It must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society. Join us as we begin our discussion of the Law’s curbing effect in society. What is the place of God’s Law in the life of the Christian and in the state?  Does it only show us our sins, or does it show us a still more excellent way?

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. Aaron Uphoff, Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Randolph, NJ
Episode: 48

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Has the Spirit come by the works of the Law or by hearing with faith? Begun by the Spirit, are you now perfected by the works of the flesh? The antithesis here is not “the Law is bad or makes me feel bad” versus “the Gospel is good.” Paul himself rejects such a notion elsewhere (Romans 7:7 ff.). The works of the law which Paul rejects is a focus on one’s own performance of the Law, which, not incidentally, excludes God from the picture. To begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh is to begin with God and end in the self, something which even Abraham did not do.

Justification comes by faith, and Paul reminds the Galatians that God Himself preached the Gospel to Abraham, long before Sinai. “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8; Genesis 12:3). Even in the particular blessing of Abraham, the Lord has a greater purpose in mind. Israel, through Abraham, will be the means of blessing the whole earth. Israel is the vehicle of a greater blessing, and the peculiar holiness of Israel serves as a witness to that end.

This is what Israel failed to understand. Israel is called to be holy so that all the nations would come to know the Lord (Isaiah 2:1-5, 1 Kings 4:20-24, Psalm 72:8-11, among others). Yet Israel had perverted her witness to the world into something else entirely. Faith was no longer needed, because they regarded their own separation from the world as their righteousness. Without faith, such separation could only produce hypocrisy and wickedness. “To the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips’” (Psalm 50:16; also Jeremiah 7:4, Amos 8:4-6, etc.)?

But the righteous shall live by faith. These words of Habakkuk show that the promise made to Abraham has not been set aside. Mamre has not given way to Sinai. Faith is not perfected by the flesh. The promise made to Abraham finds its end in Jesus, through Whom the blessing of Abraham comes also to the whole earth. The Gospel preached to Abraham does not end in Israel, as if the uniqueness of Israel was the whole point. The Gospel goes out to all by faith.

Paul uses a couple of examples to drive his point home here. No one changes human covenants after they have been ratified. If no one tampers with human ones, how much less ought we to tamper with divine ones, especially the one ratified in Genesis 15? More than this, Paul points to the text of Genesis 12 directly, noting that the offspring of Abraham is singular, which can only mean Christ. Were this single word plural, the argument of his opponents might have some weight. Then the inheritance of the physical land, the peculiarity of Israel, might very well be the whole point. But it is not plural, but singular. The scope of the promise made to Abraham is worldwide. The promised inheritance depends on faith and faith alone.

But the Law given at Sinai was put in place because of “transgressions” and also as a “guardian.” Israel broke the covenant when she broke faith with the Lord, setting up the golden calf. The Lord departed from the camp, separating Himself from Israel (Exodus 32-33). Following the intercession of Moses, the Lord remakes the covenant with Israel, but now the veil of Moses covers his face. The transgression of Israel required that veil, because the external letter brought with it the curse (2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Deuteronomy 28-29). But in Jesus Christ, the veil is taken away, because He is the promised offspring. Moses, the intermediary, served to put this into place, but now the promise by faith puts an end to all intermediaries.  Delighting in the Law of the Lord (Psalm 1), the Christian inherits the promise of Abraham through the inward working of the Spirit.

Rev. David Appold joins Rev. Grills and Rev. Heide to discuss the major themes and background of the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, in his zeal for rebuilding Jerusalem, seeks to build up two walls: the physical walls of the city and the wall of the Law. This has important applications for Christians today, especially regarding hearing the Word, the observance of the Fourth Commandment, and marriage.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 2

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After the Lord formed Adam from the dust of the ground outside of Eden, he then placed him within the Garden to work the ground and keep it. At that moment, God issued the Law to Adam: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). Though brief, this passage is instructive for understanding the Law of God.

First, the Law is not evil. Paul explicitly denies such a conclusion: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” (Romans 7:7). The Lord, after all, promulgates the Law before the fall into sin. Adam is subject to the Law also in his perfection, not only after the Fall. Even Paul’s distinction between law and grace in passages like Romans 6 and Galatians 5 is not a dichotomy between evil and good. Rather, the one who seeks to be justified according to the law seeks to be held righteous according to the very standard that proves him to be faithless. “Like Adam, they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). The sinner cannot be declared innocent by the same Law which proves that he is guilty! The character of the Law has not changed, even with the Fall. It is we who are law-breakers.

Second, the Law is revealed by God. Adam, while still in the garden before sin, received the Law through revelation. He does not implicitly understand it, as if it was a matter of common sense or something similar. Adam hears the Law from the very mouth of God. The Law is not a set of rules seperate from God which He clarifies to man. The Lord is the Law-Giver, the one who speaks. Authority is rooted in this act of speaking, shown in a different way by Adam exercising his own authority through naming both the animals and his wife.

Thus, it is a misnomer to speak of natural law as if the creation had a set of implicit laws which are self-evident. This could lead to thinking that natural law is separate from God, which makes God’s positive law a mere clarification or addition to what is already generally known. But if that were true, how could men be held accountable to God for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)? God reveals Himself to all men in such a way that all are without any excuse before the judgment seat. Ignorance is not a valid defense, because “his invisble attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). Rather, all men seek to suppress what they know because they do not want to submit to His Law. There is only one Law, the Law of the Lord of heaven and earth.

Third, the Law proceeds from God. The Lord is the one who determines what is good and what is evil, apart from any consideration of man. This is not capricious, but the nature of law. The one subject to the Law, the hearer, must listen to the Giver of the Law, the speaker. The specific command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil demonstrates this. Would you know what is good? Good is not eating of this tree. Would you know what is evil? Evil is eating of this tree. If this commandment seems arbitrary to us, it is because we are following after Adam, who refused to be subject and faithful to God and sought instead to be the arbiter of good and evil. After all, Satan, through the serpent, lied to Eve when he claimed that disobeying God would make them like Him (Genesis 3:5).

Fourth, the Law is eternal. If it was given to Adam prior to the fall into sin, it is not simply meant for this world as a corrective for sin. Sin itself is “missing the mark,” a mark set by the Law. Holiness is conformity to the Law, being set apart from the world and conform to the will of God. Therefore, the Law will not cease, just as the Law has not ceased for those who are in Christ. Rather, the curse of the Law, brought on by sin and necessary if Law is to be Law, has been taken away in Jesus. Christians are no longer a part of the old body, whose head is Adam, the body of sin and death. Christians have a new head in the New Adam, Jesus Christ, and are therefore placed back into a right standing before the Law.

Finally, the Law is all encompassing. The Lord commanded Adam to not eat of the tree as an act of obedience and worship. Because the Lord speaks, Adam demonstrates his righteousness through obedience to God. Yet Adam was not therefore free to do whatever he pleased when he was away from the tree. Such a reductive view of the Law was the mistake of the Pharisees, as if God only forbade a specific act and allowed for all others. Jesus Himself corrects that notion to show the true character of the Law (Matthew 5). Rather, the command given in the garden articulated the Great Commandment of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Heart, soul, and mind are not limited to a “religious” part of our lives which have no bearing on anything else. Rather, we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), because there is only one Law-Giver, the Lord God Almighty.

Among the many causes of the divisions at Corinth, one of the most prominent questions dealt with meat offered to idols. Paul clearly says that the meat itself is not the issue. “We know,” he says, “that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one'” (1 Corinthians 8:4). The primary issue is how those who recognize this truth deal with those who are still struggling. Knowledge which causes one to look down on his brother is not knowledge at all, but merely what appears to be knowledge. Knowing God rightly walks in the way of love, forsaking even what is lawful in order to build up the knowledge of another. Food does not commend us to God any more than not partaking in that food. “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

It is within this context that Paul addresses the wider question of idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10. Meat sacrificed to idols is nothing in itself, but that does not give free license. Even the conscience of an unbeliever comes into view. Partaking of meat sacrificed to idols, especially when those who offer it are explicit about this, carries with it the potential of destroying another. “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:28). Participating with the unbeliever means participating in the table of demons, not the meat all by itself, but some were not able to make such a distinction in their minds because of their former experience.

It is for this reason that Paul uses the example of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. They lacked nothing in terms of the gifts of God. Were they not delivered from Egypt, baptized into Moses in the Red Sea, eating the bread of angels (Psalm 78:25)? Did Christ not sustain them in the great and terrifying wilderness where there was no water (Deuteronomy 8:15)? What did they lack which the Lord had not given them (Deuteronomy 8:4)? Yet they too indulged in their false knowledge which puffs up rather than builds up, and God destroyed them in the wilderness. “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He” (1 Corinthians 10:22)?

All of this, therefore, helps clarify one of the purposes of the Law. The Holy Spirit does not record the judgments of the Lord as a way of merely informing us. The Old Testament is not a history lesson that gives us bits of trivia to remember. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Their judgment has become our lesson. The Law of God builds up and instructs the Christian, even in the examples of God’s wrath. You who would tear down rather than build up, look to your fathers. Will you be any different than they?

But it is also worth noting that such instruction is not merely negative. The fear of the Lord is not fear of punishment, but the fear of a son toward his father. Using the Law as an example in this way is not using a rod, but a guide, for “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). The examples of God’s judgment, held before us in the Scriptures and in the present age, build us up in holiness, because they call us away from the works of darkness. More than this, they are occasions for joy, because as David says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth'” (Psalm 58:10-11). “Moreover, by [the rules of the Lord] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11).

Sneaking in behind Paul, certain men troubled the churches of Galatia by asserting that one had to abide by the observances of the old covenant in order to be a Christian. Most noteworthy was the argument that one had to be circumcised, to which Paul alludes in Galatians 5. Such men were persuasive, at least according to human standards, and attacked Paul’s message for being seemingly weak and foolish by comparison (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Galatians 4:12-16). Had not the Lord Himself commanded circumcision? Why would we not want to obey the Word of the Lord?

However, as Paul argues, they wanted to be “under the law,” so that they would be considered righteous according to the Law. But seeking after a law that would lead to righteousness, they did not attain it, “because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:31-32). Christ becomes a stumbling stone for them, because they have fundamentally misunderstood why God gave the Law to them in the first place.

Paul’s dichotomy between law and faith must not be distorted. “Law” as Paul uses it here cannot mean the Law in general, for that would run against passages like Psalm 1:1-2, Psalm 19:7, or even Deuteronomy 30:11. Paul contrasts the “law”—being perfected by the flesh, desiring to be righteous according to works—with “faith”—being perfected by the Spirit, being righteous through Christ. The Law in general, the will of God, is not at variance with faith (Romans 3:31). It is the distortion of the Law, made into something apart from Christ, that Paul condemns in the strongest terms throughout his letters.

But these Judaizers have misunderstood the purpose of the ceremonies attached to the Law. They insisted on the observance of circumcision, because they regarded it as identical with the substance of the Law. Why, then, would it pass away, if God’s will does not change? But “these are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 10:1-4). Circumcision was a part of the guardianship of Sinai, not the means of righteousness. The ceremonies attached to the Law pointed toward the coming righteousness by faith, and therefore, properly understood, are expressions of the Gospel. Once Christ came, their purpose came to an end, and the school of Moses was no longer in session (Galatians 3:24). Paul’s opponents, distorting their purpose and mistaking their substance, regarded them as part and parcel of righteousness, which not incidentally left no room for Christ.

In the reading for the First Sunday after Christmas, Paul is therefore using the imagery of an inheritance. The Lord had made a promise of an inheritance to Abraham, something that could not be annulled by Moses 430 years later (Galatians 3:15-18). Moses had not meant to annul it, of course, but regarding the shadow as the light, as the Judaizers had done, makes one forget about the earlier promise. According to that promise made to Abraham, to which the ceremonies of Moses pointed, “in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

Therefore, Israel is likened to a child, the heir of the promised inheritance. Moses served as the guardian of this child, teaching him through the ceremonies attached to the Law, until the time appointed by the Father. In other words, the Church has matured into adulthood with the coming of Christ. Such an image of Israel maturing from infancy into adulthood finds parallels in other passages, especially Ezekiel 16, where the Lord compares her to an exposed child on whom He took pity. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). This not only shows that God frequently treats a people as one man (or in this case, woman, His bride), but it also shows that there is a progression in God’s revelation and God’s manner of interacting with His people. The ceremonies of the Old Testament belonged to the childhood of the Church, but now with the coming of Christ, she has reached maturity and has put away childish ways (1 Corinthians 13:11).

This is not to disparage the ceremonies of the old covenant! The pedagogy of childhood is not useless by any means. Through such discipline, the son becomes a man. But the one who seeks to remain in childhood, so to speak, is not praiseworthy, but missing the point of his guardianship. The Judaizers sought to hold on to the discipline of infancy, mistaking it for the substance of manhood. Circumcision pointed to the coming promise, the maturity of faith in Christ, and with the coming of Christ, the guardianship came to an end.

But what of those who were not under the guardianship, the Gentiles? What of those who did not have Moses in their infancy, so to speak? We too had a childhood as a people, enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. The child under guardianship is akin to a slave, in that he must serve the will of another, despite being the master of the estate. But God sent Christ into the world as one of us, “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The Gentiles have been made to be sons, even though our guardianship was not under Moses, through Christ by faith. The adopted son and the natural son are not two, but one (Ephesians 2:11-22), and therefore both are heirs through faith in Christ.

Therefore, as Paul continues to say in the remainder of Galatians, there is no need for the adopted son to become as a child again, even though his guardianship was not under Moses. Such a reversion would be tantamount to crucifying the Lord of Glory all over again. Requiring the Gentile adopted son to be circumcised makes the ceremony itself into righteousness, and thus makes righteousness a matter of the flesh. Only by becoming a Jew could a Gentile be saved in such a way. However, as Paul says: “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).

Moses stands on the border of the Promised Land and reminds the sons of Israel who are about to enter of the covenant of the Lord.  Deuteronomy, therefore, is a series of addresses and is composed mainly of a long exposition on the Ten Commandments.

Moses first begins by recounting the history of Israel (Deuteronomy 1-3), starting just before Israel failed to obey the Lord when they approached this land the first time until the time of this speech.  In this first introductory speech, Moses then admonishes Israel to obey the Law and avoid idolatry (Deuteronomy 4).  Moses then begins the long speech which makes up most of the book (Deuteronomy 5:1-26:19).  After this, Moses has a few shorter speeches, including the blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 27-28), the renewal again at Moab (Deuteronomy 29-30), and his last words and the end of his life (Deuteronomy 31-34). Our lectionary reading for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity falls within the largest of these divisions.

It will be helpful to break down this larger section into its smaller parts, because the internal logic clarifies how to interpret Deuteronomy 10:12-21.  He begins by restating the Ten Commandments, recalling the initial reverent fear Israel had when they heard the voice of God on the mountain (Deuteronomy 5). Moses then condenses the Ten Commandments into the one Great Commandment:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  When Israel fears the Lord, she will tell the coming generations of what God has done, and she will not seek after other gods.  But it is not because of her faithfulness that God chose her out of all of the nations.  Far from it!  She is His holy possession because He chose her for Himself and provided for her even through the long days of wandering (Deuteronomy 7-8).  Indeed, Israel has only proven time and time again her own faithlessness and stubbornness, especially with the golden calf (Deuteronomy 9-10:11).  Therefore, Israel is called to be faithful to the God who has done so many mighty things for her. She is a holy people, because the Lord has brought her out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm (Deuteronomy 10:12-11:32). Moses then begins a major exposition on the Ten Commandments, beginning with chapter 12, as a way of demonstrating what it means to fear and love God.

This lengthy discussion on the structure of Deuteronomy helps to avoid erroneous conclusions. Moses is not expounding the Law to a people who have never known the Lord. He is speaking to God’s holy Church, His chosen people.  Deuteronomy, despite its Greek name which means “second Law,” is the voice of a husband talking to His wife.  Israel has no room for boasting, to be sure.  The golden calf, Meribah, refusing to enter the land the first time—all of these show that she has no righteousness of her own.  But the Lord chose her and brought her out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 32:10-14; Hosea 13:4-5; 1 Kings 8:51).

The Lord therefore commands Israel to fear Him, to love Him, and to obey the Law.  Sinners cannot keep the Law, of course.  However, by faith, believers seek to keep the Law, albeit imperfectly (Psalm 1:1-2; Psalm 19; Romans 7:22). Therefore, when the Lord speaks the Law to His Church, it is for her good, building her up and showing her His holy will.  “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?  By no means” (Romans 7:7)!

Further, the reason for striving to keep the Law is not an admonition to “do better,” but a statement of what God has done. “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day” (Deuteronomy 10:14-15).  Or as Moses says earlier in Leviticus 19:2:  “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  God will not have us be holy by telling us to become holy.  We are not able to do that.  Rather, God will have us be holy because of what He has done for us.

Nor is this a call to fall into complacency or to think that holiness is ours even if we revel in being unholy. The man who does not try to keep the Law more and more, or in other words, who has no desire to do so, is no Christian.  “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16).  Holiness is not a matter of external observance.  “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25; see also Amos 5:21-24; Isaiah 58:5-6; Psalm 50:12-15).  Holiness is a matter of the heart, and if the heart has no desire to please God and to increase in holiness, it is dead.

“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:19-21). The great miracles which the Lord did for Israel confirmed that He is faithful and true.  The Holy Spirit recorded them for our benefit in the Holy Scriptures.  But “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  Though we have not seen these miracles, yet we have the mighty hand of God in His Son Jesus Christ who came to save us and in His mighty Holy Spirit, who comes even now. The Lord referred Israel to the miracles they had seen; the Lord refers us to Christ and to the Comforter.

The importance of Exodus 20 simply cannot be understated. God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Sinai forms one of the most basic foundation stones of the Bible. Even the parallel giving of the Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 is not used as much to discuss the Law of God. While this study will not focus in depth on the commandments themselves, it is helpful to consider the context.

God bringing Israel out of Egypt forms the immediate background of the giving of the Law, as Exodus 20:2 makes plain. The Lord performed a mighty miracle by bringing His people out of the “iron furnace, out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 4:20). “He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham” (Psalm 105:26-27). Israel has also passed through the Red Sea on dry ground just two months before (Exodus 14). He gave them water at Marah (Exodus 15:22-25) and manna in the wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16). He gave them water again at Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7) and delivered Amalek into their hands (Exodus 17:8-16). Again and again, the Lord proves Himself to be faithful and true toward His people, their Savior and Deliverer who gives them all that they need.

Israel, unfortunately, already shows signs of her unfaithfulness. They imagined that they would die at the hands of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11). They grumbled for water at Marah, Massah, and Meribah (Exodus 15:24; 17:2) and for bread at Sin (Exodus 16:3). They did not listen to the Lord regarding the manna, treating it as common and not as holy (Exodus 16:27-30). The contrast between the Lord’s faithfulness and His people’s faithlessness could not be greater.

This is why it is helpful to speak of the “uses” of the Law as a kind of shorthand. The people recognize their own sinfulness when they hear the voice of God. “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19). God declares His will to those who have broken His Law, and the depth of that sin is revealed in that moment. “When [Josiah] heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11).

But this revelation of sin does not exhaust the whole purpose of God in giving the Law. Moses says as a reply: “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). Israel should not be afraid, because God has not come in wrath to reveal His Law. There is a real sense in which we may say that God’s giving of the Law is a sign of His mercy. God prefaces His Law with a declaration of what He has done for His people. He does not choose them because they are faithful; they have shown again and again just how stiff their necks are (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8). He does not reveal His Law as something which is unknown; after all, Paul makes abundantly clear that all men know the Law of God in their conscience (Romans 1:18-32). Nor is the Lord somehow obligated to act in this way. Job tried to make God answerable, and it proved to be his sin (Job 40:1-5; also Romans 11:33-36).

Rather, God reveals His holy Law to His holy people as a sign of the love and favor He has toward them. “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8). It is a show of His love and not of His wrath that He reveals His will for His people, because it shows His love for them. Yes, Israel sins and falls away. Yes, Israel does not keep the Law, nor can any sinner keep it perfectly. But those whom Christ has purchased for Himself strive to keep the Law because of what He has done for them. “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psalm 119:35).