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If we are not saved by the law, what then is it for?
31 Oct, 2017
Last week, I had the privilege of corresponding with someone regarding the place of God’s law in the believer’s life. Here’s the question: If we are not saved by the law, what then is it for? Below is my response (revised and enlarged):
The Bible says that we are saved purely by His grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Moreover, God makes His grace abound as you grow within His kingdom: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
The Bible also says that there is an improper way of using the law: “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Timothy 1:8). Moreover, we are the problem, not the law: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14). A person's inability to keep God’s law has to do with “another law" ruling in one's life: "I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. What a wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:23, 24). This “law of sin” is the sum total of one's sinful desires acting as a living, active, organizing force at the very center of one's being waging an unrelenting war against the redeemed mind, as one seek to align one’s self with God’s law.
So how does one align one’s self with God’s law? The biblically improper way is by appealing to "the letter of the law." This approach to obedience idealizes and objectifies the law as though it were an independent entity. The kind of obedience produced by this approach is rigid, moralistic, and stern. It aims primarily for outward compliance with little or no attention given to the interior life. Eventually, the result is law worship, which is a form of idolatry. In the end it kills one’s faith, rather than enhances it for “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
The biblically proper way is by appealing to "the spirit of the law." This approach treats the law as the very foundation of character transformation accomplished only through the indwelling of the Spirit. The kind of obedience produced by this approach is flexible, graceful, and holistic. When the Spirit comes in, He begins to displace one's sinful desires as the operative law of our life. The Spirit places Himself at the center of one's inner being as the new organizing principle of your life. He regulates true obedience. The believer's task is to learn how to walk instep with the Spirit in the depths of one's being: By dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6).
God has only one set of laws. However, three other “laws” or “governing principles” exist in the believer's life. First is the law of one's mind—the believer’s deep desire to be instep with God. Second is the law of sin—the sum total of one’s sinful desires operating as a governing force within, rendering the law of one's mind impotent to obey. Third is the law of the Spirit—the Spirit Himself organizing and governing the inner life to inspire and enable true obedience by making every believer the kind of person who would obey. God desires complete renovation of the believer's inner spirit so that one becomes in the inner depths who one is in outward actions. True obedience means “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23, 24). The Spirit alone makes grace operative in the life of the believer and fully satisfies the redeemed mind’s desire to obey: “He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).