Legality of Love or Love of Legality

by | Oct 1, 2006

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”—Matthew 21:37

This commandment embodies the heart of Christian holiness. The term “legal” with its cognates has to do with law and its relationship to conduct. The divine law is an expression of the divine holiness. The law reveals the sin in moral beings, so that “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Ro. 3:20). As sinners, the law condemns us, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:21).

But God’s love provides a legal basis upon which He can save us.

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:


Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Ro. 3:24-26).

Love does not trample law or justice under foot to bestow mercy. Christ fulfilled the law by being “holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners,” (He. 7:26), suffering, the “just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Pe. 3:18).

Love demands loyalty. When God’s love is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 5:5), the basis for loyalty to God is established within us. This means we obey Him, because we love Him.

“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (Jn.14:21).

In the complexities of life we may not know what the letter of the law demands, but we know that if we love Him, we want to do His will. The evidence of my love for God is expressed in my desire to please Him.

This is the legality of love. Over against this, however, may be a love of legality, on one hand, or antinomianism (a hostility to the law), on the other. It would be hard to say which is the more dangerous. Love of legality loses sight of Christ in contending for things, what are sometimes called “standards.” Strife and bitterness may result, and the warning is,

“If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not;


and lie not against the truth” (Ja. 3:14).

This may lead to tension and evil speaking against each other, and

“if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Ga. 5:15).

Antinomianism has no legal restraints; and in many cases, love has led to license. All law is pushed aside as bondage, and liberty in Christ becomes license to sin. The Bible speaks of the “perfect law of liberty” (Ja. 1:25). It is “the law of the Spirit of life” which makes us free from “the law of sin and death” (Ro. 8:2). There are laws governing faith.

“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (Jn. 5:44).

Love must ever be the motive for obedience. It will constrain (drive) us to seek His will and urge us to “do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (I Jn. 3:22) Paul states it clearly: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh; but if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Gal. 5:16 and 18).

In our efforts to maintain our witness and hold up Bible standards of Christian conduct, let us be sure that our effort is based upon love, and is the legality of love rather the love of legality. I do, or I refrain from doing, because I love God and want to fellowship with Him in love.

“He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (Jn. 14:21).

The late Rev. Dr. S. I. Emery travelled widely across the holiness movement and was recognized as an effective preacher and fine Bible teacher. Reprinted with permission from The Convention Herald.