Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Law and Righteousness

“Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.”

~Galatians 3:21 (NIV).

It’s clear that Paul (above) is saying that the Mosaic Law is a spiritual halfway house; it gets us part the way there to the righteousness of God—now in Christ—but not anywhere near the full way.

But the law—Paul has said—is still important, for all the foundations of faith and righteousness come from the law, and certainly from a construct that the law represents. Humanity needs such constructs.

There are volumes and libraries and giant memoirs written to the law and grace and I’m certainly not that keen to add to it all. Notwithstanding, there are schools of thought sharply on either sides of the fence of sense with regard to the law and grace, and surely a happy medium exists. It’s not a case of ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’—both the law and grace are required.

For this reason I think people are wrong to suggest Paul is a sharp advocate for one school over another—remember he’s dealing here with the legalistically-bound Galatians who cannot seem to escape their old ideas. Paul has the deliberate approach of preaching Christ, and him crucified, so that these facts of the holy redemption might at last be seized in the minds of this spiritually stubborn people. And the irony is Paul’s preaching Christ, and him crucified, will attend to every angle of the theological debate. God wins.

Paul is telling them, and indeed us today, ‘Don’t be spiritually stubborn—be open to the truth of God revealed in the Saviour, Jesus, and all that this represents.’

The law is necessary—both in faith and in all forms of life—but it alone is never enough. We only have to look at any decent justice system over the face of the earth and we can see this to established effect. Whether in the criminal or civil domains, the law constitutes freedom—but it still does not calm the vast moral injustices that will always sweep the earth.

The law is neither a necessary evil nor is it an ass (as many would mistakenly suggest). It is merely humankind’s best attempt, through its own wisdom, colluding with its own flawed and also at times inspiring insight into the wisdom of God, to arrest the very human problem of sin as it exists.

The law gets us part the way there. The Ten Commandments are just as pertinent today as ever—but it is Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount who contextualises the Ten Commandments for us. He is the fulfilment of the law.

And it’s the ‘him-ness’ principle that we ought to study for the rest of our lives. He is our Righteousness. This is the principle that helps us wrest meaning from supposedly diametrically opposed concepts of the law and grace. Both co-exist beautifully under Jesus.

Let’s not be bogged down in endless debates—it’s truly about Jesus—the Beginning and the End.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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