I read something this morning that struck me as something I should have seen on my own but never did. A writer was commenting on the 10 Commandments. Now amongst Lutherans we tend to speak of Law and Gospel as separate things, each of which has it’s own purpose in God’s design, but they are not to be confused. Martin Luther said you weren’t a real theologian until to could rightly divide the two.
Typically we say the Law has 3 purposes. First, it shows us God’s will. I like to compare this to a curb in the street–it shows us where the edge is and we know if we go over it we’ve messed up. You can’t drive on the sidewalk. The second purpose or use of the Law is that it is a mirror. When I look into it I see myself as a sinner for I have violated every one of God’s commandments. And the third use of the Law is that it is a guide for our lives. Not only do we where the edge is, we are also told how to move and live in the area between the curbs.
All of that is pretty standard stuff among Lutherans. But this morning I learned something new about it. God does not give the Law to the people of Israel until after He has rescued them from slavery. First He saved them, and then He gave them the Law. Salvation first, then duty, if you will.
For those who do not know Jesus as Lord the Law is a daunting thing. It seems merely to tell us what we can’t do and, stubborn and self centered as we are, we recent that. So while we might give lip service to the Commandments as good things, we actually don’t like them. But when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith through the proclamation of the Gospel, the Law we [secretly] hated now seems beautiful to us. Now we don’t grumble about what God wants of us, we are overjoyed that we get to follow His will.
When we apply that insight to the situation of the giving of the Law we see that God’s work in the desert foreshadowed the work of Christ for us. First we are saved–then we love the work God prepared for us to walk in before time even began.
Without God’s antecedent work of salvation the Law is our enemy, but afterwards we can see it for what it truly is–a gift from God to His people.