This is why the primary goal of our lives should be to love more. The Lord affirmed that the most important commandments were to love God above all things and to love one another. If we do this, we will automatically fulfill the Law. If we love God, we will not worship idols. If we love others, we will not steal, murder, or even envy them. The Lord replaced all of the “do nots” of the Law with positives—love God and love one another because then we will fulfill all of the “do nots.”
The key to loving God is simply to learn about Him and His ways. I don’t think we can see a single aspect of God or learn one thing about His nature that will not compel us to love Him more. This includes seeing His judgments because they are perfect, and even these are motivated by a love far above human love.
This is why true Christianity is discipleship—disciples are devoted to learning all that they can from their masters in order to become like them. True Christian discipleship is a life of the pursuit of the knowledge of God above anything else. He must be our first love. Anything less than this is an affront to God, who has given so much to pursue a relationship with us.
Some people begin turning to legalism out of a sincere love for God and desire to please Him. However, if they do not get off this path, it is inevitable that their devotion to the Law will supplant their love for God. This is not the path of life, but almost all believers at least drift onto it for a period of time. Regrettably, many never get off of it. Others wake up to what it is doing to them, swing too far in the other direction, and fall into the ditch on the other side of the road—lawlessness.
Again, our goal must be to keep on the path of life that is between these extremes, which we will likely only be able to do if we love God as the main pursuit of our lives. Only when we love Him as we should can we love one another as we should.
We may all struggle in one direction or another toward legalism or lawlessness, or “cheap grace” as Bonhoeffer called it. People usually go through phases of each as they mature, but to keep from swinging from side to side, we must find the path to true holiness, which is neither legalism nor lawlessness. The Holy Spirit is holy, and if we are going to know Him and be His temple, we must be holy. Holiness is not legalism, but it is good behavior, doing what Christ would do because we love Him. It has been said that holy could be spelled w-h-o-l-l-y, because it is being wholly His.
It is true that the legalists of His time hated Christ and His version of holiness. Jesus walked in a liberty that challenged the very foundations of their devotion. A control spirit is always mixed in with legalism, but Jesus in His purity exuded liberty. He also exuded incredible grace toward sinners and resolute intolerance toward the legalists and self-righteous. The lawless are far more likely to come to Christ than legalists.
We are told that the church, the bride of Christ, will be without spot or wrinkle. Without spot speaks of her moral purity, and without wrinkle speaks of being perpetually youthful. True holiness will keep us perpetually young and fresh in spirit, while legalism will age us fast. Legalism leads to becoming an “old wineskin,” which is no longer flexible enough to hold new wine.
If we have a religious spirit, a legalistic mentality, we will view others with an overly judgmental tendency and be prone to condemn those to whom the Lord may want to show grace. Also, we will never be able to get free of the guilt and shame in our own lives because legalism can never measure up to the standards it sets. It forces those who live by it to live a life of stress, pretense, and hypocrisy, which will all age us fast.
If we are prone to the extreme of lawlessness, we will be prone toward unsanctified mercy, which is giving mercy to the ones God has under judgment. Such can be able to embrace the new wine, but be so reactionary toward structure that they cannot make a wineskin to hold it, and it is lost. Again, the path of life is between the extremes. It may be easier to come to Christ from lawlessness, which is why Jesus said the harlots and sinners would enter the kingdom before the self-righteous and the legalists. However, lawlessness leads to death, too.
Holiness is abiding in the One who is holy, doing what He does, thinking as He thinks. Discipline has its place and is fundamental to discipleship, but ultimately, we must be changed by seeing His glory and loving Him so much that we always want to do what is pleasing to Him. This is how love fulfills the Law.