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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Law and Grace # 11

God's Written Law and Israel (continued)

5. The giving of this legal covenant to Israel, however, did not abrogate the earlier Abrahamic covenant which was unconditional. In its initial and original form, this covenant with Abraham is found in Genesis 12:1-3. Its sevenfold blessing is not conditioned upon any legal perfection of Abraham. God simply announces what He will do for the patriarch and his seed. It might be argued that there is, after all, one condition laid down in verse 1, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred... unto a land that I will shew thee." But Abraham's compliance with this injunction was only his response of faith to the sovereign promises of God. "By faith Abraham .... went out, not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8). (In the same way we respond by faith today to the call of God when we leave the world and enter that blessed realm designated "in Christ.") Now this covenant with Abraham was made  430 years before the law was given at Sinai, and Paul argues that this "law ... cannot disannul [the covenant], that it should make the promise of none effect" (Galatians 3:17). Even the Mosaic law itself witnesses to the supremacy of the former covenant. In spite of Israel's iniquities and the certainty of divine judgment upon the nation, the Lord declares, "My covenant with Abraham will I remember; ... yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God" (Lev. 26:42, 44).

6. The Israelite is "under" this Mosaic written law until he finds forgiveness and freedom in the "new covenant" under grace in Christ. "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?" (Romans 7:1). Freedom from the law's bondage comes only as the Jew becomes "dead to the law by the body of Christ" (Romans 7:4). The same general idea is asserted in Galatians 5:3, "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law." The reference is not merely to the physical operation, but to submission to the rite with the belief that it will either save or help to save the soul. Such a one is bound by the entire law, to do it all or suffer the penalty for failure.

It is clear that Paul regarded the unsaved Jews of his day as being under the law, for he says in Romans 3:19, "We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law." The Greek verbs here indicate a present reality, not merely, a relationship which once existed but is no longer in force.

At the very moment the apostle was writing, the law was speaking to his unsaved kinsmen who, he argues, "are under the law." If this were not so, there could be no day of judgment for them, as he affirms there certainly shall be: "As many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law" (Romans 2:12). The same thought appears in Galatians 4 where Paul, speaking of the "Jerusalem which now it," says she "is in bondage with her children" (Galatians 4:25). That this is the bondage of the law is clear from the context, especially in Galatians 5:1, where he warns the saved not to go back to it.

This view does not conflict in any way with the fact that what we call the Dispensation of Law ended at Calvary. For God may change in his way of dealing with men without totally abolishing the main feature of a former dispensation. Conscience was not abolished when human government was established. Nor were the promises abrogated when the Dispensation of Law began. So today, in this Age of Grace, there is still law for those who will not come to Christ for freedom. And if when men believe, they are "made dead to the law" (Romans 7:4) in order that they may be joined to Christ, then this dominion of the law must be a very genuine and present reality.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 12 - "The Mosaic Law and Gentiles")

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