Letters of Grace Part 15

Letters of Grace Part 15

Part 15

In Grace, Part 14, I shifted from discussing the differences between those who hold to the views of Pelagius vis-a-vis Augustine to those who differ regarding the nature of sanctification among those who claim to be Augustinian. In this issue I will continue along this same vein.

What role does the Old Testament Law play in sanctification? This is the topic of this issue.

First, let’s discuss the meaning of the word Law. God uses the Hebrew word Torah for those commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Before this time the Bible mentions Torah only once, in Genesis 26:5, when the Lord appears to Abraham: Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

When used in reference to the Mosaic Law Torah includes the dietary, civil, ceremonial and moral laws. In the New Testament the Greek word for law is nomos. (Ethos is sometimes used for law when in reference to customs or way of life). Nomos often refers to the Mosaic Law but is also used in other ways, as seen in Romans 7:21-25.


In Romans 7:1-20 Paul consistently uses nomos in reference to the Mosaic Law. Let’s look at what he says in Romans 7:1-3: Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband Iiveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

Paul uses the analogy of the woman’s relationship to her husband to show that the authority of the Mosaic Law is not perpetual. In this illustration the wife is the believer and the husband is the Law.

The illustration would have been more exact if Paul had said that the Law is dead rather than that we are dead to the Law. Then we, still alive, could marry another. We see the reason Paul worded it this way in verse 1: them that know the law, i.e. Paul didn’t explicitly say the Law is dead in deference to the Jews. Probably Paul did not want to offend the Jews and thus complicate the problem of communication.

Paul gives the application in Romans 7:4: Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Being dead to the Law I am joined to Christ. I am in union with Christ in the same way I used to be in union with the Law. The passage implies that the Law cannot produce fruit pleasing to God.

Paul teaches that just as the woman is free from the law of marriage when her husband dies, so the believer is free from the Mosaic Law when Christ died. The Law was our first husband, and it died with Christ who fulfilled its demands. We married Christ when He rose from the dead and we were converted. This union is essential to holiness.

Freedom from the Law does not grant us leave to indulge ourselves but to bear fruit unto God. Christ provides freedom from Law by satisfying the Law’s demands. We clearly see that Paul talks about the Mosaic Law in verse 7 where he uses the Tenth Commandment not to covet as his illustration.

Paul does not argue salvation by Law in the Old Testament and through grace in the New Testament. The Law never saved anyone–only grace. Rather, the issue is living under Law. The Old Testament saints were in union with the Law; in the New Testament we are in union with Christ. Thus, in the New Testament God frees the believer from the Law in a way that He did not for the Old Testament saints. The issue of Romans 7 is sanctification, not justification.


Some in the Augustinian camp argue that the New Testament Church carries the mantle of Old Testament Israel, and therefore appropriates to herself all the Old Testament covenants. In particular this includes the Mosaic Covenant.

Christians from every tradition agree that the New Testament enforces the Abrahamic Covenant. As Paul says in Galatians 3:29: And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Not all agree, however, regarding the Mosaic Covenant. Those who insist that the Mosaic Covenant is in force today say, The New Testament believer is obligated to keep all Old Testament laws unless they are repealed in the New Testament. Examples of Old Testament laws repealed in the New Testament are those that pertain to the sacrificial system, which the death of Christ annulled.

Titles given to those who hold an extreme form of this view include Theonomy, Cultural Mandate and Dominion Covenant. They believe that the Church has a mission to claim the institutions of society for Christ and do what Israel failed to do in the Old Testament, i.e. establish a theocratic kingdom on earth. The Puritan Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, in the Seventeenth Century held this view, for example.

The majority of those who believe in the continuity of the Mosaic Covenant in the New Testament are not this radical. They do not have as their goal making the United States a theocratic nation. But when I talked to the president of a major seminary that embraces this view, he said that although they disagree with Theonomy, they are defenseless against it. Once you embrace the application of the Mosaic Covenant in the Church, you have difficulty refuting Theonomy.

Others, who hold to the Augustinian view of Romans 5-8, do not believe that the Mosaic Covenant applies to the New Testament Church, and say, The Old Testament laws are not obligatory for the New Testament believer unless God repeats them in the New Testament. Because of Romans 7:1-4 (plus a host of other passages, including Romans 6:14) I hold to this view.

Those who believe in the continuity of the Mosaic Covenant call those of us who do not antinomian”: anti = against; nomian (nomos) = law. Many use it polemically to connote a total disregard for the commandments of God.


Those who believe that the Mosaic Law applies to the Church conclude that we receive justification by grace and sanctification by Law. Whether we receive sanctification by grace or by Law makes a profound difference on how we view the Christian life.

If you use the Law as a guide to sanctification, your heart will feel condemned because of your inability to measure up to the Law’s demands. If you have a sensitive

For this reason many, who believe once saved, always saved doubt their salvation and even refuse to take communion. Having looked to the Law as a guide to sanctification, they feel guilty and question if they are among the elect.

How to handle sin in my life is the key issue in sanctification. Do I question my election and become preoccupied with trying to keep the Law, or do I recognize and accept my freedom in Christ because of His grace and move ahead in my growth in the Christian life? This is why the question of JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE; SANCTIFICATION BY LAW is so important.

If I look to the Law for sanctification rather than the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, I will not be free from the Law, but enslaved by it. (Remember, the Old Testament saints
never looked to the Law for justification, but rather to the grace and mercy of God. Thus if the Old Testament saints were under the Law and we are not, it must mean that the Old Testament saints sought to keep it as the standard whereby they pleased God). In summary, the Old Testament saints endeavored to keep the law as a means of pleasing God rather than as the means of justification.

I am propositionally and emotionally secure in my relationship with God because of His grace. Grace means I am not on a performance standard, and this is why I can be honest with Him. Romans 7 deals with the reality of the conflict of sin in my life in light of my position as explained in Romans 6.

Those justified are sanctified, and only those sanctified can claim justification. Yet justification is an absolute term, while sanctification is relative. The former is an ACT, the latter a PROCESS. The latter has a measure of degree, but not the former.

If I view the Law as the standard by which I measure myself, I will either become legalistic and pharisaical or I will despair and lose my assurance of salvation. This produced the confusion of Mark 7 and the problem Jesus had with the religious community of His day. I naturally tend to look to the Law for justification when I look to the Law for sanctification.

The experience of Romans 7:14-25 is relative, e.g. in v. 23: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. It is clear that some are more captive to sin than others. Therefore, THEOLOGICALLY we can say that sanctification must follow justification (cf. Romans 6:1, 6), but EXPERIENTIALLY we cannot say that because one doesn’t show the fruit of sanctification he isn’t justified. We must, however, discipline those who break the negative commandments (cf. I Corinthians 5) and TREAT them as though they are not justified.

A cursory reading of the New Testament reveals the presence of commandments that are binding on the believer. Grace means that the rules do not define the relationship. If I break the rules, confrontation is essential, not because of the rule per se, but because of a concern for me, the rule breaker.

Jim Rayburn of Young Life illustrates this well. He told kids that Young Life wouldn’t major on rules but on the adventure of getting to know the Creator God of the universe. If you major on rules, you despair. If you major on knowing Christ, the rules take care of themselves.

Every parent understands this in raising children. If I accept my child because he keeps the rules, he will feel perpetually on probation and will view our relationship as legalistic and brittle. If I accept my child because he is my child and I major on developing a relationship with him, the rules tend to take care of themselves.

This holds true in all our relationships, with fellow believers, our children, and most importantly in our relationship with God. We relate to Him on the basis of grace, not law.

The grace of our Lord be with you,