To obey or not to obey?

ten commandmentsWhat place does the Law, epitomized in the Ten Commandments, have in the Christian’s life?  Are we free of the Law and not under obligation to obey it?  If we seek to obey God’s Law are we not being legalists and fundamentalist?  What does the bible mean when it says Christians are under grace, not Law?

Romans 7 answers an important question about the Law’s place in the Christian’s life.  By “Law”, I mean the law given by God to Moses epitomized in the Ten Commandments.

In Romans 1-4, the Apostle Paul has outlined the essentials of the gospel.  Every human being stands condemned before God and there is no one righteous.  The only way of being righteous is if God declares us righteous.  This righteousness is on the basis of faith in Jesus and apart from any works of the Law.  One can never be made right with God by trying to keep Ten Commandments or by trying to be good.  From the following verses it may seem that the Apostle Paul is quite negative to the Law:

all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. (Romans 12:12)

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law. (Romans 3:21)

For the law brings wrath (Romans 4:15)

the law came in to increase the trespass (Romans 5:20)

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

We might think (and some did think) that Paul was very anti the Old Testament Law.  There are some Christians today who are called “antinomians” (anti=against, nomos=law) who reject the Ten Commandments and say they don’t apply to Christians.  Antinomians say that the only law that applies to Christians is the law of love. So whatever is loving that’s what you must do.  Of course, the trouble is who gets to decide what’s loving?  Whose version of love gets obeyed?

Is Paul anti the Law? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Christians are not under the Law

Paul argues in v1-3 that the law is only binding on a person as long as that person is alive.  He uses the illustration of marriage: if a marriage partner dies, the law of marriage ends, you are now free to remarry – if you want to.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ… (Romans 7:4)

In the previous chapter, Paul said that Christians have died to sin – with Christ – so that now sin has lost its penalty and power over us.   Here in v4 he says we also “died to the law“. V6 says we are “released from the law”.  The law says that those who break the law deserve to die, so when Christ died we died with him, the law’s curse and condemnation was taken away.  We are no longer condemned by the Law because the proper penalty according to the Law is paid.

V6 is a beautiful description of the Christian:

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (another phrase to sum up the Law). (Romans 7:6)

As Christians, we don’t rely on the law to save us or sanctify us (because the law never could save or sanctify anybody anyway), but now serve God with the help of the Holy Spirit in us.  In that sense we are dead to the law (v4) and released from the law (v6): we don’t rely on the law to save and sanctify.

Isn’t that so true? A set of rules can only go so far, it can’t make anybody right with God or change the heart.  If you’re trying to live your life by rules and checking boxes, you’re in for a massive disappointment.  You can’t even keep your own rules, let alone God’s rules.

One might then ask: if in Romans 6 it says we are dead to sin and in Romans 7 it says we are dead to the Law; does that mean that the law is bad just like sin is bad?

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! (Romans 7:7)

The Law is good

Are we to reject the Law as Christians? No. 

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:12) 

Paul says that the Law can’t save you, but that does not mean it’s bad.  The law has other functions.  One of the functions is that is points out sin in our lives – and that’s a good thing.

Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  (Romans 7:7b)

If God hated murder in the Old Testament, does he not hate murder now?  If God hated coveting in Old Testament does he not hate coveting now?  The Law is a good guide to us as to what honours and dishonour God.

The Christian can say with the author of Psalm 119:

With my whole heart I seek you;

let me not wander from your commandments! (v10)

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. (v34)

The Law is to a Christian what a compass is to Bear Grylls.

Sin is our great enemy

But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. (Romans 7:8)

The law is good, right and holy; it is our sin, our inner rebellion towards God, that is that is the problem.  Paul now gives an autobiographical sketch of his own life to show how good the law is and how bad sin is:

For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7)

We sin and rebel against God even though we might not know the Ten Commandments, but the Ten commandments expose, name and show our sin.

For apart from the law, sin lies dead (inactive) (Romans 7:8)

As an unbeliever, Paul knew the law, but the law had not convicted him of his sin. He was self-complacent, happy with his life and thought he was pleasing God.

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  (Romans 7:9)

In his own mind he was spiritually alive and fine, but in reality he was far from God.  When it finally dawned on Paul that he was breaking the commandments and a sinner worthy of God’s judgment, he died to self-complacency and self-approval, realizing he was spiritually dead.  This is what happens when God starts working in our lives to bring conviction of sin. 

v10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

God’s law was meant to give life, but because of sin it brings death instead.

v11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

Sin uses the Law as a bridgehead or a base of operations to condemn and deceive.

The Law is good and right and holy; the problem is sin. The law reveals sin, shows sin, names sin, condemns sin, but never causes sin.  A criminal may go to the High Court and be convicted by the judge for breaking the law and then sent to prison.  It’s not the law’s fault; the law is good.  It’s the criminal’s fault.  God law was always and will always be, good.  Sin is our great problem, not the Law. 

The questions we must all ask is: Has my sin been dealt with? Have I cast myself on the mercy of God in Christ?  Do I as a Christian seek to obey God’s law, not to earn God’s favour, but to honour God? 

 

We will see in the next post that sin continues to be a problem and the law continues to be good, even in the life of a believer.