“In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.” – Psalm 119:14-16
When my high-school teacher had me read her favorite section of Scripture, Psalm 119, I rolled my eyes and said, “How can anyone feel this way? Why would anyone love the law?”
She said, “Psalm 119 is the longest psalm of all—longer even than some entire books of the Bible—and it’s a massive poetic meditation on the beauty of God’s law. The Bible is celebrating the law, so we should celebrate it, too.”
From what I’d been taught, the law was what shows us how badly we mess up. (Romans 3:19) The law is the reason we’re going to die. (Genesis 3) The law is something that, in a way, incites evil in us. (Romans 7:8) At the time, it did not to make sense to celebrate the law.
“No, that’s not for us,” I said. “We’re under the new covenant. Back then, maybe. But the law stinks now. It’s bad.”
To encounter someone modern who said what the ancient Psalmists say—it was bizarre. I honestly felt she was some sort of alien. She was deeply emotionally moved by that psalm. Yet when I read it, I felt nothing.
That frightened me, because I trusted she was a Christian, and wondered what was wrong in my life that I didn’t feel like she did.
In the end, I wrote it off that it was because she was naïve, and that I was enlightened.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I realize now that Psalm 119 didn’t move me because I wasn’t a Christian, and didn’t understand the significance of the text.
Later in my life, after Christ truly changed me, one of the many sections of the Bible that changed my mind was Romans 3, which explains that our righteousness comes through faith in Christ alone. That passage ends with this provocative verse: “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31)
Paul argues through Romans that we live under a new covenant, yet that new covenant doesn’t do away with the law, but rather completes it and gives us the power to live by God’s law. The law of faith. (Romans 3:27) Which is even more demanding than the old covenant law, in some places overlapping and affirming it, while in other places (the ritual law of circumcision, for example—Galatians 5:2) freeing us from it.
Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
Instead of only prohibiting murder, Jesus said that to be angry with your brother was to already break God’s law in your heart. (Matthew 5:21-22) What he was demonstrating is that God demands to rule not just our behavior, but our thoughts and desires. He demands to consume our lives and become our passion and delight.
At first this seems strange. But in short. . . it is the essence of Christianity and the total fulfillment of the law: to come to understand that both his demands (aka “law”) and our joy find fulfillment through our faith in his promises and personhood.
Every element of our lives converges and becomes worthwhile through the gift of loving Christ and letting him empower us to trust and obey his promises.
After all, the greatest commandment was and always will be, “Love the Lord your God.” (Matthew 22:36-40) And Jesus explains that on this and the commandment to love each other, “depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
Do you see what this means? Jesus is literally commanding us to feel emotion for him and saying that all the secrets of obedience to the law lie within loving him.
Isn’t that fascinating?
Elsewhere we are told that he himself is the source of our love, because we only love him because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Why is this important? Why should this encourage us?
Have you never felt depressed by the fact that you can’t seem to do anything right? That you can’t live a good life? His commandments are impossible for us to fulfill on our own. And that’s by design!
Everything in the law is designed to push us toward becoming completely dependent on him.
Because even though he commands us to do something, he knows he is the only one who can fulfill it through our faith in his promises.
This is as true now as it was before Jesus died.
The writer of Psalm 119 realized what we do now, that we are righteous only by the grace of God and through faith in his promises—his law—just as Abraham and all the other old testament patriarchs were justified by their faith in God (aka their trust in him and what he said). (Hebrews 11)
The last verse of Psalm 119 illustrates this well enough, when the writer says, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant. . .” (italics added) His trust in coming back is completely dependent on God’s mercy, and he has faith God will seek and deliver him.
And so it is through Jesus’ love, and the freedom his Spirit gives us from sin, that we can say, “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
Because his commandments are good. (Romans 7:7-25)
Because they draw us closer to dependence on him, reveal to us his holiness, and make clear our sinfulness.
This is not talking about observing festivals or temple rituals. Instead, it is about loving and obeying God’s commands because they are good. And we begin by loving him.
We live by faith. Not by obligation because of the law. We are freed from that sort of slavery to the law.
But when we live by faith in love, we follow his law through the power of his Spirit.
The division between Old and New testament is not so stark as people claim. Because faith without works is dead. And works without faith are powerless to save us. (The entire book of James) This has been, and will always be, true.
Let’s celebrate God and his Word, because you can’t love Jesus without loving God’s Word. Why? Because they’re the same thing. (John 1)
Lord—teach us who you are. Teach us your Word, write it on our hearts, make us love the Bible. Show us the beauty of your commandments. Show us the goodness of your laws! Become our passion, our Lord, our closest friend. Guide us into your will by the power of your Spirit. Make us holy and pure, so that we can worship you with a clean heart, and share the Good News of you with others. Thank you! Amen.
Read Psalm 119, and pray it from your heart, all the while trying to learn to love this element of God’s person. Don’t worry, this might take you a couple days – it’s pretty long.
(NOTE: This post is not a full-on dissertation of what laws we should follow, what laws we have been freed from, etc. The Bible is our source, and our opinions should be weighed against the text of Scripture. Before commenting anything negative, read the book of Romans and consider how you could word your comment in a way that might provoke thought rather than offense or anger. We’re all human, here!)