. Nothing you’ve ever done is perfect, so how could it be? Just honestly confess your sin to God to the best of your ability and then rejoice in the only perfect one, Jesus Christ, even as you seek to walk in his ways.
So, how to sum up all this? Don’t ignore the laws and judgments in Scripture. Let them inspire you once more to flee sin and run to Christ, for he bore our curse for us. He bore our doom so we would forever bear his blessing. The law was given to lead us to Christ (Gal. 3:24) and to expose sin (Rom. 3:20); therefore we need to always read the laws the way they were intended to be read. Oh the joy in Christ that will result!
P.S. Someone emailed me recently telling me that they were continuing on rejoicing in the Lord. That greatly encouraged me. Feel free to email me and fill me in on how you are doing or pass along a prayer request to me. And don’t forget our Wednesday night video prayer meetings! I am praying for you all, and looking forward to June, when, Lord willing, we will be able to meet again.