New Covenant Law: No liability. No guilt. No condemnation.
In Romans Chapter 3, Paul makes the following points:
- Both Jews and Gentiles are under sin.
- The Law only speaks to those under the Law (Jews).
- Since the Law only provides knowledge of sin, no one is justified by keeping the Law.
- Through Christ, righteousness is manifested apart from the Law.
Then in verse 22, he summarizes as follows:
- Righteousness is given freely to all who believe.
- There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile.
- All have sinned.
- All are justified by grace as a gift through the work of Christ.
- To show God’s righteousness.
Now, Paul ends Chapter 3 with a slightly different argument, making the same point:
- God is the God of the Jews (who had the Law).
- God is the God of Gentiles (who do not have the Law).
- Therefore, justification has to come from somewhere other than through works of the Law, or else God would only be the God of the Jews.
However, Chapter 3 ends with Paul emphatically saying that we still uphold the Law. So what gives?
The Tension Builds
Paul, who wrote this letter to be understood holistically rather than in chapters or verses, doesn’t really get back to this point until Chapter 7, when he reaffirms that the law is good, and is not what brings us death (but rather, it is sin which brings death). He also makes the excellent point that the fact that we want to do good affirms that we believe the Law is good.
Paul makes a very important distinction here: The Law is good, but that doesn’t mean that keeping the Law can make us righteous. It’s pretty clear by this point that keeping the Law is an impossibility. From Chapter 4 to 7, Paul has continued to show us that our righteousness is totally unrelated to the Law. It’s good, but now irrelevant; or perhaps a better word is inapplicable. (I’ll go back to Chapter 4 in the next post.)
An Easily Overlooked Point
In Paul’s discussion of the goodness of the Law, he makes a very crucial point which is missed by many people, who are under the impression that they can, and should, discipline themselves in order to stop sinning. The presumption is that with regard to sin, we are the problem, and many of us are plagued by feelings of guilt and shame as a result. However, in verse 20, Paul writes, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Just think about this for a few minutes. If sin (the effect) is not caused by us but by sin (the cause), then there is absolutely no legitimate reason for Christians to suffer from guilt and shame.
The Law (which is good) tells us we should hate sin and its results; however, it does not judge us, who have died with respect to sin (Rom. 7:1-4), it judges sin itself.
The Plague of Sin
As I’ve said before, if you read through the Gospel of John, you see that Jesus consistently seems to treat sin as a disease, a plague on humanity. He never judges those afflicted by sin, but in pronouncing “Go and sin no more,” he sets people free from the bondage of sin. Who Jesus does condemn are those who by their legalism and condemnation perpetuates the plague.
Paul seems to be taking a similar position here; sin, like a virus, is waging war on our bodies (v. 21-23), and Paul himself does not appear to be free from this war going on within us. But, turn the page to Chapter 8, and my point above is affirmed: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
No liability. No guilt. No condemnation.