I’ve given up on trying to paraphrase a letter I wrote today regarding some of what I’ve been learning, so I’m just going to put it down like I said it the first time and revise from there. This is what I have been learning today.
Romans 3:31 was brought to my attention today:
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
We know that Paul declares that the law is good; it is just and right. But what about righteousness by faith? Where does law fit with a new covenant that does away with the ten commandments?
God showed the Israelites his character through teaching them the ten commandments. The law is good, and perfect – it is God’s character, after all, and James shows us the importance of the law, but reminds us that keeping God’s law (works) is a result of faith, (James 2:14-26) and that you can’t see faith in action without the action. John, too, declared the importance of the law, but explained that all the law and character of God culminates into one commandment for us – belief in the name of Jesus Christ, and love to others (1 John 3:23).
Under the old covenant we were in bondage to the law; the ten commandments were the very terms of the old covenant. Paul, however, declares that under the new covenant our salvation is not based on obeying the law – we’ll get to that now, as well as Romans 3:31.
Take a look at Romans 3:27 and read on down to verse 31 to get a little more context here:
27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.
– Romans 3:27-31
Notice as an aside that in the New King James (the above is from the NLT) Paul notes two laws, the law of works which we cannot boast in for our salvation, and the law of faith, which we can boast in (boasting in the saving power of Jesus). And how is the law established by faith? Faith working through love (Galatians 5:6b – “ … What is important is faith expressing itself in love”). Then could we not say that the law of faith is, as John put God’s command, “That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23)
God’s character hasn’t changed, and that is why Paul declares that the law is good. But let’s go back to Galatians 5:16-26 briefly.
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.
– Galatians 5:16-26
We’re called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us, and it is the Spirit of God which aligns our lives with the character of God (of course, because the Spirit of God is God, after all). In verse 16 Paul calls us to walk in the Spirit, explaining in verse 17 that the sinful nature and the Spirit of God are complete opposites, and unless we walk in the Spirit of God, we won’t ever be able to live the good ways that we wish to. But then Paul makes this statement in verse 18 – that if we walk in the Spirit, we are no longer under the law. So as important as the law is, it is ONLY important because it is the character of God. When the Spirit of God lives in us, the written law is no longer necessary, because all the lusts of the flesh that kept us from entering God’s kingdom before (verse 19-21) are the fruits of our sinful spirit, but the Spirit of God living in us produces fruits (verse 22-23) in alignment with the nature and character of God. And we know that the fruits of the Spirit do not go against the character of God, because Paul tells us there is no law against them.
Going back the 1 John 3, we find that John confirms this in verses 4-6:
4 Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. 5 And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.
This is from the NLT, but I prefer the language in the New King James:
4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
Sin is lawlessness, and the law is God’s character. But the way out of sin isn’t by keeping the law of works (e.g.: keeping the ten commandments perfectly), as Paul said; the way out of sin is an indwelling of the Spirit of God, as John stated in verse 6, “Whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin.” It isn’t that we stop sinning in order to abide in Jesus, in order to live by the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but we abide in Jesus (believe in His name and love others 1 John 3:23) and live by and walk in the Spirit so that we can be sinless. It’s Jesus, after all, that cuts away our sinful nature. And recalling that sin is lawlessness, abiding in Jesus and living/walking in the Spirit fulfills the law without our having to keep it. Lawlessness is the natural result of sin (separation from God); lawfulness is the natural result of abiding in Jesus.
Spirit of God does not live in us to merely enable us to keep the law and produce the fruit; the fruit we produce is no good! But Paul is talking about something much greater, he’s talking about the Spirit of God doing it all; it is the Holy Spirit alone who brings the change in our life from sinful, lawless nature to Godly nature, and that is how the law – God’s character, really – fits into grace.