Early in Romans, Paul plainly alludes to the several Old Testament passages we covered in the last post.
(Rom 2:28-29 ESV) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
And this sets up Paul’s remarkable discussion in Romans 8 —
(Rom 8:1-2 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Even though we cannot completely resist the temptation to sin, as Paul explained in chapter 7, for Christians, there is “no condemnation.” All Christians are saved, all the time. We can fall away, and if we do, we are no longer Christians; there are no lost Christians.
How can this be true? Well, because “the law [Torah] of the Spirit of life” sets us free from sin and death — exactly as the Prophets promised. What is the “Torah of the Spirit of life”? It’s a new kind of Torah, a new kind of law, being whatever law the Spirit writes on our hearts, as Jeremiah promised.
Why the “Spirit of life”? Because Deut 30:6 and countless other predecessor passages promise life. Remember Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones, among many others. The interesting question, to me, is: what is “life”?
Well, at the least, it’s freedom from condemnation, Paul says. It is, of course, also eternal life. But it’s not described as something not yet received, but something already received. And therefore “life” also includes our lives as children of God — becoming what we were always meant to be.
The “law of sin and death” are the many commands of the “written code” and “the letter,” which we cannot hope to truly obey and so earn our salvation.
The law of the Spirit of life is the new relationship with God received through the Spirit, which changes our hearts and minds by transforming us into the image of Christ. It’s God himself, working within us, through his Spirit, to transform us so that living like Jesus becomes like apples growing on an apple tree. Our nature changes so that we enjoy being like Jesus.
(Eph 5:1-2 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
We continue in Romans 8 —
(Rom 8:3-4 ESV) 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
What does it mean to “walk … according to the Spirit”? According to the prophets, to no longer be stubborn, to no longer rebel, to have a soft heart of flesh, rather than stone, to have a heart and mind attuned to God’s will, to be transformed into the image of Jesus
And so, if we walk according to the Spirit, we are promised that the righteous requirement of the law will be fulfilled in us. This has two senses. In one sense, it’s fulfilled because God treats us as righteous for the sake of Jesus. In another sense, it’s fulfilled because we actually live in tune with our transformed hearts — not perfectly, of course, but in the overall direction of our lives. We are changed.
In short, the “moral law” of the Torah survives, not because we are bound by law, but because we are transformed to become like God, and therefore we don’t kill, steal, or envy.
As Paul says in Galatians —
(Gal 5:18 ESV) 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
(Rom 13:8-10 ESV) 8 Owe no one anything, except to
love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Paul explains that the only law is to love one another, and so those who love one another fulfill the law (of the Spirit of life). And it’s not just the Ten Commandments that are absorbed into “love your neighbor as yourself” — it’s also “any other commandment.”
We struggle in the Churches of Christ with this passage, because it so plainly contradicts our claims that there are laws about instrumental music and weekly contributions and such, whereas Paul, at the climax of his greatest epistle, plainly denies it.
Rather, the law that we’re accountable for is the Law of the Spirit of Life, that is, the law that God writes on our hearts when he circumcises our hearts and replaces our hearts of stone with soft heart, when he takes our dry skeleton and breathes new life into our bones.
Does the moral law survive? Yes, but not as law. It survives as the nature of the Spirit’s work in us, as the Spirit transforms us to become like Jesus.
Therefore, yes, we must be moral, but “moral” is defined as becoming like Jesus by the power of the Spirit. Thus, the Law of Moses itself is transformed and fulfilled by Jesus and the Spirit, to become the Torah of the Spirit of Life.
And we must take Paul seriously when he reduces the commandments to “Love your neighbor” and “Love one another.” And he tells us that the sacrificial life of Jesus is the template for how these things are defined.
It’s therefore no surprise that Paul goes from this lesson on loving our neighbor to Romans 14, in which he tells Christians to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of the consciences of their weaker brothers. It is, after all, about being like Jesus. And Jesus sacrifices out of love for others.
One last point about the moral law. As written in Jer 31:33, and quoted in Heb 8:10, the law that Christians are bound by is the law that God writes on their hearts. And it’s easy enough to see love of God and love of our neighbors as a law God might write on our hearts.
But we really can’t imagine God writing “Elders must have multiple children” or “No instruments allowed in the worship service” on our hearts. Obviously, those sorts of commands might be written on our hearts by our reading the text, but the point of Jer 31:33 is that God himself will change us by changing our hearts, that is, our feelings. And love is a feeling, whereas obedience to various positive commands is not about our feelings — just obedience, even in the absence of understanding and even when we don’t feel the point or purpose of the command.
In short, it really does all fit together. The rejection of positive commands, the way the Old and New Testaments connect, the work of the Spirit, God’s grace, Jesus’ sacrifice … it all connects and works together in intricate but beautiful ways.