Against the Law
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (v. 31).
- Romans 3:31
The role of the Mosaic law in the life of the Christian is one of the most complex issues of biblical interpretation. At one end there are groups who believe that none of the commandments given to Israel is binding in any sense upon the new covenant believer. People on the other end of the spectrum teach that even things like the dietary regulations are part and parcel of the Christian life. Along the continuum between these two poles there are all sorts of mediating positions. In order that we might get a better handle on the role of the Law, we will look at this complex topic using Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series God’s Law and the Christian.
Paul is one of our most important sources for the Christian understanding of the Mosaic law. But getting a handle on his teaching is no easy matter. Statements such as “you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14), when not read carefully, can imply that the apostle had a wholly negative view of the Law and does not give it a place in the new covenant. In fact, a shallow reading of passages like these have led some people to embrace doctrinal antinomianism, which says the Mosaic law is not binding at all upon the Christian.
Although it can be difficult to explain Paul’s position on the Law, he never endorses any form of antinomianism. The apostle actually says that Christians uphold the Law by faith (3:31). He also tells us that Spirit-led believers fulfill the Law by love (13:8–10), and though he does not impose things like circumcision on Gentiles, Paul does expect Gentiles to follow what are often called the moral laws found in the Torah, that is, the Mosaic law (see 1 Thess. 4:1–8; Lev. 18). Traditionally, this has led the church to distinguish three aspects of the Law— civil, ceremonial, and moral — with only the moral law being that which “doth for ever bind all,” as it is written in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 19.5.
As helpful as this threefold division is for applying the Law to our lives, it is a division not explicitly found in Scripture. Whether one kept the dietary laws under the old covenant was not only a ceremonial issue but also a profoundly moral issue, for to break this regulation was to break the Mosaic law.
Perhaps it is better to say that new covenant believers ought never consider the Mosaic law alone. That is, we must view it through the lens of the “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, replied twofold: love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). Do you love this royal “law of liberty” (James 2:8, 12)? Pray that your love for God and neighbor would deepen every day.
Passages for Further Study
- Deuteronomy 5:1–21
- Daniel 1
- Mark 7:14–23
- Ephesians 6:1–3
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