|12. The Law in Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, and Ephesians
The following passages in Scripture provide valuable insights into the relationship of the law, faith, and grace to the Christian life. Romans 2:9-16, 2:25-29, 3:19-31, 4:1-17, 5:12-21, 6:1-14, 7:1-6, 8:1-4, 10:1-13, and Ephesians 2:8-22 will be examined.
Paul speaks here of Jews and Gentiles alike being under the condemnation of the law since both have sinned by breaking the law. The Jews by breaking the law given to them by God through Moses at Mount Sinai, and the Gentiles by breaking what they knew instinctively to be right. In other words, going against their conscience. It is also interesting to note in verse 16 that on the day of judgment the Gospel is what people will be judged by, not the law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments.
This passage shows that circumcision and uncircumcision is meaningless if the requirements of the law are not kept. And since all fail to meet the requirements of the law, the Jew has no superiority over the Gentile because of circumcision. True circumcision is living according to the leading of the Holy Spirit and not by the letter or works of the law.
This passage indicates that all have sinned and continue to fall short of God's glory. Through the law comes the knowledge of sin and the need to come to Christ. The law is established, as stated in verse 31, to help us realize our need for the law of faith. Without it, we cannot see our sinfulness and realize our need for the grace offered in Christ Jesus (as was shown earlier in Galatians 3:24-25). Paul shows here that God is the God of Jews and Gentiles alike, and that both are saved according to the law of faith, not according to works of the law. Righteousness comes only through faith in Christ and His work on our behalf, so no one can boast about one's works. Paul, in the following chapter, goes on to explain to the Jews in Rome how the Gentiles can be granted salvation without having received the Old Covenant law.
Paul shows in this passage how the promise of righteousness by faith was made to Abraham before he was circumcised, not after. He includes both Jews and Gentiles in this promise. The Jews, being descendants of Abraham, experienced living under the law. Yet this did not lead them to righteousness by faith, just as Abraham was not called righteous because he was circumcised but because he believed God. On the other hand, the Gentiles did not share this experience, but came directly into righteousness by faith when they accepted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. They did so while bypassing the Old Covenant law given to Israel at Sinai. The point Paul makes here is that Jews and Gentiles alike share the same father, Abraham, through the grace of God by faith. They are therefore heirs of the promise made by God to him as his descendants.
This passage tells us what a great blessing grace is through Jesus Christ. That though through one man's disobedience sin and death entered the world, Jesus' once for all atonement for all the world's sin has made salvation available to anyone who places faith in the grace of God. Adam sinned by disobeying God, thereby bringing death into the world. Adam's sin corrupted his nature and condemned him and his descendants to death. And like an unavoidable genetic or hereditary flaw, all are born into this world with his sinful nature, making us sinners. And death is by sin because death is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). In the time between Adam and Moses, many sinned and did not consider it sin, because the law had not yet come. Though people living in this period of time did not know the law, they were still sinners because they had inherited Adam's sinful nature and they sinned. But sin was not taken into account as much when the law had not yet arrived. This did not mean that it was not sinful to do evil at that time, nor that God overlooked sin. We have only to look at the story of the Flood (Genesis 6-9) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19) to see this. It seems to indicate that before knowing the law, people either followed or disregarded what they understood at that time to be right. They had a "law to themselves" "written on their hearts" described as their conscience (Romans 2:14-15). It also shows that the Ten Commandments were not from creation or before.
Of course, because grace covers our sins and makes us just before God does not mean that we can continue to live in sin. If we are baptized into His death, we have died to sin. And as verse 4 says, we are resurrected "so we too might walk in newness of life." Sin would no longer rule over our lives, because we would be dead to sin and alive in Christ. Does this mean we will be suddenly sinless? No. As long as we live we will still make mistakes and fall to temptation occasionally, for our old sinful lives will always try to come back to control us again and condemn us to death. Fortunately, the grace of God covers us in such situations (1 John 2:1-2), for without it we all would be doomed. Being alive in Christ means a lifelong commitment to God, a living and growing relationship with Him. This is the "newness of life," which is a lifelong process. We become, as verse 13 says, "instruments of righteousness" instead of "instruments of unrighteousness." All this is done, not through the law, but by the grace of God. That is why verse 14 states that sin will no longer be our master, because we live under grace instead of under the law.
Verse 5 shows that the law cannot save us from sin. In fact, sin is made manifest and receives its power from the law, which in the end leads to death. As in the marriage analogy in verses 1-3, if we die to the law through Christ, we are joined with Him so that we might bear the fruits of righteousness for God. Dying to the law through Christ releases us from it and enables us to live lives pleasing to God through the inner working and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This new law of the Spirit sets us free from the law of sin and death. For that law cannot change anyone so that they can live godly lives. Jesus Christ died to set us free from this law so that we may walk "according to the Spirit," for the Holy Spirit has the power to change us so that we may live lives in accordance to the will of God.
This passage shows that before we accepted Christ, we were driven by the desires of the flesh so that we could not obey God. If the Holy Spirit does not live within us, we are still living according to the law of the flesh. While our bodies are dead due to sin, we are born again in the spirit through Christ. Anyone who truly believes in Jesus is covered by His righteousness. And if we are covered by His righteousness, if His Spirit lives within us, we have the certainty and hope that we will be resurrected to eternal life with God. The ones who are in Christ Jesus are the ones who live by the law of the Spirit. When we walk according to the Holy Spirit's guidance, He gives us His power to become sanctified, to live lives pleasing to God. As a result, we can look forward to the Jesus' Second Coming with hope, assurance, and confidence. We will continue to have our struggles with sin as we walk with Christ. We will be subject to temptation and sometimes fall to it, but there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus since it is His righteousness that saves us and not our own. When we remain steadfast and firm in our faith in Jesus, we have the hope of being resurrected to renewed and eternal life.
Paul shows here that we are under an obligation. Not to live according to our sinful natures which leads to death, but according to the Spirit who helps us to live lives pleasing to God. Before accepting Christ, we lived in obligation to life in the flesh. But because Jesus has saved us from sin and destruction, we are now in obligation to Him, with the responsibility to live in conformity with the will of the Spirit. And if we are subject to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we cannot ignore Him when He points out sin in our lives; when He tries to keep us on the right path. Spirit-led people are not given a spirit of bondage, but are called children of God. We can therefore call God our Father, and receive the promise of the inheritance of God's kingdom that comes with being His adopted children.
The law points out our need of salvation by grace, through faith. The ceremonies of the Old Covenant pointed forward to Christ as fulfilling the righteousness, and bearing the curse of the law. Full satisfaction was made by the death of Christ for our transgression of the law, and the end is gained. That is, Christ has fulfilled the whole law, therefore anyone who believes in Him is counted as righteous before God, as though that person had fulfilled the whole law. Instead of God looking at our righteousness, which are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), He looks at the righteousness of Christ as our own when we accept Him by faith.
Other passages to consider are 1 Corinthians 15:56; and 2 Corinthians 3, and 4:1-4.
This passage indicates that God has given us a new kind of relationship. One not based on tablets of stone, but on something that can change one's heart. Some Christians say we must continue to look to the law to remind us of our sinfulness and to know what sin is and what it is not. But it seems according to this Scriptural passage that the focus must not be on the law, for 2 Corinthians 3:6 says the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. While "the ministry of death, engraved on stones" (the Ten Commandments) came with glory, it faded in favor of the "ministry of the Spirit" which came with greater glory. The Old Covenant law, described here as being the Ten Commandments, cannot produce change in a person's heart, but the inner working of the Holy Spirit can and does produce change. There is no law that can change the heart so that it may bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). This passage further warns that those who continue to look to the law whose glory has faded away, instead of looking to Christ who is the Spirit, have a "veil" over their heart (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). They are unable to see the light of the Gospel of Christ, and fail to experience its liberating and life-transforming nature. As Christians, we are to look to Christ and not to Moses. We are to allow the ministry of the Holy Spirit to take hold in our lives. Only by gazing on the glory of Jesus Christ, and not the law, are we changed into His likeness by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, allowing us to bear the fruit of the Spirit. For we are changed according to what we focus on (2 Corinthians 3:18). Some Christians also claim that the Ten Commandments are the reflection of God's character. But it seems, according to Scripture, that Jesus Christ is the perfect reflection of God's character. Consider this passage in Hebrews 1.
If we continually look to the law for guidance, then true successful Christian living cannot occur. In fact, one in such a position runs the risk of consciously or unconsciously seeking salvation by keeping the law, thus separating oneself from Christ and falling from of the grace of God (Galatians 5:4). But if we continually look to Christ and live according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can experience true inner change, joy, and peace. Essentially, we can experience a victorious walk with Christ.
The law separated Jews, to whom the it was given, from Gentiles. It was a barrier that kept all not joined with the people of Israel, as verse 12 says, in a state apart from the "covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." As a result of Christ's fulfillment of the law by His life, death, and resurrection, the "dividing wall" between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down. All may share in the grace and salvation that God offers through Jesus Christ. All may become part of the family of God and become a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, so that transformation of character may take place and godly lives may be lived. Godly living has been mentioned a few times earlier. But what is it? What does it mean to live a godly life?
In essence, a godly life is lived by continually looking to Christ, who is the Spirit, and not to the law or ourselves. For in beholding the glory of Christ we become changed into His likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) and do naturally what is pleasing to Him. The things that we do in life and whatever motives we have for doing them, falling within the commandment of Jesus Christ to us to love one another as he loves us (John 13:34-35), constitute godly living. Not following a set of rules and regulations which cannot change the heart or our motives, but following the lead of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to transform our lives so that we can be truly altruistic in dealings with our fellow human beings. No set of rules or laws can make us truly love one another. Change comes from within, and it is brought about only by Christ working in us. The change that enables us to truly love one another (1 Corinthians 13), to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45), to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), to see to the needs of our fellow human beings (James 2:15-18; 1 John 3:17-18), to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2), to be faithful in our marriages (Hebrews 13:4), to be of comfort to those in sadness or grief (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), to encourage one another in the faith (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:23-25), and to turn away from anything that would hinder our relationship with Christ (Matthew 5:29-30; 2 Timothy 2:19). All these things are part of living a godly life. Performance of good works, not to gain salvation, since there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn God's grace or His gift of salvation, but as a result of true faith and the inner working of the Holy Spirit, according to the Gospel of Christ and for His glory.
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