Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Law: Sin's Subtle Accomplice

Paul says in I Corinthians 15:56 that "the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law." His point, it seems, is that indwelling sin has an accomplice that aids its progress and furthers its agenda. This is why Paul could say in Romans 7:5 that "our sinful passions were aroused by the law" when we were living "in the flesh."

What is it about the law that brings about such seemingly counter-productive results?

For those who insist upon reading Paul's statements about law and grace in purely existential terms (i.e., "under the law" means a state of condemnation, "under grace" means a state of justification), the only way to make sense of Paul's negative statements about the law is to assume that he must be talking not about law as such, but about a Pharisaic legalism that distorts the law into a means to earn God's blessings (see how the NIV renders Phil. 3:6, for example).

But if we say, rightly, that "under the law" and "under grace" in Romans 6:14 mean under the jurisdiction of the Old- and New Covenants respectively, then we must conclude that there was something about the former that engendered bondage in its subjects.

What was it about the Old Covenant that led to the dominion of sin?

I think the only answer that makes sense is the law's works principle ("Do this and live"). As long as Israel was serving God according to the "old way of the letter" (Rom. 7:6), they were "no different than slaves," for while they were heirs to God's blessings, they were eschatologically immature and juvenile (Gal. 3:23 - 4:7). The Mosaic law, then, functioned as a "babysitter" to keeps close tabs on God's people until they reached maturity.

What, then, signals the saints' graduation from adolescence to adulthood?

If comparing Romans 7 and 8 gives us any indication, I'd say the answer is the indwelling Spirit of the risen Christ.