Does Faith Cancel the Law?

24 09 2012

I wish that my room had a floor;
I don’t care so much for a door.
But this walking around
with both feet off the ground
Is getting to be quite a bore.

This is how anyone ends up who embraces relativism in place of a solid moral base for life. They become like someone floating around with both feet off the ground.

But what about Christians who embrace Christ and say that because Christ lives in them they no longer have any obligation to God’s moral law? Where do they end up?

Randy L. Maddox in his book, Responsible Grace, notes that during the Reformation, Martin Luther “increasingly restricted the law to a negative role of demonstrating our total inability and driving us (in despair) to accept the Gospel of unmerited justification.”

That is true. Paul says, “it is the straightedge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are” (Rom. 3:20; 7:7 J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase).

But later, according to Maddox, the Reformed tradition as a whole was uncomfortable in setting the law against the Gospel in such a negative way. He writes, “While agreeing that one function of the law was the negative task of convincing us of our sin and our need for grace, they [the Reformers] identified two further positive functions: to restrain wickedness so that fallen humanity won’t self-destruct; and to teach believers a Christ-like way of life.”

The New Testament does not cancel law in favor of grace. Paul’s letter to the Romans says, “So then, the law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). Anything that attracts such elevated epithets as “holy, righteous and good” must not be cast lightly aside. But it’s proper function must be discerned.

For sure, salvation is not earned by our trust in the keeping of the law perfectly. Salvation is by sheer grace – God’s undeserved generosity fully revealed through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

By grace we are saved. This salvation is a gift received by faith. We can do nothing by law-keeping that adds merit. All merit is in Christ and grace is God’s free gift. Good works neither achieve salvation nor sustain it.

But the law that makes us aware of our need of salvation (Romans 7:7) and leads us to Christ like a senior slave leading an immature child to his tutor (Gal. 3:24) also continues to function as a standard by which we are guided in righteous living. Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”

Moreover, of the moral law Jesus said, “whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17, 19b).)

When Christians across two millennia have become confused about the way of grace they have either slid into the ditch of legalism on the one side or antinomianism on the other.

Legalists depend on keeping God’s law as the ground for their salvation; antinomians stand against the law saying the moral law is no longer binding on Christians who trust in Christ.

John Wesley summarized the three functions of the moral law as follows: (1) to awaken a conviction of sin; (2) to drive us to Christ for our pardon and conversion; (3) to set a standard to keep Christians alive and growing in the renewal of their nature.

After teaching the Galatian Christians to beware of trusting the Old Testament system of law as a means of salvation Paul wisely exhorted them to “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Law is always included somewhere in the equation.

Since God’s law is the essence of God’s nature, to love God is to love his law. The Psalmist writes, “Blessed are those who keep (the Lord’s) statutes/ and seek him with all their hearts.” (Psalm 119:2).

When Christians embrace Christ in faith as the only ground of their salvation and at the same time are awakened to the Father’s law which Christ so devoutly loved they will know that they have solid ground on which to stand.

No more “walking around with both feet off the ground.”

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