Friday, September 11, 2020

Dead to the Law

 I was reading a book whose authors contend that Christians being "not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14–15) and their being "dead to the law" (Romans 7:4–6) shouldn't be taken to mean that Christians aren't under obligation to the Law. Their explanation is that "not under law" means not justified by keeping the law.

This view isn't as uncommon as we might expect, so it's worth thinking over.

Galatians 4:3–5 asserts that Christ came to "redeem those under law". So we can confidently say that at least some people are (or were) "under law". If we are to take these authors' view of what it means to be "under law", then we have to conclude that Galatians 4:3–5 teaches there are those who are justified by works. That's an odd statement in light of Galatians 3:10–12, Romans 3:19–20, etc.

What the epistles explicitly teach is that God has only ever justified sinners on the basis of faith (Romans 1:17, 4:1–15). God has never justified on the basis of works – not based on the Law of Moses or any other law. Justification is by faith, only and always. This is the clear teaching of the first four chapters of Romans, as well as the epistle to the Galatians.

So what does it mean to be "under the law"? Romans and Galatians both make it clear that the function of the Law was to reveal sin (not, as Darby points out, sins). In fact, Galatians makes the astonishing statement that it would have been unrighteous of God to add the Law as a condition to a promise He had made to Abraham 400 years earlier (Galatians 3:15–26). We can't make a promise, then add caveats and conditions long after the fact. So we conclude that the Law has nothing – nothing! – to do with justification in God's sight, nor even with the promised blessing to Abraham.

So the Law was only ever a "rule of life", never a means of justification.

And at this point, the entire argument falls apart. If the Law was never more than a rule of life, then it cannot be said that those "under the Law" were under it as more than a rule of life. Nor can it be said that those "not under Law" are under it as a rule of life, but not as a means of justification. That's absurd.

It's striking that Romans 7:4–6 describes our relationship to the Law in the same terms that Romans 6:11 uses to describe our relationship to sin. The Christian lives as separately from the Law as he does from sin.

Now, I realize there are more nuanced views that I've sort of glossed over here. But it seems to me that the Epistles clearly and unequivocally teach that the believer is, indeed, dead to the Law and under no obligation to it. That doesn't mean the believer is to live lawlessly, not at all! But it falls far short of what Scripture teaches to suggest that the Law has any authority at all over the believer.


Rodger said...

What do you understand by the righteousness of the law being fulfilled in those who walk not after the flesh, but by the Spirit (Romans 8:4)?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark. I really appreciate your regular Friday posts! Hope you are far away from fires.


HandWrittenWord said...

But if ye be led of the Spirit,
ye are not under the law.
Gal. 5:18

But the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness,
goodness, faith, meekness, temperance:
against such there is no law.
And they that are Christ's have crucified
the flesh with the affections and lusts.
Gal. 5:22-24

If we live in the Spirit, let us also
walk in the Spirit.
Gal. 5:25

But if ye be led of the Spirit,
ye are not under the law.
Gal. 5:18

Susan said...

Amen Mark!
Law gives strength to the sin nature, and for the new nature law is unnecessary.

clumsy ox said...

The fires are an hour or more away, but the smoke is intense: it’s like something apocalyptic.

I’ve been trying to schedule posts to make the cadence more regular.

clumsy ox said...

I understand Romans 8:4 to refer not to the Law, but to the righteousness of the Law. If men and women were capable of keeping the Law, then perfect obedience to it would result in a righteous life. That same end result is accomplished by our walking in the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16 is parallel: if you want not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, the remedy is to walk in the Spirit. Notice that the Galatians were apparently attempting to use Law as a remedy for flesh, but it just doesn't work that way. The remedy for flesh isn't Law, but the Holy Spirit.

I don't know if I'm saying that very well.

Anonymous said...

The first time I flew from Seattle to Spokane was during the big fires of summer 2015. It was eerie - the sun was setting behind us and through the clouds there shot up these great plumes of orange light.

It was so apocalyptic I was almost prepared for Idaho ... cg