Thursday, July 23, 2009

Law

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully, (1 Timothy 1:8).


This blog is just a blog. It's good to keep that in mind. I'm just working through some stuff in a semi-collaborative, semi-public way. So this is driven largely by my own day-to-day experiences.

The most recent experiences that have gotten me thinking are some run-ins with several Christian friends who're very interested in the Law of Moses. And then, in the midst of that, I unpacked some boxes in our new house (we just moved a week or two ago) and found the little book by Alva McClain I already wrote about.

So Law's been on my mind a lot recently.

I'm always afraid of being too influenced by what I read, and I have to admit I've read a lot on the subject of Law. Of course my hero, J. N. Darby, had a lot to say about it, as did several others I respect. On the whole, I think Darby had the right idea when he wrote about Law; but his writing is frequently difficult and sometimes obtuse, which I fear has limited the number of people that have enjoyed it. McClain appears to have agreed with Darby in the main, but his book is a lot more clear, which probably makes it more useful.

But in the end, Scripture is really our guide: there's no end of good books, but none of them are our authority.

So with that in mind, I want to get something off my chest. This is what I see in Scripture concerning the Law:


  1. The Law was given by Moses 430 years after Abraham (Gal. 3:17). The timing of the Law is consistent in Scripture: Galatians declares it was given 430 years after Abraham; John's Gospel says "the law was given through Moses" (John 1:17); Jeremiah 31 refers to the Law as "the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (Jeremiah 31:32).

    The notion that Adam had the Law in the Garden is a fantasy of the Reformers. I know the Westminster Confession asserts Adam had the Law, but I see no hint of it anywhere in Scripture.


  2. Abraham didn't have the Law, although he had a covenant from God. The covenant to Abraham before the Law is the basis of the argument in Galatians: God can't promise Abraham blessings without the Law and then add conditions after the fact.
    Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect. (Gal 3:17)


  3. The Law was given to Israel under Moses. The Gentiles are not technically "under the Law," as we were never party to the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. This is central to the argument of the first two chapters of Romans: "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without the law: and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law;" (Romans 2:12).


  4. The idea that "the world is condemned under the Law" is really unscriptural. Gentiles aren't condemned by the Law, but by their innate knowledge of God.
    because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. (Romans 1:18-21).


  5. The Law is a single entity in Scripture, a unity. The common divisions of "Moral," "Ceremonial," and "Civil" Law are entirely man-made and fly in the face of the plain teaching of Scripture:
    For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all. (James 2:10).

    Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. (Galatians 5:3).

    For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them. (Galatians 3:10).

    Consider that last one in particular: the curse is on everyone who doesn't keep "all things in the book of the law". That includes dietary laws, clothing laws, agricultural laws, moral rules, and yes... even animal sacrifices.

    For some reason, people seem to think they're allowed to pick and choose what parts of the Law they have to keep. The fact is, it's an all or nothing deal. There is not a word in Scripture to indicate you can keep the Law selectively.


  6. The idea that the Lord's death, burial, and resurrection removed some of the Law flies in the face of His explicit statement:
    For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. (Matthew 5:18).

    If neither jot nor tittle of the Law will pass away, then every single command is still in full force: from the Ten Commandments to animal sacrifices. If we have to keep any of the Law, then we have to keep all of it.


  7. If you are under the Law, and do something the Law forbids, and aren't subject to whatever penalty it prescribes; then you are making a mockery of the Law. Thus Paul's statement:
    Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Romans 3:31)

    It is only when there is a total break from the Law that we can be free from its curse without lowering it.


  8. The Law cannot justify a sinner, nor give life to one who is spiritually dead.
    because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20).

    We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:28).

    yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16).

    Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them. (Galatians 3:11-12).


  9. The Law is as powerless to perfect the believer as it is to justify the sinner.
    For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3).

    For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth. (Romans 10:4).



  10. The Scripture teaches that the life that begins with faith needs to be walked out the same way. We can't finish by law what we begin by faith.
    As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, (Colossians 2:6).

    This only would I learn from you. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3).


    The typical defense of the legalist is that he isn't denying justification by faith, he is merely showing the Law's place in the believer's walk thereafter. But this is no different from the Galatians! There's no indication in Scripture they didn't know how they were justified: the problem is just that they were trying to add the Law to that.

    Scripture makes it clear that the path begins and ends the same way: by faith in contrast to law. We can't expect to start one way and end another. We walk in the Christ as we have received Him: not with law, but in faith.


  11. Scripture speaks of the one who has been justified by faith and tries to walk by law as stepping back.
    For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor. (Galatians 2:18).

    but now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again? (Galatians 4:9).


  12. The believer in Christ is dead to the Law. And Scripture makes this death to Law a prerequisite for two things:

    1. living to God: "For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God." (Galatians 2:19).

    2. being spiritually fruitful: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God." (Romans 7:4).


    This doesn't mean he or she is not responsible to keep the Law, it means that he or she is completely outside the Law's jurisdiction. The believer has no obligation to keep the Law whatsoever. None.


  13. The Law is not dead, the Christian is. 1 Timothy 1 makes that very clear.


  14. The purpose of the Law was to reveal Christ.
    Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; (John 5:39).

    So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25).

    There are at least two functions of the Law according to the Epistles:

    1. it showed what He would be like when He came

    2. it showed the sinner's need of the Saviour





So that's a brief summary of what I can see in Scripture about the Law. It's sure not complete, but I think it's a good start.

3 comments:

Chuck said...

There's no arguing with this post...one can't sensibly argue against Scripture, or an articulate student thereof!

A couple of points:

We have Romans 13:8-10, where several of the Mosaic commandments are repeated for Paul's Gentile readers. Moreover, we have 2 Timothy 3:16, which indicates that the Law has something profitable to teach us.

The inclusion of the Gentiles into God's household posed a problem for the Jewish Christians: what was to be their relation to the Law? The 613 commandments are dropped except for two general points of emphasis: 1) no idolatry and 2) no immorality (Acts 15:20). Those two sum up the beginning of our right, outward relationship to God and to our fellow man.

No one is justified or sanctified by the Law. Nevertheless, the Law serves as an objective reminder of the types of behavior that should be avoided by those walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-23).

As I write I'm thinking of an essay by the classical liberal French politician Frederic Bastiat (himself a Christian, incidentally) entitled The Law. Obviously, Bastiat wasn't writing about the Mosaic Law but rather natural law as the foundation of human government. And his point is striking: natural law is negative. It always tells men what they cannot do, so that the God-given natural rights of their neighbors are not violated. Law is a check against man's tendency towards coercion of his fellow man.

Natural law stands in contrast to "positive" law, whereby certain men tell others how they ought to live - almost always against their will.

Natural law doesn't tell us how to live; it tells us how not live, to keep us from infringing upon others' lives. God's biblical Law does not communicate life (although many of the Levitical commandments include positive exhortations). That's why life in the Spirit supercedes obedience to the Law; He is the positive source and manner of a new life in Christ.

And that new life will be characterized by many new and wonderful things -- but the Spirit will never lead a Christian to violate the old commandments, summed up (if you will) in Acts 15:20.

clumsy ox said...

Chuck, this one really needs a coffee table and some hot drinks.

I stopped that post perhaps a little soon, because it was pretty long already.

I certainly agree that Christ hasn't delivered us from Law only to drop us into lawlessness. There is no sanction in Scripture for Antinomianism in that sense of the word. If we love Him, we keep His commandments.

And there is absolutely use of the Law for today per 2 Timothy 3. I can't disagree with that in the slightest.

What gets interesting is, that the Apostolic conclusion in Acts 15 lines up very well with the pre-Mosaic commands God gave from Noah on. The eating of blood, abstaining from fornication, and avoiding idolatry were all the expectations of the patriarchs. Sodom was destroyed for the wickedness in it, not because it violated the Law. So there is absolutely a moral standard God expects, even of the Gentiles who have not Law.

Chuck said...

Excellent point -- especially as it ties in with the 430 years from the covenant with Abraham till Sinai.

Looking forward to seeing the continuation of your thoughts on this subject.