Dispensationalists are sometimes accused of holding a contemptuous attitude towards God’s law. Sometimes this accusation is warranted. Certain versions of dispensationalism treat the law as irrelevant or even downright harmful.
While I am a dispensationalist, I do not share this attitude. When I read the New Testament, I find exactly the opposite view of the law. While legalism is condemned, the law itself is held up as a thing of glory, a thing that is holy and just and good.
Recent conversations have led me to look within and to ask myself, “How do I see God’s law? How do I feel about it?” In the following paragraphs I am going to try to answer that question. Therefore, this essay should not be taken as a normative statement. I am not arguing that my attitudes are exactly the correct ones. Rather, I am attempting a more-or-less phenomenological description of the attitudes that I discover within myself. Perhaps these attitudes need to be corrected—in fact, I am sure that they do. Both dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists are welcome to bring the Scriptures to bear so that my view of God’s law can become more accurate than it is now.
Before I describe these attitudes, however, perhaps I should say a word about the notion of “law.” In the narrower sense, I use the term to refer to the 613 commands and prohibitions of the Sinai code. These commands and prohibitions are of three kinds. Some of them directly reflect the immutable character of God. Others, while certainly consistent with God’s character, reflect His plan for Israel as a nation. Still other commands reflect God’s intention to prepare His people for the coming of His Son. These three categories correspond roughly to the ordinary distinctions between moral, civil, and ceremonial law.
When I approach the law, I do not begin by asking which part of it I must keep today. If I understand 1 Corinthians 3 correctly, even the Decalogue has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life. This abolishing of the law does not mean that I am free to live in any sinful way that I please. It simply means that the mechanism for progressive sanctification is not to be found in legal commandments. It is found in the Spirit.
The life of one who is led by the Spirit will reflect the fruit of the Spirit. That fruit results in a life that looks very much like law-keeping, even though the focus is not on the commandments. This is probably part of what Paul means when He says that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
So, how do I perceive the law? When I look within myself, I discover that I respond to God’s law in several ways.