1How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the LORD.
2How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.
3They also do no unrighteousness;
They walk in His ways.
4You have ordained Your precepts,
That we should keep them diligently.
5Oh that my ways may be established
To keep Your statutes!
6Then I shall not be ashamed
When I look upon all Your commandments.
7I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart,
When I learn Your righteous judgments.
8I shall keep Your statutes;
Do not forsake me utterly!
(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB)
If there is one thing that can be said about David as one reads Psalm 119 – David longed to keep all the rules. He ties seeking God with the whole heart to observing (or keeping) His testimonies (rules). Essentially, David tells us, “If you really love God, keep His rules!”
Now before all you legalists jump on the bandwagon, and before all you ex-legalist, anti-legalists, and antinomians circle me in and take aim – hear me out. Many who have come out of a legalistic background, like me, can swing to the other side of the extreme and become a bit antinomian in their thinking. You see, we run the danger of throwing off all restraints and saying that the Christian life is so much more than just keeping rules. Which is true – the Christian life is much more than keeping rules, but it’s no less than that either. If Jesus were to stand before the antinomian today, He could very possibly say to them, as he did to the Pharisees, “These things are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Yet He could very possibly say the same thing to the legalists, because the Christian life is so much more than just keeping rules; and the legalists don’t seem to grasp that. Both extremes are guilty of forsaking part of the whole, and both are ditches that we believers are constantly to guard against as long as we are on the road of sanctification (basically, until we see Jesus Christ face to face).
If you’re like me – human – then you’re wondering “I thought legalism was bad, yet David sure sounds legalistic in telling us that if we love God we will keep the rules.” And you’re absolutely right! That is, IF you define legalism as merely keeping the rules. Legalism is far more complex than that. Some of the aspects of legalism that we don’t find in the law keeping king is the addition of rules that are extra-biblical (a setting a standard, passing it off as “real” Christianity, and attempting to place those rules upon others as mandatory) and/or the idea that his relationship with God must be peachy because he has checked everything off on the list (where there is love there will be law keeping, but where there is law keeping there is not always love). King David wasn’t a legalist; he was a man after God’s own heart. That pursuit of God brought him to pursue God’s laws and keep them. One may be able to keep the rules without a relationship, but one cannot have a relationship apart from rules. God’s laws show us God’s heart, therefore as we seek the later we will keep the former.
If you’re like the former me – human and legalistic – then you may be gun-ho about what you think is being said here. You may hear David saying, “It’s ungodly to not wear a suit to church, or to celebrate Easter, or to mention Santa Clause, or go to the movies, ad infinitum!” If you hear him say that, then you may be hearing Satan (don’t get too worked up…more than likely it’s your own flesh) but you’re certainly not hearing David. You are correct in that there are laws God has given us that we are to observe, but you are wrong in respect to what those laws are. You’re welcome to have all the personal, preferential standards you like so long as they don’t get muddled up with God’s laws.
So why all this talk about rules? Well, this is “R&M” and since I’ve been reflecting and meditating a bit on the topic I decided to write a bit. But there is also a deeper agenda to encourage you as it has me – to drive us to seek out what rules God has given us and keep them whole heartedly; and remind us of the two ditches in the Christian life when it comes to law: legalism and licentiousness.