The Christian and the Mosaic Law
In the earlier chapters of the Epistle to the Romans the apostle establishes very clearly the doctrine of justification by grace independent of all merit on the part of the individual, and totally independent of any rite or ceremony or any deeds of the law. Then he proceeds to show that the believer is sanctified independent of the law or of any legal self-effort.
The categorical statement of chapter 6:15, that we are not under the law but under grace immediately poses a problem giving rise to the question: “What then? shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace?” The answer to this question is in two parts. In chapter 6.15-23, its fallacy is exposed, and in chapter 7 the futility of putting a man under the law is expounded.
Answer A. The fallacy exposed (6.15-23): This may be just very briefly summarized. In the answer emphasis is laid upon four matters of cardinal importance which the objector had either ignored or was ignorant of.
a. The message of the gospel insists that compromise is a spiritual impossibility (v. 16). No man can serve two masters. Just as the word “death” is the key word in the first half of the chapter, so “servants” is the key word in the second half. The word thus translated is the word for “bondslaves.” A person is either theslave of of sin or of obedience (v. 16), of righteousness (v. 18), and of God ( v. 22). The Christian is one who, constrained by the love of Christ, is prepared to receive the marks, or the brands of a slave (Ex. 21:1-6). There can be no duplicity. There must be integrity and absolute sincerity.
b. The message of the gospel is a dynamic. Hence, conversion is a spiritual reality. The experience of the Apostle himself is one of the greatest illustrations of this. Grace accomplishes what the law cannot. It leads to true liberty.
c. Implicit in the gospel message also is the fact, consecration is a spiritual necessity. It is by dedication and devotion to the Lord and not by the restraints of the law that the believer is to be preserved from a lapse through the infirmity of the flesh. It produces sanctity — fruit unto holiness.
D. The gospel produces a shame, true repentance in the life of the believer as he thinks of his past life in view of what the end of such a life is. With the believer the consummation is to have a priority. He is to live in the light of Eternity. He is to be more concerned with eternal things than with the temporal. There was a time when certain preachers were known as Eternity men. The contemplation of the goal, the glory ahead buoyed the Apostle when he was in the dungeon, and it made a Psalmist out of Samuel Rutherford when he was incarcerated. Time, how fast its fleeting! Eternity, how sure its dawning!
Answer B. The futility of putting a Christian under the law (ch. 7). As the former husband it produces fruit unto death (vv. 1-6). As the ministry of the letter it pronounces the death penalty for the sin of covetuousness (vv7-13), and provides no help to counteract the power of indwelling sin, or of the law of sin in the members (vv. 14-25).
“As we approach the contents of this chapter, Denney’s comment is helpful. The subject of chapter 6 is continued. The Apostle shows how, by death, the Christian is freed from the law, which good as it is in itself and in the divine intention; nevertheless, owing to the corruption of man’s nature, instead of making him good, it perpetually stimulates sin. Verses 1-6 describe the liberation from the law; verses 7-13, the actual working of the law; and in verses 14-25. we are shown that the working of the law is not due to anything in itself, but to the power of sin in the flesh” (Wuest).
The argument of chapter 7 does not deal with the matter of peace with God or of acceptance with God, but of fruit for God in the life, and how to produce it. It is not the problem of justification but the pursuit of holiness, as shown by F. W. Grant in the Numerical Bible.
In chapter six we read of “law” without the article; “the law,” with the article (v 7,12,14), and of “the law of God” (vs. 22-25). In some instances the word is used as denoting a certain principle in the same way as we speak of the laws of gravity. The words of verse 21: “I find then a law that when I would do good, evil is present with me,” illustrate this usage. We also read of “the commandment” as referring to the whole law, which was ordained to life (v. 20). and as referring to a specific commandment, “Thou shalt not covet” (v. 7). These references indicate that the law, embodying the ten commandments, which was given to Israel at Sinai, and its authority and ministry is what is discussed by the Apostle in the chapter.
Viewed in this light the law is synonymous with the first covenant or the old covenant which was inaugurated at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24). Much if not most of what is sometimes called the ceremonial law was added later, after the Tabernacle had been erected: “And the Lord called unto Moses and spake unto him out of the Tabernacle of the congregation saying …” (Lev.1.1). The sacrifices that were then ordained were a provision of grace in view of Israel’s failure. Because of the one sacrifice for sin offered at Calvary they are now obsolete. They are no longer valid. There remains no more sacrifice for sin in that elaborate system. It has all been superceded and set aside. And the law, the first covenant, has been done away, it has been annulled. The Scriptures do not draw a line of demarcation between the moral and the ceremonial law. Each is an integral part of the covenant, often referred to as the law which was given by Moses. It was a ministry of “the letter” and has been superceded by the ministry of “the Spirit.” The ethical or moral principles contained in it, or what is termed its “righteous requirements,” abide. But, as a covenant, the law has been abrogated.
This is established beyond any doubt by a consideration of the metaphorical expressions used in the epistles. Figuratively the law is spoken of in many ways.
1. “The husband” (Rom. 7.1-6). The believer is dead to it and has been brought into living union with Christ in resurrection.
2. The “Yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5.1. Acts. 15.10). Peter refers to it as a “yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” It is an unbelievable yoke.
3. “Our schoolmaster” (Gal. 3.24). The word is not to be understood as implying that the law is an instructor leading souls to Christ. It was a guardian, a tutor or governor introduced as an interim arrangement until the time appointed of the Father. It kept those under its custody as in yard, in a fold, or in a prison (Gal. 3.23-4.7).
4. “The middle wall of partition.” It separated the Jews from the Gentiles. While this expression includes the whole of the Jewish economy, it more specifically refers to the “law of commandments,” that which God had ordained. The word “ordinances” does not refer to the ceremonial sacrifices. “The middle wall of partition,” the enmity, was dissolved by the abolition of the law of commandments” (Vincert).
5. “The handwriting of ordinances which was contrary to us… .” (Col. 2:14). The handwriting does not refer to the fact that the tables were written with the finger of God, but rather to the signature, the autograph: Israel signed as it were at the foot of Mt. Sinai when on three separate occasions they accepted the terms of the covenant, saying, “All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient” (Ex. 19:8 24:3, 7). The law is referred to in this portion as a bill of debt, a bond which Israel executed at Sinai. For the believer the word “cancelled” has been written over that document, that promissory note. Then Christ took it out of the way or tore it up, and nailed to His cross.
6. “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gal. 4:21-31). In his allegorical treatment of this event the Sinaitic Covenant is represented by Hagar. As she was a bondwoman, so Mt. Sinai gendereth to bondage. Ishmael could not be heir along with Isaac, and the “law and the gospel cannot co-exist” (Lightfoot).
7. It is also referred to as “The letter” (2 Cor. 3:6. Rom. 7:6). It was the letter engraver on stones, which specifically refers to the decalogue. It is “a ministration of death” and of “condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7-9). The inauguration of that covenant was glorious. It was ushered in with a blaze of glory. The face of Moses shone, but it was a fading glory, a glory which was to pass away. It was temporary, in contrast to “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4-6). That glory is an abiding glory. Hence the gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ. Just as the glory in the face of Moses was to be done away, so was the ministry of the letter to be done away (v. II). The ministry of the letter killeth, but that of the Spirit giveth life, as illustrated in the fact that 3000 died at the foot of Sinai whereas 3000 were saved at Pentecost.
The objection to the assertion that “sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law but under grace,” was doubtless genuine. It was born out of the fact that the law had been given to Israel soon after their emergence from Egyptian bondage. Had it not been intended to inculcate a high standard of morality and righteousness in His redeemed people? Were these standards now obsolete? Was there no need and no value in putting the Gentile convert under the law? Was not this the procedure that was followed in pre-Christian days? And did not the Old Testament give such instructions? These questions and objections had to be satisfactorily answered. Furthermore, if the restraints of the law were removed, would it not open the door to license?