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Second Quarter 2014 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON CHRIST AND HIS LAW
Week 6: May 3-9
COMMENTARY ON CHRIST'S DEATH AND THE LAW
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
What does it mean to die to the law? This is a key question to answer for understanding this difficult chapter of Romans. Paul’s great letter is filled with images of life and death, and understanding how the believer has participated in the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection is the key to Paul’s gospel. Whatever Jesus did, He did for us, in our place as our representative. He is much more than a mere example of upstanding moral behavior; Jesus acted as our Savior by becoming and doing everything we could not become or do. Martin Luther said, “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did” (Two Kinds of Righteousness, Martin Luther, http://www.mcm.edu/~eppleyd/luther.html).
Dying and Rising and Dominion
Chapter 7’s talk of dying to the law comes right after Paul explained how we died and rose with Christ in chapter 6. That is how the Christian reckons himself: dead and resurrected in the body of Christ. That is why sin no longer has dominion over us as a slave owner, for we have died to sin and are alive in Christ. Therefore, sin and the flesh are no longer the dominant, governing powers in our lives. This helps us understand chapter 7. If we have died to the law in the body of Christ, we are under a new dominion, a new Master.
“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7:4
We are given a choice here. To whom are you married, to the law, or to the Lord Jesus? For an Adventist, this presents and impossible choice, for didn’t Jesus come and die in order to vindicate the law and God’s character? But Paul gives this function for the law:
“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Vs. 5
The righteous law has another function, to arouse our sinful passions, so that we bear fruit for death. This demonstrates to us that we are doomed in our efforts to be righteous through laws; we need a Savior. The law came, so that sin might increase (Rom. 5:20) We cannot serve two masters. We can serve the law, “the written code,” that arouses the flesh to disobedience, or we can be “released from the law” and serve the Lord Jesus in the “new way of the Spirit.” The first choice comes quite naturally to our old selves, while the new way requires a new heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26). The new heart comes after we “die with Him,” for death annuls that relationship. If we have been born of the Spirit we reckon ourselves dead, and then alive with Him. Likewise, my brothers, we have also died to these partners in our old bondage, the flesh, and the law of Moses, so that we might be united with Christ.
The Christian is married to a Person who has given His life for him. When we are joined to Him who loved us (something the law cannot do), we bear fruit for God (7:4). What is this fruit that the law could not produce in us? That fruit is the fulfillment of the law in us through the law of love. Paul says,
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
So we don’t abolish the law through faith; we establish the law by seeing its function of magnifying sin, and in its absolute fulfillment in Christ. Paul said that love is the fulfilling of the law, so that if I have truly loved someone, I have acted out all the best intentions and meanings of the law in regard to that person. When Jesus took the form of a servant and humbled himself to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8), He showed how a sacrificial life fulfills the law of love.
Paul is making clear in Romans 7 that there are two covenants, the old under Moses, and the new one under the Lordship of Christ. When he says we are not living in the “oldness of the letter,” but in the “newness of the Spirit,” he is using language directly from Jeremiah 31:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jer. 31:31-34
The new covenant is not like the old covenant. Jeremiah and Paul both tell us that we will obey God’s commands from the inside, from the desires of our hearts, and not as merely external commands. Unbelievers can behave like Moses commanded, but not from their desires. God writes his laws within our hearts, so that we can love others (the real fulfilling of the law), genuinely.
It is also a new covenant because it is founded on a greater foundation than Sinai and its thunder and smoke. We have the blood of Jesus which provides the forgiveness of sins, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jer. 31:34 Christians also have the “newness of the Spirit,” a promise from Ezekiel 36:2, enabling us to love one another and even the most unlovable people, because the Spirit joins us to Another. Believers have died to their old hard-hearted selves, and become joined to the Lord Jesus. He satisfied the law, and He satisfies us.