This is a continuation of a two part series on the Law and righteousness by faith through Jesus Christ. The Law, as it appears in the theological dialogue of the New Testament is the Mosaic Law, often referred to as the Torah. It is not the exclusive Ten Commandment, though inclusive. Up to this point, we can conclude that justification and righteousness are divine impact through Jesus Christ, who fulfils the requirements of the Law. Being good as gold won’t earn you righteousness apart from Christ. The righteousness we wear is not our own, it’s that of Jesus Christ. We have also underlined what came to an end. It is not the Law, rather, its requirement was fulfilled in Christ. Today, we’ll try to answer our last question, “Where then is the place of the Law? Is it abrogated? Or it is still relevant to the Christian?” Particular attention is given to textual analysis.
Is the Law abrogated? Paul, knowing this possible dilemma, and having expatiated on righteousness by faith alone, posed a hypophora question, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” He quickly answers, “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3: 31 NIV). The word translated “nullify” is the Greek καταργοῦμεν (BYZ). It can also mean “to destroy” or “to abolish”. Is the Law abolished because of faith? Paul’s answer is an emphatic and a categorical “No”. You can read Paul saying, “God forbid!” Faith rather establishes the Law! Thayer’s Greek Lexicon elaborate on “to establish” as “to uphold or sustain the authority or force of anything”. Unlike the Old Covenant that was taken away (Heb. 10: 9), the Law is rather established in the New Covenant through Christ. Understanding this is key to understanding the New Covenant and the prophecy by Jeremiah: “”This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jer. 31: 33; Heb. 8: 10). The New Covenant is not without the Law.
Paul, again posed another question concerning the Law. “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not!” He continues, “Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7: 7). Paul had earlier said, “through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom. 3: 20). The Law points our defective characters to us. In other words, it revives sin (Rom. 7: 8-9). Without the Law, no one will talk about sin (Rom. 5: 13) because sin is the breaking of law (1 Jn. 3: 4). Adam wouldn’t have sinned if there was no law. We then conclude with Paul that the Law was our school master to lead us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). A sinner has only one urgent choice: to run to a Savior. Take the Law as a sign post.
It gets tricky here. Christians who persistently feel the guilt of sin are looking at the Law not the grace of Christ because the job of the Law is to point out sins, and to condemn the sinner to run for a savior. So, even though the Law is life (Rom. 7: 10), sin manipulates the offender to see the Law as leading to death (Rom. 7: 11). Transgression of the Law leads to death but it’s not actually the Law that kills but the sin (Rom. 6: 23). Paul vindicates the Law in this manner, Rom. 7: 12-13:
So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? Certainly not! But in order that sin might be exposed as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
The above text brings out another problem, i.e. a conflict between the Law, self and sin. Here, Paul deals with our spiritual schizophrenia (Matt.26: 41). Have you ever found yourself struggling to overcome sin, when your mind wills to do good but your flesh is weak, a kind of spiritual warfare in yourself? The reason stems from the presence of evil in our bodies (Rom. 7: 19-21), which is called the law of evil (Rom. 7: 23). and the desire “to delight in the law of God” (Rom. 7: 22). Paul was once caught in this web and being unable to deliver self, exclaimed, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Rom. 7: 24). The Law, of course, was unable to rescue Paul because the struggle is to meet its standard of righteousness but he was overpowered by sin. Finally, he gains the freedom through Jesus Christ: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin” (Rom. 7: 25 HCSB). What does Paul mean here?
Paul makes a case for a MORAL CHRISTOLOGY. There is no doubt that Paul is dealing with moral a conduit. Salvation through Jesus Christ makes us slaves to the Law of God in our minds. The Law is spiritualized (Rom. 7: 14), and what probably Paul alluded to when he wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 3: 2-3). Hence, because of Jesus Christ, we live a righteous life, thus meeting the righteous standard of the Law through Him. The flesh is enslaved by sin and its passions. But since Christ has nailed the Law to our mind (conscience), sin is now powerless to control us! Through Christ, we meet the righteous standard of the Law, which in other places are summarized as love (Mk. 12: 30-31; Matt. 22: 37; Gal. 6: 12). Love is a moral code that resides in the repentant soul. In Christ, obedience is a fulfillment of God’s Law. John of Damascus in his An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 1 commented on Rom. 7: 25:
“And so the law of God, settling in our mind, draws it towards itself and pricks our conscience. And our conscience, too, is called a law of our mind. Further, the assault of the wicked one, that is the law of sin, settling in the members of our flesh, makes its assault upon us through it. For by once voluntarily transgressing the law of God and receiving the assault of the wicked one, we gave entrance to it, being sold by ourselves to sin. Wherefore our body is readily impelled to it. And so the savour and perception of sin that is stored up in our body, that is to say, lust and pleasure of the body, is law in the members of our flesh.”
A summary: For the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6: 23). For all of sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3: 23). Sin is the transgression of the Law (I Jn. 3: 4). In Christ there is no sin (I Jn. 3: 5) because the law is fulfilled in Him (Rom. 10: 4). Sin has no dominion over the saved (Rom. 6: 14) so they cannot continue sinning (1 Jn. 3: 9) because the righteous standard of the law is fulfilled in them through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8: 7).
To think of the Law as abolished is a “misnomer” in the Pauline corpus. Although it’s not a yardstick for attaining righteousness, faith in Christ is obedience to God. If this is well understood, one will come to realize that Christ is the Law, therefore it is written, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12: 2). Don’t look at the Law!
In the next article, we shall deal with the meaning of the shadow of things to come (Col. 2: 16). Which things were nailed to the cross in the Law and no longer valid to the Christian?