By what rule should I live? How is the Christian life to be lived? What rule should I follow and what should be my focus? How should I walk as a believer? What is the key to living the Christian life? What must I do to live a life that is pleasing to God? How can I live a holy life? How can I walk down God’s chosen path for me, the path of holiness and sanctification? “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3).
These are important questions and they have been answered in at least two different ways. Some insist that the believer’s rule of life is the LAW. When they say “LAW” they are thinking especially of God’s moral law as set forth in the Ten Commandments. How am I to live? Their answer would be this: “I am to live by God’s law. I am to live by the Ten Commandments. This is my rule of life. The key to living the Christian life and the key to walking in holiness is to strive to obey God’s holy law, especially the Ten Commandments, which the Lord Jesus summed up in two great commandments: to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Compare Matthew 22:36-40.
This all sounds good, but the problem is simply this: The more we try to keep God’s holy law, the more we fail. Even as regenerate believers we cannot, of ourselves, measure up to God’s perfect standard of righteousness. The problem is not with the law because “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). The problem is with the believer: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18).
This is similar to the problem the Israelites had when they first were given God’s holy law. Their response to the commandments was as follows: “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do.” They were sincere in their desire to obey but as we know they failed miserably to keep God’s commandments. They did not understand their own weakness:
This oral response of the people is commended by the LORD in Deut. 5:27-28: “They have well said all that they have spoken.” Their subsequent history, however, shows that they had failed to realize their own spiritual and moral weakness and the infinite perfection of the divine law which they so easily were engaging themselves to obey. See God’s lament in Deut. 5:29: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always.” [Footnote #1–See the note in the NEW SCOFIELD REFERENCE BIBLE given under Exodus 19:8.]
Where does a person need to go to find God’s rule for living the Christian life? Those of a legal persuasion would point the person to Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the law from God. They would say, “Mount Sinai is where you need to go. Mount Sinai is where you will find the key to living the Christian life.”
This is a popular view among Bible believers. This is one of the major thrusts of what is called Reformed Theology. [Footnote #2–See the document entitled Problems with Reformed Theology] Reformed, covenant theologians say that believers are under the law as a rule of life. To help you and guide you in living the Christian life they will send you directly to Mount Sinai.
It is to their credit that they do not do this when it comes to justification. When it comes to how a person is saved and how a person is justified, they will send you to Mount Calvary where the Saviour died for hell-deserving sinners. They will rightly point you to Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the sinner’s only hope! Mount Sinai can never save a person, it can only condemn him. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20), and Mount Sinai serves a very useful purpose in showing a person his sin and showing him that he is condemned before a holy God. The law can never save: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). The law can never justify. It can only show a person how UNJUST and UNRIGHTEOUS he really is. The law is God’s MIRROR that shows a person his true condition. See The Purpose of the LAW.
THE REFORMED POSITION
When it comes to justification, those in the Reformed tradition would say, “Yes, the key to salvation is to go to Mount Calvary. Christ and Him crucified is the sinner’s only plea.” When it comes to the process of sanctification and how a believer can live a set apart and holy life, it is then that they will send a person back to Mount Sinai. This is illustrated in the following quotes given by well known Reformed theologians:
“The Christian must never say farewell to the law. Thank God, we are no longer under it as a way of salvation; but we are to keep it, we are to honor it, we are to practice it in our daily life.” – DR. MARTIN LLOYD-JONES
“Is the disciple to be above his Master, the servant superior to his Lord? Christ was ‘made under the law’ (Gal. 4:4), and lived in perfect submission thereto, and has left us an example that we should ‘follow His steps’ (1 Peter 2:21). Only by loving, fearing, and obeying the law, shall we be kept from sinning.” – ARTHUR PINK [Footnote #3–Cited in THE COMPLETE GREEN LETTERS (Zondervan), by Miles Stanford, p. 263.]
“The typical teaching of this verse bring out an important truth which is now very frequently denied, namely, that God’s redeemed are still under law: not as a condition of salvation, but as the Divine rule for their walk…” [ARTHUR PINK, Gleanings in Exodus, pg. 349, discussion of Exodus 34:4, bold type added].
“Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect for God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as a rule of life. The Holy Spirit will always lead him (the believer) to a spiritual use of the law in the pursuit of sanctification.” – J.C. RYLE [Footnote #4a–Cited in THE COMPLETE GREEN LETTERS (Zondervan), by Miles Stanford, p. 263.]
“They [Reformed men” devote even more attention to the law in connection with the doctrine of sanctification. They stand strong in the conviction that believers are still under the law as a rule of life” [Footnote #4b–L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 613-15, italics added).
What are these men actually saying? Lloyd-Jones says that we are not under the law as a way of salvation but he implies that we are under it as a means of sanctification. The idea is this: “We don’t need the law for salvation but we need it for daily living.” He says we must never say farewell to the law. [Note that Paul says that the believer has become dead to the law by the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4) and that the believer has been delivered or released from the law, having died to that by which he was once bound (Rom. 7:6), whereas Lloyd-Jones says that we must never say farewell to the law.]
Arthur Pink, in the first quote above, reveals his own misunderstanding of dispensational truth. We recognize that the Lord Jesus was under the law because He lived in the dispensation of the Mosaic law which did not end until His own death at Calvary. He was “made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Because the Lord Jesus was under the law does not mean that Christians living in the present dispensation of grace are under the law. Indeed Paul declares the very opposite: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Pink also insists that the way a Christian can be kept from sinning is by loving, fearing and obeying the law. He thus brings the believer to Mount Sinai. Paul in Romans chapter 6 does not do this. Instead Paul brings the believer to Mount Calvary and sets forth the glorious fact of our identification with Christ in His death unto sin and in His resurrection unto life. In the second quote from Pink, he makes it clear that believers today are still at Mt. Sinai, not for salvation, but for sanctification (how to live the Christian life).
J.C. Ryle says that we are to make every effort to obey the law “as a rule of life.” To him, the law has a “spiritual use” as a means of sanctification. The Westminster Confession of Faith agrees: “Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet it is of great use to them…as a rule of life” (Chapter XIX, Section VI).
L. Berkhof says that Reformed men stand strong in the conviction that believers are still under the law as a rule of life. Thus, according to Berkhof, Mt. Sinai provides the key to sanctification and holy living.
[Footnote #5–We are not saying that Reformed men never point believers to Mount Calvary when it comes to holy living and sanctification. The cross is prominent in much of their teaching on sanctification, and for this we are thankful. When it comes to sanctification as well as justification let us join Paul in saying, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).]
For more information on Reformed Theology, see Problems with Reformed Theology.
THE DISPENSATIONAL POSITION
In contrast to Reformed theology is Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism says that to find the believer’s rule of life you must go not to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Calvary. Mount Sinai is powerless to justify a person and Mount Sinai is also powerless to sanctify a person. The law is not the believer’s rule of life. Something else is. The Scofield Bible states this position very clearly: “The test of the gospel is grace. If the message excludes grace, or mingles law with grace as the means of justification or sanctification, or denies the fact or guilt of sin which alone gives grace its occasion and opportunity, it is ‘another’ gospel, and the preacher of it is under the anathema of God.” [Footnote #6–This is the note in the SCOFIELD REFERENCE BIBLE under Galatians 1:6.]
The early dispensationalists understood this well. Consider the following quotations given by pioneer dispensationalists:
I learn in the law that God abhorred stealing, but it is not because I am under the law that I do not steal. All the Word of God is mine, and written for my instruction; yet for all that I am not under law, but a Christian who has died with Christ on the Cross, and am not in the flesh, to which the law applied. I have died to the law by the body of Christ (Romans 7:4). – JOHN DARBY [Footnote #7–Cited by Miles Stanford (840 Vindicator Dr., #111, Colorado Springs, CO 80919), in the paper entitled, “ARMINIUS, TO CALVIN, TO PAUL– MAN, LAW, OR CHRIST-CENTERED?”]
Some good men who in grievous error would impose the law as a rule of life for the Christian mean very well by it but the whole principle is false because the law, instead of being a rule of life, is necessarily a rule of death to one who has sin in his nature. Far from a delivering power, it can only condemn such; far from being a means of holiness, it is, in fact, the strength of sin (1 Cor. 15:56). – WILLIAM KELLY [Footnote #8–Cited in THE COMPLETE GREEN LETTERS (Zondervan), by Miles Stanford (p. 265).]
We are fully convinced that a superstructure of true, practical holiness can never be erected on a legal basis; and hence it is that we press 1 Cor 1:30, upon the attention of our readers. It is to be feared that many who have, in some measure, abandoned the legal ground, in the matter of “righteousness,” are yet lingering thereon for “sanctification.” We believe this to be the mistake of thousands, and we are most anxious to see it corrected. It is evident that a sinner cannot be justified by the works of the law; and it is equally evident that the law is not the rule of the believer’s life. As to the believer’s rule of life, the apostle does not say, “To me to live is the law;” but, “To me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Christ is our rule, our model, our touchstone, our all. We receive the Ten Commandments as part of the canon of inspiration; and moreover, we believe that the law remains in full force to rule and curse a man as long as he liveth. Let a sinner only try to get life by it, and see where it will put him; and let a believer only shape his way according to it, and see what it will make of him. We are fully convinced that if a man is walking according to the spirit of the gospel, he will not commit murder nor steal; but we are also convinced that a man, confining himself to the standard of the law of Moses would fall very short of the spirit of the gospel. – C.H. MACKINTOSH [Footnote #9–THE MACKINTOSH TREASURY– MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS BY C.H.Mackintosh, p. 628, 653-654].
Most of us have been reared and now live under the influence of Galatianism. Protestant theology is for the most part thoroughly Galatianized, in that neither the law or grace is given its distinct and separate place as in the counsels of God, but they are mingled together in one incoherent system. The law is no longer, as in the divine intent, a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7), of cursing (Gal. 3:10), or conviction (Rom. 3:19), because we are taught that we must try to keep it, and that by divine help we may. Nor does grace, on the other hand, bring us blessed deliverance from the dominion of sin, for we are kept under the law as a rule of life despite the plain declaration of Romans 6:14. – C.I. SCOFIELD [Footnote #10–Cited in THE COMPLETE GREEN LETTERS (Zondervan) by Miles Stanford (p. 265).]
When the sinner is justified by faith, does he need the law to please God? Can obedience to the law produce in him the fruit of holiness unto God? What is the relation of the justified believer to the law? Is he still under the dominion of the law or is he also delivered from the law and its bondage? These questions are answered in this chapter [Romans 7]. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:4,6). – ARNO C. GAEBELEIN [Footnote #11–GAEBELEIN’S CONCISE COMMENTARY ON THE WHOLE BIBLE, p.907.]
Believers today are not under law, either as a means of justification or as a rule of law, but are justified by grace and are called upon to walk in grace. Primarily here [in Romans 7:14-25] we have a believing Jew struggling to obtain holiness by using the law as a rule of life and resolutely attempting to compel his old nature to be subject to it. In Christendom now the average Gentile believer goes through the same experience; for legality is commonly taught almost everywhere. Therefore when one is converted it is but natural to reason that now [that] one has been born of God it is only a matter of determination and persistent endeavor to subject oneself to the law, and one will achieve a life of holiness. And God Himself permits the test to be made in order that His people may learn experimentally that the flesh in the believer is no better than the flesh in an unbeliever. When he ceases from self-effort he finds deliverance through the Spirit by occupation with the risen Christ. – H.A. IRONSIDE [Footnote #12–THE CONTINUAL BURNT OFFERING, see under September 18; and ROMANS, p. 89.]
The Word of God condemns unsparingly all attempts to put the Christian believer ‘under the law.’ The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gave to the church the book of Galatians for the very purpose of dealing with this heresy. Read this Epistle over and over, noting carefully the precise error with which the writer deals. It is not a total rejection of the gospel of God’s grace and a turning back to total legalism. It is rather the error of saying that the Christian life, having begun by simple faith in Christ, must thereafter continue under the law or some part of it (Gal. 3:2-3). – ALVA McCLAIN [Footnote #13-This last quote by Alva J. McClain is taken from his book LAW AND GRACE, p. 51-52. This book in its entirety is highly recommended. It is published by BMH Books, Winona Lake, IN 46590.]
For more information on Dispensationalism see Studies on Dispensationalism.
IS THE BELIEVER UNDER THE LAW AS A RULE OF LIFE?
The Word of God declares plainly that the Christian believer is not “under the law.” The New Testament declares this important truth four times: (1) Romans 6:14; (2) Romans 6:15; (3) Galatians 5:18; (4) 1 Corinthians 9:20 (see the NASB or the New Scofield Reference Bible).
The preposition “under” (hupo) means “subject to the power of any person or thing, to be under the power of something, to be under the rule or sovereignty of something.” An excellent illustration may be found in Matthew 8:9 where the Roman centurion says, “For I am a man under (hupo) authority, having soldiers under (hupo) me.” Just as the centurion was absolutely under Roman military authority, both as to its laws and its penalties, so also were his soldiers under his authority. To be under the law in the Biblical sense is to be under the law of God– the entire Mosaic legal system in its indivisible totality– subject to its commands and liable to its penalties. [Footnote #14–See LAW AND GRACE by Alva McClain, pp. 41-43.]
The Bible makes it clear that a person is not under the law as a way of salvation or justification. The law and the works of the law (trying to keep the law) can never justify (see Romans 3:20; Gal. 2:16; Acts 15:7-11; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:27-28). A man is saved by grace through faith apart from any works of the law.
The Bible also makes it very clear that a person is not under law as a rule of life. The law and the works of the law (trying to keep the law) can never SANCTIFY (produce holiness). The law is holy (Rom. 7:12), and the law can convict us and condemn us (by revealing how unholy we are) but it cannot make us holy. Romans chapter 6 makes it clear that sanctification is not by the works of the law. Sanctification is by faith in the crucified and risen Christ and in the fact of our identification and union with Him. The book of Galatians (see especially Galatians 3:2-3) makes it very clear that sanctification is not by the works of the law. Sanctification is by faith in the crucified and risen Christ and in the fact of our identification and union with Him. The book of Galatians (see especially Galatians 3:2-3) makes it very clear that sanctification is not by the works of the law.
In Romans 6:14 Paul declares that the believer is not “under the law but under grace.” What did Paul mean by this? Was he saying that we are not under the law with respect to justification (the believer’s right standing before God in Christ) or was he saying that we are not under the law with respect to sanctification (the believer’s progress in holiness)? Paul earlier in Romans made it clear that a person is not JUSTIFIED by the works of the law (Romans 3:20; 3:28). In Romans chapter 6 the subject is that of sanctification or holiness (see Romans 6:19,22), not justification (the subject of justification was dealt with previously in chapters 3-5). It is clear from Romans 6:14 that Paul is talking about being free from sin’s dominion and power and authority, which is what sanctification is all about. We conclude then that Paul in Romans 6:14-15 set forth the great truth that the believer is not under the law as a rule of life and as a means of sanctification. The key to living the Christian life is not Mount Sinai, it is Mount Calvary. The emphasis of Romans 6 is upon Mount Calvary (and the believer’s relationship to Mount Calvary in light of our identification with Christ and our position in Christ). To go back to Mount Sinai is to go back to bondage.
THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF LIFE
WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURES?
What is the believer’s rule of life? By what rule should I live? How should I walk? How can I live a holy life that is set apart and dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ? Do I go to Mount Sinai or do I go to Mount Calvary?
Since we are seeking to find the rule of life for those living in this present dispensation, we must go to the New Testament Epistles. The Christian’s rule of life is not to be found in the Old Testament, nor is it to be found in the Gospels or in the Sermon on the Mount. The RULE for living the Christian life is to be found in the New Testament Epistles. It is there that we must find our answer.
How did Paul live? What was his rule of life? Did he live by the works of the law? Did he find his rule of life at Mount Sinai? Notice what the great apostle says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I LIVE BY THE FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). This is how Paul lived! He lived “by faith of (in) the Son of God.” [Note that in Galatians 3:2 Paul contrasts faith with the works of the law.] Paul’s life was centered upon the Person of Jesus Christ with Whom he had been co-crucified. The focus of Galatians 2:20 is upon Mount Calvary. The cross is central. Paul was able to live because he had died! He was able to live because Jesus Christ was HIS LIFE: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21) “For ye died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God Christ, WHO IS OUR LIFE, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4). Yes, JESUS CHRIST is the believer’s rule of life!
There is one place in the New Testament where Paul specifically sets forth the believer’s RULE OF LIFE. This passage is Galatians 6:14-16, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk ACCORDING TO THIS RULE, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”
What RULE is Paul speaking of in Galatians 6:14-16? It is obvious that Paul’s focus is upon Mount Calvary, not Mount Sinai: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (verse 14). His focus is upon the cross. A comparison of Galatians 5:6 [“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love”] and Galatians 6:15 [“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature”] is helpful in seeing what the real issue is. Faith is the root and love is the fruit (Gal. 5:6); and love is the fulfilling of the law (Gal. 5:14; Rom.13:9-10; compare Rom. 8:4). Love is not produced as the believer tries and struggles to keep God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. The more the believer tries to do this the more he fails (Romans 7:12-25). Love is produced by God the Holy Spirit as the believer walks in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16,22-23; Rom. 8:4).
Thus we are to walk not according to any legal code, but according to THE NEW CREATURE RULE (Gal. 6:15-16). We are new creatures in Christ by the grace of God and totally apart from any works of the law (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-10; 4:24; Col. 3:10). By faith we are to reckon on the fact that we are new creatures in Jesus Christ, united with Him in a wondrous union, partaking in His death and partaking in His resurrection life. By faith we are to reckon upon what God has already accomplished at the cross (Romans 6). When it comes to the believer’s sanctification, Mount Calvary is to be the central focus, not Mount Sinai.
Mount Sinai has never produced a new creature, a new man. It can only condemn the old man. Paul boasted only in Mount Calvary: “But God forbid that I should glory [boast], save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).
Another key passage is Galatians 3:1-3 where Paul addresses the deadly problem of legalism: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
In verse one Paul reminds the Galatians that Mount Calvary had been the focus of the true gospel preaching which they had received: “before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.” The problem was that false teachers had come in trying to get the Galatians to focus upon Mount Sinai with respect to sanctification. Paul reminds them that the Christian life began when they received the Spirit, not by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith. Progress in the Christian life must come the same way.
In Colossians 2:6 we learn that the Christian life is to CONTINUE the same way it COMMENCED. Just as we received Christ by faith (apart from the works of the law), so we are to walk and live by faith (apart from the works of the law). The problem with the Galatians was that they COMMENCED the Christian life in one way and then they tried to CONTINUE the Christian life in an entirely different way: “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3). They began their Christian life at Mount Calvary and they tried to continue their Christian life at Mount Sinai. This will never work. This is totally contrary to THE NEW CREATURE RULE!
I DIED TO THE LAW I AM MARRIED TO ANOTHER!
The believer’s relationship to the law is made very clear in Romans 7:1-6. The believer is delivered and released from the law, HAVING DIED TO IT. Romans chapter 6 makes it clear that the believer, because of his identification with Christ, has DIED TO SIN. Romans chapter 7 makes it clear that the believer, because of his identification with Christ, has DIED TO THE LAW. Notice that the result of this is not LAWLESSNESS but FRUITFULNESS: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to ANOTHER, even to HIM who is raised from the dead [our Lord Jesus Christ], that we should bring forth FRUIT unto God” (Romans 7:4).
Watchman Nee beautifully explains the illustration Paul uses in Romans 7:
Notice first that in the picture by which, in Romans 7:1-4, Paul illustrates our deliverance from the Law, there is only one woman, while there are two husbands. The woman is in a very difficult position, for she can only be wife of one of the two, and unfortunately she is married to the less desirable one. Let us make no mistake, the man to whom she is married is a good man; but the trouble lies here, that the husband and wife are totally unsuited to one another. He is a most particular man, accurate to a degree; she on the other hand is decidedly easy-going. With him all is definite and precise; with her all is casual and haphazard. He wants everything just so, while she takes things as they come. How could there be happiness in such a home?
And then that husband is so exacting! He is always making demands upon her. And yet one cannot find fault with him, for as a husband he has a right to expect something of his wife; and besides, all his demands are perfectly legitimate. There is nothing wrong with the man and nothing wrong with his demands; the trouble is that he has the wrong kind of wife to carry them out. The two cannot get on at all; theirs are utterly incompatible natures. Thus the poor woman is in great distress. She is fully aware that she often makes mistakes, but living with such a husband it seems as though EVERYTHING she says and does is wrong! What hope is there for her? If only she were married to that other Man all would be well. He is no less exacting than her husband, but He also helps much. She would fain marry Him, but her husband is still alive. What can she do? She is “bound by law to the husband” and unless he dies she cannot legitimately marry that other Man.
The first husband is the Law; the second husband is Christ; and you are the woman. The law requires much, but offers no help in the carrying out of its requirements. The Lord Jesus requires just as much, yea more, but what He requires from us He Himself carries out in us. The law makes demands and leaves us helpless to fulfill them; Christ makes demands, but He Himself fulfills in us the very demands He makes. Little wonder that the woman desires to be freed from the first husband that she may marry that other Man! But her only hope of release is through the death of her first husband, and he holds on to life most tenaciously. Indeed there is not the least prospect of his passing away (see Matthew 5:18).
The law is going to continue for all eternity. If the Law will never pass away, then how can I ever be united to Christ? How can I marry a second husband if my first husband resolutely refuses to die? There is only one way out. If HE will not die, I can die, and if I die the marriage relationship is dissolved. And that is exactly God’s way of deliverance from the Law. The most important point to note in this section of Romans 7 is the transition from verse 3 to verse 4. Verses 1 to 3 show that the husband should die, but in verse 4 we see that in fact it is the woman who dies. The Law does not pass away, but I pass away, and by death I am freed from the Law. [Footnote #15–Watchman Nee, THE NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE, pages 107-109 (Chapter 9).]
The great fact of SUBSTITUTION is that Christ died for me. The great fact of IDENTIFICATION is that I died with Christ. When Christ died, I died! I died to sin (Romans 6) and I died to the law (Romans 7). But if I died, how can I be married to Another? In Christ’s death I died, but in Christ’s resurrection I live (compare Galatians 2:20– “I am crucified, nevertheless I live”). Through Christ’s death on the cross and my identification with that death, I died to the law: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead [have died] to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to Another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).
A LOVE RELATIONSHIP, NOT A LEGAL RELATIONSHIP
The believer is married to Christ. It is a LOVE RELATIONSHIP not a LAW (LEGAL) RELATIONSHIP. This love relationship involves being joined to Christ and in vital union with Him. This is what Christianity is all about. Christianity is not a RELIGION, it is a RELATIONSHIP to a Person, the Son of God (John 17:3). It is not doing something but it is knowing Someone (John 17:3; 1 John 2:3-4). It is not a set of rules and it is not a system of morality (though rules and morality are involved). It is not a legal system of “THOU SHALT” and “THOU SHALT NOT.” In its essence it is a unique and intimate and personal relationship with the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
Many in our day have lost sight of this precious truth. For many the Christian life has degenerated into another legalistic religious system. It is common for people to get wrapped up in rules and regulations and requirements and duties. One could think that the Christian life is reading the Bible and praying and witnessing and memorizing Scripture and doing certain things and not doing certain other things. We know how a Christian ought to live. We know how a Christian ought to act and speak and think. We know the kinds of things a Christian ought to do and we know the kinds of things a Christian ought not to do, and without realizing it the Christian life has lost the very thing that makes it different from every other religion or religious system. We have missed the whole point.
C.H. Mackintosh has said it this way:
Christianity is a living and divine reality. It is not a set of doctrines, however true; a system of ordinances, however imposing; a number of rules and regulations, however important. Christianity is far more than any or all of these things. It is a living, breathing, speaking, active, powerful reality— something to be seen in the every day life— something to be felt in the scenes of personal, domestic history, from hour to hour— something formative and influential—a divine and heavenly power introduced into the scenes and circumstances through which we have to move, as men, women, and children, from Sunday morning to Saturday night.
Christianity is the life of Christ communicated to the believer—dwelling in him—and flowing out from him, in the ten thousand little details which go to make up our daily practical life. It has nothing ascetic, or sanctimonious about it. It is genial, pure, elevated, holy, divine. Such is Christianity. It is Christ dwelling in the believer, and reproduced, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the believer’s daily practical career. [Footnote #16–THE MACKINTOSH TREASURY–MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS BY CHM (Loizeaux Brothers, one volume edition, 1976), p.790.]
To emphasize this important truth, let us see what the Bible does not say:
1) Philippians 1:21– For to me to live is reading my Bible, memorizing Scripture, praying at least 15 minutes daily and witnessing at every opportunity.
2) Philippians 3:8– I count all things but loss for the excellency of trying to guard my tongue, trying to overcome my bad habits and trying to have my daily devotions.
3) Philippians 3:10– That I may do this and avoid doing that and that I may force myself to witness and avoid every appearance of evil.
4) Revelation 2:4– Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy daily Bible reading schedule and thou hast broken thy New Year’s resolutions and thou hast failed to keep the 10 Commandments.
5) 2 Corinthians 5:9– Wherefore we labour [lit., we are ambitious], that, whether present or absent, we may watch our temper, keep following our strict diet, memorize verses, get enough rest, and not watch too many bad television shows.
What do these verses really say? In the above verses the emphasis is upon KNOWING and LOVING and PLEASING a PERSON, even the Lord Jesus Christ. Read carefully Colossians 1:9-12. Notice the emphasis of this great prayer: to know His will (v.9), to walk with Him (v.10), to please Him (v.10), to increase in my knowledge of Him (v.10), to be strengthened by Him (v.11), to be joyful in Him (v.11), to thank Him (v.12)!
Consider again the illustration of the marriage relationship. There are many things the husband must do and there are many things the husband must not do. There are duties he must carry out, responsibilities he must meet and obligations he must perform. But why does he do all these things? It is because he has decided to love a person–namely his wife. The wife does many things as well. She prepares meals, washes the dishes, cleans the floor, vacuums the rugs, washes the clothes, etc. Why does she do all these things? Is it because her husband has given her a long list of “THOU SHALT’s” and “THOU SHALT NOT’s”? Hopefully this is not the reason. She is doing these things because she is responding to the love of her husband. The marriage relationship is based on love, not law.
What then is the Christian life all about? The Christian life is simply knowing a Person, loving Him, seeking to please Him, walking with Him, honoring Him, obeying Him, thanking Him, rejoicing in Him, delighting in Him, trusting in Him, growing in Him, talking to Him, talking to others about Him, abiding in Him, learning of Him, learning from Him, sitting at His feet and enjoying His presence. Note the emphasis on Him (on a PERSON).
As we go through each day, are we walking with a Person and enjoying Him or are we following a religious, ritualistic, legalistic routine? If we really have that unique, intimate, personal LOVE RELATIONSHIP with the Lord Jesus Christ, then this will change everything we do. This will change PRAYER because PRAYER is talking to the Person I love. This will change BIBLE STUDY because I want to get to know this Person better. This will change WITNESSING because I want to introduce others to this wonderful Person. I want others to know the Christ that I know.
Are we walking with a Person or are we working at a religion? “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to Another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4). In light of John 17:3, can we each say from our hearts: “I know this Person as my Saviour, as my Lord, as my Friend, as my Sovereign Master, as my Helper, as my Shepherd, as my ever-present Companion, as my Advocate, as my Comforter. (So many more things could be said!).”
There are many who wrongly think that if a person is not “under the law” then he will be LAWLESS. A right relationship to Jesus Christ will not result in lawlessness, but rather fruitfulness (Rom. 7:4). Indeed, a right relationship to Jesus Christ is the only possible way that the righteous requirements of the law will be fulfilled: “That the righteousness [righteous requirements] of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). Notice carefully that Romans 8:4 does not say “by us” but “in us.” The key to fulfilling the law is LOVE (Rom. 13:8-10 and Gal. 5:14). The key to having LOVE is a Spirit-filled walk (Gal. 5:13-23 and Rom. 8:4). In and of myself I am totally unable to fulfill God’s righteous requirements: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18). I, in and of myself, utterly fail. CHRIST IN ME (Gal. 2:20) never fails!
Not being under the law does not mean that the believer in Christ is opposed to the 10 Commandments and is in favor of violating them. God forbid! Nine of the ten commandments are repeated on the pages of the New Testament It is never right to take God’s Name in vain or to murder or to steal or to covet. God’s moral standards never change. The believer who violates any of these commands is guilty and must give account to God. It is essential that we fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. But how do we do that?
It is important to keep in mind that those who try to put themselves and others under law do not themselves keep the law: “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh” (Gal. 6:13). “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). Those who walk by faith according to the NEW CREATURE RULE of GRACE actually fulfill the law (see Romans 8:4; 13:8; Gal. 5:14,22-23). In our justification we did not receive the righteousness of God by the works of the law (Rom. 3:21-22); so also in the Christian life we do not fulfill the righteousness of God’s law by the works of the law. The way to fulfill the law is not by trying to keep the law. It is God’s working in me that counts (Heb. 13:21; Phil. 3:13). It is not the production of the flesh but it is the fruit of the Spirit.
SANCTIFICATION BY GRACE!
The watchword of the Reformation was, “THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” When it comes to sanctification, however, the slogan of Reformed Theology is this: THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY THE LAW! Some might even say, “We live by law and grace.” But as soon as you add law to grace you have destroyed grace (Rom. 11:6). The entire area of the believer’s identification with the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection and ascension is often misunderstood and neglected by Reformed men. Reformed theologians rarely set forth the NEW CREATURE RULE in their writings. Examine what they write. Little is said about the great identification truths in Romans chapter 6. Little is said about the believer’s glorious POSITION in the risen and ascended and seated Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 3:1-4; Eph. 2:5-7; etc.). More needs to be said about the importance of RECKONING (Rom. 6:11)–counting on God’s facts by faith.
Sanctification, like salvation, is by grace through faith and not by the works of the law. It is based on the finished work of Christ (Romans 6), not on man’s feeble law-keeping efforts. The Christian life is to CONTINUE as it COMMENCED (Col. 2:6; Gal. 3:1-3). Paul teaches that those who are under the law are under the dominion of sin (Rom. 6:14). This is because the flesh cannot keep God’s holy law (Rom. 8:7). Grace living is not lawless living (Tit. 2:11-12; Rom. 6:1-2,15; Eph. 2:10). Only when God’s grace is given its rightful place in the Christian life can we appreciate the words in the hymn by Philip Bliss: “FREE FROM THE LAW—O HAPPY CONDITION.”
Today some of the most popular “Christian counseling” books seek solutions by subtly putting believers under the law rather than putting them under the principles of grace. [Footnote #17–See our review of the booklet, GODLINESS THROUGH DISCIPLINE, by Jay Adams. Jay Adams’ Teaching on Sanctification] Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the central focus is on Mount Sinai instead of Mount Calvary. Miles Stanford has offered this strong statement: “(Reformed) Calvinism emerged from the dark ages, but is still in the twilight–half in the shadow of the law, half in the light of the Saviour. It has a fleshly affinity for fetters, hence it is the life of the hang-dog heart, the wretchedness of Romans Seven.”
The thrust of Paul’s Epistles is to first show the believer what God has done in His grace. The exhortations and commands are generally found toward the end of the Epistles and are based upon what God has graciously done. The believer is to count on the facts of what God has done and by faith live accordingly. The emphasis is not “do and thou shalt be blessed” (the legal formula) but it is this: “You have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3) therefore walk accordingly (Eph. 4:1).” How does God’s grace teach us to live (compare Tit. 2:11-12)? One of many examples that could be cited is Ephesians 5:8– “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” First Paul tells the Ephesians WHO THEY ARE (by the grace of God, not because of their keeping of the law), and then he tells them HOW TO WALK! “Since you are children of light, walk as children of light! BE WHAT YOU ARE! By faith, count on the fact of who you are and walk accordingly! See yourself in the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Footnote #18–See our paper entitled The Riches of His Grace–215 THINGS THAT ARE TRUE OF ME NOW THAT I AM SAVED.] The great exhortation is that we should walk as new creatures (Gal. 6:15-16) because that is WHO WE ARE! God’s peace and victory will be upon all those who walk according to this NEW CREATURE RULE (Gal. 6:16), based upon the FINISHED WORK OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS (Gal. 6:14)!
ROMANS 7 AND THE NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE
Most men who are influenced by Reformed theology insist that Romans 7:14-25 is to be the normal experience of the Christian. The believer is not to leave Romans 7 to get into Romans 8, but the believer is to stay in Romans 7 throughout his Christian experience. These verses describe the conflict of the two natures in the child of God. Thus those of the Reformed tradition say that Romans 7 describes the normal, God-intended experience of a saved person as long as he is in the body. [Footnote #19–John MacArthur, Jr., for example, in his book FAITH WORKS, presents the view that Romans 7 ought to be the normal experience of a mature believer and that the Christian should never get out of Romans 7. See pages 131-138.] Indeed, according to A.W. Pink, there is no present deliverance from the carnal nature by the power of the Holy Spirit. [Footnote #20–Pink wrote this in a tract entitled “THE CHRISTIAN IN ROMANS 7.” He was referring to Romans 7:24 where Paul cries, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Pink insists that there is no present deliverance, but that deliverance will come only at the time of “the redemption of the body.” If Pink had only read 3 verses further he would have seen that there is deliverance from the law of sin and death even in this life (see Rom. 8:2).]
Before being critical of the above view, we must recognize that there is much truth to it. It is true that in the believer there will be a conflict and struggle between the two natures as long as he is in this body (Gal. 5:17). The sin nature will never be eradicated or uprooted. [Footnote #21–John MacArthur, Jr. denies that the believer possesses an old sinful nature. He teaches that the believer has but one nature, the new nature in Christ. How then does he explain sin in the believer? Sin must have a source. MacArthur teaches that although the sin nature is gone, some left-over remnants of sin have somehow survived. In his book FAITH WORKS he speaks of “surviving sin” (p. 135) and “the remnants of sin” (p. 135) and “this residual fallenness” (p. 134) and “the vestiges of sinful flesh” (p. 116). “We are, in short, new creations—holy and redeemed but wrapped in grave clothes of unredeemed flesh” (p.117). See our paper on MacArthur’s one nature teachings, available upon request.]
We would fully agree with Reformed men that the more we mature in the faith the more we should be conscious of our own sinfulness and wretchedness (v.18,24). The more we grow in the Lord the more we should come to know “the plague of (our) own heart” (1 Kings 8:38) and our own depravity. Also we should always be painfully aware of our complete helplessness and inability to do what is right in and of ourselves. We do not have the power to perform that which is good (v.18). Without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), and this shall ever be true. We should always stay in Romans 7 in the sense of knowing our sinfulness and helplessness and our moment by moment need of a Deliverer who is Christ Jesus.
What is there about Romans 7 which is not the God-intended Christian experience? Romans 7 describes a believer who contrary to his own will fails to do what is good and instead does the evil (v.19). This may be a common experience of believers, but certainly we dare not say that God intends believers to do evil and to be overcome by the old nature. This would be contrary to all of the Scriptures which teach that the believer is responsible not only to will the will of God but also to DO IT (Phil. 2:13; Heb. 13:21; 1 John 3:22). Certainly the normal Christian life which God intends us to have is not one of failure and defeat and frustration.
The purpose of Romans 7 is to teach that sanctification does not come by the law. The law is HOLY (Rom. 7:12) but the law cannot make us holy. Deliverance does not come by the law, it comes by Jesus Christ. When it comes to sanctifying the believer, the law utterly fails to do the job. Romans 7 brings us to the point where we cry out, “I CAN’T!” but Romans 8 gives the victory cry, “GOD CAN!” I can’t keep the law (Rom. 7:22-24) but the law can be fulfilled in me by the power of God (Rom. 8:4). Technically it is not that the believer leaves Romans 7 to get to Romans 8. It is perhaps better to say that Romans 7 gets the believer to Romans 8. Romans 7 teaches us valuable lessons about ourselves—about our helplessness and sinfulness and inability to please God in spite of our righteous desires. May we never forget these lessons.
Many Reformed men agree with A.W. Pink that there is no present deliverance from the carnal nature by the power of the Holy Spirit. They point to the future tense in Romans 7:24 (“who shall deliver me”) as indicating that this deliverance shall not be realized until “the redemption of the body” or until believers are glorified. This would mean that believers would all their lifetime be in bondage to their carnal natures. This is not what the text says. Paul’s desperate cry in Romans 7:23-24 is answered in Romans 8:2. Is there deliverance from the law of sin and death? Indeed there is, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Pink and others say that such a deliverance is future. Paul says that it has already been accomplished! Believers need to claim it by faith.
The God-intended Christian life is not the life of doing the evil which I hate and failing to do the good that I want to do (Romans 7:19). The God-intended Christian life is not a life of captivity and bondage to the law of sin and death (Romans 7:23). Christ came to set us free (John 8:31-36)! It is not God’s desire that we should live in perpetual defeat and failure and frustration days without end. No, the God-intended Christian life is set forth in many passages including these: Colossians 1:10-12; 1 John 3:18,22; Eph. 4:1-3; Phil. 4:1-9; 1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 2:20; 5:22-23; etc. May we so walk and live.
“Run, John, run! The Law commands!
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Far grander news the Gospel (grace) brings:
It bids me fly and gives me wings!”
– John Bunyan
Too many believers are trying to run without feet and hands (Romans 7). By the power and grace of God may we soar (Romans 8)! Using this illustration, the believer in Romans 7 is saying, “I want to run but I have no feet and no hands. I CAN’T DO IT! How to run I find not! No matter how hard I try, I fail! Who shall deliver me from this immobile condition?” This is not the God-intended Christian experience. The God-intended Christian experience is that we SOAR with the wings that God has provided! Compare Isaiah 40:31– “they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
For a more detailed study of Romans chapter 7, see Romans.
QUESTIONS FOR THOSE WHO WOULD
PUT US UNDER BONDAGE
Here are some questions for those who would try to make the LAW the believer’s rule of life:
If the law is a “MINISTRATION OF DEATH” (2 Cor. 3:6-9) than how can it be the believer’s rule of life? If the law has been “done away” (2 Cor. 3:11) and “abolished” (2 Cor. 3:13; Eph. 2:15) and disannulled (Heb. 7:18-19) and “taken away” (Heb. 10:9 and compare Heb. 8:6-13), then how can a believer be under the law as a rule of life?
Why do you accuse those who teach that the believer is not under the law of promoting LAWLESSNESS and antinomianism? Does not Paul teach that God’s grace teaches us the very opposite? “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12). Was not Paul, the champion of the doctrine of grace, also falsely accused of teaching a doctrine that would promote lawlessness? See for example, Romans 6:14-15.
How can you place the believer under the law when the New Testament in at least four places declares that the believer is not under the law? See Romans 6:14; Romans 6:15; Galatians 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:20 (NASB). If the law is “the strength of sin” (see 1 Cor. 15:56), how can it be the believer’s rule of life? If the believer has died to the law and has been delivered and released from the law (Rom. 7:1-6), then how can the believer be under it as a rule of life?
Why did Paul give credit for the success of his Christian life to the grace of God instead of to the law of God (1 Cor. 15:10)? Why did he say, “I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20) instead of saying “I live by the Ten Commandments”?
If the law cannot justify us, why should we think that it can sanctify us? If we were saved by the hearing of faith and not by the works of the law, then should not progress in the Christian life be made in the same way (see Gal. 3:2-3)? If we were saved at Mount Calvary, why should we abandon Mount Calvary and go to Mount Sinai for sanctification?
IS THE BELIEVER UNDER OBLIGATION
TO KEEP CHRIST’S COMMANDS?
“And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Yes, commandment keeping is essential!
The believer living under grace whose focus is on Mount Calvary must keep God’s commands. Obedience to the Word of God is essential in each and every dispensation. The key question is this: What commands are we to obey? What commandments has Christ given to believers living in this present dispensation of grace? Here are some examples:
“And now, little children, ABIDE IN HIM; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).
“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT” (Ephesians 5:18).
“This I say then, WALK IN THE SPIRIT, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
“Likewise RECKON YE ALSO YOURSELVES TO BE DEAD INDEED UNTO SIN, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but YIELD YOURSELVES UNTO GOD, AS THOSE THAT ARE ALIVE FROM THE DEAD, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13).
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, SO WALK YE IN HIM” (Col. 2:6).
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye WALK WORTHY of the vocation [the believer’s high, heavenly, holy CALLING] wherewith ye are called” (Eph. 4:1).
“And that ye PUT ON THE NEW MAN, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
“For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: WALK AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT” (Eph. 5:8).
“If ye then be risen with Christ, SEEK THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE ABOVE, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
“PUT ON therefore, AS THE ELECT OF GOD, HOLY AND BELOVED, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Col. 3:12).
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and LET US RUN WITH PATIENCE THE RACE that is set before us, LOOKING UNTO JESUS the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
As believers living under grace we need to have our minds baptized and immersed in the EPISTLES, becoming more and more familiar with the great GRACE-ORIENTED COMMANDS that are found therein. Yes we are certainly to obey God’s commands, but the commands which God has given to us are based upon the believer’s glorious position in a crucified and risen Christ. These commands do not flow out of Mount Sinai, they flow out of Mount Calvary.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT IS NOT
THE MAGNA CARTA FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING
We acknowledge that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is profitable for church age believers in many ways and is of immense spiritual value for our souls (2 Tim. 3:16-18), yet we must firmly insist that it is not church truth. [Footnote #22–The non-dispensationally minded John MacArthur, Jr., for example, teaches that the Sermon on the Mount not only applies to church-age believers, but “its primary message is for Christians” and must be considered “truth for today” (THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS, p. 27 footnote).] Church truth is found in the “Upper Room Discourse” (John 13-17) and in the New Testament Epistles. The Sermon on the Mount is legal in character and its purpose was condemnatory. Its primary message was for those living at the time when “the kingdom of heaven” was “at hand.” The long-promised kingdom was imminent and the people needed to know that they fell far short of the spiritual requirements necessary for entrance into that kingdom. They were totally unfit and unqualified for the kingdom, lacking the kind of righteousness that was required. This sermon has nothing to do with the believer’s exalted POSITION in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. In this sermon we do not find the believer’s rule of life. It was a vital message given by our Lord to Jews who were told that the kingdom was at hand. It was not a message given to Christians.
For a more detailed study see The Sermon On The Mount.
W.J. Berry, in his preface to William Huntington’s classic work on THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF LIFE, well summed up the problem:
It is a divine fact that Christ has delivered absolutely, the “redeemed” from all bondage to, and consequences of all coded law with penalty. This truth was at first denied by the Pharisees and by some believing Jews. This denial of the truth might have prevailed, had not the issue been immediately settled forever by the apostles. The essentials of this work is recorded of the conference in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35); in Paul’s correction of Peter; of the apostle’s rebuking the Galatian Judaizers (Galatians); his exposition in the Roman Epistle, and the final clarification in the letter to the Hebrews. But in spite of these clear declarations from heaven, certain men came into the churches and persisted in teaching the same coded laws of Moses. At the Council of Nicea, called by the Roman Emperor Constantine, his bishops began the first “system” of Judao-Christian coded laws, to be expanded through the dark ages by Popes and their hierarchy of bishops; then modified and continued by the Protestant Reformers,– thence in all Christendom to the present day. The issue is not a question of right and wrong doing, but of the relationship under which we serve. All under every coded law serve sin to condemnation; all who are freed from the law now serve as free sons to righteousness and true holiness (Romans 6:15-23).
William Kelly, an early pioneer dispensationalist, presented this Biblically balanced position:
There are vast numbers who think that the Lord Jesus, besides bringing pardon, is simply a means to strengthen them to keep the law. But this is sad and fundamental ignorance of Christianity. Is a believer then at liberty to break the law? God forbid! It is one thing to be a debtor to do the whole law, and another that God can make light of any breach of the law. Is there nothing possible between these two conditions–debt to the law and freedom to break it? Neither consists with a Christian. He who is free to do his own will is a lawless, wicked man. He who is under the law to do it, describes the proper condition of the Jew and nobody else. The Christian stands on entirely new ground. He is saved by grace and is called to walk in grace. The character of righteousness that God looks for in him is of another sort altogether; as it is said in Philippians, ‘being filled with the fruits of righteousness’–not which are by the law, but ‘by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God’ (Phil. 1:11)–by the Lord Jesus under grace and not under law. And this is not a question solely of justification. This has to do with the responsibility of the believer to do the will of God; and the Lord Jesus, not the law, is the measure and source of the Christian life and walk, which makes all the difference possible.
May our focus be upon the Lord Jesus Christ WHO IS OUR LIFE (Col. 3:1-4)! May we rest upon the FINISHED WORK of our Saviour, not only for justification but also for sanctification (Romans chapter 6)! May we glory and boast in Mount Calvary and what was accomplished there (Gal. 6:14)! May the righteousness of the law be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:4)! May we not abandon the GRACE OF GOD and THE CROSS OF CHRIST! May our hearts and minds be saturated with the practical principles for Christian living which are found in the New Testament Epistles! May the grace of God teach us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us [when He died at Mount Calvary], that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:12-14).
George Zeller [revised 7/93, 10/94, 1/99]