It is hard for many people to tell the difference between love and law. Sounds silly right? One would think it quite obvious. Love is found in a relationship and the law is a set of rules. Still, we confuse the two.
There is another word we don't hear very much any more: Holiness. We all know that God is holy but we seem to have forgotten that God has declared this same holiness over us and works it through us. But to understand holiness one has to understand the difference between love and law.
To help get our heads around this I am taking us back to a very odd verse in Numbers. When I say it is odd I mean it is odd in the context of this conversation:
“‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.’” (Numbers 35:33-24)
That's pretty simple to understand. God had made the decision to live among his chosen people. They were chosen, not because they were special, but because of a promise to one man who himself chose to believe God. They were chosen so that God could glorify himself through them so that the whole earth would see and know God. But for a holy God to live with these people they could not do the things that God found disgusting. He told them not to pollute the land, not to defile it, because he was there with them.
Now, let's fast forward this to what changed with the cross, empty grave and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly God has gone from pillars of fire and smoke, from temples and sacrifices, from stone tablets and priests, from a God who lives with his people, to a God who lives in his people. He no longer lives in the land but in his people. He no longer manifests himself in a temple but in his people.
Think about it for a minute. If you want the whole world to know about you would you continue staying in one location where the people are doing a terrible job at representing you? Israel just kept getting it wrong, no matter how many prophets were sent to help them get back on track. So, God moves from one location to millions of locations by taking up occupancy in his people. He is also better able to guide them, help them, teach them. Instead of going through a middle man, a priest, God has direct access for teaching his children. Pretty awesome. But go back to the polluting part.
If it was important not to pollute and defile the land, is it not equally or even more important not to pollute and defile our bodies, minds, and hearts? Is this not the new land that God is living in to be with his children? Did he not say to us, "Be holy because I am holy"? You will find Peter quoting it from Leviticus in 1 Peter 1. When Paul was teaching about sexual immorality the Spirit inspired him to write:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
If God lives in us then the last thing we would want to do is pollute our body with things that offend him because God will not stay where there is constant polluting from rebellion and wilful acts against his holiness. So this is where we need to understand the difference between love and law.
The Israelites tried to please God by following the law. They set up their strict rules, had their temple worship, followed the instructions on sacrifices but there remained a problem. The human heart is a fickle thing. As hard as they tried they could not keep to the law and continued experiencing a roller coaster type of relationship, depending on the character of the king. All that God ever really wanted was the hearts of his children. He just wanted people to respond to him in love; to love him with all their heart, mind, soul, body and strength.
The law provokes rebellion as people refuse to follow rules they do not understand. Love provokes obedience and a desire to please the one you love. When we love Jesus with our entire being, dedicating ourselves to him, and following him with all selfishness set aside, we reject anything that would offend him. With the Spirits guidance we do naturally what we failed to do with the law. Love gives to God the only thing he desired from his children: our hearts. And love provokes obedience in a positive relationship.
If we love him, with our entire being, we would purposefully and willingly reject anything that would bring harm to our physical body, including sex outside of God's design, because we would not want to pollute God's dwelling place. If we loved him we would not fill our mind with things that he has rejected and that would offend him. We would not harbour things in our heart that do not honour our God. When our love for him is so great that we naturally reject anything that would offend him, when we look at temptation and walk away in love, when our single thought is to please Jesus, then we have come to understand holiness.