Before I was baptized, my fear about becoming a Christian was taking personal ownership of a draconian ethical code, letting it take over my life, and facing judgment for falling short. I was held at arm’s length from Jesus by the literary trope of the cold, rigid, fanatic busybody that I’d never encountered anywhere in real life.
As if the Mosaic law was not consuming enough, Jesus said, “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law... I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18, 20). Christians have to be more pious than the Pharisees, who held up the law as a list of do’s and don’ts, boxes to check on the one-way ticket to eternal life. Who would sign their name to such a cynical covenant?
Dig deeper and you’ll find Jesus’ ministry is different. The Son of God preached something greater than the law, the spirit of the law towards which the law had always pointed: love of and surrender to God; and conversion of the mind and body and soul from the affairs of the flesh. Jesus heals the broken relationship between man and God. Faith in His atoning sacrifice on the cross replaces elusive salvation by observing the law.
But, re: the law, how does one live? Without the old law, how does one avoid sin so as to remain pure and righteous before God? Paul spends much of Romans on the relationship between sin and the law, as well as on the new covenant.
- Via knowledge of sin, sin entered the world.
- Genesis 3:1-7
- Romans 5:12-13
Before Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they were innocent. When they ate, they were no longer innocent. They knew sin. For example, it wasn’t until after they ate from the tree that they realized they were naked and covered themselves in shame.
- The law teaches what sin is.
- Romans 5:13 “sin is not taken into account when there is no law”
- Romans 3:20 “through the law we become conscious of sin”
- Romans 7:7-9, 13 “through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful”
- The law convicts us of our sins, it doesn’t save us.
- Romans 3:5-6
- Romans 4:15 “law brings wrath”
- Romans 7:10-11 “the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death”
- All are guilty.
- Romans 3:23
- Romans 5:12
- Galatians 3:22 “the whole world is a prisoner to sin”
- Our transgressions demand God’s grace and mercy.
- Romans 4:16
- Romans 5:20 “law was added so that the trespasses might increase”
- Romans 7:5, 8 “the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death”; “sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire”
- Romans 8:3-4 “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his Son”
It’s impossible to fulfill all the law’s requirements. Even the most righteous cannot do it. Knowledge of sin entices us to sin. Law, being the epitome of knowledge of sin, causes our sins to increase, convicting us further and demanding God’s grace and mercy all the more.
- Jesus bears our transgressions, releasing us from conviction by the law.
- Romans 3:21-22
- Romans 4:23-25
- Romans 7:6, 23-25
- Romans 8:1-2 “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”
- We are justified by faith, not by observing the law.
- Galatians 5:4-6
- Romans 2:28-29 “circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code”
- Romans 3:21-22 “a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known”
- Romans 4:12-15
- Romans 5:1-2
- While we are liberated from righteousness by observing the law, we are not innocent. Sin is still sin.
- Romans 2:12-15
- Romans 3:31
- Romans 6:1-23 “we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”