The legitimate Torah
You are reading my open letter to Rome, part: [[]
You shouldn't have any trouble understanding this, my friends, for you know all the ins and outs of the Law of Moses [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]--how it works and how its power touches the living. For instance, a wife is legally tied to her husband while he lives, but if he dies, she's free. If she lives with another man while her husband is living, she's obviously an adulteress. But if he dies, she is quite free to marry another man in good conscience, with no one's disapproval.
So, my friends, this is something like what has taken place with you. When the Messiah died he took that entire rule-dominated way of life down with him and left it in the tomb, leaving you free to "marry" a resurrection life and bear "offspring" of faith for God. As long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old law code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious. In the end, all we had to show for it was miscarriages and stillbirths. But now that we're no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin, and out from under the rule-dominated life, we're free to live a new life in the freedom of God.
Then what's the point of the Law?
But I can hear you say, "If the Law was as bad as all that, it's no better than sin itself." That's certainly not true. The Law has a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, "You shall not covet," I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it.
Don't you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The Law started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert commands into temptations, making pieces of "forbidden fruit" out of it. The Law, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the Law, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the Law and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the Law itself is God's good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.
Should we distrust the Law?
I can already hear your next question: "Does that mean I can't even trust what is good, the Law? Is good just as dangerous as evil?" No again! Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God's good commandments, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own.
Like all humanity, I am torn between good and evil
I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands in the Law are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself--after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing the very things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command, the Law, is necessary.
But I need something more! For if I know the Law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in the Law, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
The Messiah: a completion of the Law
I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus the Messiah can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.