Book Extract: The Antithesis of the Law

This post is an extract from the forthcoming book Justification by Faith by Dr. Edward W. H. Vick, which should be available late spring to early summer. It is posted as part of our Discussion on the Law.

Thus if there is a way to be found to God it will be the antithesis of law. In Jesus Christ that way has been found, ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law. Romans. 3:21. What is meant by law here is a way of approach to God via the performance of the deeds of law, without the presence of faith. This usage of the term ‘law’ has been defined as ‘divine law viewed as a purely legalistic system made up of statutes of the basis of obedience or disobedience to which it justifies or condemns.[i] There was no guarantee of freedom from sin under this way. In fact the law seemed to gain in authority every time it was broken. Man’s impotence in face of it, his indwelling sin dominating him, gave to the law the power of a tyrant. As long as sin is present, the power of the law is present and law condemns. When sin is removed the sting is drawn from the law. And when the sin is removed, the law ceases to be a way of life, Romans 8:3,4.

‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’

That new way of life is described by the expression ‘under grace’. So Paul asserts, ‘Ye are not under law but under grace.’ Romans 6:14. And as usual he meant what he said. The statement is made, interestingly enough, in connection with another, ‘for sin shall not have dominion over you’, which precedes. This connection the legalist always misses. To be free from the dominion of sin you must repudiate law. If it is freedom from sin that we quest, ‘under law’ must be rejected for ‘under grace’. The legalist says that the only way there is freedom from the dominion of sin is by putting myself ‘under law’. The antithesis could not have been more sharply drawn as it has been in this verse. We may take our choice. ‘Under grace’, the way of law is over and done with once and for all. Through grace we see that adherence to law any law, divinely given or humanly framed, majestic or trite, is a blind alley if peace with God and sanctification of life is sought. The rejection of law at this essential point is our only shield against antinomianism, as it is our only shield against legalism. For the despair that ensues from the attempt to keep law may easily lead to an accommodation of its requirements and to a casuistry that is more concerned about avoiding the injunction than in following it.

It is in the context of an experienced grace, and a continuing faith, which is to say, in the context of relationship with God that the ‘works’ of the Christian are done. Since they are spontaneous they do not occupy the foreground of attention. For one who really has faith, the obedience which the discipleship requires at this point is forthcoming. It is the fruit and the evidence of the disciple­ship. And the discipleship is often expressed in unpredictable ways, as new demands are made upon one’s obedience. It is the unpredictability of the demand that the legalist cannot stand. He must know all and everything now. The trust that is absolute requires no assurances for the future, except that which is given by the present relationship.

Sanctification thus has its eschatological aspect. The believer must wage the warfare against sin, the flesh and the devil. He knows both that the victory has already been won, as well as he knows that the victory is not yet. In Christ sin has been judged, and thus vanquished. At the parousia it will be finally obliterated. While living between the times, the believer enters into the victory of the former, and anticipates the victory of the latter. Christ has conquered, and will conquer. The believer shares in one victory and anticipates the other. Between the cross and the eschaton the believer demonstrates the reality of that conquest.

The way of faith is a way of freedom. To abandon faith for law is to abandon freedom for bondage. One cannot add law to Gospel and hope that benefit will ensue. A decided choice between the two must be made. That is the point of Paul’s allegory of Sarah and Hagar, with the command he draws from it: ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman,’ Galatians 4:30.

[i] Burton. Commentary on Galatians, p. 457.

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