Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Law, Grace, and the Dominion of Sin

I have been arguing that the New Covenant gift of the Holy Spirit has concrete ramifications for the believer's sanctification, for the heavenly promise, of which the Spirit is the down payment, is no longer merely a part of the "not yet" of future hope, but in some measure participates in the "already" of our present experience.

Consider Romans 6:14 ("For sin shall no longer have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace"). The traditional approach to this passage has been to interpret the categories "under the law" and "under grace" existentially, as denoting our pre- and post-conversion situation.

Some problems arise from this view. First, "law" in Paul usually refers not to an abstract a-historical principle, but to the law of Moses in particular. In fact, his other uses of "under the law" (hypo nomon) leave us no other option. When Paul spoke to those Galatians who desired to be "under the law," was he talking to people who longed to be under the condemnation of the law? When for the sake of the Jews Paul became as one "under the law," does this mean he became as one condemned by the general principle of law? When Jesus is said to have been born "under the law," does it mean that he was born under the condemnation of the law? Of course not. "Under the law" means under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic covenant.

Secondly, if "under the law" and "under grace" are existential categories describing one's being either condemned or justified, then Paul's argument is a non-sequitur. Justification does not free a person from the power of sin, it frees him from the guilt of sin.

But if Paul's categories of "under the law" and "under grace" are redemptive-historical rather than existential in nature, then it makes perfect sense that the person living under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant would be less susceptible to the dominion of sin that the Old Covenant saint. After all, we have been indwelt by the Spirit of the risen Christ, whose law sets us free from the law of sin and death.

But don't take my word for it. Paul goes on to give us two vivid examples of what life "under the law" and "under grace" look like.

Just read Romans 7 and 8.