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The Promise of the Law: Blessings in Time

By Rev. David Petersen

The commandments have a promise. Grace and blessing are given to those who keep the commandments. That is a promise. But in this case, grace and every blessing are not eternal life.

There is a similar promise in the civil laws of men. If you obey the speed limit, you will not get a ticket, and your chances of being hurt in an accident are less than those who drive faster than the speed limit. Those blessings are good things. Their opposites (e.g., getting tickets, paying fines, paying increased insurance premiums, getting hurt, hurting someone else, damaging and paying for your car, etc.) are bad things. But the good things promised in these laws pretty much keep you even. It is more a matter of things not happening to you than it is good things being given to you.

It also is no guarantee that nothing bad will happen to you. For even if you keep the law, you are subject to the chaos and dangers created by those who don’t or even by the weather and other things outside of your control. There is a promise: you won’t get a ticket. You’re safer. But you can’t march into the courthouse and demand a prize because you’ve kept the law. That is what you’re supposed to do. Your safety and wealth are their own reward.

That is the promise also of the moral law. If we keep the law, if we don’t steal or commit adultery or gossip about our neighbors, they tend to like us better. They are nicer to us. Keeping the law helps us to avoid penalties and danger. The goodwill and respect of our neighbors is the reward. But again, it is not guaranteed. Sometimes you still suffer because of the sins of others. At best you’re pretty much just even. After all, you can’t go to your neighbors and ask them to give you some of their stuff since you haven’t stolen it.

That is how the promise in the commandments works. When we keep God’s Law, we are doing ourselves a favor. It is the best way to live. But God doesn’t owe us anything for it. It is what we are supposed to do, and it is its own reward. What we see in the Law is a reflection of God’s good order and will for our lives. Because we trust and love Him, we gladly do what He commands. Insofar as we do, we are given grace and every blessing in this life. For a moral life is a blessing. It brings its own happiness with it.

But there is more to our Lord than that! For the reality is we have broken the Law. We have not kept it. And we have deserved punishment, but for the most part we’ve gotten away with it. We have not had to pay for many of our crimes. Even when we have paid a penalty it has not been to the extent that justice demands. Most of us who are old enough to drive have broken the speed limit. The police have not always caught us, but God always saw it. In breaking civil laws that are not contrary to God’s Law, we broke God’s Law. We sinned against the Fourth Commandment. Unless you’ve never sped or been ticketed every single time you did, then you’ve gotten away with it. It is not simply that you didn’t get caught. It is that God is merciful. He does not punish us as we deserve. He is slow to anger and takes no pleasure in our sorrow even if our sorrow is deserved.

Still, if that were all there was, we’d only be even. We’d be in the same place as Adam was in the Garden of Eden before the fall. It is not a bad place. But it is not heaven. If all Jesus did was keep the Law for us, we could no more demand heaven than you could go to the court house and demand a prize for not speeding. But Jesus did more for us— He became one of us. He paid for our sins, was our substitute, and kept the Law for us. But He also rose from the dead and ascended into heaven—as one of us! We are not just even. We are the children of the Father, the brothers of Jesus Christ, and heaven is our home. God is merciful, yes. He is also gracious. He not only does not punish us as we deserve, He also gives us what we have not earned. In both cases, it is not fair, but it is holy. By the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the promise of His Gospel, He has made us His and opened heaven. So for all the promise and inherent goodness of the Law and all of its divine wisdom, it pales in comparison to the gift God has given to us in the revelation of His Son. For He does not merely give us grace and every blessing, but He causes us to be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Rev. David Petersen is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is also on the Higher Things editorial board. His e-mail address is David.H.Petersen@att.net.