Friday, September 18, 2020

Dead to the Law (reprise)

 J. N. Darby wrote an article titled, "The Sabbath: or, Is the law dead, or am I?". That's a good question to contemplate.

To be blunt, a lot of dispensationalists get this one wrong. We tend to think the Law was "for then", not "for now". But that's not what Scripture actually teaches. Scripture teaches not that the Law came to an end, but that our death with Christ has made us dead to it. This perspective is important if we want to understand what the Epistles (particularly the Pauline Epistles) teach.

Romans 7:5–8 is careful to tell us two things that almost appear to be opposites. First, when we attempt to keep the Law, we will find that it merely empowers the sin that lives in us (Romans 7:18–23 reiterates this point). Many Christians talk about the Law curbing our tendency to sin, but the Epistles tell us just the opposite: the Law makes it easier for us to sin!

The second lesson in Romans 7:5–8 is that while the Law provides a point of attack for the sin that lives in us, the problem is not that the Law is bad. On the contrary, the Law is holy and just and good (Romans 7:12). How does something that is holy and just and good have such a terrible effect on us?

The answer is in Romans 3:20, "by the Law is knowledge of sin." The Law was given to reveal sin (not, as J. N. Darby points out, sins). The Law does exactly what it was designed to do: it reveals our own sinfulness to us. It's working exactly as designed when it shows us to be sinners. This is why 1 Timothy 1:8–11 asserts that the Law isn't for righteous men, but unrighteous ones. The whole point of it is to reveal unrighteousness.

It is not the Law that has died, but I that have died. The problem isn't that the Law is bad, but that I am. And if I insist on putting myself under it, it will do exactly what God gave it to do: it will reveal that I am a sinner.

So what should I do? I need to accept what God has said: I have died with Christ. In that death, I have been put in a place where the Law has nothing to say to me. I have been separated from it as completely as I have been separated from sin. I have died to both, and I am to see myself in that light. My self-image is supposed to be "one that has died with Christ." That death removes me from sin, and from the Law.

Scripture doesn't teach that sin has died, but that I have died. Scripture doesn't teach that the Law has died, but that I have died. The disruption is on my side.

The Law is still as much in effect as it ever was.  And it still works: it still shows fallen men and women to be sinners. We don't believe that the Law has been abolished, but that we have been separated from it by the death of Christ, so that we can be fruitful towards God (Romans 7:4).


Susan said...

So Christians are dead to the law, under the law of Christ and the rule of the new creation, walking by the Spirit.
Romans 7:4
Galatians 6:2
Galatians 6:14-16
Galatians 5:25

Anonymous said...

How do you understand,

Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances;(Eph 2:15)


"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;"(Col.3:14)

On the surface they seem to me to suggest that law has been abolished and blotted out.

clumsy ox said...

Well, I generally use Darby's translation, which explains why neither of those verses occurred to me. But it's a fair question.

In context, Ephesians 2:15 is talking about separation between Jews and Gentiles. I don't understand that distinction to have been done away except "in Christ". I'd argue that Romans 9:1–5 and 1 Corinthians 1:22–24 support the idea that those distinctions are alive and well in the world: it's only "in Christ" that we see those distinctions to have been done away.

In this scope (i.e. "in Christ"), it is quite true that the Law has come to an end: all who are "in Christ" have died to the Law. But I don't take that the mean the Law has been done away in any other sense. Certainly I wouldn't apply those verses to people not "in Christ".

I take Colossians 2:14 to be referring not to the Law itself, but to the accusations of the Law against those whom it condemns. In other words, the accusations that were against us have been taken care of in the Cross. Notice that there was an accusation written against Christ that literally was nailed to the Cross (John 19:19–22). I take Colossians 2:14 to be making a similar claim about real accusations that could be made against us.

And to be clear, I think Romans 2:12–16 makes it very clear that Gentiles aren't actually condemned by the Law, never having been under it in the first place. But that doesn't really change the discussion... I just think it's worth clarifying.

I think that fits in better with passages like Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17, 1 Timothy 1:8–11, and Hebrews 8:8–12. Certainly the Hebrews passage (quoting Jeremiah 31:31–34) indicates that the Law has a place in the future dealings of God with Israel and Judah.

I'm not sure that helps much, but after thinking it over for several days, this seems like the most succinct reply.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your explanation.

Your explanation of Col 2.14 is very helpful.

But as to Eph.2.15, if the law has been abolished for those " In Christ ", then for believers, isn't the disruption on both sides- The believers are dead to law and the law has been abolished for the believers ( atleast for the ones to whom it was given) .

Not trying to be augmentative, but trying to understand it better.

clumsy ox said...

I'm sorry, I've let this comment fall through the cracks somehow.

I'll concede the Law is abolished for those in Christ, insisting only that the Law is a real and powerful thing "out there". I mean, Jeremiah 31:31ff seems to indicate the Law will one day be written on the hearts of [regenerated] Israel and Judah. I think that alone indicates God isn't finished with the Law.

I do see your point, but I think the word "abolished" carries some sense that God is done with it. Interestingly, Hebrews 8:13 puts the "Old Covenant" in exactly that position. So I definitely don't believe God intends to reinstate that.