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More On God’s Law

May 15, 2007

Back in January I wrote a post about the role of the Law of God in the life of Christians. See it here.

Since then I have received quite a bit of feedback on that post and so I am providing some more information on this topic.

Notice what God thinks of His Law, Psalm 19:7-11, The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether . . . by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.

Notice Jesus’ position on the Law in Matthew 5:17-19, Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

In Ecclesiastes 12:13 Solomon said, The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.

And Romans 7:12, So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

But, this is not the whole story. There is an apparent contradiction in what Paul says about the Old Testament Law.

Notice these verses from the book of Romans; 3:20-21 & 28, by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Romans 4:15, the Law brings about wrath.

Romans 5:20, the Law came in so that the transgression would increase.

Romans 6:14, sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 8:1-2, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Romans 10:4, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

1 Corinthians 15:56, The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

In 2 Corinthians 3:7 & 9 Paul calls the Law . . . the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, . . . the ministry of condemnation!!

To take the responsibility of saying that Christians are free from the Law – Free from God’s Law! – is certainly a serious matter.

Reconciling this has been a problem from the beginning of the church. The place of the Law in the life of a believer and in God’s grand scheme of things was a constant battleground in the ministry of Paul and, unfortunately, it is still a point of contention within the church, though it ought not to be because God has thoroughly dealt with this issue.

Do we completely abandon the Law after salvation? Or, Do we use it as the divine list we follow in order to be holy after God saves us? Or, Is there another option?

It was not an easy thing for Paul to explain that the Law is good, right, useful and of great importance – but – that it is also not the way of holiness after salvation. We need to remember that neither Paul, nor any other true teacher of righteousness, ever finds fault with the Law of God – of course not, it is God’s Law. Paul does not find fault with the Law, he simply explains what it can and cannot do.

Many Christians think they can depend on their own works after salvation. After we are saved and know the right way we will very often choose the wrong way and go backward to the Law in order to try and live a holy life.

But, those who are satisfied with salvation by grace must also be satisfied with sanctification by grace. There is no holiness to be attained by the works of the Law – either before or after salvation. You would think that this point would be obvious to believers, Galatians 3:3 states it succinctly, Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Every growing Christian understands experientially the truth of Romans 6 & 7. These chapters discuss the two extremes Christians can fall into.

Sometimes there is the temptation to minimalize sin and not resist it because we know there is forgiveness from God. This is the extreme of LICENSE that God deals with in Romans chapter 6. Some say ‘Oh, forget it. I do sin, but God forgives me and He will never leave me nor forsake me. God calls me to holiness, but I am a sinner in a sinful world and God understands.’ Though license is the default position of many Christians, few advocate the idea that we should tolerate sin our lives. But, that is exactly what they do in life.

Romans 7 deals with the opposite error, LEGALISM. Others say we cannot ignore God’s Law. Though we are saved by grace, Christians must now live under the Law if we are to please God. That is legalism. When these Christians find sin they work extra hard and redouble their efforts at following the Law of God and their own lists and standards. They put copies of the ten commandments and Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions on their walls, refrigerators, mirrors, TVs, steering wheels and in their Bibles. They do their best at keeping them every day. Before they know it they have moved into legalism.

Legalism is nothing more than the idea or belief that I can be holy and please God by following a list. It is measuring spirituality by a list of do’s and don’ts. It is forgetting that there is as much art as science in living by faith.

The problem and weakness of legalism is that it focuses on individual sins, but not on sin itself. It focuses on commands and wrong thoughts and actions – the science of the Christian life – but not on unity with Christ, being a new creation and the power of the Holy Spirit – the art of the Christian life. Both art and science are needed to live the Christian life.

Many people have suffered severe emotional and spiritual damage because they have tried to live holy lives on the basis of a high standard. When this happens the person often becomes either a legalized poser and pretender or suffers a complete collapse and licenses sin in their life.

God wanted to spare us all this deceptive, difficult and dangerous experience and so in Romans 6 and 7 He discusses these topics, which, if understood and applied, will deliver us from license and legalism.

And the right way, the third option? That is Romans 8.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2007 8:37 pm

    I think that most Christians use the term “legalism” in a manner totally inconsistent with solid Biblical exegesis. Some of these folks would call Paul a legalist today if they meet him.

    I mean it’s not like very many folks are running around telling little Gentile boys that they need to have an operation before they can be a part of God’s covenant people. That’s what Paul called “legalism.”

    The modern church has definitely erred on the side of antinomialism, not legalism.

  2. bob miller permalink
    July 16, 2007 5:09 pm

    I appreciate the balance you draw between law and grace.Neither precludes the other. We cannot be saved or retain salvation by keeping the law. However, we are convicted of our need of salvation only when we realize our sinfulness. The Law is God’s sin-detector. Without the preaching of the law then, people are “won” by opinionation and emotion. When truly saved, people are drawn to holiness by the Holy Spirit. Again, we can measure holiness only by God’s absolute standards as revealed through the law. That’s why revivals have always resulted from the loving preaching of the firm standards of God.

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