Leading Question: Is obedience to the law ever a means of gaining favor with God?
1. Gratitude is the key word: Deut. 4:5-8. If defined in terms of its purpose, God’s law was intended as a guide to good and righteous living. For some reason, however, not everyone is able to focus on law as “good news,” even though Deut. 4 makes it clear that it was intended to be just that. As Moses put it: “What other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?” (NRSV). If we can see God’s gracious intent, then law can indeed be “gospel” (good news). But some experience God’s law much more as an instrument of condemnation, a standard that they can’t imagine reaching. For them, forensic justification is a great blessing, enabling them to say with fervor, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
2. Grace before law: Rom. 5:6-11. Three times, in three different ways, Paul emphasizes that God’s grace came to us before we ever responded to him: “while we were still weak,” “while we were still sinners,” “while we were enemies.” In short, God takes the initiative. Just as he delivered Israel from Egypt and through the Red Sea, and then took them to Sinai to hear the law, so we can experience God’s saving grace before we hear his words of counsel as to how we are to live.
3. The law only keeps us out of mischief; it cannot save. Regardless of how one experiences God’s law, it was never intended to be a means of earning salvation, even though in our human weakness we are forever being tempted to think that good behavior will earn us points with God. In short, the bold truth should be trumpeted for all to hear: We are saved by God’s grace. The law just keeps us out of mischief. Put another way, obedience should always be an act of gratitude in response to God’s saving grace. In what way can we legitimately seek for righteousness, without slipping into the thinking that we are somehow earning God’s favor?
4. God’s judgments, a protection: Psalm 19:11. The psalmist declares that the “judgments” of the Lord are more to be desired than gold or honey. Why? Because they have served to warn him and have brought him a great reward. How can we make it clearer that “righteousness” is God’s way to a good life?
5. Hungering after righteousness: Matt. 5:6. Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Where does one look to find that kind of hunger in an increasingly secular world?