Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The Law

In the book of Romans (and elsewhere, especially Ephesians), the discussion of the law does not make for easy reading. We long for a simple statement that we can just forget about the law all together. However, Paul’s message is more complicated than that. It’s almost as if the question is “Is the law dead or are we still under it?” and the answer is “Yes.”

The law is part of the old covenant, a covenant of works. A contract with God that says if we do our part, which is to completely obey His law with no missteps, then God shall bless us with eternal life. God never has had to, and never will have to, “pay up” on the basis of this covenant. Only Christ fulfilled the law without blemish.

The old covenant, harsh as it may seem, was a gift from God. We are the creatures and He is the creator. We are obligated to obey Him on that basis alone without the promise of any blessing. He chose voluntarily to offer a reward for our perfect obedience.

With Adam’s sin, the old covenant became like one of those math challenges that promises a huge monetary reward for anyone solving a problem, but where the problem is in fact insoluble. When the prize is eternal life and failure means eternal damnation—well that is really bad news.

Man is still under the old covenant – it has not been abrogated. We are still obligated to obey God’s law. And God is obligated to keep his promise: If anyone perfectly obeys God’s law throughout his entire life, he will be the first person to merit his own salvation. The first person saved by works. Don’t hold your breath.
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? (Rom. 7:1, NKJV)

So why then have the law? Why this covenant of works for which our compliance is unattainable?

The law teaches us what sin is. And that we are sin. And so, being the antithesis of what we must be, we are hopelessly lost. We need a savior who can fulfill the law and then die, under no condemnation, and endure our punishment. We need Christ. With faith in Christ, we die as far as the law is concerned. The law ends. We are reborn into a new covenant, the covenant of grace, a remarkable contract in which all the parts required of us are provided as gifts.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4, NKJV)

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." (Rom. 7:7, NKJV)

22But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Eph. 3:22-25, NKJV)

The futility of the old covenant—the hopelessness of living under the law, is in stark contrast with the freedom on living under grace and resting in the righteousness of Christ. As everyone knows, Gospel means “good news”. Knowledge of the law enables you to know just how good the good news really is. And what an understatement it is! Calling the new covenant “good news” is like saying McDonalds has sold more than 1 hamburger. True enough, but not exactly illustrative.

In Christ, we are reborn and are released from the law. And then something wonderful happens. The law, such a yoke before, becomes a blessing. Where we were hopeless in our previous state, where even one violation condemned us, we now take delight in doing our utmost to obey the law. When we fail we are grieved-- but we don’t despair. When we obey we praise God.

We hated the law. Yet when we are released from it, instead of discarding it, we begin to love His precepts. A struggle is transformed into a joyful mission. The law is still there, and perfect obedience is as fultile as ever, but it is now a friend rather than a stumbling block.
2For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. (Rom. 7:2-4, NKJV)

No comments:

Post a Comment