Completed by the Spirit Part 12: Not of the Letter, But of the Spirit

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the 12th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
If an exter­nal code is the antithe­sis of a life in the Spirit (as we noted in our previous install­ment), what is the expres­sion of a life in the Spirit? Love. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
That love, that love from God via the Holy Spirit given to dwell in us is, as Paul tells us, the ful­fill­ing of the law:

[8] Owe no one any­thing, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has ful­filled the law. [9] For the com­mand­ments, “You shall not com­mit adul­tery, You shall not mur­der, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other com­mand­ment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neigh­bor as your­self.” [10] Love does no wrong to a neigh­bor; there­fore love is the ful­fill­ing of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)

There are those, espe­cially from the camp that Graeme Goldswor­thy char­ac­ter­izes as “evan­gel­i­cal Judaism,”[1] who will turn verse 10 on its head and say that Paul is telling us that the way we achieve love is through obe­di­ence to the law.
For exam­ple, Vin­cent Che­ung writes, “The real bib­li­cal def­i­n­i­tion of love, that is, the love that the Bible com­mands us to have, is defined by obe­di­ence to the law in all of our rela­tion­ships (Romans 13:9–10) – and this includes the com­mands that it makes to both the mind and the body.”[2] Fur­ther­more, Che­ung makes the auda­cious state­ment that God’s love is demon­strated by “prac­ti­cal benev­o­lence” and that the love of the Chris­t­ian should be one of  “accu­rate obe­di­ence.”[3] “In other words,” Che­ung oddly asserts, “you walk in love by obey­ing all these com­mand­ments.”[4]
That sort of legal­ism, Goldswor­thy tells us, has at its base “an asser­tion of our con­trol over our rela­tion­ship with God. It is a soft-pedaling of the great­ness of God’s grace to sin­ners. On the sur­face it may appear to be an exalt­ing of the law, how­ever the law is under­stood. Yet when we under­stand the nature of legal­ism, we find that the oppo­site is true.”[5]
If we are to be like Christ – if we indeed are to have the love poured out by Him, and if as Paul promises we will be rid of sin – then to sug­gest that love is obtained by fol­low­ing an exter­nal code, rather than it being some­thing intrin­sic to our onto­log­i­cal state, is absurd.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 13: Love Poured Into Us

[1] Graeme Goldswor­thy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneu­tics (Down­ers Grove, IL: Inter­Var­sity Press, 2006), 171.
[2] Vin­cent Che­ung, The Ser­mon on the Mount (Boston: self-published, 2004), 159. In an over-the-top style, Che­ung also crit­i­cizes D. A. Car­son in this sec­tion, writ­ing that Carson’s state­ment that love requires more than actions (cf. 1 Cor 13:3) is “a sur­pris­ingly ama­teur­ish inference. …”
[3] Ibid., 160–1. Che­ung also advo­cates hat­ing non-believers as God hated Esau.
[4] Ibid., 90. Che­ung makes the state­ment: “Imme­di­ately after my con­ver­sion, I stopped lying alto­gether.” This con­tra­dic­tion of 1 John 1:10ff nec­es­sar­ily brings the author’s verac­ity into question.
[5] Goldswor­thy, 171.

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