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The sun was shining brightly the day I took my life into my own hands. Up to this point, whether I lived or died had been totally dependent on someone else. Now it would be different. My very future depended on how much I’d learned in the skies above my Tennessee home.

Learning to fly an airplane requires two vital elements: coordination and money. Somehow I’d managed to accumulate enough of both to place me at the end of a grass strip seated in a small, single-engine aircraft. For the first time in my life, I was alone in there. The seat next to me usually contained the reassuring presence of my flight instructor, Robert McCurdy. But now my constant flying companion was standing off to the side of the runway, making flapping motions with his arms, encouraging me to join my feathered friends in the miracle of solo flight.

This moment had been made possible by a small collection of laws: a wing generates lift, a spinning propeller creates thrust, and the combination of the two overcomes drag and can carry me aloft. Instructor McCurdy had explained these laws to me in some detail, because understanding them would help me learn how to maneuver the plane.

Now the day had come for my first solo flight, and he mentioned one more thing I would need to know: “You’ll notice that everything will happen faster without me in the airplane,” he said moments before I took off. “Without me, the plane will be lighter, and it will handle quite differently.”

With those words and the roar of the engine, I advanced the throttle and began my journey into the unknown. I was about to put words to the ultimate test.

God has laws, too, and He has given us detailed instruction about them in His Word, the Bible. In fact, His instruction began with our first parents in Eden. I can envision Adam and Eve standing just outside the tightly locked gates of Eden. They’d been warned. They’d received ample information. Their instructor—the Creator Himself—had been very thorough. “You do this, and that will happen. To accomplish A, you need to do B.” Their lesson had been delivered by an Expert as a way of preparing them for a flight that was designed to last for eternity.

Now they stood alone, insisting on flying solo—a situation that was not in God’s original flight plan. The skies beyond the garden weren’t exactly friendly. From that moment on, God’s reassuring and personal presence would be absent. All they had—all they could depend on—were His words.

My spinning propeller blurs as the world around me begins to slip past my windows. Faster and faster and faster I go, my wheels vibrating over the rushing ground as my wings rock in response to the irregularities of the little grass airstrip. Then, it happens. For the first time in my life, I pilot myself aloft, leaving terra firma behind. The laws had worked! I was flying solo!

Did I know everything there was to know about the laws that held me aloft? Well, I knew what they were called. But, I certainly didn’t understand their finer points and how to use them optimally.

I’m sure Adam and Eve could identify. They’d never lived in a sinful world, and very quickly God’s words—His laws—came into sharp focus. More to the point, they learned what it was like when God’s laws were ignored. Imagine their horror the first time they watched a flower wither away, when a beloved animal fell prey to another beloved animal, and especially when their first child took the life of their second! Most disturbing of all, in response to evil, they quickly found themselves becoming selfish, unloving, easily falling victim to the survival-of-the-fittest mentality that sin had created. Fear filled their hearts.

the heart of the matter

Four thousand years later, Jesus identified what was missing when He physically reinserted Himself into the ebb and flow of humanity. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

An expert in the law asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?” He wanted to know which words were most powerful. Here’s what Jesus said: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36–40).

What? Those two aren’t part of the traditional ten! Where are the “thou shalts,” the “do nots,” and the “remember?” Where’s the condemnation, the pointing out of error, the judgment? It didn’t make sense! What does love have to do with the law?

Apparently, everything. The apostle Paul drove home that message in a letter written to early Christian believers. “Love is the fulfillment of the law,” he said in Romans 13:10.

It seems that God’s Ten Commandment laws are only part of the picture. They need the yeast of love in order to rise to their full potential. This explains why some people find it difficult to keep the Ten Commandments. To them, they’re just a collection of verbal commands. They haven’t moved beyond mere words, allowing God to remove from them their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Without that Holy Spirit–created love in the heart, living God’s law is difficult—in fact, impossible. But that can change.

something happened

During the next few flights alone in my little airplane, I began to sense something happening to me. The laws of gravity, lift, and thrust—the forces that carried and kept me aloft—faded from my thoughts. I discovered that I could go from point A to point B without thinking of even a single law. They’d become the foundation of what I did naturally during my flights. My determination to obey them to the letter was replaced by something even more permanent and powerful—a deep, abiding love for flying.

It’s the same with God’s Ten Commandments. As we refrain from committing adultery, stealing, lying, dishonoring our parents, and murdering our fellow man, something happens deep inside us. We begin to love.

Shepherd-boy-turned-king David understood this process. After years of law-learning and law-keeping, he could say with a touch of amazement in his voice, “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).

God’s laws serve as a divine template for learning to love. Love, in turn, makes it easier and more satisfying to follow God’s laws. Soon, living the Christian life isn’t about fulfilling a list of dos, don’ts, and remembers. It’s about loving God, self, and others. That list—those words—have moved from our minds to our hearts.

The laws of flight got me up in the air. My love for flying kept me there, taking me where I wanted to go.

How to Keep God’s Law

by Charles Mills
From the January 2018 Signs