We have seen in Galatians, Romans, and Colossians that Paul cancelled the Law in no uncertain terms.
When I have brought up the cancellation of the Law, someone always asks, “Oh, so now you can do anything you want? Everything is okay? Adultery is okay? Murder is okay? Incest, rape and bestiality are okay? Give me a break!”
Paul was not stupid. God, for that matter, isn’t stupid, either. We haven’t been left clueless, with no guidance for our lives. God was very clear about continued leading and guidance in the present. Not much of this will be new to you, but it may surprise you that this familiar territory is actually God’s means of guidance in the absence of the Law. And I do need to give a brief account of how God guides us today.
God guides in five main ways, the first three of which are to follow 1) the Spirit, 2) the command to love, and 3) our conscience. In fact, Paul describes the superiority of each of these ways of having God’s guidance, and specifically compares them to the Law.
And note: Every one of the four replacements for the Law is specifically contrasted with the Law in Paul’s book of Romans. Romans, Paul’s most mature discussion of the Law’s cancellation, is the only Pauline book in which the cancelled Law is contrasted with four of its major replacements.
The Law is Inferior, an actual Negative, compared to the Spirit
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:6)
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and
of death. (Romans 8:2)
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:18)
Additionally, Paul devotes two chapters to spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12, 14).
Our Goal is to Love People, not to Obey the Torah
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves
his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Galatians 5:14)
And, of course, the entire thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians is devoted to love.
(Note: we are not told, “The way to love people is to obey the Law.” What we are told is “the way to obey the Law is to love people.” Loving is, from first to last, our only priority when it comes to issues of love and the Law.)
Even Gentiles have the Law–Written on their Hearts (Conscience)
When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)
In addition to this discussion about the law of God being written on the gentile heart (the conscience), there are four chapters given over to detailed discussions of conscience (Romans 14-15; I Cor 8, 10).
Curious thing, Paul dedicates four chapters to explaining how the conscience works, only for evangelicals to come along and dismiss the conscience as being far too subjective and malleable, too capable of being compromised–quite inferior to the objective, written canon of scripture.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with various verses declaring the primacy of love, the command to walk in the Spirit, and the importance of keeping a clear conscience, so I’m not going to list them here. What I would like to do is give you a rough comparison of their occurrence in Paul’s epistles.
- Spirit (over 140 times and two chapters)
- Love (over 100 times and one chapter)
- Conscience (over 20 times and four chapters)
Paul unceremoniously cancelled the Law, and the fourth thing he put in its
place may surprise you.
- Human Government
Human governments are called “governing authorities” (NASB, NIV) and “higher powers” (KJV, ASV) (Romans 13: 1, 5, 6).
Human governments deal, however imperfectly, with most of the problems people are concerned about when they object to Paul’s canceling of the Law. I haven’t studied this, but I’m confident that if you look at most human governments, you’ll find that they 1) outlaw murder, 2) regulate sexuality, 3) outlaw perjury, 4) punish theft, 5) discourage graft, 6) encourage respect for authority, etc. There will be variations, of course, inconsistent enforcement, and “weird laws,” but human beings have this God-given penchant for developing rules so that everyone knows what is fair and what isn’t. We want justice.
Living out our Christian lives in an institution over 2,000 years old, and living in a democracy, our situations are not identical to Paul’s. Having said that, Paul gave us the four major elements that would provide for guidance once we understood that we were no longer under the Law.
There is one very significant fact I haven’t mentioned yet. You may know that Romans is Paul’s most theologically developed book. In Romans Paul gives his most detailed critique of the law. Then, after he writes his devastating critique of the Law, demonstrating its weakness, he writes three solid chapters (chapters 13, 14, 15) on human government and human conscience.
Romans discusses all four subsititutes for the Law: 1) the Spirit (7:6; 8:2), 2) love (13:8, 10), 3) conscience (2:15) and 4) human government (13: 1-7). As we know, “love” and “spirit” are ubiquitous in Paul. “Conscience” is missing from five Pauline epistles, and “government” is mentioned in only three. What the “conscience” elements lacks in ubiquity, however, is more than made up for in concentrated discussions–two chapters in Romans and two in I Corinthians. And the Romans discussion of “government” seems to be the most concentrated discussion of human government in the Greek scriptures.
The Pauline passage most often quoted commending the scriptures to us is from one of the Pastoral Epistles, II Timothy 3: 14-17, and the second is I Corinthians 10:1-13, which follows a distant second for many of us in terms of familiarity. The Corinthian passage does quote the Law, but by way of “example,” not a command. The passage is specific with reference to the sin of idolatry.
It is certain that Paul’s cancellation of the Law did not prevent him from using for ministry the material it contained. His use, however, does not negate the fact of the Law’s cancellation.
Of these five sources of guidance–the Spirit, the Law of Love, Conscience, Human Governments, and Scripture–the one to which he gives the least attention is Scripture.