Internal Law

“To have a God-given internal moral compass is to have God Himself.”

Maturation is the process of making God’s “external law” into our internal law, our operating, animating principle. This has huge implications for sanctification, but it also explains a lot of what is going on in the Bible’s symbolism and architecture.

The test in Eden was not two dimensional. The deceit by Satan was not allowed by God simply to demonstrate whether Adam was “in” or “out.” The question was not, “Are you on my side or not?” As Doug Wilson says, when he was sent by his father to the cellar for misbehaviour, it was not because he wasn’t a Wilson. It was because he was a Wilson. A father disciplines his child out of love, with one eye on the future. All of God’s judgments are “visionary justice.” Which is where the process of atonement comes in. It cuts off the past and frees the future.

What is the third dimension of testing? Enlargement. Heaven was created “solid state,” but every part of the earth was designed to grow to maturity. If Adam had obeyed, it would not mean he had earned greater authority but that he had grown, been enlarged, to shoulder such government. We see the same process in all the patriarchs, especially Joseph. Continued faithfulness, despite betrayal and hardship, meant that wisdom developed and he could be exalted in one fell swoop to rule the world — and call his brothers to the table.

The difference between Man and the rest of creation is self-consciousness. Under heaven’s eye, the human is both the observed and the observer. Man, unlike animals, requires not only a diet of food but also a steady diet of truth. Spiritual growth begins with hearing the truth, and hearing presumes a relationship. This is where faith comes in. Faith is relational, resulting in works carried out in response to the One who spoke the truth. Much of the discussion concerning “faith and works” in the writings of Paul misses the point entirely.

True works are not meritorious, but are the evidence of faith, even in the life of Jesus. So, if faithful works are not meritorious, neither are unfaithful works. The difference between the good works of a Christian and the good works of a Muslim is relationship with God. Works without faith are not relational. Without faith it is impossible to please God. A son who despises his father but instead does his chores to benefit himself will be disowned. In essence, God gave Adam one law. Adam whined and asked “Why?” And God said, “Because I am your father.” It was not a test of obedience but a test of relationship. Law and love are not the same, but they cannot be separated. Internal law is not only “loving the standard” as something that brings life, but growing beyond a perception of the goodness of the law to a love for the Lawgiver.

External law is Man under government, under the sword. But internal law is not merely Man in government, bearing the sword like a Gentile king. This is because God cannot be separated from either His attributes or His gifts. To have a God-given internal moral compass is to have God Himself. To have internal law is to have Christ Himself in you. Law and love were designed to be married, to be dance partners. Like male and female, neither makes sense without the other. To love God’s law is to love God Himself.

So, righteousness is impossible without faith because true humanity is life lived in relation to God. The righteousness of the Pharisees was not righteousness but a power grab. It was law operating without love, which is vengeance and not mercy–the religion of Cain and Lamech. Rather than being the bearer of God’s standard, Man makes himself into the Lawgiver. But Man’s law is two dimensional. Bereft of love, human rulers are only concerned with compliance, not growth. Human rulers have subjects, not sons.

But Jesus atoned for our sins not merely to right a wrong. Destroying us would accomplish that. He was sent to us by the Father. Jesus told the Pharisees who their real father was: one who used the good Law as an instrument of death. We see this abuse illustrated in the account of the woman caught in adultery.

We also see it in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The “unfaithful” righteousness of the Pharisee blinded him to the truth. The “faithful” unrighteousness of the tax collector allowed God to open his eyes. The difference was true relationship. The tax collector loved God, and like Joseph, realized that sin was primarily a personal offense against one’s Creator. Faith leads to obedience, which leads to understanding. Promise leads to fulfilment. Thus, faith leads to sight. This means that growing in godliness is a growth in vision. Spiritual growth is first and foremost a developing “judicial maturity,” and this is achieved through obedience to the truth. As we obey, more and more we see evil for what it is (especially in ourselves) and it repels us. The Lord’s table is a public demonstration of this. We examine our hearts and die under the Law. We “confess” our sins legally before God because we see them as they are, with eyes opened by that Law. But with those eyes we also see Jesus as He is, and “confess” Him as our legal advocate, and leave the assembly resurrected, with the gift of eternal life in the Spirit.

We do see this exact pattern of Law and Spirit, forming and filling, all through the Bible. It is the heart of the “Bible Matrix.” [1] Obedience brings greater authority, and disobedience means we lose even what we have — because we can’t be trusted with it as stewards. It also shows the heart of God. The Law gives form to life but its intended end is always relational, fellowship, a kindred spirit. Jesus’ obedience gave us the Spirit, and all of the riches of His “judicially mature” Adamic mind. The “glorious future” is when we are “gods,” that is, elohim, judges, perfect physical images and perfect ethical (legal) representatives of the Father. Every Covenant is an opportunity to image God in the world as creator, protector and provider. Every Covenant is an opportunity not only to demonstrate, but to become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21), extensions of His mind and character in the way Moses’ helpers extended his judicial ministry. [2]

The way in which we “judge” (assess) sin has a direct bearing on the preciousness of Christ to us. As we grow, we judge Him to be more and more righteous, and this transforms us into His image. The Spirit opens our eyes to behold Him in His legal and merciful beauty, and that changes us. Like Adam, our eyes are opened, and we are clothed, covered. Like Jesus, as our spiritual (obedient) life progresses, the light of the Spirit is not something descending upon us but emanating from within us. God makes us into Tabernacles. This is what we see at Jesus’ Transfiguration. Though the cloud was present, the three tabernacles proposed by Peter were not required. Jesus needed no tent because He was now the Tent. The Shekinah within the tent and Temple was always a gift from God once His instructions had been obeyed. Robert Ervin Hough gives us a beautiful description of this in his book, The Ministry of the Glory Cloud:

Christ has two glories. There is the glory which He had with the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:5), which is His inherent glory, a glory which cannot be added to nor taken from. As the Redeemer of mankind He has an acquired glory, the glory which belongs to Him as the Saviour. As the Son of God He came in the glory of the Father, but as the Son of man He will come in His own glory in which His own people will share (John 17:22). The Transfiguration was the foreshadowing of His acquired glory, the glory which the three disciples were permitted to see on the mount.

There were a number of occurrences in connection with the Transfiguration which did much to prepare the disciples to understand and appreciate the Divine purpose in the tragic events of the closing period of the Saviour’s life in the flesh.

First, there was the Transfiguration. It was an undeniable confirmation of the pronouncement of Peter concerning the person of Christ and the pledge of His final and complete victory. In the mount all the prophetic words concerning the Messiah were made surer to human understanding. The Transfiguration involved a radical change in the physical appearance of Christ. It was not a transformation wrought from without but a change which originated from within. It may be considered in some respects the counterpart of the incarnation. In the incarnation His Deity was veiled in flesh (Phil. 2:5-8), while at the Transfiguration the veil of the flesh became transparent so that His true character and dignity might be observed for a brief period.

At the Transfiguration Christ reached the climax of His human life. He had failed in nothing, for He had met every temptation and defeated every tempter in every encounter. Having fulfilled every demand of the Father’s will there was no need for Him to die personally. He might have returned to heaven with Moses and Elijah, to take His place with the Father from when He had come (p. 83-84).

The legal testimony of two witnesses, Moses (external law – elements [stoicheia] hidden in the earth) and Elijah (internal law – hidden in heaven), corroborated in the court of the Father, and Jesus was vindicated as God-Man. Moses and Elijah were then put into Jesus to be taken into the grave and fulfilled. Many believe they were the two men testifying at the ascension. In Jesus, they were united as a new law, the Law of Christ, which was conferred upon the saints as a gift, and revealed in them as glory. After that, nothing in heaven or on earth would be hidden from their eyes. [3]

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” (Romans 3:21)

[1] I discuss this at length in Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.
[2] See Images of God.
[3] See The Insiders and Binding and Loosing.

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13 Responses to “Internal Law”

  • Chris W Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I think you mean Romans 3:21 at the end there.

    Also, if all judgements are “visionary justice” from a father to a son, then how does the lake of fire fit into that pattern?

    It’s a great post though. Another thing: could the faith by which we are justified be considered “faithfulness” in the broader sense? I am not suggesting that Paul means “works of the law” in a limiting sense (as per NT Wright), but rather that he is contrasting faithful obedience with faithless obedience. This would seem to fit well with James’s doctrine of justification – which also seeks to unite faith and works.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Chris – have fixed. It’s the text display in Bible search software – not always clear which applies to which – above or below. I should know Romans better!

    Corporately, visionary justice is sheep and goats, or the two goats of atonement. Herod’s Judah is cut off so that Jesus’ Judah can inherit the kingdom.

    Yes, faithfulness, but for me that still doesn’t express the personal nature of obedience, which, the more I think about this, is what Jesus lived out and what Paul is talking about. It doesn’t make an obvious distinction between faithfulness in love, and faithfulness simply because of coercion or pride. But yes, it is a faithfulness that expresses itself firstly in desire – a hunger for righteousness – and then in righteous works.

    At least, that’s what I’m seeing. Debates on such things get so convoluted that they often lose me in the details. Relationship I can understand. Righteousness is thus always personal, always motivated by love.

  • Chris W Says:


    Ah, yes, that makes sense. Judgement on behalf of the righteous. That’s what you see in Revelation 20 after all – Jesus vindicating his people after ‘Gog and Magog’ have gathered against them.

    When I said faithfulness, that’s what I had in mind really – “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). I think that’s pretty clear from Romans 4, where Abraham is justified because he trusts God by believing the promise. But what I would add is that I don’t think you can separate faith/love from the actions of faith/love.

    Should we scrap ‘justification by faith’ and instead say ‘justification by love’? The main problem I see with Roman Catholicism in this regard is not their insistence that believers be justified through baptism/good works etc – rather it is their doctrine of merits that I take issue with. I think Martin Luther was most concerned with this as well – pretty clear from his 95 theses. They need to recover the centrality of union with Christ – the truth which seems to me to be at the heart of the reformation.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    For sure – yes I do understand that’s what you meant. But it took me a while to figure out that’s what these guys mean by “faithfulness.” The idea of obeying “because thou art under Covenant” doesn’t communicate the transformative power of God’s love. So we end up with either an antinomian sort of love or a legalistic sort of obedience. We really are a piece of work, us sinners.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Have you listened to Jordan on Revelation 20? Truly awesome.

  • Chris W Says:

    Yeah, see, this is where the RCs score brownie points. They’re straight up with the love talk and it is all very biblical. I think half our problems come with the things we associate with words like “obedience” and “covenant faithfulness”. I guess you’re right, we interpret them in legalistic ways because of our warped minds. God is just a loving father who wants what is best for us!

    Never heard the lectures on Revelation, only read his small reader’s guide and a few of his and Leithart’s articles, which I have found to be really good.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I have some spare “official” DVD sets. If you’d like one, send me your postal address through the contact page.

  • Chris W Says:

    That is a dangerous offer to make. I should probably inform you that I’m from the UK! I’ll let you retract the offer at this point if you wish :)

  • Mike Bull Says:

    That’s OK. Britain needs it.

  • Joe Hyink Says:

    Mike, this is all very helpful and fills out our conversation on your previous post on “merit.” I’m still chewing on the substitution, sacrificial aspects of the death of Jesus in all this. Thanks for your work!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Joe. Happy to hear any new thoughts.

  • Chris W Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Your recent post reminded me that I forgot to remind you to send me the lectures. I sent the email with my address is a long time ago now though so don’t worry if you don’t have any spares left.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Yep – thought I sent it. Will get one in the mail in case I simply lost the plot.