In Psalm 119 (New International Version), the psalmist wrote “Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law (v.29).” Grace through the law? This seems like a dichotomy to anyone who’s spent much time in religious circles. We tend toward extremes: either we shun the law as an antiquated obstacle blocking us from God’s love or we reject grace as a license to perpetuate sin. Yet the psalmist states the law is sweeter than honey (v. 103), the joy of his heart (v. 111), and more precious than silver and gold (v. 72). How could anyone sincerely say this about rules and regulations?
I believe a revelation of God’s goodness at work through the law allowed the psalmist to view commandments not as restrictions, but as promises of grace. Here are ten such promises recorded in Psalm 119 for those who love the Lord’s statutes:
1. Purity—God’s word removes disgrace (vv. 39-40) and keeps us pure (v. 9) so we’re not put to shame (vv. 5-6, 46, 80).
2. Protection—Obeying God’s commands helps us escape affliction (vv. 67, 92) and invites deliverance (vv. 116-120, 170).
3. Mercy—We can confidently call on the Lord to help us (v. 173) and expect His salvation to draw near (vv. 155, 166, 176).
4. Life—Loving His word preserves our life (vv. 25, 37, 93, 107, 116, 144, 149, 154).
5. Wisdom—God’s statutes impart knowledge and good judgment (v. 66) making us wiser than our enemies (v. 98), more insightful than our teachers (v. 99), and giving us understanding beyond our years (v. 100).
6. Direction—When we follow His statues, we discern right paths (vv. 105, 130) and shun wrong ones (vv. 104, 128), turning away from worthless things (v. 37).
7. Strength—His word strengthens (v. 28) and sustains (v. 175).
8. Freedom—If we seek His precepts, we’ll walk in freedom (v. 45) because our hearts will be free (v. 32).
9. Delight—True pleasure and joy come from the counsel of His commands (vv. 24, 35, 47).
10. Rest—Comfort (vv. 50-52), hope (vv. 81, 114, 147) and great peace (v. 165) fill our minds when we trust His statutes.
The psalmist’s final verse (Ps. 119:76) captures the interplay of grace and law: “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.” Without embracing the futility of legalism, the psalmist acknowledges the absolute truth of God’s law. Without denying accountability for his actions, he receives the goodness and mercy of God. What a beautiful revelation of what every believer’s heart-attitude should be toward God’s commandments today.
God’s instruction is always meant for our good. His decrees are our guarantees of His blessings. He is perfect: we should want to understand and keep His commands. But we’re not perfect: without His grace, we can never hope to do either. Instead of hunkering down in a ‘law’ or ‘grace camp’, let’s pray as the author of Psalm 119 did:
“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (v.18). I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise (v. 58).” Amen.