I John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
The role of the law has been debated vigorously throughout Church history. As far back as the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) there has been tension and conflict regarding the place of the law. That tension and conflict continues today.
In the passages above we find Paul making the law the minister of death. The apostle teaches elsewhere that the law is a minister of death and brings on us the wrath of God. Paul teaches that the law was given to increase sin, and that it lives in order to kill us. King David though can say of the Law that it is “sweeter than the honeycomb, and more desirable than gold” and John says that God’s commandments are not burdensome.
How do we reconcile these different statements regarding God’s law?
We must realize that St. Paul, King David, and St. John are looking at the law from different standpoints. St. Paul looks at the law as it comes to the man in Adam, speaking of the law as it condemns who we are as we lie in Adam. St. John and David look at the law as it is considered as who we are in Christ. As we struggle against the old Adamic nature we understand that the Law stands against us and convicts us and is impossible to satisfy. As we put off that old man and put on the new man created in Christ Jesus we understand that the law is to us a gracious guide to life that we esteem and desire and do not find burdensome.
The problem is that even in Christ we remain both men. Yes, we are in Christ and have died to sin and have been resurrected with Christ so that we delight in God’s commands and do not find them burdensome, and yet we continue to contend against the previous self and so we need to have God’s law come to us to remind us of our need for Christ.
Our theologies run into trouble when we fail to speak the truth about each side of the equation. When we fail emphasize to believers that God’s commands are not burdensome we take away motivation from God’s people to walk in God’s revelation. When we fail to emphasize to believers that God’s law never justified anybody we create the possibility of self-righteousness. Thus we must speak in both ways. We must continue to use the law as a means whereby we see that our only hope is found in Christ and His righteousness and we must continue to use the law as a means whereby we reveal or love to God.
We must remember that the law is said to be not burdensome by St. John as far as we are filled with the Spirit and so endued with heavenly power. For the believer, however much who we are in Adam may resist, it is the case that there is no real enjoyment except in following God.