Having looked at the province and principle of the Gospel Law, we now turn to the precepts. A precept is “a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought”. The Heart Law has two precepts (commandments)—to love God supremely and one’s neighbor as one’s self. The Moral Law (Ten Commandments) is a special application of the Heart Law for the nation of Israel, and it obviously has ten precepts. However, since the regenerate sinner’s rule for life is the Gospel Law, three questions arise—First, are the precepts of the Gospel Law in opposition to the Heart Law? Second, how many precepts are there in the Gospel Law? Third, what are the precepts of the Gospel Law?

I. Are the precepts of the Gospel Law in opposition to those of the Heart Law?

No. The Gospel Law does not contradict the precepts of the Heart Law (or the Moral Law). To say that the believer is not under the Heart Law, is not to mean that he therefore has a license to not love God supremely, or to not love his neighbor as himself. Likewise, to say that the Moral Law is not the rule for the believer’s life does not mean he therefore is at liberty to commit idolatry, or to take the name of God in vain, or to commit adultery or to steal—for, “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Rom 7:12)

The Gospel Law embraces the precepts of the Heart Law, but with Christ standing between the believer and the Heart Law. That is, at no point does the believer relate to the precepts of the Heart Law apart from his union with Christ—Romans 8:3,4: “For what the [heart] law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh (sinful nature), God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the [heart] law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh (sinful nature), but after the spirit (new nature).” It is the Lord Jesus Christ that fulfills the Heart Law in the believer, which is why the regenerate sinner’s new nature in Christ makes him free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). Henceforth, while the believer does not contradict the Heart Law in his walk with God and others, yet the believer does not walk with God and others on the basis of “keeping the Heart Law”—this is not the believer’s rule of life. Rather, the believer walks with God and others through the Lord Jesus Christ (Who has fulfilled the Heart Law in him), which is evidenced by a lifestyle that agrees with the Heart Law. Or, let me put it like this—when a regenerate sinner lives godly in Christ Jesus, he is reflecting the righteousness of Christ, Who has perfectly obeyed the Heart Law on his behalf. At no point should the regenerate sinner attempt to live godly in Christ Jesus, by perfectly obeying the Heart Law on behalf of Christ. To do so is a repudiation of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Henceforth, our disagreement with many who believe the Heart Law (or the Moral Law) is the rule of the believer’s life may be reduced to two basic issues:

First, we disagree with their idea of the nature of the believer’s sanctification.

They tend to view the regenerate sinner as having had his soul restored to the lost image of Adam, thereby enabling him to keep the Heart Law in that original state of uprightness with God—having been made spiritually alive, they believe the regenerate sinner is put into a condition which empowers him to keep the Heart Law. However, we believe the regenerate sinner is an entirely new creation in Christ, and therefore he relates to God through Christ in an entirely different way than Adam before his fall. Therefore, the sinner is not regenerated in order to relate to God on the basis of the Covenant of Works (under which Adam in his uprightness was when the Heart Law was given); but rather, the sinner is regenerated in order to relate to God on the basis of the Covenant of Grace. Under the gracious covenant, Christ has perfectly fulfilled the Heart Law in the believer, leaving absolutely nothing for the regenerate sinner to complete either before or after his regeneration. The believer, therefore, does not seek to conform himself to the image of Adam or to the precepts of the Heart Law under which Adam was subject; rather, having been conformed to the image of the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, he is now subject to Christ as the new “law” which governs his life. We might say, the believer’s rule of life is found in the completed work of Christ (in Christ Himself), whereas the unbeliever’s rule of life is found in the work he attempts to do by keeping the Heart Law. Christians who therefore make the Heart Law the rule of the believer’s life are simply “entangling themselves again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1). Whereas Christians who make the Gospel Law the rule of the believer’s life are “taking Christ’s yoke upon them, and learning of Him”; “they find true rest unto their souls, for Christ’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

Second, we disagree with their idea of the order of the believer’s sanctification.

They tend to view the regenerate sinner as drawing nearer to God by keeping the precepts of the Heart Law (or Moral Law). However, we believe the precepts of the Heart Law are manifestly evident in the regenerate sinner’s life as he draws near to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you see the difference? They view the believer’s relationship with Christ to be conditioned on his obedience to the precepts of the Heart Law (the more closely the commandments are kept, the more holy the believer will be and the closer he will be drawn to God). But we view the believer’s relationship with the Heart Law to be conditioned on the obedience of Christ (the believer is completely holy in Christ, and is therefore near to God by coming to Him only through Christ). It is because the regenerate sinner has a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, that he is able to come boldly unto the throne of grace, and obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Is this not what Jesus meant when He answered Thomas concerning the place He was going—John 14:6: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Keep in mind, these words were given to a believer, not to an unbeliever. While the text is frequently used as an “evangelistic” platform when reaching the lost, it was actually designed by Christ to give counsel on how the believer is to draw near to God. It isn’t by keeping the precepts of the Heart Law or the Moral Law that a regenerate sinner comes to the Father, but rather, it is by coming to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life. This is nothing other than the Gospel Law.

Let’s put it in a slightly different way. They say, “Let’s keep the Heart Law (or Moral Law) in order to get to God through Christ.” But we say, “Let’s come to God through Christ and proof of it will be a lifestyle that will not contradict the Heart Law.” Do you see? They are wanting the believer to live godly by making the Heart Law a means on coming to Christ. But we insist that the believer is to come to Christ as the means for the perfect fulfillment of the Heart Law in him. We may appropriate the teachings of Christ to His disciples concerning the material necessities of life, to that of the Heart Law—Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Likewise, we believe by seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then the Spirit of God will add to the believer a lifestyle that will be in agreement with the Heart Law. We do not believe that the regenerate sinner is to seek first the kingdom of this world and the Heart Law as the rule for his walk with God and others. (See chart from previous studies)

It is wrong to try and get to Christ through the Heart Law. Rather, we must get to the Heart Law only through Christ. Whereas the precepts of the Heart Law may be traced throughout the precepts of the Gospel Law, yet they are infused and clothed with Christ, which is what makes them so very different from those of the Heart Law.

II. How many precepts are there in the Gospel Law?

The number of precepts belonging to the Gospel Law are much greater than the two or ten commandments belonging to the Heart Law and the Moral Law. William Gadsby organized them under five headings (but each category contains many precepts): “[The] gospel precepts are the believer’s rule [with regards to] (1) God, (2) the world, (3) the family, (4) the church, and (5) in case of personal offences. (Jn 4.23-24; 1 Cor 6.19-20; 2 Cor 9.8; Tit 3.8; Jn 14.21; Rom 6.14 & 8.9-11,14; 2 Cor 9.8; Gal 6.14-16; Phil 3.16; Col 3.1-3)”

III. What are the precepts of the Gospel Law?

There are several ways the precepts of the Gospel Law could be catalogued. For the purpose of this study, I have chosen to select the threefold category of Gospel precepts given by James in the first chapter of his epistle, the twenty-seventh verse:

James 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

James is giving a type of summary of the Christian life. This text arranges the Gospel precepts under the following categories:

1. The God-ward Precepts of the Gospel Law—“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father…”

2. The Relational Precepts of the Gospel Law—“To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…”

3. The Personal Precepts of the Gospel Law—“To keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Let us look more closely at each category:

1. The God-ward Precepts of the Gospel Law—“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father…”

James is identifying the true nature of one’s walk with God—that is what he means when he uses the word religion. We use the term religion as a label to identify different beliefs about God; but James is using it to talk about a person’s walk with God. There are two things he tells us about a person’s walk with God: First, he describes it as pure and undefiled; Second, he tests it under the scrutiny of the all-seeing eye of God the Father.

First, he describes a person’s walk with God as pure and undefiled.

The meaning of the two terms, pure and undefiled, essentially refer to the same thing. However, the first word is a positive description, whereas the second term is negative. Together, they underscore the authenticity of a person’s walk with God. The word pure may be translated clean, and refers to a person’s walk with God as being genuine and sincere; the word undefiled means, “free from that by which the nature of a thing is deformed and debased”, and therefore refers to a person’s walk with God as being free from duplicity and hypocrisy. Henceforth, James describes the believer’s walk with God to be characterized by genuineness, and free from hypocrisy.

Second, he tests the purity of a person’s walk with God under the all-seeing eye of God the Father.

Notice carefully the test under which James puts the purity of one’s walk with God. He doesn’t compare this godly walk to other religious beliefs; he doesn’t compare this godly walk to other religious people; neither does he appoint a panel of judges to decide whether this type of godly walk is pure and undefiled. No, rather, he puts this type of godly walk under the spotlight of the all-seeing eye of God the Father. Now, this is no surprise. After all, James had just written about the all-seeing Father in the seventeenth verse—“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Please note,

• If He is the Father of lights, then “there no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” And therefore, James is right to test the authenticity of one’s walk with God under the scrutiny of the Father of lights.

• If He is the Father without variableness, neither shadow of turning, then nothing takes Him by surprise for “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” And therefore, James is right to test the authenticity of one’s walk with God under the scrutiny of the unchanging and all knowing Father.

• If He is the Father who gives every good gift and perfect gift to His people, then the gift of God in Christ is the greatest good and the most perfect gift, out of which flows a certain type of lifestyle and culture. And therefore, once again, James is right to test the authenticity of one’s walk with God under the scrutiny of the Father from whom all spiritual blessings flow. Now, it is that lifestyle and culture, called by James “pure religion and undefiled”, that he is bringing under the inspection of God the Father. He is bringing under examination the believer’s lifestyle and culture in order that the Father may approve that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect, according to His will (Rom 12:1,2).

And, that is the whole point James is driving at in this text—he is answering the question, “What is it that God the Father approves of in the believer’s life; what is the good, and acceptable and perfect will of God?” Well, the fact that the believer is walking with Him (“religion”)—THAT is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. What are the Gospel precepts for walking with God? There are too many to list here, but I will give six examples:

(1) The believer is to worship God in spirit (the new nature) and in truth—John 4:23,24: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

(2) The believer is to glorify God in his body and in his spirit (new nature)—1 Corinthians 6:19,20: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

(3) The believer is to humbly cast his cares upon the Lord—1 Peter 5:6,7: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”

(4) The believer is to commit the keeping of his soul to God in well doing—1 Peter 4:17-19: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”

(5) The believer is to sanctify the Lord God in his heart—1 Peter 3:15,16: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience;”

(6) The believer is to give thanks unto the Lord in all things—1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Now, do each and every one of these Gospel precepts agree with the first precept of the Heart Law (to love God supremely)? Yes. But do you see the beauty of the Gospel precepts as they are infused and clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ?

2. The Relational Precepts of the Gospel Law—“To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…”

Again, I ask, “What is it that God the Father approves of in the believer’s life; what is the good, and acceptable and perfect will of God?” In addition to the believer’s walk with God, the regenerate sinner is also to walk with others. He is to “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…”. We may therefore label this category the relational precepts of the Gospel Law.

The scriptures frequently refer to the suffering and distress of the fatherless and widows. Consider, (1) God commanded Israel as a nation that they were not to pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless, nor of the widow. In fact, measures were put in place so that the farmers and gardeners would allow grain and fruit to remain in the fields and on the trees and access be given to the fatherless and widows to share in the provisions. (Debt 24:17-22). (2) This is because the Lord God directed His compassion upon such as were afflicted, “executing the judgment of the fatherless and widow…in giving [them] food and raiment.” (Deut 10:17,18) (3) Such was the care and protection of God over the fatherless and widow, that He spoke these chilling words to all the men of Israel—Exodus 22:22-24: “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” (4) Indeed, we read in Psalm 68:5: “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.” (5) And again, in Psalm 146:9: “The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.” (6) Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for perverting the judgment of the fatherless and widows—Matthew 23:14: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses…” (7) There were many widows belonging to the church in Jerusalem, and their plight was augmented when the church failed to provide for their needs—Acts 6:1: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” (8) The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy that the church in Ephesus should see to it that the widows were provided for, either by the church, or by a responsible family member—1 Timothy 5:3,16: “Honour widows that are widows indeed…If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.”

Why do the Scriptures give such prominent attention to the plight and affliction of the fatherless and widows? Well, the fatherless and widows share a common problem—the absence of a man. The man, as husband and father, is given the threefold responsibility to provide, protect and advocate for his wife and children. In the case of his death, the house and property was often bequeathed to a male kin, who would then bring the widow and her fatherless children under the auspices of his care. However, sometimes there was either no house or property to bequeath to a male kin, or else the inheritor would refuse to care for the widow and her children. Under these circumstances, the widow and her children were left to fend for themselves. With regards to the lack of provision and protection, this was the complaint of the orphans and the fatherless in Lamentations 5:1-3: “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach. Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens. We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.” With regards to the absence of a father advocating for his wife and children, the mother of king Lemuel encouraged her son to—Proverbs 31:8,9: “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” You see, when the man (husband/father) is absent, then the women and children are vulnerable. This vulnerability of a woman in the absence of a man can be traced back to the garden of Eden—after Adam pulled away from his wife, she was left vulnerable to fend for herself when attacked by Satan (I need not explain the consequences).

Well, to the point of James—he is not restricting pure and undefiled religion to visit ONLY the fatherless and widows in their affliction. Rather, he is establishing a baseline from which pure and undefiled religion begins to walk with others. In the ancient world (as well as most parts of the world today), the fatherless and widows finding themselves without the support of a husband/father (or husband/father figure), truly belonged to the lowest state of society—they were the poorest of the poor. And so James says in effect, “The most authentic type of walk you can have with God, is not when you are visiting those that can give you nice things, but rather, when you are visiting those to whom you can give good things.” To “visit” means to meet the fatherless and widows at their point of need. This can be done on at least three levels: (1) To think of them—what they might need, and how you might help meet that need; (2) To speak to them—find out how they are doing, empathize and sympathize with their affliction, and give them words of encouragement and comfort; (3) To act on their behalf—providing, protecting and advocating for them. The idea is this—if you are ready to communicate with those in their worst condition, then that is the starting point that ensures you will communicate with others in their best condition. Therefore, by starting with the lowest condition of society, James is able with one statement to show how the believer in Christ is responsible to walk with others on all levels of society—starting from the bottom and working his way to the top. So, this is actually a beautiful statement on the relational precepts of the Gospel Law. As for the specific precepts that fall under this category, well, I will reserve that teaching for another study.

3. The Personal Precepts of the Gospel Law—“To keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Once more, I ask, “What is it that God the Father approves of in the believer’s life; what is the good, and acceptable and perfect will of God?” In addition to the believer’s walk with God, and his walk with others, the regenerate sinner is also responsible “to keep himself unspotted from the world.” We may therefore label this category the personal precepts of the Gospel Law.

There are different Greek words used to distinguish variant ideas for this english term “keep”. For instance, there “phylassō” (Strong’s 5442), which refers to keeping something, so as to prevent it from escaping (like a guard keeping watch of a prisoner). There is also “koustōdia” (Strong’s 2892), which refers to keeping something, so as to prevent an enemy from getting inside (like a watchman on the wall of a fortress keeping a lookout for invaders). However, the word used in this text is “teros” (Strong’s 5083), which refers to keeping something, so as to prevent its loss or injury (like guarding a grocery bag to prevent someone stealing it, or corrupting the food). And, that is what James is getting at here—the believer is to keep, or guard his life, by not allowing the kingdom of the world to allure him away or to corrupt his purity. The Old Testament equivalent to this Gospel precept is Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”

The believer in Christ is to keep himself unspotted (clean, undefiled, untouched) from the world (the kingdom of the world). The Apostle John put it like this—1 John 2:15,16: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” And the Apostle Paul put it like this—2 Corinthians 6:14-18: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

Keeping one’s heart with all diligence deals with the personal precepts of the Gospel Law. In our next study, I will be looking more closely at the personal precepts which the believer is required to observe under the Gospel Law.



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