By Elder Mike Ivey
Think not I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am come not to destroy, but to fulfil. - Matthew 5:17
The law under consideration in Matthew 5:17, is the Mosaic law; given to Israel while in Sinai. At the time of the Saviours's appearing it was the prominent rule of worship and conduct in Israel. The Jews commitment to the Mosaic Law was so great, that despite the fact that Israel was again in bondage, this time under Roman rule, they insisted on maintaining allegiance to the law God gave Moses. Referring to the Mosaic Law, the preacher John Newton said; "The law, in many passages of the Old Testament, signifies the whole revelation of the will of God." While it may be that God did reveal His whole will in the ceremony and sacrifice of the Mosaic law, the law given in Sinai was not the first revelation of God's will presented in law form. From the very beginning of man's existence God has consistently manifested his will in the form of law. The first indication of God's will relative to man was in the form of a law given to Adam. In Genesis 2:16-17 God told Adam; "...Of every tree of the garden thou mayest eat freely: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
When Adam partook of the forbidden fruit he disobeyed God. In disobeying God, he set himself in opposition to God and in league with satan. Obedience, embraces all that God is. When a man obeys God, he demonstrates his complete faith in the goodness and wisdom of God, and is thus forsaking all sources which might otherwise be considered. Beginning with Adam, God has consistently demonstrated His will in the context of law. In every instance, keeping the law was obedience, and breaking the law was disobedience. God has never given a law which he intended to have broken.
In the Hebrew letter, the writer discusses the weakness of Mosaic Law, in that it was administered by men who were sinners by nature. In Hebrews 10:1, he points out this basic limitation. It reads: "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, (and) not the very image of the things, could never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect." The Mosaic Law could not achieve perfection for even it's most careful observers. While God may have revealed His whole will relative to man's conduct in the Mosaic Law, it was not intended to accomplish His will relative to man's eternal destiny.
The same limitation of Mosaic Law was also expressed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:21. It reads: "(Is) the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law." Paul plainly indicated that no righteousness was established by the Law. In his Roman letter, Paul addressed the functionality of Mosaic Law as establishing a contrast between spirituality and man's carnal nature. He indicated that the function of the Law was to reveal sin as being exceedingly sinful. Paul wrote in Romans 7:12-14; "Wherefore the law (is) holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin."
The weakness of the Law came from man's involvement. Man being a sinner by nature could not establish righteousness by obedience to it. Indeed, man in his carnality, being sinful, and enmity toward God, could not satisfy the Law. This weakness as pointed out in the Hebrew letter, applied to Mosaic law; but Paul indicated in the Roman letter that the same weakness would have also existed in any law given. No law, in which carnal man is responsible for obedience, can establish righteousness. This is a basic principle with God. The description of man in his carnal nature, found in Romans 3:10-18, explains why this is so. It reads; "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is not that seeketh after God. They are together become unprofitable there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues they used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes." Exploring man's lower nature, the prophet Jeremiah identified how basic is the nature of carnality which permeates man. Jeremiah 13:23 reads; "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? (then) may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." Jeremiah's declaration penetrates to the core of mans lower nature. Carnality is pervasive in man. It is as basic to man as the colour of his skin. Sin, as the product of man's carnality, is as evident as spots on a leopard. Carnal man cannot do good. Paul went even farther in his description of man's carnal nature. In his letter to the Ephesians, he revealed that carnal man, is dead in trespasses and sins. Not only was there nothing good in man due to his carnality, but he was found incapable of doing anything good because of the effect of carnality, which was death in trespasses and sins. Man was dead in sin and could not respond obediently to any law.
When Christ came to earth, he did not destroy the pattern of God demonstrating His will by laws. He obeyed and thus fulfilled the Mosaic Law. In so doing, he truly became the revelation of the whole will of God. While the Mosaic Law revealed God's will in shadows, and was prohibitive, Christ revealed in himself the personification of God's will in an exhibitive format. Through obedience, the Savior became the embodiment of God's will, and the context for all obedience. Therefore, Christ's activities on earth may be viewed as an exemplary law of conduct for every child of God. In Christ, God gave life to a new law. Paul spoke of the power of Christ in this new law in Romans 8:3; "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but in the Spirit."
Paul was not the only New Testament writer who recognized the existence of a new law. In James 1:25, the apostle spoke of a, "perfect law of liberty." It reads: "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." When Christ fulfilled the sacrificial requirements of Mosaic law, He established in Himself a new manifestation of the whole will of God, which James called the Perfect Law of Liberty.
In verse 2 of Romans 8, Paul spoke of this new law as the "Law of the Spirit of Life." Paul wrote; "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." In II Corinthians 3:3, Paul described this new law as an epistle, "not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of the heart."
The Hebrew letter confirms the epistle of the heart as being a new, and better law. Hebrews 8:8 reads; "...I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." Hebrews 8:10 speaks of the new law: "For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people."
So there is a new Law. Christ is the embodiment of it. It is a perfect law because it is contained wholly in Christ. It is not a law which reveals itself in a prohibitive manner, but is a law of liberty. This new law is not written on tables of stone, and passed from generation to generation by Levitical priests. It is a continuing law, written on fleshy tables of the heart, and is administered by a single high priest which is Christ Jesus.
When born again, every child of God is effected by this new law. In regeneration it's statutes and commandments are written on the fleshy tables of their hearts. The effect of this new law is thus felt by everyone born of God, whether or not they have received the gospel. The apostle Paul described in himself, in Romans 7, the effect the new law had upon him. Notice the language of Romans 7:18-21; "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me." Paul went on to describe the effect of the new law as initiating warfare, fought against his carnal nature. In verse 23 he wrote; "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
Paul worked through his own experience and emerged in Romans 7:24 with a question which demonstrates the frustration of man without the knowledge of Christ. He cried: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me with the body of this death?" In everyone who is born again there exists the warfare described by Paul in Romans 7. With or without the gospel, every regenerate has the same new law experience described by Paul in Romans 7:21, "I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me."
The unregenerate, is aware of good and evil as a matter of inherited instinct received from the federal head of all humanity, Adam. He does not look upon evil as sin but rather opportunity, being a creature filled with self purpose. For him, if doing good suits his singular purpose of selfgratification he will do so. But with great delight he will choose evil if that serves his selfish design. After regeneration, being newly born of the Spirit of God, one sees evil in the context of sin. He is conscience of sin in himself. He sees himself a sinner by nature. But the core motivation for sin, which remains, is challenged continually by the Spirit born of regeneration.
The coexistence of carnal nature and Spiritual life, in such close proximity, and in mutual opposition as diametric opponents, establishes a warfare. In this warfare the Spirit refers to the Perfect Law of Liberty, received in the new birth, to accuse and convict sin. A conviction of sin initiates guilt in the regenerate's members which then can bring about remorse and leads the child of God to seek Godly repentance. In this way the flesh is brought under subjection to the Spirit. The effect of the warfare without gospel insight led Paul to declare himself wretched, wishing deliverance. Without the gospel, the regenerate will experience conviction of sin, guilt, and remorse; but finds it difficult to receive Godly repentance. He thereby suffers as a convict, not realizing the joy of God's acceptance of his person in the Beloved Jesus Christ.
The gospel, providing explanation and perspective, replaces despair with joy. With the gospel, the saved sinner seeking deliverance from conviction of sin receives an answer of resounding delight! In Romans 7:25, Paul answered the question, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." The gospel provides spiritual perspective to the new law written upon the fleshy table of the regenerate's heart. It explains the existence of the new law, it's reason for existing, and it's effect upon believers. It also reveals how the new law is to be used by believers. With the gospel, the saved sinner receives the knowledge of a Saviour who died for his sins. The perception of such love promotes the child of God from despair to a conviction of righteousness, not of works that he has done, but of Jesus Christ. Christ then becomes the example of righteousness; which is to be pressed toward as "the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," Philippians 3:14.
So, in the child of God, sin is present due to a yet remaining carnal nature. Also present is a good conscience toward God which is received in regeneration. This coexistence of carnality and Spirit spawns war. In the resurrection, when the regenerates body is changed and receives adoption, warfare will cease with the destruction of sin; and there will remain nothing for the Spirit to battle. Until the resurrection, the born again are governed by a new law written in the fleshy tables of the heart, and administered by Christ. It is a Perfect Law of Liberty, in Christ Jesus.
The Perfect Law of Liberty
But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers... - I Timothy 1:8
Some might consider Paul's description of those for whom the law is made and wish to exclude believers. It cannot be done. In his description he lists, sinners. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23; "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Not only Paul, but the Saviour also characterized regenerates as being sinners by virtue of their carnal nature. In Luke 18:13-14 Jesus spoke of the publican who identified himself a sinner, as one beloved of the Father. It reads; "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." Jesus said in verse 14; "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified (rather) than the other..."
Though regenerates are sinners by nature with a carnal nature which Paul described in Romans 7; with the new birth a change occurs and they become new creatures. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:17; "Therefore if any man (be) in Christ, (he is) a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Being born again is an effectual work, accomplished by the "washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost," Titus 3:5. It cleanses the dead faculties of the lost soul and quickens the dead sinner, implanting Spiritual life.
A change occurs in everyone born of the Spirit of God. They no longer sin without conscience. They can no longer lead a life of habitual sin, free from the conviction of sin, because the new law, dwelling within, convicts sin. However, because man's sinful carnal nature of sin is not removed in regeneration, even the most noble of mind, or the most innocent in appearance are sinners, prone to sin. No amount of gospel knowledge, or obedience to the will of God, can separate the sinner from his sinful nature. Only in the resurrection will regenerated man find his sin nature completely removed.
Bringing one's sinful nature under subjection to the spirit does not exsiccate sin; for the flesh is a reluctant consenter to the will of the Spirit. The flesh is brought under subjection to the Spirit only through intense warfare. In Galatians 5:17 Paul wrote of the enmity between the Spirit and the flesh: "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: these are contrary one to another: so that ye cannot do the things ye would."
It is precisely because regenerates are yet sinners by nature that the new law is present. When used lawfully, the new law is a great aid and comfort. Paul said the law is good if used lawfully. Let us therefore, examine the lawful use of the law.
The first rule of lawful utilization of the law, is that it be used to fulfil it's intended purpose. It is a lawful use of the Perfect Law of Liberty to use it in the context of original intent. Any expansion or distortion of original intent perverts the law and weakens or destroys the liberty of it's authority.
Many of the difficulties, and captivities experienced by the Israelites were do to their perversion of the Mosaic law. None were so bold as to actually change the letter of the law; but rather, they changed it's original intent and interpretation to suit their own designs. The Israelites were reluctant to use Mosaic Law for it's original intent, which was to reveal sin in them. Rather, they changed the intent of the law from revealing sin to establishing righteousness. Many scriptures testify of the perversion of Mosaic Law. The condemnation by Jesus of the scribes and Pharisees, found in Matthew 23 and Luke 11, are but two accounts of how the leadership of Israel sought to promote themselves at the expense of the Law.
In Matthew 23:5, the Saviour identifies how the scribes and Pharisees perverted the original intent of Mosaic Law in an attempt to promote themselves. He said, "But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments."
The most severe and prolonged condemnation of any group, found anywhere in the New Testament, is the Saviours's condemnation of scribes and Pharisees, found in Matthew 23. The Lord said they were hypocrites, blind guides, fools and blind, serpents, and a generation of vipers. The Lord showed little tolerance toward men who perverted His commandments and statutes to suite their own vain imaginings.
As with Mosaic Law, from the beginning of the gospel dispensation, man has sought to pervert the original intent of the Perfect Law of Liberty. Remember, Paul's experience with the new law was that in regeneration, when the commandment came, sin revived and Paul died. (The commandment was a commandment to live, spoken by the quickening voice of the Holy Ghost, imputing Spiritual life into the dead faculties of Paul's lost soul.) Paul died to the pleasures of sin in which his members, possessed of carnality, took delight. With the presence of Spiritual life, Paul no longer enjoyed sin with no sense of conviction. When after his new birth, sin revived, it was immediately convicted by the Spirit of the new creature Paul had become.
In Paul, the first unction of the Holy Spirit was conviction of sin. (In regeneration, everyone experiences a conviction of sin.) Conviction of sin is an evidence of Spiritual life. Notice, that the Perfect Law of Liberty, implanted in regeneration, functions in the same manner as the Mosaic Law was originally intended to function. The original intent of the Perfect Law of Liberty is to identify sin as being exceedingly sinful.
However, often the Perfect Law of Liberty, written on the fleshy tables of the heart, becomes perverted in the same manner as the scribes and Pharisees perverted Mosaic Law. Frequently the child of God denies that he is a depraved creature and contends that he is capable of righteousness of his own free will, because he is a free moral agent. He takes this position despite scriptures such as Romans 3:10, "There is none righteousness, no, not one" and Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,"
Contending that the goodness found in men who have not received the gospel is generic in all mankind, and not the result of being already born again; he believes that men can do good, and in so doing, establish in themselves righteousness (get born again) Thus, man perverts the original intent of the Perfect Law of Liberty, which is to condemn sin; and instead creates a new intent, which is to establish righteousness. It is exactly the same perversion as the scribes and Pharisees were guilty of relative to Mosaic Law; and for which they were harshly condemned by the Saviour in Matthew 23. It is an unlawful use of the Perfect Law of Liberty, to attempt to establish righteousness by obedience. Indeed, when obedience is present it is because righteousness is already established in Christ Jesus, and transferred to the regenerate when he is born again. Any attempt to establish righteousness by obedience to law is to deny the righteousness of God which is in Christ Jesus, and is implanted in the child of God in regeneration. All attempts to establish righteousness by the Perfect Law of Liberty are unlawful because they demonstrate contempt for Christ's work on the cross, and it's effect in regeneration.
It is a lawful use of the Perfect Law of Liberty to view ones carnal nature against the Holy Spirit, which bears witness of the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.
In Hebrew chapter 9, the writer describes a feature of the Mosaic Law. He wrote; "For the law having a shadow of things to come..." The ceremony and sacrificial aspects of the Mosaic Law produced a shadow of Christ. It pointed to the Saviour. In the law were types which provided limited insight into the coming of Christ, His life, death by crucifixtion, and resurrection. No specific features of God's plan of salvation were revealed in the Law, but a general outline could be distinguished by the careful observer, using a spiritual eye. In I Corinthians chapter 13, the apostle Paul wrote; "For now we see as through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known." Since, as the writer of Hebrews said, the new covenant was "...a better covenant, which was established upon better promises;" it is reasonable that it provides a better view of Christ, and God's plan of salvation.
The regenerate, with the benefit of perception given by the gospel, and a confirmation of the gospel received from the Spirit which, "beareth witness with our spirit," sees Christ, and God's plan of eternal salvation; "as through a glass," but "darkly." The vision is better because the new covenant is better and has better promises. But the vision is not yet "Face to face." The vision will become face to face when "the creature itself also" is "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Roman 8:21). When the body is changed, and glorified in the resurrection, every child of God will see Christ face to face, and know even as they are known.
As the Mosaic Law offered insight for the careful student of God, so also does the new law of liberty provide insight for those who prayerfully seek to see and know. A lawful use of the law is seeing and knowing. Paul's description of his new birth indicates that upon being regenerated he immediately knew himself to be a sinner. He knew he was a sinner because of the conviction of sin he felt when his carnal nature was compared to the Perfect Law of Liberty. The Perfect Law of Liberty, written upon the fleshy tables of the heart, causes the regenerate to see himself as a sinner by nature, and thus hinders him from thinking more highly of himself than he ought.
A lawful use of the Perfect Law of Liberty is to utilize it as a moral code for conduct. It is particularly well suited to this purpose, especially when combined with the perspective of gospel understanding. It helps the regenerate to do good even though his carnal nature strives to do evil. In Christ Jesus is the moral code which reconciled men to God while they were yet sinners. It is a code of love and sacrifice. The same code of morality is contained in the Perfect Law of Liberty and is witnessed to the regenerate by the Holy Spirit which bears witness with the regenerate's Spirit. In I John 3:9, the apostle wrote, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." This scripture does not indicate that those born again no longer commit sin. If such were the case then regeneration would include the whole man and would preclude any need for a change and final resurrection of the body. The scripture means that those born of God no longer sin without an effect of conscience. They no longer sin by simple habit, never feeling any sense of condemnation or regret.
When one who is born again commits a sin, he is convicted by his Spirit born of regeneration; which is continually receiving a witness of the righteousness of God from the Holy Spirit. This process of receiving witness from the Holy Spirit reinforces the code of conduct implanted in the child of God in regeneration. A regenerate may still choose to sin, but cannot do so without receiving a sense of conviction of bloodguiltiness in his conscience.
Those who are born of God possess an abiding witness which provides an unction of the Holy Spirit concerning right and wrong. In seeking the counsel of the Holy Spirit, the child of God has at hand a code of moral conduct which is contained in the Perfect Law of Liberty. It is thus, a proper and lawful use of the law, to govern conduct based upon the perfect morality of the new law of liberty.
A lawful use of the Perfect Law of Liberty is to view Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrew 2:9 wrote; "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man."
The Perfect Law of Liberty provides a view of the Saviour which goes beyond the obscure outline of his person revealed in the shadow of Mosaic Law. We are blest to see a bit more of the Saviour, though still viewing him through a veil of carnality which allows us to see only with darkened vision. We see Jesus as our high priest. The writer said in Hebrews 4:15, "For we have not such an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." The child of God, through the gospel, sees Jesus as a high priest who feels infirmities. Jesus is touched with the infirmities of those for whom he died because he experienced their infirmities. There is a commonly shared experience of sin between the Saviour and the saved. Not that Jesus ever sinned, but that he bore in his person the sins of those for whom he died. In II Corinthians 5:21, the apostle Paul described how the Saviour bore our sins. It reads; "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Christ bore every sin of all the elect to the cross of Calvary. For the Saviour, sin is not some philosophical phenomenon. It is tangible. He felt the burden of all of the sins, of all the elect, in his person, while hanging on the cross. He experienced the effect of sin when he gave up the Ghost and died. Jesus knows the sorrow of sin; He wept for Lazarus. He knows the burden of sin; He bore our sins to Calvary. Jesus knows the condemnation of sin; He was condemned to die.
What a blessing for the struggling pilgrim, when through the gospel, he comes to know that there is never a burden, never a sorrow, never a heartache with which he is faced, that has not already been faced and conquered by the high priest Jesus Christ. And not only so, but what a comfort, when he sees the Saviour; who by personal experience is perfectly acquainted with our infirmities, is touched by the infirmities of the elect.
Jesus Christ has not hidden from the elect the common experience of our sins which He shares. He took upon himself the sins of all for whom he died and is now intimately aware, and even today feels the infirmities of sin suffered by the elect. In times of great tribulation, it is a joy to be able to look up from the quagmire of sinful existence, and see, as Stephen did, the Saviour, standing at the right hand of God. By an eye of faith, though darkened by our sinful nature, we also see Jesus coming again. We are blest to look into the sky and see the clouds part and our Saviour descend. We see him descending in all his glory, with the heavenly host, who are singing praises to his Holy name. At that moment, in raptures of glory, we know ourselves even as we are known of God; without the blinders of sin obscuring the beauty of perfection which Christ won for every child of God when he conquered sin and death. We are, by the mercy of God, allowed to rise above the weak and beggarly elements of this sin cursed world, and sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Such visions of glory are a lawful use of the law.
The law is good if a man use it lawfully.
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