What is Paul’s opinion of the law of God? On the one hand, he says the law incites transgression (5:20), constrains liberty (7:1), arouses sin (7:5), and promises life but proves death (7:10). But on the other hand, he says, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (7:12). How can this be? Is Paul confused?
In the second century, Rome, seemingly out of nowhere there were Christians across every social class, from slaves to the wealthy, living their lives, not separate, but in Roman culture yet differently. They were known as followers of “the way” (Acts 9:2, 22:4), forming a new community, following a resurrected Jesus, fellowshipping in a new way of life. One second century observer referred to Christianity as a “Third Way,” distinct from Rome’s religion, distinct from the Jew’s religion, a new way of life.
For, we are slaves of God, purchased and delivered, and the divine paradox is, as slaves of God, we are truly and eternally free! And this freedom is found only through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As he said himself, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Freed from sin and freed to righteousness, freed from death and freed to life, as slaves of God we find that we have been freed to live as we were created, to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
God’s gift in Christ is one of measureless magnitude: Adam is overcome by Christ, sin by righteousness, condemnation by justification, death by life, trespass by gift. And it is through the marvelous generosity of God’s grace that we realize the inexpressible glory of God’s purpose in us. Christian, every day in Christ is a gift of life. What the Christian must guard against is resurrecting Adam and calling him Christ, trying to live the Christian life in spite of rather than in light of the gospel. When tempted to sin, look not to the reign of death but the life of Christ, who enables us to live the victorious Christian life by his Spirit. When tempted to despair, look not to the poverty of sin but to the abundant grace of God, who encourages us in his hope by his Spirit.
Jesus summarized the Decalogue simply: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). It is a brilliant, comprehensive yet succinct understanding of God’s Moral Law. It is also clear in its inclusion: God, my neighbor, and me. Of course, only the fool questions who God is (Ps. 14:1), and I know who I am, but who is my neighbor? Is my neighbor my friend but not my enemy? Is my neighbor my social or political tribe but not yours? Is my neighbor those I like but not those I dislike or those who dislike me? Who is my neighbor?
The Holy Spirit may work through human reason, but human reason alone cannot pierce the veil separating the spiritual and the natural.
Christian hope reorients our focus. We focus not on who we were but who we are in Christ. We focus not on trying to merit God’s favor but rest in his grace, desiring to please him in love. We focus not on temporal circumstances or our momentary afflictions but on God’s glory revealed through us as we are conformed more and more to the image of his Son. We focus not on what the world loves but on God’s love poured into our hearts. And so, we do not fear tomorrow but have hope for today.
But the faith that God gave Abraham did not falter, as it never will, but grew: “[Abraham] did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do” (Rom. 4:20-21 NET). Therefore, “In hope [Abraham] believed against hope.” Though his circumstances shouted hopelessness, Abraham had hope, not because he looked to himself and his faithfulness but because he looked to the One who promised.
Like Abraham, there is nothing in us or anything that we have done that would persuade God to bestow his saving grace upon us, but he has. It is only by his grace through faith in Christ that “we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). And as God’s children, the life we live in the here and now we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20). As sojourners and exiles we are faithful to preach this good news to ourselves and share it with others near and far, not living as those who have no hope, knowing like Abraham that by faith “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Though “here we have no lasting city,” by faith “we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).
Trueman confronts not only our propensity for lamentation over yesterday and its impotence but also our habitual whining today. Rightly, he reminds us of our sanctified responsibility: to discern the problems of our day and respond appropriately.