Sunday, September 20, 2009

Freedom and the law

My friend Jenny has been asking some good questions of the Lord regarding the Law and the Spirit and recently in her blog she put some of them out there:

What exactly does Paul mean when he talks about sin "seizing an opportunity through the commandment" yet "the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good?" And isn't it possible to serve God with both the mind and body, rather than, as Paul states, "I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin?" Does the law refer to teh Old Testament or to legalism? Or both? And if Jesus is the fulfillment not the abolishment of the law, then what does that mean for me in regards to being free from the law?

I took some time today to think through these questions and here are my answers (and boy did they refresh my soul!)
When you said "isn't it possible to serve God with my mind and my body" I think you were referring to Paul saying "with my flesh I serve the law of sin" - flesh here does not mean literal flesh or body. Instead, flesh is our way of making life work independent of God. The flesh is any way of meeting our needs for love, acceptance, righteousness, peace apart from Jesus. So this can look like being the "good Christian" who always does what is right or it can look like being the party person who "eats, drinks, and is merry for tomorrow we die." The NIV usually translates "flesh" as "sinful nature", but that is a poor translation because it implies that we have a good nature and a sin nature battling out. No, we have on nature, Christ's. The flesh is our old way of making life work.

When Paul says the law (lowercase), he is referring to the Old Testament Law, both the Ten Commandments and then all of the other regulations that God added, and then also the regulations that men added in order to help them keep the God regulations. Legalism is a system by which we try to earn, obtain, or maintain right standing before God by our own efforts and ability to "do the right thing." It is self-righteousness, which is opposed to God, because God calls us to live only in Christ's righteousness. There is no one righteous, not even one, except Christ.

When Paul talks about the law seizing the opportunity in Romans 7, he is saying that the law did what it was and is designed to do - to put us to death and reveal our bankruptcy of soul apart from God in Christ. The commandment is good - it is a good thing to not covet (ref: Romans 7:7). Coveting leads to all manner of sin. The problem is not the law - it is holy and righteous and good. But the law can never make us righteous. It can only reveal the sin in our heart, and what the law really is designed to do is to lead us to Christ. Paul calls the law a tutor, which guides and holds our hand to point us to Jesus. Galatians 3:19-25 speaks to this - in fact, Paul asks the very same question that you ask, "What then is the purpose of the law?" Paul is asking this rhetorical question because he has just established that righteousness is given freely, not through the law. The answer to "what is the purpose of the law" is that the law was given to lead us to Christ. In fact, in Galatians 2:19 he says that through the law I died to the law (also see Romans 7:4)! (The whole letter to the Galatians was written because people in that church were being tempted to keep the law instead of living by the Spirit. Galatians would be a great book for you to read in this discussion.)

1 Corinthians 15:56 reveals clearly that the law can never help us defeat sin. Our tendency in the flesh when we struggle with sin is to try and set up laws and boundaries to make sure we don't do that again. But this verse says that the law actually empowers sin! Sin in us rises up and says, "Oh yes I can; you're not the boss of me!" It's like when you tell a kid not to look in the closet because there is a present hidden there - it's all they can DO to not, because the law entices their desires.

Jesus fulfilled the law because you and I never could. He put an end to the law through his life, death and resurrection - He obeyed the law perfectly, not just by the letter but by the intent behind it. He paid the price for breaking the law, which is death. And He rose that we might have a new way of life and righteousness -the Holy Spirit of God.

You are completely free from the law, because you have died to it. You no longer have to tithe, to observe the Sabbath, feed the poor, worry about whether your clothes are a cotton-poly mix, wear a head-covering, avoid pork, fast, sell all your possessions and give them to the poor. Jesus obliterated the law and replaced it with the Spirit. Now if you give, it's when and as the Spirit leads. If you feed the poor, it's when and as Christ in you leads. If you rest/Sabbath it's as a response to God.

Free from the law means free from the law - radically, completely free. Free to do whatever you want, even if it is sinful, actually (I mean, does free mean free or not?). But Christ in you is not sinful, and living more and more dependent on Him will lead you to live freely in holiness and righteousness, living out of your true identity. Romans chapter 6:15-18 talks about how we are now dead to sin (and to the law), and how our response to this is not to go and sin all the more but to rejoice and walk with Christ, letting Him lead us in loving righteousness.

We don't like living by the Spirit because it takes us out of the driver seat. We can't be in control and we can't measure our success in keeping the rules. The law will always be attractive to our flesh. (Derek Webb has two great songs about this -" A New Law" and "The Spirit vs the Kickdrum." Check them out on iTunes.)

Thoughts anyone? I'm getting free just typing this!

No comments: