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...