Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Law and the Christian

[W]hat role does the Mosaic Law play in the life of the believer? Modern evangelical theology owes a great deal to the stream of teaching descending from Calvin through the Puritans. In this teaching, a fundamental distinction is made between the Mosaic law as a "covenant of works" and the Mosaic law as a "rule of life." The former, the demand that we follow the law in order to receive God's approval, is abolished in Christ. Advocates of this tradition insist that this is what Paul is referring to in Romans 7:4. But it is doubtful that we can make this distinction. Any power that the law has to condemn is tied to its binding power. If one is "under the law," then one is separated from grace and is a helpless victim (See Rom. 6:14). And being "under the law," as 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 makes clear, is to be under its commanding power. I think it preferable, then, to interpret Romans 7:4 (and 6:14, 15) as teaching that the believer is set free from the immediate binding authority of the Mosaic law. No part of that law remains as an independent source of moral direction, not even the Ten Commandments. The believer has been transferred from the realm over which the law rules into the realm over which Christ rules. We therefore are subject directly to the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), not to the law of Moses. To put it in terms of historical theology, I side with Luther in rejecting the typical Reformed teaching about the "third use of the law" -- the use of the law as a rule of life for the believer.
Two points are especially important here. First, whatever most Christians would identify as eternal "moral" law in the law of Moses clearly is taken up by Christ and the apostles and made part of the "law of Christ," under which we live. Of the Ten Commandments, only the Sabbath command is not repeated virtually verbatim in the New Testament. (This is why the nature and meaning of the Sabbath has been such a matter of controversy). Second, Paul is not saying (as some have wrongly interpreted him to say) that Christians are no longer bound by any specific commandments at all. He says precisely the reverse (see 1 Cor. 7:19b). The point of Romans 7:4, and of similar texts, is that we are not bound to the law of Moses. But we are bound to a law -- the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 7:19-21).
~ Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

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