This is the fifth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

In our pre­vi­ous post in this series, we showed that Paul does not call us to use the law to mea­sure or pro­mote our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, though there are many who assert that he does.

But there also those in the “reformed camp” who would even counter Paul’s repeated entreaties to rely on the Spirit. Willem VanGe­meren denies Paul’s asser­tion that the Spirit replaces the law in the New Covenant:

The law is not replaced by the Spirit in the escha­to­log­i­cal age. The Spirit opens peo­ple up to the law and trans­forms them to live by a higher ethics [sic]. We may even speak of escha­to­log­i­cal ethics as an appli­ca­tion of the moral law, by which believ­ers live in the present age with their eyes focused on the com­ing of the king­dom. While all peo­ple belong to the present age and are made respon­si­ble for keep­ing its mores, Chris­tians live by the higher ethics of the king­dom. Paul speaks of this ten­sion in his min­istry: “To those not hav­ing the law I became like one not hav­ing the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law [ennomos Chris­tou]), so as to win those not hav­ing the law” (). The law is God’s instru­ment in trans­form­ing the Chris­t­ian into a ser­vant of the king­dom of God. …[1]

Paul, how­ever, could not be more direct that the law is no longer bind­ing on the Chris­t­ian. The apos­tle begins this in of Romans:

[7:1] Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? [2] For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. [3] Accordingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

[4] Likewise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. [5] For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. [6] But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code (or “of the let­ter” – ESV foot­note). ()

There are some who argue that Paul is only argu­ing against the civil and “cer­e­mo­nial” laws of Israel. But nowhere in this argu­ment do we see Paul draw dis­tinc­tions among moral, cer­e­mo­nial and civil aspects of the Mosaic law.

Paul does not say that we’ve died to Jew­ish cul­tic rit­u­als and Jew­ish civil law as some might argue – although many of the eth­i­cal norms expressed by Paul do con­tain the same or sim­i­lar con­tent as the Deca­logue. Many will argue that this means that the Ten Com­mand­ments are exempt  and that is only argu­ing for the end of the civil and cer­e­mo­nial aspects of the law.

Note: In a future post, I hope to address the three-part dis­tinc­tions in the Mosaic law that are cen­tral to Reformed the­ol­ogy. It is my con­tention that refer­ring to the laws per­tain­ing to sac­ri­fices, holy days, sab­baths and tem­ple rit­ual as “cer­e­mo­nial” demeans the rich typol­ogy of their mean­ing to the faith­ful rem­nant of Israel. To the faith­ful, they were more than mere cul­tic rit­ual but things seen and greeted from afar () and were actions pleas­ing to God, unlike those per­formed as rit­ual by the unfaith­ful (cf. ).

But can one really argue that Paul means that dietary laws, laws about repay­ing those whose ani­mal you’ve harmed, or ordi­nances about sac­ri­fices aroused sin­ful pas­sions, rather than admo­ni­tions against adul­tery, lying and theft?

A sep­a­ra­tion of the law in such a way does not hold water in this argument.

There does remain, how­ever, a par­al­lel between the Deca­logue and Paul’s teach­ing, but Stephen West­er­holm explains why there is a difference:

The ethic deter­mined by God’s Holy Spirit can­not, for Paul, be capri­cious. Paul points out areas of pos­si­ble human behav­ior which are incom­pat­i­ble with the lead­ing of the Holy Spirit of God and other moral char­ac­ter­is­tics which the Spirit inevitably pro­duces. In fact, of course, Paul’s under­stand­ing of the moral behav­ior which the Spirit induces cor­re­sponds nicely with the moral demands of the Mosaic law. But this … does not mean that Paul derives Chris­t­ian duty from the law. The eth­i­cal instruc­tion of the epis­tles would have looked very dif­fer­ent had Paul con­tin­ued to find the will of God in the way he did as a Phar­isee, by inter­pret­ing and apply­ing the rel­e­vant statutes from Torah.[2]

Paul’s antithe­sis is between writ­ten code – the code of the Old Covenant – and the Spirit. We have died to that which aroused sin in us.

Nor does Paul say merely that we are not to rely on the law for our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, as some would argue from .

Paul clearly speaks of the law in its present tense for the believer. He speaks against using the law for our walk, for our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. In , he writes “we serve” (δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς) in the present tense. We serve in the Spirit because we are released from the law.

The law bears fruit for death, arouses sin­ful pas­sions and holds men cap­tive. How then, can we turn to the law to grow in or to mea­sure our holiness?

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 6: Who Is The Man of Romans 7?


[1] Willem A. VanGe­meren, “The Law Is the Per­fec­tion of Right­eous­ness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Per­spec­tive” Five Views on Law and gospel (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zon­der­van, 1996), 58.

[2] Stephen West­er­holm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Inter­preters (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerd­mans, 1988), 214.

 


21 To those out­side the law I became as one out­side the law (not being out­side the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those out­side the law. (ESV)


7:1 Now con­cern­ing the mat­ters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sex­ual rela­tions with a woman.” But because of the temp­ta­tion to sex­ual immoral­ity, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own hus­band. The hus­band should give to his wife her con­ju­gal rights, and like­wise the wife to her hus­band. For the wife does not have author­ity over her own body, but the hus­band does. Like­wise the hus­band does not have author­ity over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except per­haps by agree­ment for a lim­ited time, that you may devote your­selves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now as a con­ces­sion, not a com­mand, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

To the unmar­ried and the wid­ows I say that it is good for them to remain sin­gle as I am. But if they can­not exer­cise self-control, they should marry. For it is bet­ter to marry than to burn with passion.

10 To the mar­ried I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not sep­a­rate from her hus­band 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmar­ried or else be rec­on­ciled to her hus­band), and the hus­band should not divorce his wife.

12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbe­liever, and she con­sents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a hus­band who is an unbe­liever, and he con­sents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbe­liev­ing hus­band is made holy because of his wife, and the unbe­liev­ing wife is made holy because of her hus­band. Oth­er­wise your chil­dren would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbe­liev­ing part­ner sep­a­rates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sis­ter is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your hus­band? Or how do you know, hus­band, whether you will save your wife?

17 Only let each per­son lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was any­one at the time of his call already cir­cum­cised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of cir­cum­ci­sion. Was any­one at the time of his call uncir­cum­cised? Let him not seek cir­cum­ci­sion. 19 For nei­ther cir­cum­ci­sion counts for any­thing nor uncir­cum­ci­sion, but keep­ing the com­mand­ments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the con­di­tion in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be con­cerned about it. (But if you can gain your free­dom, avail your­self of the oppor­tu­nity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed­man of the Lord. Like­wise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, broth­ers, in what­ever con­di­tion each was called, there let him remain with God.

25 Now con­cern­ing the betrothed, I have no com­mand from the Lord, but I give my judg­ment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trust­wor­thy. 26 I think that in view of the present dis­tress it is good for a per­son to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman mar­ries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly trou­bles, and I would spare you that. 29 This is what I mean, broth­ers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourn­ing, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoic­ing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no deal­ings with it. For the present form of this world is pass­ing away.

32 I want you to be free from anx­i­eties. The unmar­ried man is anx­ious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the mar­ried man is anx­ious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his inter­ests are divided. And the unmar­ried or betrothed woman is anx­ious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the mar­ried woman is anx­ious about worldly things, how to please her hus­band. 35 I say this for your own ben­e­fit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to pro­mote good order and to secure your undi­vided devo­tion to the Lord.

36 If any­one thinks that he is not behav­ing prop­erly toward his betrothed, if his pas­sions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But who­ever is firmly estab­lished in his heart, being under no neces­sity but hav­ing his desire under con­trol, and has deter­mined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who mar­ries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from mar­riage will do even better.

39 A wife is bound to her hus­band as long as he lives. But if her hus­band dies, she is free to be mar­ried to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judg­ment she is hap­pier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (ESV)


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. Accord­ingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

Like­wise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code. (ESV)


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. Accord­ingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

Like­wise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, pro­duced in me all kinds of cov­etous­ness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the com­mand­ment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very com­mand­ment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, pro­duc­ing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the com­mand­ment might become sin­ful beyond mea­sure. 14 For we know that the law is spir­i­tual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not under­stand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that noth­ing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the abil­ity to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my mem­bers another law wag­ing war against the law of my mind and mak­ing me cap­tive to the law of sin that dwells in my mem­bers. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)


13 These all died in faith, not hav­ing received the things promised, but hav­ing seen them and greeted them from afar, and hav­ing acknowl­edged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (ESV)


1:1 The vision of Isa­iah the son of Amoz, which he saw con­cern­ing Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heav­ens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spo­ken:
“Chil­dren have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the don­key its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my peo­ple do not understand.”

Ah, sin­ful nation,
a peo­ple laden with iniq­uity,
off­spring of evil­do­ers,
chil­dren who deal cor­ruptly!
They have for­saken the Lord,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.

Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you con­tinue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no sound­ness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or soft­ened with oil.

Your coun­try lies des­o­late;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very pres­ence
for­eign­ers devour your land;
it is des­o­late, as over­thrown by for­eign­ers.
And the daugh­ter of Zion is left
like a booth in a vine­yard,
like a lodge in a cucum­ber field,
like a besieged city.

If the Lord of hosts
had not left us a few sur­vivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teach­ing of our God,
you peo­ple of Gomor­rah!
11 “What to me is the mul­ti­tude of your sac­ri­fices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offer­ings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this tram­pling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offer­ings;
incense is an abom­i­na­tion to me.
New moon and Sab­bath and the call­ing of con­vo­ca­tions—
I can­not endure iniq­uity and solemn assem­bly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a bur­den to me;
I am weary of bear­ing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not lis­ten;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash your­selves; make your­selves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
seek jus­tice,
cor­rect oppres­sion;
bring jus­tice to the father­less,
plead the widow’s cause.

18 “Come now, let us rea­son together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scar­let,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crim­son,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are will­ing and obe­di­ent,
you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

21 How the faith­ful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of jus­tice!
Right­eous­ness lodged in her,
but now mur­der­ers.
22 Your sil­ver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
and com­pan­ions of thieves.
Every­one loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring jus­tice to the father­less,
and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

24 There­fore the Lord declares,
the Lord of hosts,
the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my ene­mies
and avenge myself on my foes.
25 I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your coun­selors as at the begin­ning.
After­ward you shall be called the city of right­eous­ness,
the faith­ful city.”

27 Zion shall be redeemed by jus­tice,
and those in her who repent, by right­eous­ness.
28 But rebels and sin­ners shall be bro­ken together,
and those who for­sake the Lord shall be con­sumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gar­dens
that you have cho­sen.
30 For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf with­ers,
and like a gar­den with­out water.
31 And the strong shall become tin­der,
and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
with none to quench them. (ESV)


7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speak­ing to those who know the law—that the law is bind­ing on a per­son only as long as he lives? For a mar­ried woman is bound by law to her hus­band while he lives, but if her hus­band dies she is released from the law of mar­riage. Accord­ingly, she will be called an adul­ter­ess if she lives with another man while her hus­band is alive. But if her hus­band dies, she is free from that law, and if she mar­ries another man she is not an adulteress.

Like­wise, my broth­ers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were liv­ing in the flesh, our sin­ful pas­sions, aroused by the law, were at work in our mem­bers to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, pro­duced in me all kinds of cov­etous­ness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the com­mand­ment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very com­mand­ment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seiz­ing an oppor­tu­nity through the com­mand­ment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, pro­duc­ing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the com­mand­ment might become sin­ful beyond mea­sure. 14 For we know that the law is spir­i­tual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not under­stand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that noth­ing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the abil­ity to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my mem­bers another law wag­ing war against the law of my mind and mak­ing me cap­tive to the law of sin that dwells in my mem­bers. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)


But now we are released from the law, hav­ing died to that which held us cap­tive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the writ­ten code. (ESV)