Magnifying the Law of God

Small Talk — 2014 National Conference

Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself

Isaiah 42:21 says:

The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
     to magnify his law and make it glorious.

The first question we want to ask of that verse is, why is God pleased to magnify his law and make it glorious? And the most important reason is that the law of God is a reflection of his own character. Now, we think of the law of God as commandments, but those commandments are given to us in order that we might reflect his character in our own lives. That’s why Peter, in 1 Peter 1:15–16, says:

But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

God wants us to be like him in our character, and that’s why he has given us his law. Because his law reflects his own character, and he wants us, through the commandments of the law, to reflect his character also.

How the Law of God is Made Glorious

Now, the context of Isaiah 42:21 is that the people are not reflecting the character of God. They’re not honoring and magnifying the law of God. They’re flagrantly disobedient. In fact, the words that he uses describe them as “blind” and “deaf”. So they’re dishonoring the law. That seems like kind of a strange context. Isaiah 42:21 just sort of appears out of nowhere because before and after is the disobedience of the nation of Israel. Then just right in it, is this one sentence:

The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
     to magnify his law and make it glorious.

So how is God going to do this? God is not going to let the nation of Israel, or us, just disregard his law, so that the law is sort of thrown to the side. God will magnify his law and make it glorious, and he will do this by sending his Son. Seven-hundred years will elapse before this transpires.

But God, here in Isaiah 42, is saying, “You people are dishonoring my law, but I’m going to honor it. Whatever you do, I’m going to honor it, and I’m going to honor it by sending my Son to do that.”

Precepts, Penalties, and Work of Christ

Now, any law has what we might call commands and sanctions, or commands and penalties for disobedience. In fact, an easy way to remember that is just two Ps: precepts and penalties. The law has precepts, the commandments, and it has penalties for disobedience.

Now, the fact is, all laws have precepts and penalties. The precept of the speed limit law is that you will drive not over, say, 55 miles an hour. That’s the commandment. And if you conscientiously keep your car within that speed limit, you are thereby honoring that law. If you break the law and the highway patrol sees you, then they will stop you and you’ll pay a fine and you’ll get four points deducted off of your driver’s license. That’s the penalty. And the law has been honored by exacting that penalty from you.

So you either honor the law by keeping its precepts, or you honor the law by suffering its sanctions, its penalty. We either do one or the other. We either obey and honor or we disobey and we honor through the sanctions. But as we know, Jesus Christ did both.

He came and he perfectly obeyed the law. I brought out yesterday in our session that he lived to 33 years and was absolutely perfect in his righteousness. He honored God’s law by his obedience, but then he died on the cross in our place. He suffered the penalty that we deserved. And so, in our case, we either obey or we suffer the penalty. And in the grace of Christ, he did both because he was our representative, both in his sinless life and in his sin-bearing death. So God’s law was magnified through the work of Christ.

Now, I used the word gospel a lot, but when I use it — and technically, the word “gospel” simply is a message of good news — as a shorthand expression for the entire work of Christ, his sinless life, his death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension, and then all of the fruit that flows out of that. And so, we can say that God’s law was magnified through the gospel.

Resting Completely, Striving Earnestly

So what is our response to this? Well, we can sit back and say, “Well, Jesus did it all, so there’s nothing more for us to do.” But this is not the way the Christian life works. I want to turn, in my Bible, to Philippians chapter three. Philippians chapter three is Paul’s testimony about his own life, and it was a sterling testimony. In all of Paul’s testimony here in Philippians 3:4–6 there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even when he says, “I persecuted the church,” he thought he was doing God a favor, and so he has, you might say, an impeccable record. But then he says, in Philippians 3:7–9 that he counted it all as “loss”. He threw it all away that he might be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:7–9).

So Paul says, “I’m resting in the perfect righteousness of Christ,” but he wasn’t fully resting because as we continue on into Philippians 3:12–14, he’s talking about perfection. And he says:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Now, Paul has just been talking about finding his righteousness completely in Christ, and yet in this passage, he is pursuing it with passion. The word “press on” is a very intense word. In fact, in other places in the Bible, it’s translated as the word “persecute”, which you would know would be a very intense word. And then, he uses the picture of straining forward as a runner. He is talking about running the race and straining every muscle and tendon that’s in him to be the one to break the tape. So Paul was very intense about living the Christian life.

Why was Paul intense about living the Christian life? Because he was consumed by the gospel. He couldn’t take his mind off the gospel. And because of that, because he enjoyed being found righteous in Christ Jesus, he wanted to be found, though imperfectly, righteous in his own conduct. The gospel rightly understood and the gospel appreciated will always motivate us, and I don’t hesitate to use the word, drive us, to be in our practice what we are in our standing before God, even though we know that we will always be imperfect and we will always come up short. We will always be seeking that. The more you appreciate the gospel, the more you will press on to live a life that exemplifies the gospel.

was an author, speaker, and staff member of The Navigators.