Uphold the law by looking away from it and to Christ

“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” 
-Romans 3:31, ESV
Romans 3:31 is a proof text and pillar for Covenant Theology’s (CT) insistence for the ‘third use’ of the Law.[1] On the face of it, and within the framework of CT, it is not difficult to see how this verse lends itself to such an understanding. Confessedly, I once saw this verse as a reason to refute the claims of NCT’s view of Mosaic Law. However, three considerations make clear that CT’s view of this verse erroneous.
1. Romans 3:31 cannot oppose what Paul writes elsewhere concerning Mosaic Law & the Christian (e.g. Romans 6-8; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3; Galatians 3-5, Ephesians 2:14-15; Col. 2:14). This is to say nothing of the clear testimony of Hebrews 8-10. To pit Romans 3:31 against the weight and clear teaching of the rest of Scripture is unsound theological method. Paul would not assert one thing in Galatians (namely, freedom from the entire Mosaic legislation) only to contradict himself later in Romans. A high view of Scripture guards against such absurdity since God, the Author of Scripture, is a God of truth. Therefore, since truth by definition is non-contradictory, Paul is not at odds with himself. Romans 3:31 cannot undermine, or fly in the face of, what the apostle writes elsewhere. The veracity of Scripture as a whole is at stake here.
2. The immediate context does not support CT’s confidence. A few verses earlier, in Romans 3:21, Paul states that although justifying righteousness has been manifested apart from the law, the “Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” The next phrase makes it clear; faith in Christ for righteousness is that to which “the Law and Prophets” bear witness. Therefore, in 3:31, the apostle may simply be saying that faith in Christ for righteousness upholds that OT law which calls for faith (cf. John 5:46; Romans 10:6ff; Deut. 30:11ff.). Of course, called into question here is the precise referent of ‘law.’ Does ‘law,’ a word with a wide semantic range, mean the Mosaic Covenant? The Ten Commandments? The Pentateuch? The entire Old Testament?[2] Exegesis, not eisogesis, must rule. To simply read a theological category into this is bad hermeneutical method. Care must be taken to not define the occurrence of a word too narrowly or broadly.
3. But assuming, for argument’s sake, ‘law’ in Romans 3:31 refers to the Mosaic Covenant only, we need not conclude Paul teaches that law remains in force for the one who has faith in Christ. A simple reading of the verse, allowing it to speak in context (3:21-31) makes it clear Paul teaches no such thing. “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?” is a question posed in a specific context, one in which the Law, in full force, is brought to bear on Christ. Christ is its satisfaction (3:25). Christ, by His redemption-accomplishing, wrath-appeasing, justice-satisfying death, fulfilled the law with its precepts and punishments. And He did so for us, for everyone who would ever believe in Him for justification. As Douglas Moo once wrote: “Justification takes full account of the law, providing for its complete satisfaction in believers through their incorporation into Christ.”[3] The irony of ironies is this: we uphold the law by looking away from it and to Christ, the One who kept it. The work of Christ, and faith in Him, takes seriously, and into full consideration, the Law. This satisfies the grammar. This satisfies the contexts, both near and far. And that, dear reader, satisfies and cheers my soul!
Romans 3:31 is no obstacle to the position that sees Christ as the fullfilment of all things Old Testament, freeing the New Covenant believer to be led by a new kind of “Law” (i.e. the Law of Christ).
[1] For an influential example, see John Murray’s “Law & Grace.” Available at http://www.the-highway.com/lawgrace.html
[2] For examples of ‘law’ used this way, see Romans 3:19 (?); 1 Cor. 14:21; John 10:34; 15:25.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View”, in Five Views on Law and Gospel, Greg L. Bahnsen, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Douglas J. Moo, Wayne G. Strickland, and Willem A. VanGemeren; Counterpoint Series, series ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999, 1996), pp. 371-372. The context of this quote bears repeating: ““Romans 8:4 suggests the answer….the passive form of the verb pleroo (“might be fulfilled”) points away from any activity on the part of human beings. What Paul must mean in the context, where he is showing how God in Christ has provided for that which sinful humans could not accomplish (v. 3), is that believers who are “in Christ” and led by the Spirit fully meet the demand of God’s law by having it met for them in Christ. As Calvin recognized, only such a vicarious fulfillment of the law on our behalf by Christ meets God’s demand that the law be fully and completely obeyed. I would suggest, therefore, that in this sense Paul’s teaching of justification by faith “upholds” the law” (3:31). Justification takes full account of the law, providing for its complete satisfaction in believers through their incorporation into Christ. Neither text in Romans suggests the continuing direct application of the Mosaic law to believers.”

Escape from Passivity: Galatians 6:7-10

David Frampton
Dave Frampton
Introduction: The believing church in America has been burdened by passivity, that grand art of doing nothing. There are various causes for this passivity, such as overreaction to liberal, salvation by works theology, or of the desire for freedom from hardship and work in helping. But we will not discuss such things today. Instead, let us concentrate on our responsibility to be doers of good. Let us ask ourselves, why should we be doing good? What encourages us to do good? How can we do good?
I. Two solemn principles (7-8)
A. The character of God: he cannot be mocked.

1. This speaks of your attitude; you cannot successfully turn your nose up at God. He will justly act to display his surpassing worth.

2. Some people think they can treat God with contempt by living their own way. Something like, “God really does not care how I live, as long as I believe in Christ.” What this actually shows is a heart still in rebellion against God and his ways. Those who change their mind about God and sin, trust themselves to Christ, who only can save them from their sin.

B. The law of harvest: you reap what you sow.

1. This is true in a natural sense; everything produces according to its own kind.

Illustration: Consider Sharon’s friendship garden that some have worked so hard to keep it going. Whatever is there, whether lilies, irises, roses, produces after its own kind.

2. It is also true in the spiritual sense.

a. Whatever is done for the flesh will only produce corruption; whatever is done for the Spirit will yield eternal life. “Corruption” speaks of all that is miserable to human existence: spiritual, physical, eternal suffering, anguish, pain and grief. “Eternal life” speaks of the fullness of joy, peace and experiencing the glory of God forever.

Point: Here is the truth expressed by the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We receive eternal life completely by grace, but eternal life is alive. Grace produces living fruit consistent with the truth of the living, holy God.

b. Paul uses a greater principle to enforce a lesser obligation. Being generous to meet the needs of others is sowing to the Holy Spirit.

Quote: “Our liberality is hindered by the idea that whatever passes into the hands of another is lost to ourselves, and also by the fact that we are always anxious about ourselves in this life. Paul meets this idea with the comparison of seed-time and says that when we do good we are sowing seed.” [Calvin] II. An encouraging promise (9)
A. A sure return on our investment

1. Contrast between the Lord’s capabilities and the world’s; too often the world disappoints even in the temporary benefits it offers.

2. God has a set time of payment. It can look like it’s a long time until payday, but we must be patient!

B. A spur to continued activity

1. Our tendency to weariness

Quote: “The great cause of weariness in well-doing is a deficiency of faith, and a corresponding undue influence of present and sensible things. . . Nothing is so much calculated to produce langour as a suspicion that all our exertions are likely to be fruitless; and nothing is better fitted to dispel it than the assurance that they shall assuredly be crowned with success.” [Brown]

2. We should become, as we follow the Spirit’s leadership, self-controlled rather than circumstance controlled. What we are in Jesus Christ should hold sway over how we act, rather than the events of life.

Illustration: It sometimes gets hot when the farmer gathers in his hay, but he must get it in anyway.
III. A necessary practice (10)
A. The time to do good—as we have opportunity

1. In the largest sense, our whole life is our opportunity to do good, for when we are gone, we are unable to work any longer.

2. In a more particular sense, it is when we see a need in another’s life.

Comment: If you are burdened to help someone, then you ought to be sure you do help him. If you see a need, you are supposed to be part of the solution in some way. Perhaps you are not able to fully meet the need. Few people are, and the Lord has put us together in the body of Christ to help one another.

B. The objects of our care.

1. Followers of Christ have a general responsibility to all men. We ought to feel the needs of others who are made in the image of God. In this way we imitate our Father in heaven (Mt 5:43-48).

2. We also have a primary responsibility to all believers, especially to those of our local partnership (cf. Eph 2:19; 1 Tm 3:15; 1 Pt 4:17). One of the distinguishing marks of the church is faith.

a. Our first responsibility is to care for those of our spiritual family, whether in our own local assembly or elsewhere.

b. We can also do other good works to our spiritual family that are not possible to other people (Heb 3:12-13).

Application: How can we help?
1. By contributing to the church’s benevolent fund
2. By calling others on the telephone—a ministry of encouragement
3. By visiting others, like those in nursing homes or hospitals
4. By organizing groups for extra help, like “Men of Action”
5. By making food for others when there is illness, when someone is in the hospital, or after a funeral
6. By cleaning someone’s house for them, especially during serious illness
7. By using your skills, such as auto mechanics or plumbing, to help in emergency repairs
8. By driving someone some place they need to go, like the doctor’s or for groceries
9. By watching someone’s children—in their home or during a ministry activity
10. By making a gift to cheer someone up
11. By sending cards or encouraging text messages
12. By sharing a family activity, like Thanksgiving dinner or watching a movie together
13. By having someone over for dinner, particularly someone who is not in the position to return the favor (Lk 14:12-14)
14. By helping someone improve themselves—teach them to learn English, to read, to help them lose weight, to study the Bible
15. By giving someone a place to stay when they’re travelling
16. By giving a meal to visiting speakers
17. By taking someone out for coffee or tea
18. By going for a walk with someone to help them relax
19. By taking a shift in caring for a shut-in
20. By keeping your eyes open to whatever needs you see in others