Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two Laws

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

Have you ever been to church and left feeling like you just didn't measure up? Unfortunately this isn't an uncommon experience. It’s a shame to think that so many people come to God’s house looking for grace and leave feeling more discouraged than before. Why is it that some churches, and indeed some Christians, always make us feel like we don’t measure up? In order to answer that question, we first need to understand what Paul has to say in the above passage.

Paul talks about two laws. The first he labels the law of the Spirit of life. This new law has replaced the old law which he calls the law of sin and death. Now these laws might sound like something out of a Lord of the Rings novel but they are important. Paul is telling us that the law of the Spirit has replaced the law of sin and death. He is saying that we live under a new law now. If he were a character in an old west movie Paul might say “There’s a new sheriff in town!”

These laws have two distinct messages and purposes. The law that Paul refers to as the law of sin and death is the law that God gave to Moses in the Old Testament. The purpose of this law is to reveal our sinfulness (Romans 3:20). God gave us this law, knowing that we could never keep it so that we would realize our need for His forgiveness. In other words, He gave us the old law so we would realize how much we need the new law.

The old law is called the law of sin and death because death is what this old law brings. The old law says, “Don’t do this and don’t do that and if you do then you will receive death!” The new law, the law of the Spirit of life is different. It says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus for you have been set free.” The new law doesn’t give us a bunch of rules to follow and threaten death if we fail. It shows us a better way of living and promises life if we walk in it. It’s as if God is saying to us, “I want you to have life and peace because I love you, so I am going to put my Spirit inside of you to show you how to live in order to gain these things.” Now that doesn’t mean that there are no rules anymore. Galatians 6 tells us that if we choose to disobey God’s Spirit inside of us, then we will reap the result of our sinful actions. But under this new law the emphasis is on the good things that God wants for us and not on the punishment for our sins.

So, to answer the question posed above, the problem is that some churches (and some people) get caught up sending out the judgment of the old law and forget to balance it out with the hope found in the new law. The old law is harsh but necessary. It helps us come to the realization that we are sinners, and without that we will never see our need for Jesus. So the problem isn't that people are proclaiming the old law. The problem is that they are giving the bad news without including the good news it was intended to point to.

We must be careful as Christians to give both messages to the world. Without the message of the new law, it sounds like all we are doing is telling people how worthless they are. But without the message of the old law, Jesus’ sacrifice is meaningless and sin seems much less important. So both messages (both laws) are a necessary part of the Christian story, a story we have a responsibility to tell.

For further reading this week…
   - Psalm 1 (see what King David has to say about the Old Law)
   - Matthew 5:17-20 (see what Jesus had to say about it as well)
   - Mark 2 (check out how Jesus lived in the new law/“fulfilled law”
   - Hebrews 7:19 (read the whole chapter for better perspective)
   - Romans 7:6

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