Romans, Grace, Faith, Law

I hear Christians referred to a lot as New Testament Christians, but what does that actually mean? Christians didn’t exist prior to the New Testament, before the New Testament there were no Christians, Christians only came into existance after Christ came to earth, prior to that there were no Christians, or I guess you could say “Old Testament Christians”.

My understanding is that they are referring to the new covenant with Christ. Again though, the new covenant didn’t exist until the New Testament anyway, so it’s really a confusing way of saying you are a “Christian”. Often though I hear as part of this that the old covenant and the law of God are no longer relevant. If that’s the case though, then the New Testament doesn’t make sense. Just in the book of Romans, there are an enormous number of references to continuing to keep the laws of God. So if they are discarded, why does Paul encourage keeping them? Let’s look at them:

Romans 2:12-15

12All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

According verse 13, it is those who obey the law that are declared righteous. In verses 14 and 15, Paul has addressed the Gentiles who hadn’t been given the law from God. In this case Paul says that the law is still relevant, they either live by the law (that is, the requirements of it written on their hearts) or they don’t and their choices either accuse or defend them in the time of judgement.

Romans 2:17-28

17Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth21you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

28A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

Ok, so we again have two points of view here, the law in relation to circumcised Jews and then those people who are uncircumcised. So according to verse 17 through to 24, don’t go around bragging about the law and your relationship with God, it’s only going to upset people, especially when you sin like everyone does since that makes you hypocritical. It just ends up with you dishonouring God by breaking the law.

This seems to me to mean that we should want to aim to keep the law without bragging about it so that we don’t dishonor God when we break it. Verses 25 to 27 elaborate on this. Circumcision was a sign of the old covenant between God and his people, basically a signature saying you agree to abide by your half of the deal. So think of it like this, in verse 25, if you break the law there is no point sticking your signature on a piece of paper to say you will keep it (like circumcision is meant to indicate). So, if you break it, you become as though you were uncircumcised, or as though you hadn’t signed. In verse 26, Paul then mentions those of us that haven’t already signed, that aren’t circumcised. He says that by keeping the requirements of the law, we will be regarded as though we were circumcised, or as though we signed.

In verses 28 and 29, Paul explains further that circumcision, or signing the agreement is not just an outward gesture, so the law alone and agreeing to abide by it using the method originally outlined (circumcision) isn’t enough to truly be circumcised, or to truly be a part of God’s covenant. You have to keep the law in your heart (ie circumcision of the heart), guided by the Spirit. Keeping something in your heart generally means that it is something or someone you cherish and love dearly. So what this seems to indicate is that it is through love for God that we are circumcised into the covenant, not by the law.

Ok wait, so if we keep the law will we be regarded as circumcised, or if we love God?

No, what Paul is showing us here is that it is through our love for God and faith in him that we come to serve him and form a part of the covenant with him. The law then comes as a byproduct, with God and the guidance of the spirit, we keep the law which outwardly shows us as God’s people. It is something that makes you stand out so to speak.

Paul talks about this in numerous other places throughout his books, as does Christ in his ministry. The concept here is that we love God, and through that love for God we willingly choose to keep his commands.

Romans 3:19-20

19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

According to verse 20, no one is righteous because they keep the law. Based on what we know from Romans chapter 2, we could probably come to that conclusion on our own, we all sin, even if we observe the law wholeheartedly, we still sin, and the law is nothing without love for our creator. What the law does do though is help us to become aware of or conscious of sin.

If there was no law that said you couldn’t take that nice big flat screen off your neighbours wall while they aren’t looking because you think you desperately need one but can’t afford it, would it be wrong?

If there wasn’t a law that said you couldn’t kill your neighbour for trying to stop you from taking their flat screen, would it be wrong?

If there wasn’t a law that said you can’t tell the courts whatever you want so that you don’t get in trouble for killing your neighbour and stealing their flat screen, would it be wrong?

Think about it, if there is not law saying its wrong, is it wrong? It’s like the question, if a 100ft tall tree falls over but nobody hears it, did it make a sound? Did it even fall at all?

As a society in general, we are getting further from the laws of God, think about it, the 3 examples I gave above are the only ones I can think of where society still corresponds to some degree with the laws of God. Out of 10, there are only 3.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think religion belongs in politics, religious people perhaps, but not religion. Christ wanted nothing to do with earthly politics afterall, it’s just interesting to note, how we are getting further from the laws of God, and hence less and less is considered wrong.

Do not commit adultery for example, there are more and more affairs and resulting marriage breakdowns because this is not something that society in general respects. There may be other factors, but this is something that seems to me to be increasing.

Respect your mother and father, I don’t see much of that happening.

Don’t covet, or don’t be jealous of what other people have that you don’t. Would there be so much debt and people in trouble because of it we weren’t jealous of what others have and get ourselves so tangled up in expenses trying to achieve it?

Those are just the 6 commands that revolve around our relationship with the people around us, what about the 4 that are about our relationship with God?

If our relationships with society are deteriorating due to a lack of respect for the commandments that are abour our relationship with one another, than doesn’t it make sense that our relationship with God will also suffer if we don’t respect the commandments that are about our relationship with him?

What Paul is trying to say is that we need something to tell us what is right and what is wrong. The commandments do just that. With this knowledge we can see that in chapter 2 when Paul told us we should aim to keep the commandments out of love for God, he is actually saying that because we love God we should aim to do what is right.

Romans 3:21-31

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

Paul uses one of the most effective teaching techniques here, he simply reviews and enlarges on what he said previously to make sure it is clear and understood.

Verse 21 makes clear that we understand that the law is not where righteousness comes from, but from God instead (verse 22) by having faith in Jesus Christ.

As in verse 28, we have already established that we are justified by faith which is separate from observing the law.

Finally in verse 31, does this justification mean that we don’t need the law anymore? No it doesn’t, Paul says we should uphold the law because of our justification.

Romans 8:5-8

5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

What do we already know? We are justified by faith and subsequently uphold the law, but why, is there any reason aside from love for God? Well, no not really. Here though Paul explains further. If we live according to the guidance of the Spirit, then our minds are set on what the Spirit desires (verse 5), that is, what the Lord desires. In doing so, we gain life and peace (verse 6).

Contrastly, if we live by sin, then the end result is death (verse 6). Why? The sinful mind is hostile to God, it doesn’t and cannot submit to the law of God (verse 7) and subsequently, cannot please God (verse 8).

So if it is not pleasing to God to be unable to submit to the law, then logically it is pleasing to Him for us to do so, and if you love someone, you generally want to please them. So shouldn’t we similarly want to please God if we love him?

To follow on with Paul further on this, keep reading chapter 8, verses 9 through to 17 elaborate on this further.

Romans 9:30-33

30What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

Paul spends chapter 9 explaining more in depth God’s mercy, then here he again emphasises the concept we have already discovered. Attempting to attain righteousness by the law doesn’t work (verse 31), it’s by faith that we obtain it (verse 30). This is because righteousness can only be reached through faith in God, not by works (verse 32). Attempting to reach God through works alone sounds much like the same result Romans 2:23 told us about where we dishonour God, here it is clear that attempting to keep the law to reach righteousness makes the law a stumbling block to actually reaching God (verse 33), and it is subsequently not possible. Instead if we trust in God alone to help us, we won’t be shamed in our shortcomings (verse 33).

Romans 10:1-13

1Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

5Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them. 6But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everything is all pretty clear so far, then Paul says “Christ is the end of the law…” (verse 4), does that confuse you a bit?

It shouldn’t.

The rest of the sentence after all is “…so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (verse 4). Which is exactly the concept we have been talking about, that we are saved by our faith in God, not by the law of God.

Just before that in verse 2, Paul readily testifies that the Israelites are zealous for God, they just didn’t know then that righteousness comes from God alone, so rather than submitting to his righteousness, they attampted to set up their own righteousness.

In verse 5, Paul quotes from Leviticus 18:5 to explain how the law works, that if we keep the law, we live by the law, then Paul elaborates, we attempt to bring Christ down to earth from heaven or raise him up from the dead ourselves (verses 6-7). This is basically saying, we can’t work our way to the same result as what Christ has already done for us, Christ came down from heaven, died, then came back to life for us. We aren’t saved by anything we can do through works. Paul is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 30:12-13 here which in context is saying that it is not unattainable, it is well within our ability to do. So Paul is saying, grace through God alone is not unattainable. In verse 8, Paul continues to quote from Deuteronomy, this time Deuteronomy 30:14 to explain exactly what he is saying and what it means in context:

Righteousness by faith is not saying we can attain it ourselves, it is saying that it is something that comes from the heart and is something we can share (verse 8 ) and that if we confess and believe that Jesus is the Lord and that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved (verse 9). In context here the term confess means to share this with everyone we can. In verse 10, Paul explains exactly what he means: “…it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Paul goes on in verses 14 to 17 to explain this further by saying that we can’t be saved if we don’t call on God, we can’t call on God if don’t believe in him, we can’t believe in him if we haven’t heard of him, we can’t hear of him if no one preaches about him to us, no one can preach about him if no one is sent, so consequently faith can only come from hearing the message which is heard through the word of Christ (verse 17). So it’s a big circle, if we don’t confess our belief in Christ and his saving grace, then we can’t be used by God to reach out and save others.

So where then does the law fit in?

We’ve already figured that out. The law isn’t a requirement to be saved. The law is something we keep because we love God and want to please him (Romans 3:31, Romans 8:5-8), just like we love and want to please a partner, a family member, or a good friend. Keeping the law allows us to reflect God to others (Romans 10:9-10) and to help us see how sinful we really are (Romans 3:20) so that we know how much we need God since there is no way we could be saved by anything we could do ourselves (Romans 10:6-7).

Back in Romans 2:13 we kept it very simple, those who obey the law will be declared righteous. Now that we have been through and looked at it in more depth, we understand that it is through God’s saving grace that we become righteous and are able to have any hope at all of keeping the law, but we love God and so we try, after all, he has saved us, isn’t it the least we can do? No one is perfect, we all fall short of God, but through him we are saved and through the guidance of his spirit we are able to shine his light in a dark world.

What do you think?

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