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EDITORIAL Byways: James E. Gibbons.


The Sword And Staff, vol 35 1997 no. 1.



ARE WE UNDER LAW?

The following material was recently presented by the editor in an inter-computer, e-mail exchange of thought. Here we amplify and enlarge upon it for purposes of clarity and explanation. There are two extremes that may be taken on this subject. (1) One is a sterile "letter of the law" legalism that limits us to the mechanics of what is written in God's commands and misses out on the very spirit behind the words (and thus the great principles and implications accompanying the teaching). (2) The other is to unscripturally emphasize grace to the point of there being no law, and thus no personal responsibility and accountability. In either case, in a sense, God's commands are circumvented, nullified, or watered down as far as practice is concerned. The question before us is: Are we under law?

1. Obviously we are not under the Law of Moses (John 1:17; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14; Galatians 5:4).
2. But this does not negate law as such (Romans 3:31).
3. We are under the law to Christ (I Corinthians 9:21; Hebrews 7:12; 9:15-17).
4. It is called the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25).
5. It is the law of the Spirit (Romans 8:2-7).
6. It is the law of Love (Galatians 5:14; 6:2; Romans 13:8-10).

Paul asks in Romans 6:1 and 2, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in SIN, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"

May I ask? What is SIN? I John 3:4 reads, "Who-soever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW." These words are a representation of the Greek word anomia (from anomos, A (NOMOS, literally "no law"). Do a word study of this in the New Testament.

So, Paul is saying, "Shall we continue in SIN [no law, lawlessness], that grace may abound?" His answer is quite apparent. "GOD FORBID!" Anomia, this word for lawless, is commonly translated "iniquity" throughout the New Testament. Even in Romansv 6, it is found in verse 19. The falling away from the original church was characterized as the "mystery of INIQUITY [anomia, lawlessness]", which was already at work (II Thessalonians 2:7). And at the summit of all of this would be the "man of SIN [one who transgresses the LAW, I John 3:4]."

Let us say that we are not under law in the sense of the Law of Moses. The Law per se cannot be a system of justification, for "all have sinned [I John 3:4] and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We are under the law to Christ (the law of Christ). That law is LOVE. Love is the fulfilling of the law (Galatians 5:14) for the essence of the law is accomplished through love (Romans 13:8-10). That being the case, we don't have to have the law like a club hanging over our heads to be coerced into doing right. We are not under law in the sense that we are not under the penalty of the law. Now in the context of love and grace we render obedience. Paul said, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1,2). Paul further said that Christ "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity [anomia, lawlessness], and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). It makes us wonder about some people's concept of grace when they start emphasizing it, then let up on their devotion and consecration to the Lord. Notice also Titus 2:11 and 12.

Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). John echoed, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous [burdensome]" (I John 5:3). Love is the fulfilling of the law in that the law is fulfilled in love and through love. Notice the Sermon on the Mount; especially Matthew 5:21 and following. The kind of righteousness Christ wants includes the letter of the law, but is not limited by it; it goes further. It involves the heart. There is nothing righteous about disregarding the letter of Christ's teaching, and calling those who want to carefully follow it LEGALISTS. But the letter of the commandment is not enough. We must from our hearts practice the very spirit of what Christ taught, and with what he taught there are principles and ramifications tied in with each command that cannot be ignored. God's law said, "Thou shalt not kill" (Cf. Matthew 5:21-26). The New Testament teaches that we can be guilty of murder in the heart by hating our brother (I John 3:15), and anger and name calling are put in the same category. God's law said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Cf. Matthew 5:27-32). The Pharisees, the old "letter of the law" legalists, probably felt self-righteously pleased with themselves. They were not guilty of breaking this commandment. However, Jesus taught that there was more involved than just the letter of the law, "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." The law as such would not prohibit watching the garbage on television or the movies, but the teaching of Christ goes beyond the letter of the law, and would prohibit anything that would ensnare us in this way. Immodesty of dress, and many other things, would fall under this command. Yes, the spirit behind the command, with the ramifications and principles, cannot be ignored.

Men, throwing the term around in a derogatory way, may call Christians who wish to follow the Scriptures closely LEGALISTS, but we don't want to be ILLEGAL, do we? To be without law is to be like a leaf falling from a tree, unattached. No, Christ is not teaching the abandonment of law. To be without law, and to have no respect for law, really, in the final analysis, is to be an outlaw.

Actually many who call others LEGALISTS, in the way they use the term, are more legal than those upon whom they heap the appellation. They hold to the letter, and won't be bounded by thought beyond the mechanics of what is said. Then some are only legal with the prohibitive commands, and the positive ones they throw to the wind. Let us recognize the spirit and principles that go with all of God's teaching.

What kind of obedience do we render to the Lord? Is it only a bare bone's, "letter of the law," legalistic obedience like that of the scribes and Pharisees in the Sermon on the Mount? Or, do we go beyond the rattling of the dry bones of a skeleton to add muscle and sinew? With muscle and sinew on the bones, it would be like recognizing the principles and implications that accompany the command. We are posed for movement and action. However, there must be more than bones, muscle, and sinew. There must be the heart and vital organs within. The very spirit of the command must be obeyed from the heart. With all the components of the body "fitly" joined together, there now is life, and we are ready for concerted movement, obedience, and action.

Let us look to, yea, we point you to, the person and personality of Christ to obey the LAW OF CHRIST, which is the LAW OF LOVE. It is a different kind of obedience from that of the LAW OF MOSES, but nonetheless obedience, and of the highest order.

Hearts that are right with Christ are quick to obey (and will not gainsay).

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E-mail jgibbons@surry.net