Sunday, July 26, 2009


So following up on my claims that the Law is not for the Christian, I thought I'd say something about what the Christian is bound by.

Let's just bear in mind that this is a blog, not a systematic theology or a treatise.

So the first thing to recognize is that we are dead to sin as well as dead to the Law. This gets particularly interesting when we notice 1 John's statement:
sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4)

So on the one hand, we are dead to the Law, on the other we are dead to lawlessness.

What is lawlessness? It's when a person says "You can't tell me what to do!"

This is exactly what Romans 1--3 are talking about: the Jews had the Law and trangressed it; the Gentiles didn't have the Law, and acted lawlessly. And the Gentiles don't get a break as far as God is concerned: they have no excuse for their lawless behaviour, because God has revealed Himself (albeit imperfectly) in creation and instinctively in men's hearts. The Gentiles who acted lawlessly knew they were doing wrong. In fact, Romans charges that they knew what they were doing was worthy of death:
who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them. (Romans 1:32)

It is not that the Gentiles are condemned for violating the Law they were given, but they were condemned for doing what they instinctively know is contrary to God.

And we see again the general principle in the first five chapters of Romans that those to whom more has been given are more responsible. So that the Jews bear more responsibiity than the heathen, as they had the Law. And by the same token, unbelievers from Christian homes and [nominally] christian cultures bear more responsibility than those from heathen or pagan societies.
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; (Romans 2:4-5)

But the Christian has died to sin as surely as he or she has died to the Law.

Alva McClain points out that Paul was accused of Antinomianism:
and why not (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil, that good may come? whose condemnation is just. (Romans 3:8)
And Alan Gamble has pointed out that the reaction of some to the Gospel is given in Romans 6:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)
Thus, Gamble concludes, if no one accuses you of Antinomianism, you're probably not teaching the Gospel. If we preach Gospel that doesn't make people say, "So you can do whatever you want?" then we're preaching a Gospel that rests on human works.

I think Alan Gamble has hit the nail dead on the head: the proclamation of the true Gospel will inevitably result in charges of "cheap grace". The Scriptural precedent is clear, only consider how many times the Epistles re-iterate that the Law cannot save and you'll see the justice of this remark. People just have trouble grasping the concept of totally free salvation.

But the question remains, are we called to? If we're dead to the Law and dead to sin, what's left?

Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

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)

Christ hasn't saved people from under the Law only to turn around and drop them into lawlessness. But He hasn't saved them from one law just to put them under another either. He has saved us and delivered us to God.

At a minimum, with no further searching the Scripture, we can conclude some basic things. God is holy, and one who is "alive unto God" would naturally reflect this holiness. Just like the Gentiles instictively know some things are contrary to God's nature, so the one "alive unto God" instinctively knows some things become a believer. So we don't lie, cheat, or steal.

But when we search the Scripture we find explicit commands given to the believer in Christ. Some of these parallel very closely what was in the Law, some parallel closely what was in the commands given before the Law. Some are entirely new.

But there is a different animating principle behind them. To quote C. H. Mackintosh, where the Law said "do and live", grace says "live and do". So, as an example, under the Law the disciples were taught:
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15).

But in this new realm of "alive unto God" the Epistles teach:
forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: (Colossians 3:13)

So where it used to be, "do this and God will forgive," now the teaching is "God has forgiven, so you ought to do this".

Do we see the difference? Under Law we would get what we deserve. Now we are to live out what we've already gotten.

But I would go further and say that where the Law was once a rule of life, we now have a much better standard: the life of Christ. So the Epistles say things like "so also do ye". It's not that we have 613 commandments now, but that we have the Son of God, and we walk in His footsteps. In fact, Ephesians tells us that God has pre-ordained good works for us to walk in. The path is laid out, we just need to follow along.

For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things... (Hebrews 10:1)

not as without law to God, but as legitimately subject to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21, Darby Translation)

And this brings us back to the whole question of Antinonmianism. What if we never walk it out? What if the believer just never lives right? Is that OK?

Well, it's not OK... but yeah, in a sense it is.

If I really understand the state from which Christ has saved me: that I really am a worthless blight on the face of the earth but He has saved me not for any good thing in me. If I really get it, then I have to conclude that nothing the believer does---and nothing he fails to do---can phase God. What sort of foolishness is it for me to worry about whether another Christian walks it out when I can see so clearly just how much God has forgiven when it comes to me?

Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So am I content to just live lawlessly, because I know I can get away with it?

Maybe that thought occurs to me from time to time, but really the Scripture has made a remarkable claim: that my purpose is to be alive to God. He has called me to something more, why am I content not to live it?

And this, I think, is what the legalist doesn't grasp. The legalist thinks in terms of carrots and sticks. There must be a stick to punish and a carrot to coax. But what the Scripture teaches is something very different: the indwelling Spirit of God, a new life in Christ, and a new calling.

We're not just redeemed sinners, regardless of what so many bumper stickers might say. We're new creations, and this really what drives us onwards.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Recommendation: Law and Grace

If you've talked with me much, you know I am very fixated with the whole question of Law for the Christian. Last night I picked up a slim volume from my bookshelf, Law and Grace by Alva McClain. It's been on my shelf for a few years now, but I've never taken the time to read it.


I highly recommend getting a copy of this. In fact, I plan to buy several copies to give away. This is a brilliant little gem.

I don't find it as meaty as Darby's books, but then I really didn't expect to. It's far easier to read than some of my favourites; by the same token, it's a much more powerful message because it's more clearly expressed.

But don't think this is a lightweight book. It touches all the essential points of the Scriptural teaching touching the Law in the life of the Christian. And the arguments are clearly and logically applied.

Really, get a copy of this book. You won't regret it.