For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" - so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
To give a human example, brothers:even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (ESV)
| || |
God is Practical
Tuesday of Easter 3
21 April 2015
Orthodox Christian theology is eminently practical. It calls a thing what it is. There are no evasions and no circumlocutions. There are no mythological re-imaginings as there are in other religious traditions. The Bible is actually willing to disparage a creation of God, which in itself is good and holy, because the divine creation causes such damage; killing and destroying those who were enervated by the fall and live in slavery to its effects. That divine creation is God's law. Sometimes commentators want to rescue the divine law from this disparagement, thinking that thereby they are saving God some embarrassment, by claiming that when Paul talks about the law, he is not talking about the divine law, but human rules and principles of action or ceremonial law. They argue that the law of which Paul is speaking could not be the moral law. Paul resists this teaching by the power of His use of the word 'law.' All law, including the divine law, is pointed out by Paul as an instrument that results in sin.
The law functions the way a hunting weapon is used in a domestic dispute. It was intended to be useful by putting meat on the table, but it is used to threaten and to kill another human. The weapon itself is not a problem, but its use against humans is deadly. The law has its proper purposes in the world, but when it is used against humans as children of God, the results are ugly. It kills by increasing the trespasses of those under the condemnation of Adam. This is not caused by the law which is good and holy, but by the humans who are weak and depraved. So this is why the Bible disparages the law, not because the law is a problem, but because it does such damage to humans, who are weakened by the fall.
How easy it would have been for God to have said about this damage: "It's not my fault. They can deal with it, because it's really their problem." He would have been morally just to say this, but He would have not been the God who justifies the ungodly (Rm 4:5). God's Word is then quite full of disparaging remarks about the law; God's law, because it hurts, kills, and slays the people whom God has loved so completely as to become one of them, incarnate of Mary, to bear their sins and depravity, to die for them, and to fulfill the law and counteract its deadly power over humans through His obedient life and sacrificial death. What a great difference there is between grace and the law. For God there are no legalistic quibbles, just action to redeem us sinners from the power of the law, His law. You don't get much more practical than that; by putting Your own skin in the game to rescue humans from the ravages of Your own good gift to them, the law. Theology is practical because God is.
"'Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more' (Rm 5:20). When Paul had shown that the world was condemned by Adam, and by Christ was saved and freed from condemnation, he enters upon the discussion of the law, here again undermining high notions of it. For it was so far from doing any good, he means, or from being any way helpful, but the disorder was only increased by its having come in. However, the clause introduced by 'but' does not assign the cause, but the result of the trespass. For the purpose of the law's being given was not in order that sin might abound, for it was given to diminish and destroy the offence. But it had the opposite result, not owing to the nature of the law, but owing to the weakness of those who received it.
"Why did Paul not say the law was given, but 'the law came in?' It was to show that the need of it was temporary, and not absolute or imperative. He says this also to the Galatians, showing the very same thing another way. 'Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed' (Gal 3:23). It was not for itself, but for the sake of another, that it kept the flock....
"He does not say did abound, but 'abounded all the more.' For it was not only remission from punishment that He gave us, but also from sins, and He gave life too. As if someone did not merely free a man with a fever from his disease, but also gave him beauty, strength, and rank. Again, what if someone gave a starving man not only nourishment, but also put him in possession of great riches, and set him in a place of the highest authority.
"Some will ask, 'How did sin abound?' The law gave countless commands. Now since they transgressed them all, transgression became more abundant. What a great difference there is between grace and the law. The law added to the condemnation, but grace added a further abundance of gifts."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 10.3
Almighty God, Your law brings us death. Lift us from the dust of death through the power of Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Show us that You are willing to condemn Your own law in Him, to rescue us from its deadly powers. Help us to live in the abundance of Your grace, which is so different from Your law. Amen.
For Headmaster William Heine, that he would be upheld in every good deed as he continues to lead Memorial Lutheran School
For the members of the Vellanki family, who were baptized into Christ's death and His new life this past Sunday, that they might remain steadfast in this faith and confession
For Joanna Karner, and all those who suffer chronic diseases, that the Lord Jesus would be their strength and shield
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015