Is the law done away? (part 7)

     One minute Paul says we’re “released from the law (Romans 7:6),” but the next minute he says “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good (verse 12).” So, why would God release us from the law when it’s holy and good? Because the law “brought death (verse 10).”      

     Paul discovered to his intense dismay “that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” He believed with all his heart that keeping the commandments would “bear fruit to God (verse 4),” but “when the commandment came, sin sprang to life (instead) and I died (verse 9).” It was a nightmare. Instead of the law stopping him sinning, it only made him want to sin more! The more commandments he knew, and the more intensely he tried to obey them, the more he desired what they prohibited! The law said “Do not covet,” for instance, but instead of it stopping Paul coveting, it “produced in me every kind of covetous desire (verse 8)” instead!

     Paul felt terribly deceived, “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death (verse 11).” Sin had been really clever. It had used the law that Paul thought “was intended to bring life (verse 10),” and turned it round so that it “actually brought death.”  

     And that raised a harrowing question in Paul’s mind. “Did that which is good, then, become death to me (verse 13)?” Was this wonderful law of God actually a highly cunning killer? Was the law, in fact, in cahoots with sin? Because it certainly looked like it. Without the law, sin didn’t affect him (verse 8), but with the law came all these awful desires to sin, and sin meant death. 

     So, is this good law of God really just a killer, Paul asks? “By no means!” he answers, “But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful (verse 13).” 

     Sin is awful, but we’d never know it without the law. The law exposes the sins within us, forces them into the open so we can see what a dreadful mess we’re in. By doing that though, the law kills us (verse 10), but in killing us it shows up who our real killer is. It’s sin and its evil desires and sinful passions that consume and control us. 

     And that’s why the law is good. It spotlights our worst enemy. But once that purpose is done, the law is replaced by “the new way of the Spirit”… 

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Is the law done away? (part 6)

     Is the law done away? That’s the question. And the answer from Paul is “Yes, it is done away” – as a means of dealing with our nature, because our nature is far too powerful for any law to change it. 

     But Paul answers “No” to that question, too. No, God’s law is not done away, because it serves a wonderful purpose still. It may not be able to change our nature, but it is brilliantly effective in exposing it. “Indeed,” Paul writes in Romans 7:7, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” It was only through the law that sin could be dragged out into the open to make it obvious and real.

     Sin’s invisible, otherwise. It stays in hiding, manipulating us as it wishes, like a music technican sliding the controls in a sound booth, and we have no idea it’s happening. We just flop through life like some mindless bug-eyed puppet, completely unaware that our every thought, every choice, every decision and action is being totally controlled by sin. Sin pulls the strings and we do exactly as sin directs. And sin would continue its merry dance in our lives, completely unabated and free to do as it wished, if it wasn’t for the law.

     The law, however, reveals all. It flicks the lights on in the sound booth to reveal the technician at work. It lifts up the puppet stage all of a sudden to reveal the embarrassed puppeteers in action. It pours lemon juice on invisible writing, turns the spotlight on crooks trying to break and enter, but best of all it stamps names on all those awful things sin has been doing to us, identifying the destructive forces of sin in our lives at last.  

     For example, Paul writes, “I would not have known what it was to covet if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.'” Sin had filled Paul’s mind with covetous desires, but he was totally unaware of it until he heard God’s law on coveting. And then all hell broke loose! Because “sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire (verse 8).”

     It was like opening a box full of spiders. Lift the lid and out they pour, a ghastly mass of scrambling legs and wobbling bodies. And out poured the sins when the law lifted the lid in Paul’s head, too. But what a sight, because out spilled a squirming mass of coveting, and it was horrible! But sin was out in the open at last. The law had done its job…

Is the law done away? (part 5)

     For those who attach great importance to God’s law and the 10 commandments it must be confusing when Paul writes “you are not under the law (Romans 6:14),” “you died to the law (Romans 7:4),” “we have been released from the law (Romans 7:6),” and “the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives (Romans 7:1),” which means – because we died with Christ – that God’s law doesn’t have authority over us anymore. 

     So why all these negative statements about the law? Because the law has no power whatsoever in dealing with our nature. In fact, Paul explains, the law only makes sin worse, because instead of controlling our human nature, it only arouses it (Romans 7:5) – just like a child finds something he shouldn’t touch far more tempting and interesting after he’s been told not to touch it! But that’s our nature; being told not to do something has a nasty habit of exciting one’s curiosity and a greater desire do it! God’s law does that too – it excites and “arouses sinful passions.” 

     The law, therefore, is useless when it comes to subduing the passions that bubble and boil inside us. Does that mean God’s law has no use at all then, if it can’t make us behave better? Paul even asked “Is the law sin?” because it only seems to make things worse. And his answer? No – because, verse 7 – “I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” 

     So, why do we need to know what sin is? Because these sinful passions “at work in our bodies” all “bore fruit for death (verse 5).” We live in remarkable bodies, fuelled and fired by amazing passions bubbling with creative energy, but they’re killing us. Watch a teenager. All that wasted energy doing useless things, but he’ll keep on doing them ’til he drops from exhaustion! It’s like an automatic self-destruct module in his head. Even though we know what we’re doing to ourselves, we can’t stop doing them. 

     But that’s when the law becomes useful, because it exposes what our nature is doing to us. Because of the law, Paul writes, “sin sprang to life (Romans 7:9).” The law gave sin life. It gave sin a body and an outline that could be seen. We couldn’t see sin before because it was hiding out of sight, quietly destroying us, without giving us any clue that we had this monster inside us. But the law dragged sin out of the closet, and there it appeared before us in all its squealing ugliness, like some awful alien in a horror movie…    

Is the law done away? (part 4)

     Is the law done away? Yes, as a means of dealing with human nature, because the lesson we learn from Israel in the Old Testament is that the law is not powerful enough to contain or control our passions. Our nature is so powerful it knocks the props right out from any law imposed on it.

     We see the brutal proof of that in the world in which we live. It’s a world ruled by law, thousands upon thousands of laws, backed up by a merciless justice system and police force designed to make life miserable for lawbreakers. But has that mighty machine of law stopped crime? Has the law made people better? Is our world improving? Do children always obey their parents’ instructions? Do people stop cheating? Has bullying stopped in schools? Can big banks be trusted to never be greedy again?

     It’s all too obvious that the law doesn’t change our nature. It may have considerable influence in controlling people’s behaviour, but push the law too hard on people and it’s like waking a monster. Human nature roused comes out fighting. It doesn’t like being told what to do. It doesn’t like being controlled. And there’s no law in existence that can change that attitude in human nature, “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death (Romans 7:5).” The law only stirs human nature, not changes it. 

     So now what do we do? We’re stuck with a nature that boils with passions we cannot control, and we depend entirely on a system of law enforcement that can never fully contain it – and, what’s more, if we push the law too hard on people, it only rouses their nature to resist and fight, as anyone with teenagers knows, or anyone in a legalistic church knows. Too many rules and people get feisty.

     And from the sad tales of Old Testament Israel we discover that even God’s law is no cure for our nature, either. But that was never what God’s law was for. God’s law, or any law, was never meant to change our nature, which is why God “released us from the law (Romans 7:6),” because as a means of dealing with our nature, the law simply doesn’t work.  

     So what on earth was the purpose of the law, then?…

 



 

     In its place God has provided us with what Paul calls, “the new way of the Spirit,” Romans 7:6. The Spirit replaces the law as the means of dealing with our nature. 


Is the law done away? (part 3)

     The problem with God’s law is that, wonderful and holy though it is, it can’t do anything about our sinful nature or our sinful passions. In fact, according to Paul, the law only rouses our sinful passions, not controls them, Romans 7:5. Tell a child not to do something, for instance, and what does he do? He’s immediately tempted to go do it!

     The law seems to act like an automatic trigger. Something goes “twang” in our heads, like a broken guitar string, when we’re told what to do, because our immediate response is to bristle. But that’s us. Any attempt at laying down the law meets with resistance. It makes us act worse, not better. Look at the Israelites in the Old Testament, for instance. They had the best laws in the world, backed up by the best of blessings if they obeyed them, and what did they do? They resisted, moaned, got into trouble for disobedience and subordination, and finally chucked God all together. 

     What is it about our nature, then, that when told what to do, it only rouses passions of resistance and temptation in us? But that’s how powerful our nature is. It’s so powerful it burns holes right through any law imposed on it. There wasn’t a set of laws in Israel, for instance, or a system of rituals, that could contain their attitudes or their actions. Rather than contain them, the law only made them worse. To impose the law on human nature, then, never works. It only stirs the pot. And while we’re “controlled by (our) sinful nature,” that’s the story for all of us, Paul says in verse 5.

     “But now,” Romans 7:6, “by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” What “bound” us was our sinful nature with its dizzying array of passions, all leaning like sunflowers to the sun toward sin (verse 5). And what method did God use to deal with this nature of ours? The law. But after hundreds and hundreds of years of imposing the law, the great lesson we learn from Israel is that the law doesn’t work. It can’t change human nature.

     So God “released” us from that old system of law and written rules, and opened up a new way of dealing with our nature instead. And this time it involved something a whole lot more powerful than the law. This time human nature was up against the Spirit… 

Is the law done away? (part 2)

     Isn’t it terribly risky for God to remove the law’s authority over us? No, because it frees us up to “belong to another (Romans 7:4),” and whoever this “another” is it’s obviously a whole lot better than who we belonged to before. 

     So, who did we belong to before? To sin. We were sin’s helpless slaves. To our horrible frustration and embarrassment, our bodies constantly and willingly gave themselves to this evil witch called sin. We belonged to her. It was like being married to a control freak and never being able to do enough to please her. Her demands were never-ending, she never let up, and we were powerless to resist. And for years we were tied to her apron strings. We were married to sin, locked by God’s law into this horrible relationship that we couldn’t get out of or escape from. 

     But Christ united us with him in his death on the cross, and by having us die with him, the witch’s spell was broken. She could no longer wield any power over us because we were dead. The law that bound our marriage to sin no longer applied when we died, just like the law binding a wife to her husband no longer applies when he dies. The marriage is over. A wife is free to remarry, and so are we.  

     And that’s exactly how Paul phrased it in Romans 7:4. “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another.” And who is this “another” that God freed us up to belong to instead? It is “to him who was raised from the dead.” We now belong to the living, resurrected Christ. We are totally his.

     Was it risky, then, for God to remove the law’s authority over us? No, because we have a much greater power over us who enables us to “bear fruit to God (verse 4).” Under the power of the law, that was impossible to do, because “we were controlled by (our) sinful nature (verse 5).” The law couldn’t do a thing about the “sinful passions at work in our bodies (verse 5).” In fact, the law only “aroused” them, verse 5, and made them worse. How? By making us aware of just how much we sin, Romans 3:20 – “Through the law we become conscious of sin.” The law doesn’t stop us sinning, it only makes our sins glaringly obvious, our powerlessness real, and our efforts useless. 

     So God frees us up from the old witch to experience a completely new way of life instead…       

Is the law done away? (part 1)

     We could easily be excused for thinking God’s law is done away by Romans 6:14 which says, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Does that mean God’s law has no jurisdiction over us anymore, and it ceases to exist?

     Paul answers that question for us with a startling analogy. He starts it off in Romans 7 with a question: “Do you not know, brothers – that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?” Do you realize, he’s asking them, that you’re only under the law while you’re alive? He then gives the analogy of a wife being bound by law to her husband while her husband is alive, to show that while her husband’s still living she’s still “under the law.”

     When her husband dies, however, she is released from the law of God that binds her to her husband. In other words, she is no longer “under the law.” The laws of marriage no longer have any jurisdiction or any authority over her whatsoever. She is free to remarry without any worries about being accused of (or charged with) adultery. 

     But how does that analogy apply to a Christian? Well, as Paul points out, a Christian has died, too. It’s not a physical death like the death of a husband, but it’s still a death, because we “died with Christ (Romans 6:8).” When Christ was crucified on the cross “our old self was crucified” with him, verse 6. When he died we died with him. But that’s when something else happened as well, because in dying with him we “also died to the law through the body of Christ (Romans 7:4).”   

     When we died with Christ, the law no longer had any jurisdiction or authority over us. We were released from it as completely and totally as a wife is released from the laws of marriage when her husband dies.

     The implications of that are staggering for us Christians though, because it means we can no longer be accused of (or charged with) breaking God’s law. That’s why Paul says in Romans 6:14 that sin shall not be our master, because God has freed us up, totally, from sin ever having control of us again. We can sin a million times but never be charged with breaking the law, because sin can’t use the law to condemn us anymore. Sin has lost its power over us, as totally as the laws of marriage have lost their power over a widow.  

     But why would God do this for us? Isn’t it terribly risky?…