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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 01/12/1997
"What shall we say, then? The Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith. But Israel, pursuing a Law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as thought it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. . . . (10:3) For, not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes. . . . (10:9) If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
Let me tell you about an event that happened a few years ago when I was pastoring in Marietta, Ga. I was roused out of the study by the sound of tires screeching, and emerged into the church parking lot in time to see two cars sitting there one behind the other. It seems there had been a "domestic dispute." The woman had fled in one car, followed by her husband in hot pursuit. She had become too nervous to drive and had pulled into the church lot, where their little disagreement was resumed. The husband was out of control: abusive, violent, unrestrained. The woman already had fresh bruises laid over others that were not yet healed, and she was about to get blessed with some more when I innocently emerged from the front door of the church and asked, "Can I help you?" The gentleman did not take kindly to this interruption of what he no doubt considered a private discussion, so he decided to transfer his administrations from his poor wife to me. He emitted a stream of profanity and started charging toward me. The wife tried to tackle him from behind to prevent this rather inconsiderate (at least, unconsidered) act, but she was ineffective, and so, clinging to his waste, she was being dragged toward me across the tarmac. I had to do some fast thinking about ethics. Was it proper, as a minister of Christ, for me to defend myself? Could I count it as a chivalrous act in defense of the lady? I decided to try to restrain him without hurting him if I could, but I was rather dubious about whether my martial skills would be adequate to the job. Fortunately, a rather big and burly layman who was doing some work on the building chose that moment to come around the corner and investigate the ruckus himself. Confronted by not one but two strong men both over 6 feet and two hundred pounds, the gentleman reconsidered his course of action. He and his wife got back into their cars and sped off to resume their negotiations in a more secluded location.
As I pondered the event later that afternoon, the adjective "unrestrained" kept coming to my mind, and with it the near synonym "Lawless." And with that word came I John 3:14, all sin is lawlessness, and Galatians 3:19a, which tells us that the restraint of the Law was added because of transgression. And I realized that the Law was given to control the impulse to self destruction that breeds in the human heart. And therefore, in this unrestrained and lawless generation (though often more subtly so than the man who had inspired these meditations), I wanted to shout, "To the Law and to the Testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isaiah 8:20). So I will do so by means of a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments. But before we look at the Law itself, we need to deal with some preliminary questions.
In the first place, one does not have to be "under" a given administration to be affected by it. We are currently (2002) "under Bush," not "under Johnson"; but the bills passed during the "Great Society" program of LBJ continue to set the stage for many of the debates over the proper role of government today. We might be "under Bush," but we would be very foolish if we did not think we needed to understand what it meant to be "under" every administration from at least Franklin Roosevelt on down. So the Law could be highly relevant to our Christian lives even if we were in no sense "under" it. And, as we shall see, it is only in a very specific and limited set of senses that we are not "under" the Law as Christians in the New Testament Church.
Paul in Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the "end" of the Law for all those who believe. What does this mean? In what sense is Christ the "end" of the Law? Like the English "end," the Greek TELOS can be used in at least three senses: it can mean "fulfillment" or "purpose" (as in "the chief end of man is to glorify God"), it can mean "termination" ("come to an end"), or it can mean "goal" ("means and ends"). It is hard to decide what Paul means here, because all three applications of the word make sense in context and are consistent with other biblical teaching. Christ "fulfills" the righteousness which the Law can only describe; he "terminates" the Law as a means of salvation; and he is the "goal" toward which the whole Mosaic legislation pointed--the Law is our "schoolmaster" to bring us to Christ.
What is clear is that it cannot mean that Christ is the termination of the validity of the Law pure and simple. Why not? Because Paul supports the point he is making by quoting Deut. 30:11-14 in verses 6-8, an act which implies at least some kind of continuing authority for the Law in itself--for he is quoting the Law! And look how he is quoting it. "What does it say?" he asks in Rom. 10:8. And if you go back to Deut. 30:11, it is clear that the antecedent of "it" is "this commandment," which refers back to Deut. 30:10--"His commandments and statutes which are written in this book of the Law." So what is the Law saying? According to Rom. 10:8, it is saying Rom. 10:9-10! In other words, if you hear the voice of the Law with understanding, it is the voice of Justification by Faith.
The whole topic of Rom. 10 is righteousness, i.e., how to be right with God. The word is used eleven times from 9:30-10:10, with one more use implied. Two ways of being right with God are being contrasted: the Jewish misunderstanding of the Law which pursued it "as if it were by works," and the right way, to which the Law itself testifies if we hear it rightly, which is by faith. Therefore, I would paraphrase verse 4 this way: Christ forever puts an end to the idea that the Law can make you right with God by itself, or though your efforts to keep it (works). People might have thought that once, but now that Christ has come we can read the Law that way no longer. Belief in Christ as Lord and Savior is simply incompatible with the idea of salvation by works. Faith and works constitute the watershed between salvation and damnation. And it is the Law itself that tells us this!
The inevitable conclusion is that Christ does not terminate the validity, function, relevance, or use of the Law, for it continues to perform its genuine function of bringing us to Christ. What he terminates forever is very precisely the idea that the Law ever was or could have been used as a way or salvation by works.
So now we can have a better understanding of Rom. 6:14. We are not under the Law. How so? We are not under the Law as a way of salvation. Christ has freed us from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:10, 13). He has freed us from the penalty of the Law (Rom.6:23, 8:1-2). He has freed us from the obligations of the ceremonial law--the sacrifices, circumcision, ritual cleanness--for they only existed to point forward to him and are no longer needed. But he has not freed us from the Law itself, which still continues to perform its original function of driving us to him.
We study the Law first of all because the Moral Law is still in force. Of course it is. It did not cease to be wrong to steal when Christ died on the Cross. It did not cease to be wrong to lie when the veil of the Temple was rent in twain. It did not cease to be wrong to commit murder when the Tomb was split asunder. We must not think of law keeping as a means of salvation. You can not become an American citizen by keeping the laws of this land. It is because you ARE an American citizen that you have an interest in keeping them. Likewise, you do not become a Christian by keeping the Ten Commandments. Its because you ARE a Christian that you are interested in keeping them. The Law still defines right and wrong. So we do not keep the moral law because we can be saved by doing so, but simply because it is the moral Law.
We study the Law second of all because we love God. Since the moral law is the revelation of his character, we study it to know him better. Because it is the revelation of his will we study it to please him better. Therefore, to the extent that you love God you will want to study the Law.
A third reason for studying the Law is that we love Jesus and appreciate his salvation. If the Law is our tutor to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24), then we will appreciate its ministry to the extent that we love Jesus. It brings us to Christ by revealing our need for salvation. We would never realize the hopelessness of our situation apart from Christ without a full understanding of the Law which we have broken. But the Law also prepares us to receive the Savior. We can not fully understand why he died apart from the Law. And we can not fully appreciate God's Grace, his unmerited favor received by Faith alone, until we have tried to live by the Law in our own strength.
Fourth, we study the Law because we love the Scriptures. The Law is the beginning of the Bible, the foundation on which the Bible is built, and the key to understanding the rest of the Bible. The Prophets are sermons with the Law as their text--and so is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. The arguments of the epistles constantly refer to it, or to the Pharisees' misunderstandings of it. To study the Bible without a grounding in the Law is like trying to study math without the multiplication tables, or reading without phonics.
Fifth, we study the Law because we love our children. Deut. 6:4-7 says, "Hear oh Israel! The Lord your God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit down in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." To fail to teach our children the Law is not only to be disobedient ourselves, but it is to condemn them to lives of ignorance and futility; it is an act of hatred toward them.
We also study the Law because we love ourselves, and because we believe that God loves us. "I am setting before you today," Moses warns in Deut. 11:26, "a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you listen to the commandments," and the curse if you do not. Think back to the young man of the introduction. He had no respect for God or man or love for his wife. He had the same capacity for anger that we all do, but in his case it was unrestrained; it was lawless. And therefore this man could be nothing but a grief (and a danger) to everyone he came in contact with, and ultimately to himself. God gave us the Law as a blessing--to keep us from being like that, to drive us to Christ, and to teach us the way of life, of fulfillment, of blessedness.
Next week we will speak more about the goodness of the Law. In our very right reaction against the Law as a means of salvation, we Protestants have sometimes thrown the legal baby out with the legalistic bathwater. But for now, let us close by listening to the words of David:
"The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes . . . .
More are they to be desired than gold, yea than much fine gold,
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is thy servant warned,
And in the keeping of them is there great reward."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams