Monday, April 19, 2010

Law and Faith Introduction

Take 2 (for Take 1, click here):
Romans 3:31 is one of those verses that sounds so strange to us that we are prone to skip right over it: "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." Wait a minute--is Paul not known for saying that we are "not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14)? Does not even Ephesians 2:15 say that Christ has "abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances"? Did Paul really say that we do not nullify the law after we have faith but in fact uphold it?!

This is a thorny issue indeed and one that different Christian groups have interpreted differently over the years. We face two extremes on either side of the issue. On the one side are those who lock on to verses like this one and others (e.g., Matt. 5:17) and do not see clearly enough how the new covenant has transformed our use of Old Testament Law. These individuals face the perils of legalism and the mistake of trying to earn God's favor.

On the other side are those who see no place for "law" in the Christian life at all. They are not perfect, just forgiven. They do not expect to see any real difference between the way they live and the way unbelievers live. They are just thankful that God does not care what they do in life, only that they have asked him at least once in their lives for his forgiveness.

Paul steered a careful course on this question in Romans. On the one hand, he surely has the Jewish Law primarily in view--what other law would a Jew be thinking of at that time? However, he wandered from talking about parts of the Jewish Law that were very Jew-specific (e.g., circumcision) to parts that he believed still applied to everyone (e.g., sexual prohibitions). Not only that, but he wandered from talking about the Law as a standard by which a Jew was once measured before Christ—and one to which no one could measure up—to the Law as a standard to which a believer could attain through the power of the Holy Spirit. Carefully distinguishing between these different ways Paul talked about law helps us make sense of his seemingly conflicting arguments.

More to come...


Angie Van De Merwe said...

"The state of nature" which upholds both the naturalists and supernaturalists understandings of humans is how Hobbes and Rousseau understood law and society.

The conservative/religious understand the state of nature to be "sin", or "fallen nature".

But, John Locke understood that laws were to protect human dignity in granting postive law under social contract. The consent of the governed was an important aspect of human liberty/dignity.

While Locke believed that this was granted by society to individuals, Rousseau believed that individuals gave up their individual liberty for protection by the State. Rousseau's view did not allow for individuality in moral concerns.

A lack on individuality is how some societies understand their customs, as tribal. But, this view undermines how Americans have understood civil rights, which has granted civil liberties to those that were lacking society's protection because of archaic social custom.

Societies in the free world are allowed "evolution" of their culture where social norm and custom is concerned. What used to be taboo has become the modern standard.

America is faced with how to discern where its evolution has been beneficial and when it has not. Certainly, civil liberties have been positive for our society, but not where it concerns the family.

The intact family unit has become a social abnormality, rather than the social norm. This alone is of concern for those that care for the nation and its future.

Social scientists and scientists have studied the effects of familial dysfunction. And the results have not benefited society as a whole. And before we have a chance to grasp the implications to our society's revolution, we are challenged with the issue of homosexual marriage.

Some have sought to affirm our liberty by distinguishing between the civil and natural by allowing same sex marriage. Those biologically determined to be homosexually oriented have the right to civil unions. And those that hold to a religious conviction about marriage should also be allowed their liberty in forbidding same sex marriage in their churches.

Others think that making such distinctions only allows society to damage itself through "legal means". Science has not caught up to the challenges of these issues, I dont' believe.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Umm, I believe I used Hobbe's argument with Rousseau's name...

Marc said...

I simple solution is to recognise that pistis means "faithfulness" and there that Paul is oblivious to Luther's faith/works dichotomy. What Paul seems to be saying in 3:31 is the basically the same as in v29 - are we breaking Torah by allowing Gentiles in? Answer: no, this was what Torah (i.e. the OT) pointed to - we are seeing the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.