Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's All Fun and Games Until the Malediction

Building upon my last post in which I began to consider Romans 7:14-25, I would now like to answer the question, "Why, exactly, did the Mosaic law produce such despair in its subjects?"

The answer, I would argue, is found in the works principle that clings to the entire Old Covenant. I realize that it is not uncommon to hear Reformed theologians muse about "the law" and how it functions in a covenant of works versus in a covenant of grace, but since I understand law as being itself covenantal, I can't help but see "Do this and live" as being part and parcel of the law of Moses as a whole. In short, we cannot wrest the kinder, gentler bits of the Mosaic law from their broader covenantal context.

Stephen Westerholm writes:

The Sinaitic legislation was accompanied by promises and sanctions, and Paul includes these when he speaks of the law. Thus the law offers life to those who perform its commands (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; cf. Rom. 2:13, 25; 7:10), while it pronounces a curse on transgressors (Gal. 3:10, 13). When the law has been transgressed, its curse becomes operative, so that the law of God, like sin and death, can be personified as a hostile power from which people need deliverance (Rom. 4:5; cf. 5:20; 7:6).
If I've said it once I've said it, like, eight times, but there's no better way to kill a person's buzz than by threatening to kill him and his family (which is what the law does).

Given the fact that Moses' commands are always accompanied with God's maledictory oath to curse the transgressor, is it any wonder that the subject of Romans 7 is so defeated?