Thursday, September 4, 2008


“Before we continue to unpack the principles in this radical statement (you died to the law Romans 7:4), it would be helpful to look at a difficulty that has sometimes been caused by this “dying to the law”. It has sometimes cause difficulty, because in the story of the church there has been a tendency to drift into moralism. When Paul spoke about “the law”, he was talking about everything that came to us through Moses. He said that we have died to the entire Mosaic system. It is not a way of justification or sanctification.

This doctrine of freedom from the Mosaic Law and life under the grace of God was soon forgotten. One does not have to go very far into the story of the church before you find little grasp of the grace of God in Jesus. Within a century the church became full of moralism, more than full of grace. The great Augustine had a grasp of the grace of God but even he never quite went back to the apostle Paul with regard to the teaching about “the law”.

In the thirteenth century a theologian named Thomas Aquinas was powerfully influential and wrote Summa Theologiae (a summery of theology), which included many pages on “the old law”, the law of God given on Sinai. Thomas Aquinas formulated a doctrine of law using as the framework the thought of the Greek Aristotle, plus Paul and Augustine.

He divided the law into three. The moral laws are the principles of right and wrong. For Aquinas they are the same as the “natural law”, the basic law on everyone’s conscience which can be deduced by unaided reason without the need of God word.. The ceremonial laws are the Old Testament legislation about sacrifices and holy days and so on. Aquinas thinks this part of the law is abolished, and is “not only dead, but deadly”. Then there are the judiciallaws which are regulations concerning justice which were special to the nation of Israel. He taught that judicial laws are “dead since they have no binding force but are not deadly”, and that if a ruler imposed them he was not guilty of sin.

Thomas Aquinas, like all theologians between Paul and Luther, taught that all were “justified” before God by the good works of the new nature God’s grace works in us. The law helps to guide our good works (said Aquinas) the “old law” of Moses has permanent value to guide us in righteousness even though parts of it have been abolished. Thomas Aquinas had no idea of Paul’s teaching that Christ’s righteousness is “reckoned” ours when we believe in Jesus. His teaching became the basis of Roman Catholic doctrine.

At the time of the reformation in the sixteenth century the gospel-preachers discovered the gospel of the Bible and especially of Paul. They discovered the Gospel of the Bible and especially of Paul. They discovered that justification was not at all by our own godliness but was by the righteousness of Jesus being reckoned ours. They saw clearly what Paul meant when he said we are not “justified by the works of the law”. So they rejected the teaching of Aquinas and others that justification comes by a mixture of faith and love and other aspects of godliness including law keeping. They said salvation comes by Jesus’ righteousness being given to us, and that is grasped by faith only. However they accepted the divisions into three.

The teaching of the gospel-preachers that we are justified only by faith scandalized the Catholics. “You are saying that we do not have to obey the law of God” they said. “Your so called gospel encourages sin”. Sound familiar?

The sixteenth century gospel-preachers replied, “Well, we are free from the law as a way of justification, but we still have the law (that is Aquinas’ moral law) as a way of sanctification.” This idea became dominant and Paul’s teaching that we have died to the law in order to bear fruit to God (that is in order to be sanctified!) was missed. It became the habit among Christians to talk about “the law” but mean only certain bits of the law of Moses (actually less than 1% of it!) and to say that this was a “rule of life” for the Christian.

We now need to ask the question, “How much of the traditional teachings of the churches grasped hold of Paul’s teachings?” And the answer is: Not much! Most of it is Aquinas more than Paul!

The time is ripe for us to take a step nearer to the Bible than ever before.We can stand on the shoulders of great men who have preceded us, and we shall learn things they did not see and yet they have helped us. “The law” is a case in point.

Paul quite clearly teaches that we have died to the law in order to be fruitful towards God. Is “being fruitful” justification or sanctification? It is sanctification. We died to the law “in order to live unto God” (Gal 2:19). Is “living unto God justification or sanctification? Clearly these verses say we have died to the law, not just in the matter of justification but with regard to our total relationship to God. Paul makes precisely this point to the Galatians. Having begun with the Spirit he asks, are you now going back to Mosaic law-keeping? The Galatians were already saved! They were wanting to turn back to the Mosaic Law as a means of being holy. It is this as Paul denounces as turning back to the flesh.

The truth is: we have to die to the law altogether! We have to relate differently to God if we are to be fruitful, if we are to “live to God”. At our point in the history of the church we must be ready to go beyond Calvin, behind Thomas Aquinas, behind Augustine, and back to Paul back to Jesus, back to walking in the Spirit. We shall fulfill the law, but we shall do so by walking in the Spirit”

Michael Eaton


RJW said...

The only "law" we are under is The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. :)
Why shouldn't we "righteous" instead of sin? Righteousness has become our new nature.
Marevelous, thanks.

RJW said...

Sorry, marvelous.

Craig said...

Amen bro!! i like his little history lesson too...kinda wish everybody knew this...

Joel B. said...

Amen... great history lesson in how the gospel became skewed. All it takes to really get back on track is to look at what the actual gospel writer, Paul (and others), said in the scriptures.