Since God is love, then of necessity He must be a God of grace. God the Holy Spirit thus wrote through the guided hand of an apostle, “For sin will not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). This statement, as well as others that are married to this theme of the book of Romans, is always perplexing for those, who through meritorious law-keeping, still have an urge to justify themselves before this God of love on the basis of perfect keeping of law.
But this is not how it works with a God who is identified by love. This was the mental and behavioral challenge that faced the early Jewish Christians. Salvation by faith in the grace of God was at first a glorious reality in the hearts of most in their relationship with their Creator. But a decade or two after the initial rejoicing, there was creeping into the thinking of some disciples a theology that would destroy the very foundation upon which the early Christians initially stood. The Holy Spirit saw the threat, and subsequently delivered Romans and Galatians to the church in order to save the church from going into the oblivion of just another religion.
- Saving grace:
In order to apply the above principle of Romans 6:14 to our relationship with God through law, it must first be noted that in the Greek text of the verse the Greek article “the” does not appear before the word “law.” Some translators, unfortunately, have placed the article in the text. However, it was not placed in the Greek text by the Holy Spirit just in case some might conclude that Paul was speaking specifically about “the law,” that is, the Sinai law. In order that some not come to this erroneous conclusion, he wanted to emphasize the fact that there is no law under which we could live by which we could save ourselves.
Indeed, and in reference to his specific argument against the meritorious keeping of the Sinai law, our inability to keep law perfectly was true in reference to the Jews who lived under the Sinai law. It is likewise true in reference to Christians who are now living under grace. Unfortunately, the Jews’ legal adherence to the ordinances of the Sinai law in order to justify themselves before God was futile. It was this theology that was finding its way into the first century church.
- It is impossible for one to save himself through perfect obedience of law simply because no one can keep law perfectly.
Paul’s specific proposition by his intentional use of the word “law” without the article in the text of Romans 6:14 was to reveal that before God no one can save himself solely through obedience of law. His point was that Christians in general, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles, are not under any system of law by which they can, through law alone, justify themselves before God through perfect law-keeping.
(This argument is brought out in another verse to which we will later refer. We must be cautious, therefore, with those translations that insert in the text the definite article “the,” when reference, both in Romans and Galatians, is simply to “law” in general. However, sometimes the article is used, but it is used in those cases where the context is an argument against salvation through law-keeping, specifically to any ordinance of the Sinai law. But when the article is dropped, the argument is that there can never be any self-justification before God on the basis of perfect law-keeping.)
- Struggling with grace:
By the time God’s grace was revealed through the incarnate Son of God two thousand years ago, the Jews had for centuries before lived under the bondage of their own self-imposed religiosity. Some supposed that acceptance by God was based on the foundation of how well they performed the statutes of the Sinai law, as well as their added religious rites and ceremonies, which eventually they observed to the exclusion of the Sinai law itself (See Mk 7:1-9). Therefore, when the gospel of the grace of God was finally revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ, most Jews, who sought to justify themselves before God through their own self-imposed traditions, found it very difficult to comprehend the concept of grace. They simply could not shift the responsibility for their salvation from themselves to someone who was crucified with thieves on a cross outside Jerusalem.
The same is true today in a religious world where every imaginable religious order has been constructed in order for faithful adherents to self-justify themselves before God. And in the religious world of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism where Jesus Christ plays no part in the theology of millions of adherents, obedience to religious rites, rituals and ceremonies is the norm. In fact, such non-Christian religions are often identified by the outward performance of their unique religious rites, rituals and ceremonies.
- A cult is defined by the adherents’ strict observance of all the catechisms that define the cult.
By the time the incarnate Son of God was revealed in Bethlehem, the Jewish religious leaders of the day had “re-scriptured” their own relationship with God. Their relationship with God was based on their meritorious obedience to the Sinai law, as well as the numerous religious traditions that they had elevated to the status of law. They subsequently promoted their religiosity of self-justification through their twisted interpretations of the Sinai law, which interpretations were combined with an assortment of religious traditions to which they strictly adhered.
Judaism, or the Jews’ religion, subsequently became a quagmire of religious traditions by the time Jesus arrived on the scene (See Gl 1:13,14). Subsequently, self-righteous Jews deceived themselves into believing that they had a supposed salvational relationship with God that was based solely on their performance of the Sinai law. Strict adherence to their religious traditions that they had elevated to the status of law, was supposedly a guarantee of their justification before God. They were thus somewhat arrogant about their religiosity in law-keeping, taking every opportunity to criticize Jesus for breaking their religious traditions.
- We know that religious traditions have been elevated to the status of law when those, who set themselves forth as policemen of the traditions in a particular religion, judge others for not keeping the traditions of the religion.
[Next in series: Articles 3,4]