Summary: This sermon answered a question submitted by someone in the congregation.
Note: This sermon was from a series where I answered questions about the Bible submitted by the congregation.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV)
For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Romans 6:14 (NIV)
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 7:6 (NIV)
It seems that Jesus and Paul are talking about two different things. Is the law that Jesus fulfills different from the law from which we’ve been released?
At first glance, there is an apparent contradiction here. On one hand, Jesus proclaims that he has come to fulfill the law and on the other hand Paul writes that we are free from the law, or that we have been released from the law.
Let’s begin with Paul this morning and look at the two passages which I’ve already quoted to you. It seems to me that the first thing we need to do is to define the term “law” as Paul uses it in these passages. It’s quite interesting to note how different translations treat the word “law” in the New Testament.
• The NASB normally chooses to capitalize “Law” whenever it is preceded by the article – i.e. “the Law” and to not capitalize the word “law” when it is not preceded by the article. Thus in the NASB “law” is not capitalized in Romans 6:14, but it is capitalized in Romans 7:6. It is also capitalized in Matthew 5:17.
• The NIV takes a slightly different approach that looks more at the context of the word “law”. The word “Law” is normally capitalized when it refers to the Old Testament law, but is not capitalized when it refers to “law” in a more general way. So the NIV capitalizes “Law” in Matthew 5:17, where Jesus is obviously referring to the Old Testament law and it does not capitalize “law” in the verses we’re looking at in the Book of Romans.
• The KJV does not capitalize the word “law’ at all.
This seems to be a situation where the approach used by the translators of the NIV seems to best reflect the use of the word “law’. As we’ll see in a moment, when Jesus uses the word Law in Matthew 5:17, he is obviously referring to the Old Testament law. But in these passages in Romans, Paul is using the word “law” in a much broader way. As used by Paul in these passages, the word “law” refers to a “standard of conduct.” While that certainly includes the Old Testament law, it also includes other man-made law which the Jewish religious leaders had developed in order to expound upon the Old Testament law. And it would also include any other set of moral standards that are intended to be a guide for human conduct.
The purpose of law, as the word is used by Paul here, is to condemn failure. The law points out and punishes sin. That’s what the laws in our culture do today – they define and point out wrongdoing and provide a proscribed punishment for violation of those laws.
The problem with the law, which Paul very ably points out in his writings, not just here in Romans, but also in Galatians and his other letters, is that while the law is effective in pointing out the problem, it can do nothing to provide a solution for that problem. That’s certainly true for our laws. The law can point out the problem and even provide for punishment, but it can’t provide a solution for the problem. If it could, we wouldn’t have any murders, rapes, burglaries, assaults and other crimes in our society. The result is that law, as a standard of conduct, results in discouragement, a sense of defeat and despair.
So in a sense, law puts us in bondage, because it points out the sin in our lives, but the law itself can do nothing to solve the problem that our sin creates – spiritual death. But, Paul writes, in Jesus Christ we have been released from that bondage. When we accept Jesus Christ into our lives as Lord and Savior, we die to the condemnation that the law brings. Paul makes this even clearer in Romans 8: