Paul has made it clear in his letter to the Romans that those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are acquitted and accepted by God on the basis of the righteousness of Christ which is credited to them.

This righteousness (justification/acquittal) is from God (Romans 3:21), apart from law (3:21), the same for all who believe in Christ (3:22 – 24), and freely given by God’s grace (3:24). It is grounded on the substitutionary, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, which is deemed by God to be the death of all who are united to Christ by faith (3:24, 25; 6:2, 5 – 8).

Paul teaches that as a result of this gifted righteousness, we have been released from the law (7:6), and have been set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

This release from the law is not because the law is faulty – the law is holy, righteous, good (7:12), and spiritual (7:14), but because we are faulty. Rather than providing a checklist to affirm our merit, the law exposes our sin (Romans 7:1-11), and makes us conscious of our sin (Romans 3:19, 20). We are unspiritual, enslaved to sin (Romans 7:14). It is we ourselves who render the law powerless (Romans 8:3). The Gospel informs us that in and through Jesus Christ God did for us what the law was thus powerless to do for us (Romans 8:3).

All of this challenges us to have a transformed attitude to the law. And here we need to think clearly, because the Gospel is not about the rejection or discarding of the law but about the fulfilment of the law:

In his life, Jesus Christ fully met all the requirements of the moral law. He kept the law of God perfectly. In this he affirmed the integrity and the permanence of these moral standards.

In his death, he bore the full penalty for sin defined by the law – the guilt, the wrath of God, the condemnation, the punishment. He did this as our substitute – the righteous one in the place of the guilty. By his death, the justice demanded by the moral law is fully satisfied for those united to him by faith.

Also in his death, and the salvation obtained by that death, he fulfilled everything that was prophetically symbolised in the rituals of Israel – the sacrifices, the Sabbaths, the annual feast days. He is the reality to which they all pointed. They are but shadows, copies, of the real thing, which are rendered redundant by the real thing (Colossians 2:16, 17; Hebrews 8:5).

It is obvious from the teaching of Jesus and the apostles that the moral law still stands. Everywhere in the gospels and the letters an exceptionally high standard of moral integrity is described and demanded as the only appropriate way of life for those who claim to acknowledge Christ. We are not saved by keeping the moral law, but if we know Jesus Christ, we also know without question that a life of moral integrity that reflects the heart of the moral law is God’s good will and purpose for us.

But what about the ritual law? Mixed answers to this question plagued the early church.

In Romans 14:1 – 15:13 Paul addresses this issue, and cautions us about various attitudes to ritual law. He repeatedly instructs us not to assess ourselves and others on the basis of ritual laws and religious expectations. As we read his instructions about this in these verses we realise that Paul is commanding us to express in our attitudes to other believers the same grace and love that God has expressed to us in Christ Jesus our Lord:

Accept him whose faith is weak.

Don’t look down on the one who doesn’t eat everything.

Don’t condemn the one who does eat everything.

Don’t pass judgement on disputable matters.

Don’t judge or look down on your brothers.

Stop passing judgement.

Don’t put a stumbling block in your brother’s way.

Don’t destroy your brother by your freedom.

Make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.

Keep your beliefs about such rules between God and yourself.

Bear with the failings of the weak instead of pleasing yourselves.

Just as Christ has accepted us we are to accept one another, and by that mutual acceptance that refuses to assess each other on the basis of religious ritual requirements, bring praise to God who, by his mercy, has declared us all one in Christ Jesus (Romans 15:7 – 9).

Such a mindset is possible only when our minds are being renewed and transformed by the mercies of God demonstrated and declared in the Gospel.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020