This is the fifth 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.
In our previous post in this series, we showed that Paul does not call us to use the law to measure or promote our sanctification, though there are many who assert that he does.
But there also those in the “reformed camp” who would even counter Paul’s repeated entreaties to rely on the Spirit. Willem VanGemeren denies Paul’s assertion that the Spirit replaces the law in the New Covenant:
The law is not replaced by the Spirit in the eschatological age. The Spirit opens people up to the law and transforms them to live by a higher ethics [sic]. We may even speak of eschatological ethics as an application of the moral law, by which believers live in the present age with their eyes focused on the coming of the kingdom. While all people belong to the present age and are made responsible for keeping its mores, Christians live by the higher ethics of the kingdom. Paul speaks of this tension in his ministry: “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law [ennomos Christou]), so as to win those not having the law” (1 Cor. 9:21). The law is God’s instrument in transforming the Christian into a servant of the kingdom of God. …
Paul, however, could not be more direct that the law is no longer binding on the Christian. The apostle begins this in chapter 7 of Romans:
[7:1] Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?  For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (or “of the letter” – ESV footnote). (Romans 7:1–6)
There are some who argue that Paul is only arguing against the civil and “ceremonial” laws of Israel. But nowhere in this argument do we see Paul draw distinctions among moral, ceremonial and civil aspects of the Mosaic law.
Paul does not say that we’ve died to Jewish cultic rituals and Jewish civil law as some might argue – although many of the ethical norms expressed by Paul do contain the same or similar content as the Decalogue. Many will argue that this means that the Ten Commandments are exempt and thatRomans 7 is only arguing for the end of the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law.
Note: In a future post, I hope to address the three-part distinctions in the Mosaic law that are central to Reformed theology. It is my contention that referring to the laws pertaining to sacrifices, holy days, sabbaths and temple ritual as “ceremonial” demeans the rich typology of their meaning to the faithful remnant of Israel. To the faithful, they were more than mere cultic ritual but things seen and greeted from afar (Hebrews 11:13) and were actions pleasing to God, unlike those performed as ritual by the unfaithful (cf.Isaiah 1).
But can one really argue that Paul means that dietary laws, laws about repaying those whose animal you’ve harmed, or ordinances about sacrifices aroused sinful passions, rather than admonitions against adultery, lying and theft?
A separation of the law in such a way does not hold water in this argument.
There does remain, however, a parallel between the Decalogue and Paul’s teaching, but Stephen Westerholm explains why there is a difference:
The ethic determined by God’s Holy Spirit cannot, for Paul, be capricious. Paul points out areas of possible human behavior which are incompatible with the leading of the Holy Spirit of God and other moral characteristics which the Spirit inevitably produces. In fact, of course, Paul’s understanding of the moral behavior which the Spirit induces corresponds nicely with the moral demands of the Mosaic law. But this … does not mean that Paul derives Christian duty from the law. The ethical instruction of the epistles would have looked very different had Paul continued to find the will of God in the way he did as a Pharisee, by interpreting and applying the relevant statutes from Torah.
Paul’s antithesis is between written code – the code of the Old Covenant – and the Spirit. We have died to that which aroused sin in us.
Nor does Paul say merely that we are not to rely on the law for our justification, as some would argue fromRomans 7.
Paul clearly speaks of the law in its present tense for the believer. He speaks against using the law for our walk, for our sanctification. In verse 6, he writes “we serve” (δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς) in the present tense. We serve in the Spirit because we are released from the law.
The law bears fruit for death, arouses sinful passions and holds men captive. How then, can we turn to the law to grow in or to measure our holiness?
Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 6: Who Is The Man of Romans 7? Willem A. VanGemeren, “The Law Is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Perspective” Five Views on Law and gospel (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1996), 58.  Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 214.