Thursday, December 11, 2014

The law of liberty - James 2:10-13

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, Do not commit adultery.' also said, 'Do not commit murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:10-13)
In choosing which law we shall live under, James reminds us of the minimal requirements of the Mosaic law, and that being total and complete obedience. To fail the law but once, and in only one regard, is to be guilty of the whole law. The law is an all-or-nothing proposition, just as righteousness is. You are either righteous or your're not and you are either a law keeper or your're not; there are no shades of gray here. Here in lies the problem with the Law of Moses: no one can keep it! We are all weakened by sin and, despite our most heroic efforts, none of us have ever, or can ever, keep the law in its entirety. We may have good days, but we all, from time to time, fail at the law.

The scriptures have made it clear that the penalty for our transgressions of the law is death; perhaps not immediate death, but a death that works like a cancer within us; killing us spiritually and, at last, physically as well. Fortunately, Jesus came to establish another law and to free us from the law of death. "Therefore there is 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) James refers to this new law as the "law of liberty."

The law of Christ is a law of liberty because it springs from liberty rather than merely promising liberty. The Old Covenant promised liberty to all who could keep its law, but its law proceeded from the bondage of man and lead to only greater bondage. Paul, speaking of the law said, "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin." (Romans 7:14) Furthermore, this law kept us in bondage rather than freeing us from it. "So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world." (Galatians 4:3) However, the law of Christ proceeds from our own liberty and freedom in Christ and proceeds to even greater freedom in the Spirit. That is why Paul warns us, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13)

Christ has made us free, and He has given us a law that we might remain free; not a law leading again to legalistic bondage, but a law that invites us to join in His nature and to conform ourselves to His image; a law that frees us from sin, want, and self. Jesus has set us free and His law invites us to make others free as well. When we grant forgiveness over right, mercy over judgment, and compassion over contempt, we participate in the law of liberty; having received it ourselves, we share it with others, thus securing for ourselves even greater liberty and life in the Spirit. Those who have been set free but who hold others in bondage to law will themselves be brought into bondage. However, those who have been given liberty and extend this same liberty to others will secure for themselves liberty in Christ and no condemnation from any law. "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law... Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8, 10) Thus, mercy triumphs over judgment both in others and in ourselves.

David Robison

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