What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Romans 7:7
Back in the springtime I addressed the topic of the role of God’s law in our lives as Christians. As you perhaps have noticed in our study of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans his reference to the Law rises to the surface on numerous occasions. As a former Pharisee, he of all the Apostles, was most concerned that we do not depend on our obedience to the Law to provide our justification. But then, that might lead us to believe that the Law is of no value for us as Christians today, and, for that matter, is actually detrimental to our faith. After all, we are saved by grace and not by works, aren’t we? This apparent conflict between Law and grace in the New Testament has led many to believe that God has changed, that the Old Testament is about a God of Law and judgment while the New Testament is about grace and love. What do we do then with Paul words, So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. in Romans 7:12? or Jesus’ words at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law….but to fulfill [it]. (Mt. 5:17) What do we think of when we mention the Law of God? The first thing is most likely the Ten Commandments. After that, we probably think of all the rules and regulations listed in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Which of those laws apply to us as Christians and which ones don’t? When we think of the Law in the Old Testament we need to think of its three dimensions- moral, civil, and ceremonial. The Ten Commandments is most clearly representative of God’s moral law, and, as such expresses God’s will for all mankind as image bearers of God. The basic principles of this law were printed on the human heart as Paul reminds us in Romans 2:14-15. Sinclair Ferguson in a footnote in his book, Devoted to God, writes, …when we remove the Ten Commandments from personal and civil life and from the basic nurturing values of family, our society requires to make more, not less laws in order to cope with the disorder that flows from indifference to the basic undergirding principles of well-ordered life. (p. 172) It is certainly easy to see that in western society today. He continues, …abandoning the Ten Commandments never comes cheaply for a society. Well, what do we do with all those laws in the Old Testament we call civil or ceremonial? What we find in the ceremonial law is basically a liturgy governing how we should approach God. It is there for illustration purposes to prepare us for the gospel (similar to the way in which the Lord’s Supper illustrates for us the gospel today). The civil law it seems was intended to apply the foundational principles of the moral law of God to the immediate context of God’s people at any given time, whether it was when they were marching through the wilderness or living in the land. That said, we should not be too quick to abandon the value of the Law today or count it as antithetical to grace for salvation. I hope all this doesn’t sound too academic. There really is application for us as Christians today. What I have observed is that there is a tendency for Christians in different eras to pendulum swing between the two poles of legalism or license. The legalist, like the Pharisee, assumes that God will be happiest when we exercise enough will power to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. So we develop extra arbitrary standards, but in doing so miss real the point of God’s law, that is the gospel. The antinomian (“against law”) on the other hand resents the moral straightjacket of the legalist and throws the baby out with the bathwater. “I have accepted Jesus, so I’m forgiven. Therefore it doesn’t matter how I live.” Jesus told us he had come not to abolish the Law…but to fulfill it. He fulfilled the requirements of the Law by his perfect life, but also by going to the cross for us. But he also fulfills the Law in us through his Spirit. He takes the Law, originally written on tablets of stone, and writes it on our hearts by his Spirit as we read in both Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
“I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)
Pastor Tom Bridgman