THE LAW AND THE SPIRIT
By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Eagle Point, OR. May 5, 1985)
The main job of a preacher is to impart knowledge, although that is not his only task. I am convinced that we all know quite a lot, and we all, having the mind of Christ, understand quite a lot in the spirit..
I have come to see that the preacher's job is to have enough courage to speak and proclaim what we all know latently already, and to expose it to the mind's eye of the congregation so that we can all grasp and realize what we know in a more practical manner. It is as if what we know is not really learned until it is said out loud, and then put to the test in a living situation and experienced. It is the preacher's job to say it out loud, and it is the hearer's job to experience it.
I ) Are the N.T. scriptures a law?
Most Christians when asked, "What law are you under?" will respond, "Why, the New Testament. We're not under the Old Testament Law anymore. Now we have a new and better law in the New Testament."
When we want to look at the O.T. Law we can turn to Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 and read it. It was given by God and written down in stone and placed in the Ark of the Covenant.
But where is the N.T. Law located? Is it in the New Testament scriptures? Are the N.T. scriptures a new and better law?
"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law."
In this brief statement by Paul is comprehended the gist of the two great covenants of God with his people. To demonstrate, let us look at
In that he says, "A new covenant," he has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The idea of "new" here is not in reference to time, but to the quality. New and improved; new and different.
Here is the chart for this sermon:
Old Covenant New Covenant Letter of law Newness of spirit Written in Stone Written on our Hearts Weak through the flesh Walk in the spirit Administration of Death The Spirit of Life
II ) The quality of newness that makes the old obsolete is mentioned by Paul in:
"For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.
But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in newness of Spirit and not in oldness of letter."
Paul does not use the article before Spirit and Letter, because he is referring to their qualities as principles rather than any particular Spirit or Letter. The Old Covenant was characterized by serving God through the Letter of law, and in the New Covenant we serve God in Newness of spirit.
III ) Another characteristic of the Old Covenant was that it was Written in Stone.
So he declared to you his covenant which he commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.
I think that the important characteristic here is not the stone, but the fact that it was written down. The stone tablet was the common writing medium of the age for important documents that needed to be preserved. The writing gave it an objective, external existence.
IV ) The New Covenant is different from the Old as to the place where it is written.
Because finding fault with them, he says: "Behold, the days are coming, says Jehovah, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says Jehovah.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Jehovah: I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, "Know Jehovah,' for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."
So, our New covenant is God's law put into our minds and written on our hearts.
But how is this done?
We can see how it is done by looking at the administration of both of these covenants.
The Law brought to man's mind the righteous standard that God required all men to meet. We already had this knowledge in an innate form, from the garden of Eden when the first humans ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, our consciences were made aware of Heaven's absolute moral ethic and requirement. When the Law was given, it set that righteous requirement down in writing as an application for the flesh, of Heaven's spiritual rule. For this reason Paul calls the Law "spiritual" in:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
The Law is spiritual in that it is a manifest earthly application of the spiritual righteousness that heaven requires. It came from the spiritual realm, it was given by God who is a spirit and it is what a spiritual man would be doing if he were walking perfectly before God. But the problem Paul is dealing with here in Romans chapter 7 is that man was carnal - not spiritual, and therefore incapable of meeting up to that righteousness.
It was not the fault of the Law that man could not keep it, but rather the mode of governing through the flesh; trying to control the flesh by external commands. The Law met in man a willingness to do right but an inability to overcome the lusts of the flesh and perform that which is right.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and on account of sin: he condemned sin in the flesh...
The Law was weak through the flesh in that it only condemned sin in writing. It tried to control man's conduct by an external command that always met up with the rebellious flesh of man, and man's helplessness to control it.
So, man, faced with a righteous command and having a willingness to keep it, but no ability to keep it, crashed down in guilt and death. Paul says that sin took that good Law and by it murdered me. That is what Paul means by the bondage of sin, or the law [rule] of sin and death which was the only outcome of the good Law that was given to man.
I find then the law: to me, the one who wills to do good, that evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and taking me captive under the law of Sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself on the one hand, with the mind serve the law of God, but on the other hand, with the flesh the law of Sin.
But now the New Covenant that we have in Jesus Christ has changed all of that. Remember Paul had said, "If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under law." And in Gal.5:16, he said, "Walk in the spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh."
The Spirit therefore, is the new governing principle by which we serve God and with which we should "keep in line". (Gal.5:25)
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of Sin and Death.
For what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and on account of Sin: he condemned Sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit.
What the Law could not do was to condemn sin in man's flesh - it could do it in writing - but not in the very seat of its stronghold, in man's flesh. It could never realize its righteous standard of holiness in any man's life through the flesh. But Jesus did do it. He came as a man in the likeness of the flesh of sin and condemned it in the flesh. (in the human flesh that he had)
In other words, what the Law could not realize in man, Jesus realized and accomplished by living a life that was subject to temptation in the flesh; his flesh being a door into his being that was in all points open to temptation, but never once allowing sin an entrance. He therefore condemned sin as not being worthy of dwelling in human flesh or having dominion there.
But how can what Jesus did, make the righteousness of the Law to be fulfilled in me, when I walk in the spirit? This is where we get into the administration of the New Covenant.
The righteousness of the Law fulfilled in the believer and the holiness of the Christian, is nothing less than that which Jesus realized in his earthly life. It is the Holy Spirit's job to recreate or reproduce the holy life of Jesus in us. This life is spiritual life and is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit which is primarily love. So it is the love produced by the Spirit that becomes our law. That is the ministry of the Spirit that Paul talked about in:
...who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the administration of death, in letters engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the sons of Israel could not gaze intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which was passing away, how will not rather the ministry of the Spirit be glorious?
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Lord the Spirit.
It is the Spirit that gives life. He communicates the life of Christ to us and by that life and its fruit, we are transformed into the image of Christ.
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of him who created him.
The new man we are to put on is already created in us by the new birth - being born of the Spirit when we were immersed. That is when we began living spiritually and became free from sin.
When we see the term "Spirit" in the scriptures, a lot of people automatically think of "The word of God" instead of the Holy Spirit. Of course they do this, not out of any imperative of the language, but from a long exposure to the redefining of Bible terms in order to explain away the spiritual realm and any contact that we might have with it on a first-hand experiential level. So let us be fair with the language, if we are going to do that, i.e. if we are going to think of something other than the Spirit whenever we see the term "Spirit", then let us rather think of spiritual life. Because we can all agree that the Spirit gives life. (2Cor.3:6)
We all know and believe that we have spiritual life as a result of our being saved. For that is what salvation is. Well, then let us recognize what that life is and from where it has come. It is spiritual life, quickened in us by the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Life.
When we worship in spirit - we worship by means of the new life created in us. When we serve God in the spirit - our service to God stems from the holy character, the holy love of the new creature that we are created to be, the New Man; that new life that we have in Jesus Christ.
That is what Paul is referring to in:
for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of Sin and Death.
The law or rule of the Spirit of life, is what can govern my behavior now. The Spirit has enabled me to have a choice to obey the law of God now. That new spiritual life has made me free from the dominion (or law) of sin and death.
The body of sin is destroyed so that I do not have to serve sin. (Rom.6) The power of sin in my flesh that kept me from doing the will of God, even when I wanted to (Rom.7) is broken now by the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. (Rom.8)
When we walk in the Spirit - to walk in and be led by the Spirit, means that I accept by faith the life of Christ within me and I put on and walk in the new man by faith, the new divine nature and life that I have in Christ - that he has created in me by the Holy Spirit. I walk in love - love is the fulfilling of the Law.
Note: This is how we overcome sin in our lives. Not by dent of my own willpower in the flesh, although it does require my will to be in agreement with God, but by the transforming of my inner man, my character, through faith in how Jesus has affected my condition before him.
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to Sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is, what I see in the risen Christ, I apply also to myself when I consider my own case. Just like Jesus, I am dead to sin and alive unto God. Our conduct, instead of being controlled by an outward commandment, is now governed by the life that is in us by faith. I respond and am influenced by faith in who I am in Jesus Christ. The motivation to holy living stems not from my following a commandment out of fear, but stems from the character of love that I possess through the spiritual life created in me. In other words, I put on the New Man.
Proof - That is why Paul says in Gal.5, "If (or since) we live in the spirit, let us also keep in line with the Spirit. What is my motivation to walk in the Spirit? It is that I live in the spirit.
Paul asks in Rom.3:31, "Do we then make law void through the faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish law." I think what he means is that we are not voiding right and wrong or the righteous requirement of the Law, but those who are of faith, in the end, will be the only ones who keep the Law. Why?
Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom.8:7-8) Because those that are of faith have received the Holy Spirit by the hearing of faith (Gal.3:2) and are bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit, which is primarily love. (Gal.5:22) And love, according to Paul in (Rom.13:10) is the fulfilling of the Law.
So, there you have the relationship between the Law and the Spirit. If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under law - because if you walk in love, you have fulfilled the Law. And the only way anyone can walk in love, is to first walk in the Spirit. You cannot walk in love unless you walk in the Spirit.
Of course, we have all, at one time or another, been taught, either by a positive statement or by implication, that our law (the law of Christ) is the New Testament scriptures. I know now, however, that the law of Christ is this divine love. Paul in Gal.6:2 says that it is to bear each other's burdens. James calls it the Royal or King's law - to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul told Timothy that the end or goal of the commandment is love out of a pure heart and of faith unfeigned.
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia – remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.
But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.
So, are the N.T. scriptures a legal code that we follow? I think we can all see that they are not. But does that make them any less authoritative? No. That is like asking that because we have liberty and freedom in Jesus Christ, does that make Jesus any less of a Lord and Master. No.
The N.T. scriptures are even more authoritative because they are the truth. And our responsibility is greater because we know the truth.
Jesus did not say, "Thy word is Law." in Jno.17:17, he said, "Thy word is truth."
The truth of the scriptures tells us about the position in Christ that we have by faith, and it tells us about the new life that we are experiencing. Our lives should conform to the image of the life of Christ that we see in the scriptures. They are the truth. If we walk in the truth, then our lives, our inner character and our outward fruit, should be in harmony with what we find in the scriptures.
If our attitude and actions are not in line with the scriptures, it is not primarily because we are not following them, but rather, it is that there is something wrong with our relationship to Christ. His living in us and our loving as he loved is our rule of conduct. And if we are not right with him and our heart is in rebellion, then we will not be walking in the Spirit and we cannot fulfill God's law in our lives. We are not allowing him to live in us and be led of the Spirit. And since the scriptures are the truth - our lives will not be in harmony with them either.
It will take a lot of study and meditation in the scriptures to understand this fully. I hope this will give you something more to consider in your study. The lesson's yours.
~ Invitation ~