The Marriage of Law and Grace
Christ then came to be “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” How did He do this, and what does it mean? First, let us carefully note that in His own human life, though “made of a woman, made under the law,” He never for one moment up to Calvary was under the law in the sense of living His life by trying to keep an outward law. That is obvious, for the whole point is that that is a human impossibility. Helpless self, even unfallen self, can keep and do nothing of the works of God by itself. “The Son can do nothing of Himself,” said Jesus of Himself. No, Jesus, as a man for our sakes, lived wholly by another law or principle: by the Father that dwelt in Him and did the works (John 14:10). The Father, the Living Law, fulfilled the perfect law of His perfect nature of truth and love in and through the Son: by that means, and that means only, Jesus, the Son of man, lived the perfect life and completely kept the law.
But Christ had come to save humanity from a death-life in which, in our helpless, separated selves, we knew our responsibility to live the right way through the law written on our hearts, or codified before our eyes, but cannot fulfil it. So as our representative, He first bore in His own body the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. He endured all the penalty of the broken law on our behalf, and thus freed all who receive Him from its claims.
But He did more than that. He erased the very existence of a codified external law for all believers. When He arose from the dead, He left behind Him on the cross the whole entangling body of law with its demands as well as penalties, “abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.” For an external law is only in existence where there are those who do not fulfil the law by nature, but who can and may and do break it: “the law is for the lawless” (1 Tim. 1:9). When people live the law by internal instinct, there is no outward law (Gal. 5:23). External law only came into an existence when humanity began to live by its false god, the god of lawlessness, of independent self—“that wicked one.” The moment, therefore, that humanity is restored to its predestined relationship of inner union with God, external law ceases to exist for it.
And this is what Christ did for us, making us “dead to the law by His body” (Rom. 7:4). Being made sin for us, He died as sin-infected humanity: He arose as the new humanity who had died to sin, and this new humanity consists of all human beings who receive Him. He, then, who is the Living Law, becomes their life within, and lives the law within them. For them, therefore, the external law is buried. It is the old husband who has died in the crucified Christ, in Paul’s bold symbolism of Rom. 7:1-6, that we might be married to another, the risen Christ.
For the believer, then, the new creation in Christ, the holy nation, the whole idea of response to external law has faded into thin air. That kind of duty life, that elementary grade of living, only has to do with us when we are in the bondage of self-centeredness and live the old life of self-
effort, before we are born from above. In that condition, as we have seen, to preserve us from becoming fixed as devils, and to keep before our eyes the lode-star of godly living, for which we were destined, God gave us the dead formulas of a written law. Of course we could not keep them, nor wanted to, but confronted by them, if we were honest, we came face to face with our guilt (Rom. 3:19). The law had completed our elementary education: our graduation was our admission of guilt. We now pass out of the school of law for ever, into a new school—of faith. The fragments of law presented to us by Moses in His “ministry of condemnation” now become the completed Law, lived as a life by the Law-Maker, Law-Giver and Law-Keeper within us, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). The fruits of the Spirit, born by the Spirit through the believer as vine through branch, are the law lived, and “against such there is no law.” Christ had lived the law on earth by the Living Law within Him, the Father dwelling within Him. Christ had removed all claims of broken law upon us by being made a curse for us on the cross: Christ now lives the law in us by His indwelling presence. Nothing of outward law has any further claim on the believer, for it was only the shadow of THE law, while we walked in shadow-land. Now the substance has come, The Law itself in us: when that which is perfect is come, that which is partial is done away.
But we still have a lesson to learn. The fact that we are dead to the external law by the body of Christ that we might be married to the Internal Law, Christ Himself, does not mean that external law has ceased to exist in the world. We live in the midst of it, surrounded by it, for we live in a world under judgment, under law, both for preservation and condemnation. It is very easy for us, therefore, to respond to the demands of the law, and by doing so, slip back almost unthinkingly to the false responses of self-effort. Added to this is the fact that all through our unregenerate days we have been so accustomed to self-effort as our only means of meeting the demands of this life, that we resort to it before we know where we are.
This is the reason why Paul returns to such a detailed discussion of the effects of law, this time on the believer, in Rom. 7. Some people have been puzzled by the appearance of Rom. 7 after Rom. 6, and thought it out of place. No indeed. For Rom. 7 is the law being used as a means of education for the believer, as it was for the unbeliever in Rom. 3. There it exposed his guilt, here his helplessness. There it pronounced judgment on the sins of the old man, here it exposes the subtle workings of sin in relation to the new man. Rom. 7 follows Rom. 6 just because it deals strictly and only with the problems of the new man in Christ, and has nothing whatever to say to the old man. This is fundamentally important for the understanding of the chapter. Rom. 6 is the old man out, cut off in Christ’s death from the false spirit of egoism which dominated him, died in Christ to sin once for all. Just as the same Christ who had died as our representative rose, separated from that hateful infection with which He had been identified for our sakes, rose by the Spirit of the Father, rose the first new man of the new creation, the first-born from the dead; so we are new men in Him, separated from the old spirit of disobedience, indwelt by the Spirit of holiness. And from the crisis of faith in Rom. 6, by which we have recognized our new relationship of union with Christ and claimed it by faith, and connected ourselves to Him as risen from the dead, we now move on to the walk and warfare of faith in Rom. 7, 8, and on to the end of the letter.
But the start has to be this further stage in our education–the lesson of Rom. 7. We are not under the dominion of sin any longer only because we are not living by self-effort, but self-effort in the new man comes perilously easy to us just because we want to please God and delight now in His law, His standard of life. What more natural then, than to set about living by it? And at this point we have our new lesson to learn. We have discovered our guilt, now we must discover our helplessness. The new self is exactly as helpless as the old! It was created helpless, and never can be anything else! The only difference is that the old self, infected by the spirit of egosim, did not want to fulfil the laws of God, but the new self does (Rom. 7:22). But neither can do it, nor are made to do it! And so the new self, all eager to please God, moves unwittingly into the trap and learns, as it has to learn, the hard way. Rom. 7:7-13 tells us when Paul learned the lesson and how he learned it. Rom. 7:14-24 opens to us the helpless bondage of the new self the moment it moves out of the vine-branch relationship, and endeavours to meet any claims on itself by itself. Not only can it not do so, but it finds another principle or law terrifyingly operative in itself. Self-effort is sin, it is self acting as its own god; therefore self-effort is immediately conscious of the domination of the selfish, lustful demands of its own appetites and instincts, and being helpless by nature cannot resist them.
This is why we said that Paul’s answer to the problem of the oscillation between the self-conscious and Christ-conscious self, between soul and spirit, is an understanding of our relationship to law. It doesn’t seem a relevant answer at first. But the point is that man’s first and deepest instinct is not lawlessness, but is responsibility. It was the first word spoken to him in the garden: “you must do this: you must not do that.” It is the basis of personality. We are so used to thinking that sin is our primary problem. Paul goes deeper than that. He says that sin is a product of choice, and choice a product of responsibility, and responsibility is evoked by law. Man is a volitional creature: he must choose. What he chooses is secondary. Therefore man starts with law and his response to it.
Having made the first false choice which centered his life in self-effort, but having also an inescapable sense of responsibility as the very tap root of his nature, he still must face law—Thou shalt, Thou shalt not. He breaks the law, both because he wants to and because he cannot help it. But still law stands there confronting him. He is still a responsible being. If he turns to Christ and finds relief from the condemnation of the law, there law still stands with its unchanging demands. If now as a new man in Christ, ignorant of the true grounds of his new life, he still tries to obey the law, he is aghast to find that he still cannot obey it, and still is enchained by the contrary impulses of the flesh: till at last he echoes Paul’s cry: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” His basic problem, then, the problem of the new self, is not sin, but law. How can he escape these absolute standards confronting him? He cannot. How can he fulfill them? He cannot. So what? At last his eyes are opened. These are absolute standards. These are demanded eternally of him. But he has forgotten the first law “imposed” on him, the law (principle) of grace–that he should receive the grace of God, not that he should do anything of himself: and the grace of God is nothing less than the indwelling Law-Giver and Law-Keeper, keeping His own perfect law in the believer, the One who imposes the absolute standards on man being Himself the One who maintains them in man; and that the only responsibility that mas has is to receive Him, abide in Him, walk after Him. The puzzle is solved and every question answered. The external law, with its demands on self, has brought the believer to the end of his helpless self, until he has discovered that he has died to that law and had it replaced by the Internal Law, the indwelling Christ. Law, therefore, has completed its education, first of man’s guilt, then of his helplessness: and only when the believer has learned this second lesson of how to refuse a false self-response to any demands of any outward law, and to replace it every time by abiding in the freedom of the guidance and control of the Law-Giver within, has he found the answer to the uprisings of self-reliance, self-reactions, self-effort in the daily life.