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.


Gwen said...

Yes. I agree with you. To hell with carrots and sticks!

Ames said...

Good stuff. Keep it coming.