Time and again we find in Scripture declarations such as “The law of the Lord is perfect”, “If you love me, then keep my commands”, and “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” Despite those clear admonitions and statements, the word law seems to continually be treated as the ugly stepchild of the faith in favor of terms such as grace and freedom. On the other hand, there are those who seem to place an overemphasis on legalities. This leaves one perhaps wondering why the statements about the law of the Lord being perfect and the wise walking in it and being blessed if the law is something that is of no concern or for that matter, how much concern to place on such a topic. Jerram Barrs in his excellent book Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism seeks to set the biblical record straight.
We certainly live in a society that promotes the go your own way mentality. Morality seems to be a thing of the past and as noted by Barrs, “at the heart of our culture there is a steady drift from seeing law and morality as God’s gifts to us. Instead, law and morality are seen as having their origins on earth, as arising from human reflection about the nature of our lives and about how we should live.” When one turns from God’s perfect law, what is left is self to try and determine right and wrong. Such an approach results in the shifting sands of personal opinion we observe in society. Ultimately, this results in societal chaos with either each and every individual doing what is right in their own eyes or those in power deciding what is right. Barrs rightly notes “We can only find a true fountain for the good life for ourselves and our societies if we turn back to God himself.”
Turning back to God involves a love for the law of God. It is this love for God’s commands found in Scripture which Barrs spends a great deal of time exploring. Before one has an opportunity to misunderstand the law which Barrs is discussing, he aptly explains the law for example David had in mind when he declared the “law of the Lord is perfect” is the moral law of God. Barrs notes “The law should be seen as God’s gracious provision for his people, even in its moral demands, for these moral demands set out for us the way of life that God himself observes – and his way of life is altogether lovely!”
Barrs does an excellent job of noting why it is important when studying and appreciating the law of God to take a look at when and why the law was given in the first place. He rightly states “The law is given by the covenant-keeping, faithful God who has already delivered and redeemed his people.” Furthermore, Barrs correctly notes that the law was not given so that the Israelites might obey their way to deliverance from Egypt. Conversely, Barrs declares and rightly so, “The purpose of obeying the law is not to achieve salvation, nor to inherit eternal life, but to express one’s love and gratitude to the Lord because of the salvation he has already given to his people.” This is the model we see at Mt. Sinai and the model that still exists for believers today. We obey God in response to His merciful grace and we should do so with thanksgiving for God’s perfect and beautiful law He has provided us so that we can better know how to love Him and love others.
I fully appreciated Barrs’ discussion on the different approaches to the law that have been taught over the years in different denominations and theological systems. It was rather enlightening and informative to read the various positions on the law which unfortunately have resulted to a large degree in the incorrect perceptions of what the law is and why it remains important. For example, the dispensationalist approach have traditionally viewed “the law of Moses as having been given to Israel as the means by which the people were to establish and maintain a relationship with God. It is only with the death and resurrection of Christ that salvation by grave through faith is revealed.” Barrs avers that such an approach incorrectly understands that “The law is given to us by the God of all grace.” He further elaborates on that statement by noting “The truth is that we need to delight in the law in our inmost being and to teach this delight to others. Only this love for the law will bring utter dependence on Christ and on his grace for both our justification and our sanctification. There are no shortcuts, no quick routes to sanctification.”
To those who might view such a statement as a lead in to legalism, Barrs responds by commenting that “Legalism produces self-righteousness and pride because we can keep our rules about food and clothing, books and movies, times for prayer, amounts given, services attended, and the like.” Obeying God’s law in a spirit of love and in response to God’s grace bestowed towards His people does not result in legalism. In fact, quite the opposite approach results and Barrs correctly notes “God’s law, when properly understood as aimed at our hearts, does not produce self-righteousness and pride. The reason God’s law does not is that we cannot keep it.” That recognition continually drives us to depend on the work of the Holy Spirit working that process of sanctification.
One final helpful aspect of this book is the questions for further reflection and discussion provided at the end of each chapter. The topic of God’s law and the correct understanding of it might be a new point of emphasis for some. Thus, having additional questions provided to the reader which will help process and think through what might be new concepts is certainly an added bonus. Furthermore, these questions make this book quite useful in a small group setting.
I highly recommend this book as an excellent primer on the importance of God’s law. In an age where self is king and laws are flouted with regularity, it is more important than ever to understand that the source of truth and life is found within the pages of Scripture. God’s law is the foundation for life and it should not be viewed negatively or as a burden. Barrs does an excellent job of noting for the reader what God’s law is, why it is important, and what we are to do with it in daily life. This will be a resource I will refer to in the future on this important theological and life subject.
This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”