A Catechism on God’s Law (Part 7)

Based on by Greg Bahnsen’s “By This Standard,” (1991).

  1. Does Christian ethics mean the imitation of Christ?

Christian ethics is a matter of imitating Christ, and for that reason it does not call us to flee from the law but to honour its requirements. We are to have in ourselves the attitude which was in Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself and became obedient (Phil.2:5, 8). We are to follow in His steps of righteous behaviour (I Pet.2:21), showing forth righteousness because the Holy Spirit unites us to Him (I Cor.6:15-20). Therefore the Biblical ethic is the Christian ethic of following after the example of Christ’s obedience to God’s law.

John expresses this point clearly: “Hereby we know that we are in Him: he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked” (I Jn.2:5-6). And as we have abundantly seen before, Christ walked according to the commandments of God. We cannot escape the conclusion that the Christian ethic is one of obedience to God’s law, for Christ’s perfect righteousness according to that law is our model for Christian living.

From beginning to end the Bible centres on Jesus Christ. From beginning to end His life was lived in conformity to the law of God. And from beginning to end the Biblical ethic of imitating Christ calls us likewise to obey every command of God’s word (p.60-61).

  1. Are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together?

…the work of God the Spirit cannot be viewed as in any way detracting from our obedience to God’s law; otherwise the unity of the Triune God-head would be dissolved and we would have three gods (with separate wills and intentions, diverse attributes and standards) rather than one…

The Holy Spirit does not work contrary to the plans and purposes of the Father and the Son but rather completes them or brings them to realization. The harmony of His workings with the Father and the Son is illustrated in Jn.15:16, where we read that everything possessed by the Father is shared with the Son, and in turn whatever is possessed by the Son is disclosed by the Spirit. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit work as one. They are not in tension with each other. Consequently, we should not expect that the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives would run counter to the character of the Father and the example of the Son.

We should not expect that this Spirit, who inspired the writing of God’s holy law, would work contrary to that law by undermining its validity, replacing its function, or leading us away from obedience to it.

When we think of Biblical ethics or Christian behaviour we should think of a Spirit-filled and Spirit led life (p.62, 63).

  1. What does “Living by the Spirit” mean?

The Christian is one who has been freed not only from the curse of sin but from the bondage of sin as well. Christian experience extends beyond the moment of belief and pardon into the daily exercise of pursuing sanctification without which no one will see God (Heb.12:14). It entails life in the Holy Spirit, which can only mean progressive holiness in one’s behaviour. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph.2:8-9) –unto a life of obedience: “we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (v.10).

If living by the Spirit indicates that salvation must bring sanctification, then it means that salvation produces a life of glad obedience to god’s law. Salvation frees one from sin’s bondage so that he can walk lawfully (James 1:25; Gal.5:13-14), which is to say lovingly (cf. I Jn.5:1-3), for the leading evidence of the Spirit’s work in one’s life is love (Gal.5:22). Those who have been saved by faith must be diligent to exercise good works of love (Titus 3:5-8; James 2:26; Gal.5:6), and the standard of good behaviour and loving conduct is found in God’s law (Ps.119:68; Ro.7:12, 16; I Tim.1:8; Jn.14:15; II Jn.6).

The Holy Spirit works in the believer to bring about conformity to the inspired law of God as the pattern of holiness. The “requirement of the law” is “fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Ro.8:4) (p.65-66).

  1. What then of the Church and God’s law?

Sadly, the church today often tones down the demands of God’s law out of a misconceived desire to exalt God’s grace and avoid legalism, wherein salvation is grounded in one’s own law-works. Rather than finding the proper place for God’s law within the plan of salvation and pursuing its function within the kingdom of Christ, the church frequently promotes an “easy believism” which does not proclaim the need for heart-felt repentance, clearly manifest the sinner’s utter guilt and need of the Saviour, or follow up conversion with exhortation and discipline in righteous living.

Or course without the law of God which displays the unchanging will of God for man’s attitudes and actions in all areas of life, there is a corresponding de-emphasis on concrete sin for which men must repent, genuine guilt which drives men to Christ, and specific guidelines for righteous behaviour in the believer (p.66-67).

  1. What is the answer to legalism?

The answer to legalism is not easy believism, evangelism without the need for repentance, the pursuit of a mystical second blessing in the Spirit, or a Christian life devoid of righteous instruction and guidance. Legalism is countered by the biblical understanding of true “life in the Spirit.” In such living, God’s Spirit is the gracious author of new life, who convicts us of our sin and misery over against the violated law of God, who unites us to Christ in salvation that we might share in His holy life, who enables us to understand the guidance given by God’s word, and who makes us grow by God’s grace into people who better obey the Lord’s commands.

[Furthermore] the answer to legalism is not to portray the law of God as contrary to His promise (Gal.3:21) but to realize that, just as the Christian life began by the Spirit, this life must be nurtured in the power of the Spirit as well (Gal.3:3). The dynamic for righteous living is found, not in the believer’s own strength, but in the enabling might of the Spirit of God. We are naturally slaves of sin who live under its power (Ro.6:16-20; 7:23); indeed, Paul declares that we are dead in sin (Eph.2:1). However, if we are united in Christ by virtue of His death and resurrection we have become dead to sin (Ro.6:3-4) and thus no longer live in it (v.2) (p.67-68).

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