To begin with, the gospel-centered Christian has a proper relationship with the law. Many Christians are confused about the place of God's law in their lives. Some ignore it entirely and think that Christianity is something akin to a spiritual social-event. Some vaguely know that the law has been abrogated in some way; they know that they didn't get saved by obeying it and believe that the Ten Commandments were fine for their time but are now passe. Both of these approaches militate against the law and may indicate a belief that seeking to live an obedient life is legalism.
Of course, there are other Christians who are overly attentive to the law. These would-be serious Christians believe that their justification is only by grace but forget that sanctification is a work of God's free grace, even as justification is a legal act of God's free grace.
Our response to the love of God for us in Christ, will be, in part, determined by whether we understand the role of God's law in our lives. Since we want you to rejoice in God's love and respond in grateful obedience, we offer here a simple way to think of it: the law, Paul writes, is "holy and righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12), but it is an instrument of condemnation to us all because we are not able to obey it perfectly (Rom. 3:9).
For the gospel-centered Christian, the function of the law is to drive us to Christ and to make us continually more and more thankful for his perfect keeping of it in our place. It is to make us more and more dependent upon his righteousness, not our own. When we sin, as we do every day, then we are to respond to the Lord in light of our failures in humble contrition. We are to:
1. Confess our sins to God (openly and freely) while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit to strive against them.
2. Thank God for our ongoing struggle with sin, because when rightly viewed, it make us love and appreciate Jesus Christ more.
3. Strive to put off our sin and obey all the moral law in the light of God's ongoing forgiveness, love, and grace.
Most Christians practice points 1 and 3. They confess and strive to obey. But they miss point 2. They miss the truth that God is sovereign even over our sin and that, even though he hates sin, he uses it to bring praise to his Son. At any point that it pleased him, he could put an end to sin, but he doesn't. We must then assume that he uses it for his glory, as he uses everything else (Rom. 11:36).
We are not saying that our sin pleases God in itself. God is not tempted by sin, nor does he tempt us to sin (James 1:13); he doesn't rejoice in sin. What we are saying, though, is this: God is sovereign even over sin (Genesis 20:6, Ex. 4:21, Acts 2:23). He allows it and uses it for his own glory. Of course, this never means that we should assume it is God's will for us to sin when we face temptation. God hates sin. He has revealed his will to us, declaring that we must strive to avoid sin and put on righteousness. Obedience is God's revealed will for our lives. And his revealed will, disclosed in the Bible, is the only guide that we need for our decisions and actions. But God also has a secret will. We never know his secret will before it happens.
So every morning we should pray, "Father, let your will be done by me today", knowing that it is his revealed will that we obey his instructions in the Scriptures. Then, every night when we look back at the day and see the ways in which we failed to obey, we humble ourselves before his secret will and say,
Father, please forgive my sin and cause me to walk in holiness. Thank you that my sin reminds me again how desperately I need the cross and how thankful I am for your grace. Thank you that you love me despite my sin today and that you will use even this for your glory. Lord Jesus, thank you that you bore those sins in your body on the tree. Thank you for your love and grant me grace to obey because of it.
The gospel-centered Christian sees God's law for what it is: a perfect reflection of God's character. He loves the moral law, longs to obey every part of it with his whole heart, and recognises that the law is good. But he doesn't allow the law's demands to strengthen or diminish his confidence in his justification in any way. As Martin Luther wrote in his study on Galatians, "God does not slack his promises because of our sins...or hasten them because of our righteousness. He pays no attention to either."
As far as God is concerned, our obedience to the Law has been utterly satisfied in the Son. We are perfectly justified. It's in light of this justification then, and only in light of it, that we obey. Any other relationship to the Law will result in either a lessening of the commands (so we can breathe) or an oppressive guilt and a joyless thirst after self-achieved divine approval.
from Counsel from the Cross, by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson (Crossway, 2009).