Tuesday, April 08, 2008

13. Life in a New Dimension

Quite a difficult post today. I will try to make the next one in this series more straightforward!

13. Life in New Dimension

Peter says that there are some things in Paul’s letters that are hard to understand. For me we have come to one of them in this post. Again, the secret is to keep one’s eyes on the big picture and not get bogged down in the minute details of the text. Paul’s main point is, I think, clear.

Paul makes it plain that everyone is already condemned because of sin. This condemnation is not something that is waiting to happen, but is something that has already taken place. The final punishment of those who are condemned may yet lie in the future, but humans stand condemned already:

‘For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings righteousing (justification).’ (Romans 5:16)

Paul then makes the following point:

‘But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through righteousing (justification) leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Romans 5:20-21)

This leads Paul into an explanation of why we should not continue in sin and then what the purpose of the Law was. Subjects discussed in previous posts. This explanation occupies chapters 6 and 7. Paul in these chapters discusses two laws:

1. The Law: God’s Law that includes what we know as the 10 commandments and such commandments as circumcision and the food laws. This Law is good, holy, and true. How could it be anything else?

2. The Law of Sin and Death: this is a Law that all are subject to, whether they like it or not, and it means that we cannot keep the Law even though it is good. Paul has explained in chapter 5 how this means that we all stand condemned.

Then in chapter 8 he writes:

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.’ (Romans 8:1-2)

I have always felt that this verse follows slightly awkwardly from what immediately precedes it. Paul has been talking about our inability to keep the Law and then says ‘There is therefore now no condemnation …’ How does the ‘no condemnation’ follow from what he says about our inability to keep the Law? The answer, I think, is to see Paul returning to his argument in chapter 5, the last time he talks about ‘condemnation’ and the ‘therefore’ as referring to what follows. It is what follows this opening statement in chapter 8 that explains why there is no condemnation for those in Christ. There is, says Paul a third law to add the other two: the Law of the Spirit of Life.

We are given the Law, God’s Law, but cannot keep it because of the Law of Sin and Death. It is because of this failure that we are already condemned. However, for those in Christ, the third law, the Law of the Spirit of Life has set us free from the other two, that is, from both God’s Law and from the Law of Sin and Death. Given that it was these two Laws working together, in an unholy alliance, that resulted in our condemnation, now that we are set free from them means that we are no longer condemned.
It is not that we will not be condemned in the future, we are no longer condemned now. Not only have we been forgiven our past sins, we have been freed from sin and the two Laws that meant we kept on sinning even when we did not want to.

Paul goes on to explain that there are two dimensions that people live in. The dimension of the flesh and the dimension of the Spirit. The flesh is the dimension we are all born into and in which the first two Laws apply (God’s Law and the Law of Sin and Death). The Law tells people in this dimension what God requires of them. The Law of Sin and Death, however, stops them from doing what God requires and the result is condemnation and death. In the future, all those who are now condemned will experience the wrath of God. Paul has explained in chapter two what awaits those who are condemned:

‘For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.’ (Romans 2:6-10)

Our only hope is to be righteoused (justified) now and then to live righteously. By being righteoused (justified) in the present our past sins can be forgiven. By living righteously as slaves of righteousness now, we can escape the future punishment of the unrighteous. If, however, we are to live righteously, we need to enter life in a new dimension where the Laws of the old dimension no longer apply.

This is the dimension of the Spirit and it is the dimension in which we, as those who have faith in Christ, are to live.

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