Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 Righteousness a Gift, not a Due

KEY TEXT: Romans 4:13-16 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

KEY THOT: Paul argues that since the Law of Moses came 430 years after Abraham, it was never the basis for Abraham's righteousness. Instead, Abraham's righteousness was a gift credited to his account because of his faith: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted (credited) to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted (credited) as a gift but as his due" (Romans 4:3-4). In other words, Abraham's righteousness was credited to his account as a gift, not as his due. He didn't do anything to deserve it but simply receive the gift of righteousness because he believed God's promise. 

Paul went on to argue that the Law in fact cannot justify anyone but only "brings wrath" (v.15)--divine judgment. The Law shows up sin as transgression and so condemns everyone in sin. Paul then makes an astounding claim: "where there is no law, there is no transgression." He repeats this again in Romans 5:13, "for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law" (ESV).  The NLT puts it this way, "Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break." So, when the Law came 430 years after Abraham, it condemns sin as transgressions of the Law and therefore divine wrath came upon those who live by the Law.

When Christ came, he lived by the Law in order that the Law might be fulfilled in him and crucified with Him at the Cross so that he might put an end to righteousness based on the law: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4). In other words, through Christ, the law's power to convict and condemn sin was put to an end. In a sense, those who are in Christ have reverted back to Abraham's era before Law came into the world. 

Just as Abraham's righteousness was not based on the Law because it did not exist, so now our righteousness is not based on the Law because we have been crucified with Christ and set free from the Law: "For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." So, our righteousness is no longer based on the Law but faith since, in Christ, we have all died to the Law.

Paul affirms this truth in Romans 7:4 when he writes: "Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God." In other words, the Law's power to condemn has been nullified because just as the law of adultery is canceled when a woman's husband has died if she remarries (Rom. 7:1-3), so in a similar way, we have been set free from the Law of Moses because through Christ's death, we have also been set free from the Law's jurisdiction over us.

Following the same reasoning, Paul declares that believers no longer come under the curses of the Law since we are longer judged by its standards: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13-14).

So, is there a place for the Law in a believer's life? Yes and no. No, because its role to point out sin as transgression is over. We cannot be condemned by the Law of sin and death, for we are no longer living under it. For believers, we are subject to a new law--the law of the Spirit of life: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2). So, in Christ, there is no longer any condemnation because there is no longer any transgression. We are back to the time of Abraham where our righteousness is based on faith, not the Law.

Yes, the Law remains relevant as God's inward law of the Spirit to guide us to walk by the Spirit bearing the Christ-like fruit of the Spirit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Father, thank You that Christ died not only by the Law. He also died to the Law so that we who are in Christ are no longer subject to the Law's judgment and condemnation. Amen.

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