The Law of the Lord is Perfect
Musings on commandments and freedom
By Zach Dietrich
“I delight in your commands, which I love. I will lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:47-48).
“I love your commands more than gold, even the purest gold” (Psalm 119:127).
Most honest readers of Psalm 119 will admit that the word “commandment” doesn’t incite delight. Our view of commands is more like how I’ve heard parents describe their children: “If I commanded my son to eat a piece of candy, he’d stomp on it and shout, ‘You can’t tell me what to do!’”
Commands kill freedom, right? What does our knee-jerk response to the word “command” reveal about our understanding of God’s character and law? As we wrap up our series on Psalm 119, I’d like to share some musings on the law, freedom, and even parenting.
“So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).
In the book of Romans, Paul is writing to a people who view the law as both good and necessary for a relationship with God. The problem is that they view the law as so good that they think it is sufficient to save them. Paul goes to great lengths to show them that the purpose of the law is not to save them. While it can reveal sin and declare us guilty, it cannot make us righteous before God. We all fall short.
I think many of us believe the opposite. We live within a society (and sometimes even attend churches) that views law as intrinsically negative. Commands equal negative restrictions. Fun suckers. Joy killers. Shackles. But, a proper distinction between the law and grace does not conclude that the law is negative – only that it is insufficient to save us.
One reason we view the law as negative is perhaps a wrong definition of freedom. We are told that freedom is the ability to choose what we want to do. So, it would follow that commands tend to hamper self-will and expression.
This is how Kevin DeYoung puts it in his book, The Ten Commandments: “The biblical definition of freedom is not ‘doing whatever you want.’ Freedom is enjoying the benefits of doing what we should. We too often think of the Ten Commandments as constraining us – as if God’s ways will keep us in servitude and from realizing our dreams and reaching our potential.”
Freedom is enjoying what we were designed to do. Imagine a fish that pouted because it was told to stay in the water. Is that command restrictive? Not at all. It is freedom! And what would happen if the fish finally had the “freedom” to do what it wanted? Freedom is not doing whatever you want. We need to always remember that the law is good (see Psalm 1, 19, 139, etc.).
An important note: when we remember that the law is good, we are not saying that it is sufficient to change our hearts. The law is like a mirror (James 1) – able to expose our faults but not clean them. Keeping the commands of the law won’t help us reach God. Breaking only one command, like cutting a rope in only one spot, separates us (James 2). As Christians, we are ultimately free from the law, but even that doesn’t mean the law is evil.
Too often, society (and sadly, Christians as well) misdefine freedom and assume commands are restrictive (Psalm 2:3). But, true freedom is the ability to enjoy what we are designed to do. God is good, and all that He commands is good.