Monday, March 02, 2015

God's Law and the Crowd-Thinning Words of Jesus (Part 1)

Why was God's law given?  Many think that the law is meant as a way to help us live right.  It's natural to assume that the law was given to provide a way for people to live godly lives.  But in the New Testament epistles (not my own words, but the words of Paul, etc.) a completely different picture is painted to reveal to us why God gave the law.  In God's grand scheme to redeem people, His law has a huge purpose.

Contrary to helping people live right, here are scriptures (again, not my own words) that talk about the actual ministry and fruit of the law:

-It was enmity with us (Eph 2:15)
-It was against us and contrary to us (Col 2:14)
-It condemned people (2 Cor 3:7-9)
-It put people in bondage (Gal 4:24-25)
-It made people guilty (Rom 3:19)
-It "stopped mouths" (Rom 3:19)
-It imputed sin to man (Rom 5:13)
-It aroused sinful passions that bore fruit to death (Rom 7:5)
-Through it, sin abounded (Rom 5:20)
-Through it, sin revived and we died (Rom 7:9-11)

Have you ever realized that all of this came through God's law?  Because of all this, you won't see Paul expressing a desire to see believers (those who have new life and who live by faith) trying to keep it.  It's quite the opposite.  Paul says "the law is not of faith" (Gal 3:12) and he says that there is no life in the law (Gal 3:21), and in fact it only brings death (Rom 7:6,10).  For these reasons, he tells his fellow Jews that they must die to the law and instead be joined to Christ.

The Law was, of course, given to the Jews.  God knew that the people of Israel were failing miserably at keeping it, and it's interesting how He handled that.  He didn't then say to them, "Boy, I see you're having a really hard time keeping my laws!  But come to Jesus and I'll help you keep them."  What God actually said (through Paul) was, "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another — to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God."  The way for them to "bear fruit to God" isn't to have God help them keep the law, but rather to the contrary, for them to die to the law and be joined to Christ instead.  The result of dying to the law and being joined to Christ is "life" and "bearing fruit to God."

We know that the law is good, just and holy (Rom 7:12), so the problem isn't that the law itself is bad.  Rather, the problem with the law is that it's so good, just and holy that no one can bear up underneath the weight of its demands!  Under the law, God only finds fault with people (Heb 8:7-8), because even if a person keeps all the law and stumbles in only one point, he is guilty of all! (James 2:10).  As the scriptures above say, the result of a person being under the law is increased sin, aroused sinful passions, enmity with God, guilt, condemnation, bondage and death.

So is this the end of the law's story?  Did God give the law so that people would be left in this sad state?  Fortunately, after all this, the law does one final important thing.  Ultimately, the law was a tutor to lead to Christ.  The law was added "because of transgressions, till the Seed (Christ) should come..." (Gal 3:19).  The tremendous, unbearable weight that people find themselves buried in under the law is meant to lead them to a place in which they realize that they truly have fallen short of the glory of God.  They realize that they can't do a thing to justify themselves in front of God, and so they turn from the very thing that caused guilt, condemnation, bondage and death (the law), in order to be joined to the only One who provides them with exactly the opposite: sin taken away, no condemnation, freedom and life!

At this point, the law's job is now done.  It has led the people to faith in Christ, and they are now cut free from the guidance of the law.  Again, as Paul worded it, they have died to the law and are now joined to Another, who provides them with something far greater than what the law ever could do.  Being joined to Christ, they can now bear good fruit unto God, which was impossible to do under the law.  "Dead to the law" really does mean "dead to the law."  When you die to something, you don't go back to it, especially when you've now been joined to something (or Someone) else far greater!

So we find that the law has no purpose in the life of a person who has died to it.  Yet Paul says, "we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully."  What's the lawful purpose of the law?  Well, go back to the beginning of this post and read up to this point again!  Its use is to produce guilt and condemnation in unbelievers (who have not yet received the righteousness of God as a gift, by grace through faith), for the purpose of leading them to Christ.  At that point, again, its job is done!

So as believers, how can we possibly live holy lives without having God's law to live by?  Again, Christ gives us something so much better!  What He gives us is His very life in us.  "For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

Again, we see that dying to the law results in "living to God."  Being joined to Christ means that we no longer live but it's Christ who lives in us and through us.  No law could ever provide us with what the life of Christ gives us.  The fruit of living under the law is made clear in the scriptures above.  But now, in Christ, we see the fruit of the Spirit that is produced apart from law: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Wow!  What wonderful fruit!  Talk about "bearing fruit unto God!"  We can't produce these things by following the law, but in Christ we find that these things are the Spirit's natural fruit in us!  These things come as a result of living by the Spirit, not living by the law.

Will living by the Spirit cause us to want to commit adultery?  To murder?  To steal?  To sin in any way?  Of course not!  It is safe to live by the Spirit, but it's not safe to live by the law!  Look one more time at the scriptures above to see the fruit of living under the law.  In Christ we have it so much better!

Speaking of Christ and the law, we read some pretty harsh words coming from Jesus from time to time in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Some unbearable words at times!  A friend recently noted that Jesus would sometimes pull out a "crowd thinning sermon" and many people would leave Him.  Were these words of Jesus "the gospel"?  Didn't Jesus say "come to me and I will give you rest"?  I'll address this and more in Part 2.

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