The Law in the New Testament – Pauline Epistles
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. NASB
New Testament Texts and Contexts – Pauline Epistles
There is no other writer in the New Testament who clarifies the discussions of the Old Covenant Law in light of the New Covenant as does the Apostle Paul. Paul has much to say in regard to the Law being himself a zealous and studied rabbi and Pharisee. Having received the Gospel by personal revelation from the Lord Jesus Himself, Paul is well qualified to explain to us the most intricate details when it comes to distinctions between the Old and New Covenants and the nature of the Law in light of the Gospel.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is no doubt the most comprehensive New Testament treatment of the Law. In it Paul uses the word Law no less than 78 times. In chapter 1 Paul begins by telling us that “the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all those who believe” (v-16) and that all of humanity is under the just penalty of God’s wrath, (v-18), and this in spite of the fact that God has revealed Himself sufficiently to all mankind (v-20), and yet mankind persists in their rebellion against God and have thus come under the wrath of God and are “worthy of death,” (vs-22-32). In chapter 2 Paul lays out the fact that all of humanity will eventually face God in judgment, as “his Gospel declares” (v-16), both Jew and Gentiles alike, all of them will face God in judgment and are subject to both their consciences as well as the very Law of God (vs-12-29). In chapter 3 Paul explains the fact both Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin and judgment (v-9), that there is no one righteous in all the world (v-9-10), and that the “whole world will be accountable to God” for their deeds and that no one will be justified in the sight of God on the basis of their deeds, according to the Law (v-19-20). It is here where Paul begins to draw out a contrast between the Law and the Gospel.
Romans 3:19-20 – 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. NASB
Having clearly stated that all will be “accountable to God” and judged by God’s perfect standard in the Law, he clearly exposes the purpose of the Law in judgment is to reveal “the knowledge of sin” and provide a standard of judgment, against which no one will be able to stand.
Romans 3:21-23 – 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God NASB
The contrast between Law and Gospel is highlighted by Paul’s statement that the “righteousness of God has now been manifested apart from the Law.” In this he is no doubt referring to the Person and Work of Jesus being that “righteousness” that “has now been manifested.” See here then Paul extolling a “righteousness apart from the Law,” yet saying that this righteousness is “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” Paul is explaining that the Law itself testifies of a righteousness of God that is “apart from the Law.” Paul will go on here to describe this as the Person and Work of Christ which is a “gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” The contrast is further highlighted by his statement that this righteousness is made available “through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” See here in these statements a contrast between the “works of the Law” (v-20) and “faith” (v-22).
Romans 3:24-26 – 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
It is here where Paul brings up the legal term “justified” and describes a justification which is by faith and provides the righteousness of God apart from the works of the Law. This justification is;
· A gift by grace
· It comes through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus
· Merited by a propitiation in His blood
· Laid hold of by faith in Jesus
· A demonstration of God’s righteousness
· Redemptive-Historical – Passed over sins previously committed under the Law, for righteousness in the present time
In this is seen the most profound and revealing contrast between the Old Covenant Law and the New Covenant Faith. Paul clearly has made the point thus far in Romans that people cannot be justified before God on the basis of the works of the Law, but rather the Law is what condemns and brings the knowledge of sin, being God’s perfect standard of righteousness that will convict the whole world. He therefore presents the only way of justification before God’s judgment which is the Gospel of salvation, by grace, through faith, in Christ alone.
Romans 3:27-30 – 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. NASB
He further draws this contrast out, using the word law here as a principle and not referring to the Old Testament Law. This new “law of faith” is what brings justification in contrast to the “works of the Law.” Moreover, he makes it clear that circumcision is not the means of justification because God will also justify the uncircumcised by faith. This also ends the controversy of whether God requires circumcision for salvation, for here Paul states that faith in Jesus is that which justifies both the circumcised and the uncircumcised. See here in Romans the contrast between Law and Gospel is brought to a bright and clear conclusion. The Gospel brings a justification before God that the Law cannot provide. This comes by grace, through faith, in Christ alone. This idea is further expanded and nailed down by Paul in chapter 4 where Paul describes the nature of the works-faith contrast in the example of Abraham.
Romans 4:2-5 – 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, NASB
Paul makes the point that Abraham was not justified by works, but was rather “reckoned righteous” by “believing God.” Paul denounces being justified by works and clearly re-states that God justifies by faith when he says, “but to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”
Romans 4:13-16 – 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, NASB
Here Paul has made the point that both Jew and Gentile alike are justified by grace alone and through faith alone. Because the Law can only “bring wrath,” God must justify by grace through faith “not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.” See here then the circumcised and the uncircumcised can be justified in only one way which is apart from human works and comes only as a gift of grace to those who have faith in Christ. This is the meaning of the Law and Gospel contrast. The Gospel of the Person and Work of Christ brings justification and righteousness before God that the Law only exposes the need for and cannot provide since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious judgment by the Law. It is by grace, through faith, in Christ alone that salvation from sin and righteousness before God can be attained.
Now to further the discussion and describe the role and purpose of the Law, Paul gives a brief sketch of redemptive history in regard to sin and death, Law and grace in Romans 5:12-21. It is here where he highlights the concept of sin entering the world through one man’s disobedience and spreading therefore to all humanity, and grace being a gift through the obedience of one man and spreading to those who receive it.
Romans 5:19-21 – 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. NASB
Here Paul clearly states that the purpose of the Law was to “increase transgression.” This is to say that through the definitive guidelines of the Law, sin has been clarified and shown to be exactly what it is, as we have seen “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). It is here then that Paul highlights God’s purpose in redemptive history to bring a massive transition by grace through faith in Christ in order to conquer sin and death so that “grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is here where Paul shows the purpose of the Law and Grace by introducing two new contrasts. These of course are the Flesh-Spirit contrast and the Law-Spirit contrast. He does this by contrasting the effects of the Old and the New Covenant ages. He explains that we have died to sin by faith with Christ so that we can walk in newness of life. These are references to the effects of the NEW Gospel age we have entered, in contrast to OLD Law age we have been delivered from by grace.
Romans 6:4-14 – Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. NASB
Paul insists that since “our old self was crucified with Him,” that now we have become “alive from the dead” because we “are not under the Law, but under grace.” Because of this new Gospel reality Paul insists that we are to “consider ourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” He therefore contrasts the OLD way of sin reigning in death with the NEW way of being “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Therefore the Gospel has brought a “newness of life” (v-4), because we have “died with Christ” (v-8), and so we must “no longer let sin reign in our mortal body” (v-12), because “sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (v-14). See here the transition that has taken place in the Gospel which Paul describes as “not under law but under grace.” Now in chapter 7 & 8 of Romans Paul then furthers his discussion by showing that the Law reveals the struggle with “sin in our mortal body” by showing us the true nature of the flesh, our old crucified self, and driving us to faith in Christ, and the great dependence we have on the Gospel and the power that is brought to us by the Spirit. In this he contrasts the OLD way of being “bound” to the Law which bore “fruit for death” (v-5), with the NEW way of dying “to the Law” (v-4) and being “released from the Law” (v-6), so that we “bear fruit for God” (v-4), and “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (v-6).
Romans 7:4-6 – 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. NASB
See again the contrast between the OLD and the NEW in that we were bound by the Law, “but now have been released from the Law” and this has brought about the “newness of the Spirit” in contrast to the “oldness of the letter.” See here Paul describing the OLD ineffectual way of the Law compared to the NEW effectual way of the Spirit. He explains that the Law’s purpose is to show us the holy nature of God and our utter inability to overcome sin because of the exceeding weakness of the flesh, so that the Law brings death and kills us (v-11).
Romans 7:10-11 – 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. NASB
In this he explains that the Law is “holy and righteous and good,” but because of the weakness of the flesh and indwelling sin, we are shown to be utterly sinful as we see ourselves in the mirror of the Law.
Romans 7:12-13 – 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. NASB
Through the Law then, seeing the sin which is in us, he then explains the great war and struggle between the flesh and the Law of God in the inner man.
Romans 7:22-23 – 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. NASB
He shows that the Law can only bring despair and condemnation and we must have a deliverer from this bondage which in fact is provided in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And this brings us to the good news of the Gospel and the victory that it brings through Christ and the Spirit. It is this discussion that Paul highlights in chapter 8.
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