Saturday, October 25, 2008

The law of the spirit

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by John D Ramsey
Do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to men who know the law — that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?

Romans 7:1 (NIV)
A couple weeks ago, on the first day of Sukkot, or Feast of Booths, Lisa and the girls built a sukkah in the back yard to surprise me. During the Kingdom in Context Bible study that morning, I had mentioned that I planned to sit outside with the little girls and read the Scripture pertaining to the Feast of Booths. Mark asked me if I planned to build a booth, and I explained that while I had no problem with people building a booth, teaching the girls the Scripture pertaining to the feast was my priority.

When I arrived home from work, Lisa had a fire burning in the fire bowl on the patio, and she had oil lamps lit in the yard. We ate our dinner in the booth, and read the Scriptures to the girls. Gabby exclaimed two things, “I did not know about this holiday!” and “I think this is my favorite holiday!” It was a lovely evening, and more so to me, knowing that my girls had labored to make it special.

Regardless of our apparent observance of an Old Testament feast, I feel compelled to clarify. We did not celebrate Sukkot in order to obey the Old Testament Law. Rather, the evening was an illustration of God’s amazing love toward us that he would send his Son to tabernacle among men. The girls now have a visual memory of the Feast of Booths, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to instruct them. However, our observation of the holiday did not observe the Law.

Had our intention been to keep the Law, then we infringed on these points:
  • According to Deuteronomy 16:16, the Feast of Booths had to be observed at the place that God chose. According to 2 Chronicles 6:6, God’s chosen place is Jerusalem. Observing the feast in Raymore, MO, is a violation of the Old Testament Law.
  • The branches that Lisa used to build the sukkah, were from leafy trees only (and the leaves had fallen off). The Law required, palm trees and willows, as well.
  • The duration of the feast is seven days during which time, the observant are to live in booths. We sat in the booth for about an hour.
  • The first day of the feast is a holy convocation during which only necessary work is permitted. However, the next day, I went to work, as is my routine.
  • The Feast of Booths requires 182 animal sacrifices over seven days in addition to regular daily sacrifices according to Numbers 29. That is the Law.
By my calculations, no one obeyed the Law concerning the Feast of Booths this year.

I have no qualms about commemorating an Old Testament feast as an educational and inspirational tool; however, I wince when I hear people claiming to be “Law-abiding Christians.” I wonder, what part of the Law do they suppose that they are obeying? Do they think that they can safely ignore some laws? If so, how do they decide which ones? Deuteronomy 26:27 says, “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Paul explains the impossibility of keeping the Law, saying, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Galatians 3:10 (NIV) James, the brother of Jesus said, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10 (NIV)

Whether I sit in a sukkah for a minute, a week, or never is irrelevant regarding righteousness. Paul tells the Galatians, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:21 (NIV) Jesus condemned everyone who attempts to gain righteousness by the Law by saying,
For 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 5:20 (NIV)
Observing the Law gains me nothing unless I can be perfect and it is way too late for that. James points us to another way, saying,
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

James 2:12-13 (NIV)
James promises that people who want to judge others by the Law will themselves be judged by the Law! The better way is the law that gives freedom. What is the law that gives freedom? Paul tells us,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)
How is it that we are free from the requirements of the Old Testament Law? Paul explains,
So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

Romans 7:4 (NIV)
To the Colossians Paul writes,
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:3, 4 (NIV)
Because we die with Christ when we trust him by faith, the Law no longer has power over us. We are clothed with Christ’s righteousness regarding the Law. His righteousness is attributed to us, and there is nothing we can do to earn it. Trying to keep the Old Testament Law actually disparages the mercy of the cross. Yet the law of the Spirit teaches us that, “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Christ’s righteousness attributed to me exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law making me worthy of the kingdom. Because I died with Christ, the Law no longer rules over me.

Whether I observe a day, or ignore it, does not matter regarding righteousness. The Law of the Spirit gives us freedom to express our faith through culture, but it does not require or favor any specific cultural expression. The law of the Spirit sets us free to serve God and serve each other in love, but it does not obligate us to external observances. Observing the Law never saved anyone, anyway, not even Abraham who lived before the Law was given. “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 16:6 (NIV) Righteousness before God has never come by works, but only by faith; Hebrews 11 makes this undoubtedly clear.

Paul expressed his faith culturally, but not consistently with one culture, he writes,
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)
Cultural expressions of faith are tools for evangelism, but legalism is not. Legalism, whether it comes in the form of quasi-Judaism or cultic manipulation, is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Legalism cannot produce righteousness, but it does create a barrier between the law observer and the Savior. Paul said it best when he described himself as being blameless according to the righteousness that comes from the Law, but he would rather have Christ. He wrote,
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

Philippians 3:7-10 (KJV)
Knowing Christ, being conformed to his character, suffering for his sake, dying with him, and obtaining righteousness by faith alone does not appeal to the flesh; yet these the Law of the Spirit works to produce within us.

1 comment:

  1. It is exciting to think that we can celebrate and appreciate the beauty and symbolism of the Law, knowing that Jesus Christ has fulfilled it. It clarifies just how short we fall and just how great His gift of mercy really is.