Law Offers No Remedy
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 76b . . .that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the
oldness of the letter.
Because we have a new husband, we should expect to live in a new way. Certain adjustments are essential. Newness of Spirit refers to a new way of living only the Holy Spirit can animate. Oldness of the Letter refers to trying to live only by what is transcribed, written down.
Any who try to live based on power generated by what is written will quickly fail. Law cannot provide power for victory. Law can only taunt us by revealing the seriousness of our condition without being able to cure us. It offers no remedy, yet makes us miserable by making us see how far short we fall of what we ought to be.
Law appeals to the carnal pride of people who try to live in the oldness of the letter. People want to think they are good enough to save themselves. They cling to the belief they are keeping enough of the Law to merit salvation.
The result is a deadly Pharisaism. The Pharisee of Luke 18 was extremely self-satisfied. This is the attitude that gives lost people away. They are self-sufficient, sensing no need of redemption and salvation. Unbelievers can feel quite smug about their lives. They usually view themselves as good enough to get by.
Self-interest motivates them, and dictates moral prudence. A lost person tries to maintain at least some semblance of decency, just in case there actually is a God.
It is wrong to live for God only to get by, or to think of morality only in terms of saving ones own scalp, rather than in terms of pleasing God. Believers live to glorify God, but unbelievers, even the best of them, know nothing of such motivations. They are not concerned about God, per se.
There are radical differences between lost people and believers. In oldness of the letter, people serve God reluctantly and see it as drudgery. In newness of the Spirit, we think of serving God as delightful.
In oldness of the letter, God is viewed as a taskmaster. In newness of the Spirit, He is seen as Father, Friend, and Husband.
In oldness of the letter, people act from fear of punishment or hope of reward. In newness of Spirit, believers do not try to earn salvation or avoid Hell, but rather live in gratitude to the One who has already delivered them from death. We live the Christian life because it gives us opportunity to show our love and gratitude for God. Our lives are a living thanksgiving. Because of what God has done for us, we want to please Him. Our lives are a response to His love.
In oldness of the letter, people worry only about externals. In newness of Spirit, we are also concerned about the inner commotions of sin.
In oldness of the letter, unbelievers become satisfied with themselves. In newness of Spirit, believers are never satisfied with their own personal self. They are ever conscious of inner weakness and shortcomings.
In oldness of the letter, people have no ample source of strength for right living. In newness of Spirit, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, who alone can provide the strength we need.
On the morning of the Battle of Trafalgar, Lord Nelson motivated his men by telling them, England expects that every man this day will do his duty. They were fighting that day not to become Englishmen, or to retain their citizenship, but because they had already benefited from their motherland. It was viewed as normal that Nelson would expect them to return service in gratitude. By the way, he practiced what he preached. He was injured in the battle. Among his dying words were, Thank God I have done my duty.
Even as Nelson encouraged his men to see their contribution to their country as normal, even so service to God is not above and beyond the call of duty. It is a very reasonable expectation. God rightfully says to us, I am your husband, and have done good for you. Remember this, and gladly do your duty for Me in return as a loving wife. He should expect no less from us.
Romans 77a What shall we say then Is the Law sin God forbid.
Paul feared someone might misunderstand what he is saying. We are dead to the Law, but this does not mean something is wrong with the Law. It has a positive and significant function in Gods economy.
Romans 77b Nay, I had not known sin, but by the Law . . .
Paul would not have realized the awfulness of sin without the Law. All people by nature have an inner sense of right and wrong. Even unbelievers have an internal moral code, but apart from Gods Law, we do not realize the true nature of sin.
The Law shows how ugly sin is, how awful it is in the eyes of God. Only a God given law can make us understand how horrible sin is. Law teaches us sin is as a dagger in Gods heart. Law manifests sin for what it really is, rebellion against God.
Romans 77c For I had not known lust, except the Law had said, thou shalt
Paul illustrated the revealing power of the law by referring to the tenth commandment. People often consider inner lust to be sin only when it is acted on, but it is possible to sin in our thoughts and imagination. Only through hearing the Law can we come to see coveting is as reprehensible to God as is committing the deed.
A Pharisee, which Paul once was, would deny this truth. Such a one always thinks of sin only in terms of external actions. Only a proper understanding of the Law can make us realize the sinfulness of inner lusts.
Romans 78a But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me
all manner of concupiscence lust.
The Law reveals to us the true nature of sin, but then sin immediately goes to work to counteract the effect of the Law. Sin persuades us to use the Law in a way God never intended for it to be used.
God meant for Law to solely reveal evil, but Satan persuades us to use it to overcome evil. When we know a particular Law, Satan reminds us of it and hopes we will try to use it as a power source to overcome sin. Satan wants us to put our trust in the Law because he knows it is powerless to overcome evil. The instant he sees us putting on our counterfeit armor, the Law, he immediately rushes against us with ever-increasing ferocity. Sin is so subtle that it uses Gods own Law against us.
Human strength and resolve can never overcome evil. We cannot live a clean life on our own. Knowing the Law will not suffice. Saying, Im glad I know its wrong, I wont do it again is not enough.
Our desire to obey the Law is not strong enough by itself to carry our old natures with it. The only valid use of the Law is to let it alert us to the need for power from God. Believers who try to overcome evil on their own are overlooking their most valuable resource, the indwelling Spirit.
The Law cannot cure our spiritual ills. It can only point out our sickness. It does this quite well. Trying to use Law to oppose sin will only encourage more evil. When Satan sees us leaning on the Law rather than the Spirit, he increases the attack, intensifies temptations, and makes our plight worse.
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