J.I. Packer On The Law And Gospel

Cars are complex contraptions, and with their thousands of component parts much can go wrong. The maker’s handbook, however, tells you how to get from your car a satisfying performance, with minimum wear and tear, and if you mishandle it so that it goes wrong, you cannot say that you were not warned. With the wisdom contained in the repair manual which the manufacturers also issue, the car can be mended, but as long as you pooh-pooh the maker’s instructions, trouble is all you can expect.

Our cars are parables of their owners. We too are wonderfully made, complex physically and even more so psychologically and spiritually. For us, too, there is a maker’s handbook—namely, God’s summary of the way to live that we find in the Ten Commandments. Whether as persons we grow and blossom or shrink and wither, whether in character we become more like God or more like the devil, depends directly on whether we seek to live by what is in the Commandments or not. The rest of the Bible could be called God’s repair manual, since it spells out the gospel of grace that restores sin-damaged human nature, but it is the Commandments that crystallize the basic behavior-pattern which brings satisfaction and contentment, and it is precisely for this way of living that God’s grace rescues and refits us.

Suppose someone says: “I try to take the Ten Commandments seriously, and live by them, and they swamp me! Every day I fail somewhere. What am I to do?” The answer is: now that you know your own weakness and sinfulness, turn to God, and to his Son Jesus Christ, for pardon and power. Christ will bring you into a new kind of life, in which your heart’s deepest desire will be to go God’s way, and obedience will be burdensome no longer. That folk who take the law as their rule might find Christ the Savior as their Ruler is something to pray and work for.

God’s love gave us the law just as his love gave us the gospel, and as there is no spiritual life for us save through the gospel, which points us to Jesus Christ the Savior, so there is no spiritual health for us save as we seek in Christ’s strength to keep the law, and practice the love of God and neighbor for which it calls.

Suppose people generally began to say: “By God’s help I will live by the Ten Commandments every day from now on. I will set myself to honor God and obey him. I will take note of all that he says. I will be in church for worship each week. I will not commit adultery, or indulge myself in lust, or stir up lust in others. I will not steal, nor leave the path of total honesty. I will not lie or cheat. I will not envy or covet.” Community life would be transformed, and massive national problems would dissolve overnight. It is something more to pray and work for.

Suppose all churches and congregations were ablaze with zeal for God, and for personal holiness, and for national righteousness—why, that would be revival! Revival is a divine visitation of communities, and its moral force is unrivaled. When God quickens his church, the tremendous purging power that overflows transforms the moral tone of society in a way that nothing else can do. That we need revival is not open to doubt; that this need should drive us to prayer cannot be doubted either.*

*Packer, J. I. (1994). Growing in Christ (221–222). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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