In 1988, Jack Miller wrote to Richard, a friend who had recently taught that God has a gracious heart to us in our sins and that we aren’t only justified by grace; we’re sanctified by grace as well. Apparently this friend got some kick-back. The emphasis on God’s love for law-breakers seemed, to them, to diminish the call to obedience. Miller is just as zealous for obedience, but he makes an interesting observation:
“One irony that strikes me is that so often people who emphasize the third use of the law [ie., one of the uses of God’s law is that Christians should obey it] are really not great law-keepers themselves. For example, I have noted that sometimes church members given heavy doses of the third use of the law have little idea of the inner nature of the law as a delighting in God. I have also noted a tendency to exclude the tongue and a critical spirit from consideration as well, so that you can get the irony of believers defending the law with a harshness that itself breaks the law! What sinners we can be!” (The Heart of a Servant Leader, 59).
Martin Luther had a similar conversation around a dinner table in 1533:
“Everyone loves and praises Moses [and] the Commandments… but only as long as they read them. When it comes to doing, however, they then become their adversary” (Off the Record with Martin Luther, 341).
What an interesting relationship we have to God’s commands. We are to delight in them and obey them with all our heart. Yet if we really understand them, and if we’re honest about our capacity to obey, we stand condemned. Everyone loves the law until they try to do it! In light of this, how can we delight in it?
We’re driven to the only obedient One, who died for our failures. Delighting in him and his grace, we find new desires for obedience welling up within us. We love (which is the fulfillment of the law!) because he first loved us. The ability to obey is created by recognizing our inability and relying on the only Able one. As Miller put it elsewhere, if you really want obedience, don’t put the accent there; lodge it on grace. Emphasizing obedience is necessary and important. But we can’t do it without also emphasizing grace. Both/and, not either/or.