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THE LAW IS GOOD IF ....
Iíve been accused more times than I can count on my fingers and toes of being an "antinomianist." For those of you who have not had the pleasure of having this label slapped onto you, it means someone who is against the Law of God. You have esteemed yourself in the eyes of your audience as one who is opposed to the holy, righteous, and good Law of God. Quite a badge of honor, eh?
Well, as long as we are playing around with labels, I have a confession to make to all of you who stand firm with us in proclaiming the gospel of the grace of GodÖI am actually a "pronomianist." Thatís right. I am for the Law! But not like these wimpy, so-called legalists we all run into in our churches, in home Bible studies, at the office, in our neighborhoods, and in our families who mix a little law in with a little grace. Nope, Iím talking about the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of death, and the letter that kills. You know, the Law that God sent so that sinning might increase (Rom. 5:20), so that sins might be defined more clearly (Gal. 3:19), so that all men would be under a curse (Gal. 3:10), and so that the power of sin might work through it to kill you and me (Rom. 7:11). Thatís the Law that the Scriptures speak ofÖthe holy, righteous, good condemner and killer of all men. Like Paul, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good (Rom. 7:16) and I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man (Rom. 7:22). Why have such a view of the Law? Because it is only when the Law has shown us our desperate need for Christ, both for salvation and for daily living, that we will see how amazing His grace truly is!
Those who are the so-called "legalists" of today, even throughout history, have fallen woefully short of portraying the thoroughness of the Law and the hopelessness of trying to attain, through self-effort, the level of righteousness it demands. If they had not fallen short of holding it up fully for all to see, they themselves would have turned from their self-righteousness through works to His righteousness by faith.
Many of you have heard the term, "cheap grace," that legalists will often hang on those who seek to proclaim the pure gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). In fact, it is those very accusers who have cheapened the Law of God to such a degree that most Christians think it is actually possible for us to fulfill it. Sadly, therefore, when the listener does not see the impossibility of living a law-based, Christian life (an oxymoron if there ever was one!), he will not see his need of Christ as life each and every day.
There is only one man who has ever or will ever fulfill the Law and He is Christ! Even as a born-again, new creation in Christ, you cannot, through your performance, fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. Have you come to that conclusion yet? Has He humbled you to see that it is only through Christís fulfillment of the Law that we are credited with the same? Not through performance, but through identification with Him. Christís perfect, total, 100% fulfillment of the Law has been accounted to you.
If we teach that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom. 3:28), do we then nullify (set aside) the law by this faith? Not at all (may it never be!)! We uphold the law (Rom. 3:31). The word uphold (NIV) or establish (NAS) means to make stable, to hold up, and to present something clearly for what it is. Paul is answering the cherry-picking legalists ready to accuse him of heresy and anti-nomianism with the astounding proclamation that he is a pronomianist (my word). You can bet that there was some jaw-dropping and double-taking going on when his audiences read or heard that statement!
I completely agree with the apostle Paul that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8). We should be for the Law, just like Paul. But we should also realize that Paul believed (a.k.a. the Holy Spiritís declaration through Paul) that the Law is good only if it is used properly and for those to whom it pertains. To use the Law lawfully means to make sure that the full extent of the Law is proclaimed. In other words, we are not to candy-coat or water-down the Law, rather we are to show it in all its terror as a condemner and killer of all men. But once it has killed you, you no longer have any relationship to it. It has done its work. The Law has shown you your hopelessness in trying to earn a right standing with Holy God. It has escorted you to the Cross where, the old you, in the flesh and under a curse, has been crucified and buried with Christ. This is the job of the Law. It exists to show every man a hopeless sinner so that they might turn to Christ for salvation.
What a wonderful role the Law plays in ushering us to Jesus. It is Mr. Death whose goal it is to bring us to Mr. Life. Paul went to great lengths to establish the Law (Rom. 3:31) so that it would fulfill the purpose that God had for it. But once the Law has completed its mission, once all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18), we are to move on to a far more glorious Source for daily livingÖChrist himself! How is it that we can say that the Law does not pertain to those of us who are now in Christ? Because the fact (is) that law is not made for a righteous man (1 Tim. 1:9). Who is a righteous man? The one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
Have you believed in Jesus, the one who justifies the ungodly? Yes? Then you are righteous! And since you are righteous, the Law is no longer applicable to you. Do you always behave like the righteous person you now are in Him? Probably not, but donít worry because He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).
We have dummied-down Christianity to some degree from a grace-based, supernatural life lived by the Spirit to a law-based, natural life lived through our flesh. Why is it that having once been convinced that the Law could not make us holy and righteous, we now believe that it can? When we received the Spirit of God at salvation, we received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3), including His perfect righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). The Law could never make anyone righteous, but once its' demands lead us to faith in Christ, there is no more righteousness to obtain. We have been made perfectly righteous because we have been joined to the righteous One. Sadly, the apostle Paul would oppose many of us in the body of Christ to our face even today for our mixing of law and grace, the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit, just as he did both Peter and the Galatians years ago. Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (Gal. 3:3)?
The way to overcome the flesh is not to dissect and analyze it, neither to commit through self-effort to defeat it, neither to impose rigid restrictions and laws on yourself to avoid it, but rather to direct your full attention to the Overcomer. When you choose Christ as the object of your desire and the one upon whom you fully depend, He is faithful to produce the self-control you so desperately seek (Gal. 5:23). The Law cannot control the flesh, it only enflames it and gives it a stage and a platform on which to perform.
Do you want to stop sinning? Then stop imposing upon yourself (and perhaps many others) a law-based mode of operation because, friends, the Law came in that the transgression might increase (Rom. 5:20)! Yes, you read that rightÖINCREASE! Does this not strike you as both tragic and ironic at the same time? The very thing we have thought for years and years would surely curb our sin appetite actually ensures that we will do more of it! It is not the law of God that is instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present ageÖzealous for good deeds. It is the g-r-a-c-e of God (Titus 2:11-14)!
The harder that you and I sweat, strive, and work to become righteous, the louder we shout to God that we do not believe that His righteousness, given to us in Christ, is enough. Our unbelief then leads us back up onto the law treadmill, even though we have already died to that (the Law) by which we were bound (Rom. 7:6). The Law is done with you and you must choose to be done with it. The power of sin will do all it can to persuade you that even just a little law here and there is good for you. Donít buy it! If you do, you are headed for wretched man (Rom. 7:24) territory. The Law will not set you free from relying upon your flesh. It is only through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:24-25)!
You are now called to a walk of faith, not works; trust, not trying; grace, not law. If you will but give Jesus the chance, He will prove Himself faithful. Why? Because He is!! Friend, the behavior you long to exhibit in the course of your day is only possible through faith in Christ, not the works of the Law. Keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to smother a loved one under your unique version of law. It's time for some of us to cry, "uncle!!!" In fact, if you are not convinced that a law-based lifestyle is a sure ticket to frustration and burn-out, then you need to take a closer look at the righteous requirements of the Law.
Let me offer you a few more words of encouragement to serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:6). If I were to ask you if you would like to be under a curse of death, most of you would likely say, Ďthanks for the offer but Iím afraid Iíll have to pass.í Wise move. Now, do you know what the offer is from God to those who insist that the Christian life is to be lived by works of obedience to the law? Are you ready? A curse. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" (Gal. 3:10). The Book of the Law is the first five books of the Old Testament. Have you read them lately and, more importantly, have you continued to do everything written in them? If this proclamation from the word of God does not now bury you 6-feet deep in regard to your self-effort to live for God, it is time that it should.
If you are relying upon any aspect of the Law or law principles as your functional source of daily living, itís time for you to leave it all behind. You, the new man, would not want to commit adultery in your earthly marriage. Why would you continue day in and day out committing adultery in your spiritual relationship with Christ? You are married to Him now. You are no longer married to Mr. Law (Rom. 7:1-6). Stop cheating on Jesus! Trust Him moment-by-moment as your only option for living life. He is your life and wants to demonstrate that life through you in all the circumstances of your day. He is faithful and He will do it. The question is not with Him, it is with you. He is the holy, righteous, all-powerful, God of all creation who lived a perfect life on this planet almost two-thousand years ago. Will you, then, trust this same God, who now lives in you, to live that exact same life through you today as you walk by simple faith or will you go sneaking back to Mr. Law in unbelief?
Why would anyone want to try to enslave themselves all over again to a system of living that increases the likelihood that they will sin, leads over and over again to condemnation, and whose only reward is death? Jesus gave His life to redeem(ed) us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). What are we saying when we now place that same yoke of slavery that He set us free from back on our necks in an effort to live godly lives? 'Thanks, Jesus, but no thanks?!'
The Law cannot make anyone holy and righteous; it can only point out to you day after miserable day that, in Adam, you are not, and yet must be, holy and righteous. And if you are a child of God, it will remind you again and again that you still canít live the Christian life out of your own strength. You must continue life now that you are a saint in a humble attitude of faith and dependence (Col. 2:6). Do you see why we should be proponents of the Law? The Law is good! Why? Because it leads us to the only Source of the perfect holiness and righteousness that God requires of each man and womanÖJesus! But once the Law has achieved its goal, not only is Mr. Law through with you, you are to be through with him.
The law is a ministry of condemnation for those who are in Adam, but for those who are in Christ there is therefore now no condemnation. Why? Because we no longer have any relationship to the Law. The Law has served its purpose. It has showed us our need for Christ and killed us. If you are in Christ (a.k.a. a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ), you have been released (past tense, done deal, never to occur again, actual truth, not positional, judicial, parental, etc.) from the Law (Rom. 7:6). How did He release us? Through death. Not the death of the Law, but our death in Christ (Gal. 2:19; Rom. 7:4). The Law is the ministry of condemnation (2 Cor. 3:9) and the ministry of death that came with glory (2 Cor. 3:7). The Law of God is glorious when it is used for the purpose for which it was intended. But as glorious as the Law is, there is another whose glory leaves the Law in its dust. It is the ministry of righteousness (through faith in Christ) that abounds in glory (2 Cor. 3:9). If you are in Christ, what had glory (the Law), in (your) case has no glory on of account of the glory (Christ, your righteousness) that surpasses it (2 Cor. 3:10).
You long to please God, donít you? That is the desire of the new heart that He gave you when you were born again. Consider then that the Spirit clearly declares that without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). The Law is not based on faith (Gal. 3:12) and whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). It is a sobering revelation from Him when He graciously shows us that, even as a child of God, all our works for Him are sin. Only the works that He does in and through us as we walk by faith are righteous deeds. Humbling, isnít it? Understanding that our acts of sin have been more than just breaking one of the ten commandments should give us, not only a much more dismal picture of the magnitude of our sinning, but also a greater appreciation for His work on the Cross.
The foundation of the Christian life is not rules, guidelines, and laws, but Christ. He is the Life and when love has drawn us to a walk of faith, the activities of each day are no longer duty, but delight. In Steve McVeyís book, Grace Walk, he notes that "when our focus is on things we ought to do, we find ourselves struggling to be obedient. We feel bound to do certain things. But when we begin to experience Christ as our life on a daily basis, all the matters of Christian living which before were law now become a natural expression and an overflow of His life. We arenít bound to the law anymore. We died to the law when our old nature was put to death with Christ. We are now bound only to a personÖthe Lord Jesus (p.85)."
Grace-walkers, letís not compromise or sheepishly present an abbreviated, abridged version of the Law. Hold it up to its fullest extent for all to gaze at in terror. The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12) and it works beautifully to prepare its listeners for the amazing grace of God. Donít give anyone an opportunity to accuse you of being anti-nomian. Give them the Law with both barrels, then offer them His grace with both arms.
"The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we maybe justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal. 3:24-25).