For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. (Romans 7:22)
Legalism is a tragic error in the life of every believer, yet it is one that many a heart slides into through desiring to live in obedience and righteousness. Our enemy is relentless, and he will divert even the most committed heart into spiritual bondage. I have known many who have been filled with the zeal of the Lord, with love for His Word and surrender to His will, to be subtly deceived and turned onto a wrong path. How the devil loves to see one who has experienced the joy of salvation be pulled into the bondage of legalism and religiosity. It is a coup indeed, because it renders us ineffective. It diminishes our joy and whittles away at our faith, and ultimately, it compromises the very real truth that ‘there is no condemnation for those is Christ Jesus – a truth that is fulfilled through the Law and the Spirit working in us.
The Law and the Spirit of God are inextricably wound together in the New Testament of grace.
Equally as dangerous as legalism is the belief that the law is no more. This is a dangerous and deceptive error which, in effect, negates the bulk of the Bible. While we can argue against this, the reality is that if we remove the reality of the law, everything becomes meaningless, even salvation. The wonderful gift of God to the people He desires for His own means nothing outside the full context of the existence of and full meaning of the law. The Law and the Spirit of God cannot be separated. Salvation does not destroy the law, nor does it diminish it. Jesus Himself said that He came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. If we are to take His words as truth, then we must – despite teachings to the contrary – accept that His death and resurrection, and the miracle of salvation, do not mean that the Law no longer exists or that it has no relevance for us.
Today’s verse emphasises and reiterates this truth. Paul, in effect, reminds us that the Law not only remains a reality, but that we should delight in it. It should be central to who and what we are. But isn’t this contradictory to the other real truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus? On the surface, it certainly seems so, yet our verse actually resolves this conflict. It does so by reminding us that, under the new covenant, the Law and the Spirit of God come together in perfect harmony. Through the Spirit in us, we are reconciled to the Law.
What this means is not that the Law is abolished. It doesn’t mean that the Law no longer applies to those of us who have received the grace of salvation. To complete the words of Jesus, He did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. He fulfills it through the working of both the Law and the Spirit in us to enable us to meet the requirements of the Law, not through ourselves but through Christ’s work on the cross. He has already fulfilled the requirements of the Law. Salvation is a one-off thing, a complete fulfillment of the Law in the person of Jesus providing we identify with Him and receive what He has done. But from then on, we are to walk in salvation, i.e. to work it out. This includes living righteous living, and righteous living is defined by the Law. God provided the Law to show His people what was required, but it also revealed that we could never meet those requirements in and of ourselves.
Jesus did not remove the necessity to live righteous, holy lives in obedience to God. That remains the core focus of every believer – to be holy and set apart, to be surrendered, and to be obedient. While we no longer have to obey the six hundred odd specific rituals and ‘social’ laws, holy living is in accordance to the principles of the Law. We cannot be holy without the work of the Holy Spirit to convict, guide, teach, and empower us, but everything He does brings us in line with the principles of the Law. The work Christ did on the cross was to assume the guilt and punishment that was rightfully ours and then to provide the means whereby we can walk in that blessing of no condemnation. The Law remains. But we now walk in identification with Christ, protected, enabled, and empowered through the Holy Spirit. This is the essence of Paul’s message in today’s verse – the Law and the Spirit work together. The Law provides the what, and the Spirit provides the how.
Thanks to the eternal sacrifice of Christ, we are no longer under the Law. This basically means that we are no longer in bondage to it. We are no longer slaves to it. It does not mean that we no longer have to honour it or live according to the principles of righteousness that it embodies. So many believers have, however, misinterpreted this truth, albeit with the best of motives. They have been deceived into focusing on the Law itself – the requirements for righteous living – rather than the fulfillment of it in the person and power of the Holy Spirit working in us to fulfill it. They have been distracted by the reality that, though we are saved, we remain weak. We retain the propensity to sin, a mark of the flesh that remains in us, While we correctly acknowledge that the reality of the Law and its requirements remain the same, we overlook the truth that the new covenant provides both the Law and the Spirit.
Today’s verse is very important. We are to rejoice in the Law, but in the Law according to the Holy Spirit. In other words, we rejoice because God has not only provided the requirements of righteous living, but He has provided the means through which we can accomplish it. The task of the Holy Spirit is to bring us into the place of full identification with Jesus who has already fulfilled the Law. Because He has fulfilled it, the Holy Spirit is able to empower us to walk in that blood-bought righteousness – obedience to the Law – despite our weakness and fleshly sinfulness. This is part of the purpose of God in salvation – that both the Law and the Spirit work together to manifest the righteousness of Christ in each of us.
So often, we encounter one of the two extremes – legalism, which focuses entirely on the Law to the exclusion of the Spirit, or the error of focusing entirely on the Spirit and the truth of no condemnation while excluding the reality of the Law. The ministry of Jesus unequivocally includes both of these in perfect harmony, providing a miracle of grace – the ability of weak, fallible, and inherently sinful human beings to live in absolute righteousness and no condemnation, obeying both the principles of the Law and the Spirit. We live in a remarkable covenant. Denying the reality of the Law is, in effect, denying the grace of God and the salvation purchased through the blood of Jesus.
Thank You, gracious Lord, for Your Word and for Your Spirit. Thank You that You have made a way for us to rejoice in Your law, not through sliding into legalism but through the daily empowering of Your Holy Spirit in us. We can rejoice because Jesus made the way. Help us, today, to begin to live in Christ and in the fulfillment of Your perfect Law in us.