Yesterday, Part 1 brought up the debate over how the Law, grace, atonement, character, and faith relate, and the confusion over Paul’s apparent conflict with Jesus’ teaching.
Many people believe that Paul sort of trumps Jesus because Paul’s preaching is more “updated” after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But this has a sneaky way of making Paul the reigning expert and Lord instead of Jesus. It’s unintentional, of course, but nevertheless dominant in church thinking today.
If you want a good example, just ask any pastor, layperson, or yourself what the Gospel is. Ninety-nine percent will quote a dozen verses from Paul, but not a single quote from Jesus. (More info here: A Badly Needed Clearer Gospel.)
I myself did this for decades. But it’s just one of many inadvertent forms of “harlotry” that I now call The Great Substitution.
Lover or Hater?
At any rate, with the preliminaries from Part 1 in mind, let’s look at what Paul says in the book of Romans about the relationship between life, death, spirit, and Law. We’ll see he isn’t the Law-hater he’s been assumed to be, both in his day and ours. It’s the letter (or “works”) of the law and Death he opposes, while he loves the true Law and working of grace. In fact, all his epistles repeat this theme. And, to my great relief and amazement, he’s right in sync with Jesus.
“But now, 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.” Followers of Christ are “dead” to rule-following and alive to God because Jesus abolished Death, not love.
“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
“…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
Thankfully, because God changed His tactics by sending Jesus to abolish Death, He doesn’t require flawless obedience. He simply wants honest practice and growth—fruit. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit that Paul teaches in Gal. 5:22 (love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness) is precisely the righteous requirements of the Law he teaches here.
Anyone who says you cannot change your sinful nature underestimates the transformative power of human spirit working in conjunction with divine Spirit. Sure, by yourself you can’t do it. But that’s different from doing it with help from Jesus, the now-living, fully competent Expert on life.
“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” This agrees with James, who says we shouldn’t be hearers of the Word only, but doers of the Word (Jas. 1:22-23).
“Do we, then, nullify the law by [our] faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Jesus won’t obey for us, but he will show us how to keep God’s commands. Grace and substitutionary atonement mean that his atonement substitutes for our atonement, not our obedience.
That’s why we no longer need repeated animal sacrifice but are still accountable to the Law’s intent. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows the way in great detail; faith means we follow his instruction because we trust that he, more than anyone else, knows what he’s talking about.
“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Old Yet New Again
In Jhn. 13:34, Jesus gave a “new” command to love one another as he loved us, but it wasn’t new because God had just recently thought it up. It was new because people hadn’t heard it from their leaders. This mind of the Spirit was almost a foreign concept that had to be reintroduced. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as their teachers of the law.” (Mrk. 1:22)
In the Pharisees’ day, God had already proven His point through Israel’s long history that human virtue isn’t a matter of following divine rules. That doesn’t mean God wasted His time or that the Law was no good and should be thrown out. It means that mankind had reached a pre-determined point, ready for the game-changer: Jesus, the Messiah and Savior.
He teaches and demonstrates what kind of person lets the Law of love flow from the inside, thereby becoming well enough (“fit”) to live with God in His great kingdom of love. Regardless what tactics God uses over time to teach the world, His prime message is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments.
“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.” (Psa. 119:1) Not because they have to, but because it’s who they are in spirit.