Proverbs 29:18 is a verse that American Christians love. Here is what it says in the New International Version: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
Usually, when I hear this verse quoted or preached, it usually ends up something like this: “If we don’t tell people how God says to act, they’re going to just go wild and do whatever they want, but if they’ll straighten up and fly right, we’ll all be happier.” And, to be honest, when that was written to Israel under the Old Covenant, that is pretty much what it meant. The problem with holding to that interpretation for us, though, is that we aren’t under that Covenant. We are under a New Covenant, a relationship based on the gracious love of God given to us as a gift, earned and paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
“But,” I hear some of you saying, “isn’t it still true? Don’t people need revelation of God’s laws so that they don’t just cast off restraint and do what they want?” And, if you will allow me, I will answer your question with another question: is a restrained life really the kind of life that Jesus died to give us?
You see, we seem to have this idea that if we can train people to obey God’s laws as set forth in Scripture, that He will be supremely happy with us and will bless us, and heal our land, and magically transport us back to the 1950s. Let me suggest to you, though, that a life of restraint under the Mosaic Law (the Law of Moses) is not God’s ultimate goal or highest good for His creation. Under the Old Covenant, Israel had to have the external constraint of the Law to keep them in line with God’s design for them, because they had no internal person of the Holy Spirit through whom to hear God’s heart. When the New Covenant was ratified by the blood of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit arrived to indwell the hearts and lives of believers, when God, as He said He would, took out our hearts of stone and gave us hearts of flesh and wrote His law on our hearts, the need for an external restraint to make us behave was done away with!
Uh-oh, though. I see another problem. Most of us would agree that we are absolutely not under obligation to the Old Covenant Law of Moses. We know that we were saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus alone, and we were set free from that Law. But here’s what we have done: having been set free from the Old Covenant Law, we have taken the teachings of Jesus with some snippets from Paul, and we have created a whole new set of New Covenant Laws! We treat the New Testament like an Old Covenant Law for New Covenant People. We think that, sure, we can get in by grace, but we can’t continue on by grace. That would be too easy. Surely God requires more from us than that. And that is what made Paul’s head explode.
The whole point of the letter to the Galatians was that they had come into the New Covenant by grace, and were now trying to live the Christian life by obeying the externals. Having begun in the Spirit, they were trying to be made perfect in the flesh. But here is the truth: Jesus did not die to set you free from a Law that you couldn’t keep, just to give you another Law that you couldn’t keep. So, what about living restrained? Is that what He died to give you? Another restraining order?
The opposite of restrained is free. “And if the Son sets you free…” (John 8:36)