What is the Law? – Romans 8:3

By sending his Son, God accomplished what the law could not. But to what does the law refer in this Romans 8:3? Law may refer to the Mosaic Law, keeping to the context of Romans 7:1-12 or as a “principle” as in 7:21 (the “sin principle”).

Torah-fingerJames Dunn and N. T. Wright argue Paul is consistently contrasting the Mosaic Law (or at least the boundary markers of the Law) in Romans 7 and it makes sense he should continue to contrast the written code (7:6) and the law of the Spirit. Although the Law promised life to those who kept it perfectly, it was powerless to deal with the real problem facing humanity, the problem of sin.

Colin Kruse argues the second view is preferable since it makes Romans 8:1 a continuation of 7:21-25. There is a principle at work in the people who desire to do what is good, but find themselves doing what they know to be wrong. The person who is in Christ is freed from the sin principle (7:25) and is not able to be punished for that sin principle because it has been fulfilled by Christ.

A problem is Paul’s description of the Law as weak (ἀσθενέω, v. 3). The verb refers to something that is weakened, perhaps by illness. This is often the word-group used in the Gospels for those who are healed by Jesus. But Paul uses the word for any kind of weakness or inability, including the “weak brother” in Romans 14 who is unable to eat meat due to their conscience. In chapter 7 the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to define sin so that humanity could be justly punished and know they are in need of a savior. That is not a weakness or inability, but rather the purpose for which the Law was originally designed.

In either case, this law is powerless to set people free from the power of sin which results in a downward spiral into more sin and finally in death.

7 thoughts on “What is the Law? – Romans 8:3

  1. A fact that has always been true about rules or laws is that people tend to break them. Keep in mind that the first rule broken happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Another true fact to consider though is that the laws are often set in place to keep people safe at all times. However, God blessed us with the gift of autonomy- we are free of choice and granted free will. He allows us to make our own choices in every situation and circumstance that comes to be. So, if we choose to break the law knowingly then there are consequences and repercussions that we must face. Going back to Adam and Eve, their actions lead to sin infesting the earth and all the people in it. The last statement of the blog post mentions how although the law is meant to set us free it also causes people to fall even more. I am a firm believer that whenever we try to do good, that is when we are most tempted by sin. Following the laws of God especially should not put us in bondage, but it should bring us closer to Him. The closer we get to God the more the enemy plays tricks to deceit us. In the Bible Adam and Eve were one of the very few who walked alongside God in such an intimate way. Us as a people in our rightful place is not what the enemy wants. So, the more we follow the laws the more he will try and get in between our chances of growing closer to God.

  2. The law is seen as weak according to Paul because all the law does is show us our transgressions. The law only shows us what’s wrong and what’s right. I like how P long says that the law typically makes people look for what is good, but then end up finding what they are doing wrong. In my reading of Romans, I have found that in Romans 4 where we see how Moses was made righteous through his a simple act of faith. It wasn’t because Moses obeys the law but because Moses is so faithful to God and his promise. In Romans 4, we see Paul say that the law is there to show us our transgressions, but this is why our salvation depends on our faith. The law can’t save us, only through faith in Jesus can save us from our deserving death. Longenecker says “death cannot undo the salvific effect of bringing God’s love top creation in bondage, through Jesus’ death and resurrection (Longenecker 185)” the law may show us how we deserve death, but it’s Jesus died on the cross that saves us. Romans 3 plainly says that God could do what the law could not do.

  3. Firstly, the law that was given to us by God was a reminder of the wickedness of the human condition’s inability to conform or comply with the law. It was never intended to reflect a person’s goodness and righteousness, rather a person’s sinfulness and inability to respond to God’s demand. Apostle James makes it very clear when he describes the law as a mirror, which only reflects the sinfulness of a person. Paul also said in Romans 7:10 “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death (NIV, Romans 7:10). The reason why a person can’t conform to the law was, the law itself was spiritual, and the unspiritual and sinful person cannot follow such a spiritual law. Therefore, abiding by the law, Paul’s view only subject to eternal death. But, thankfully, Paul offers how one can be set free from the law. And the only option to be released from the law is to be ‘in Christ’ because Paul said in Romans 8:2 “the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

  4. I like the comment you made that God sent his son to accomplish what the law could not. The law points out right versus wrong, but does not have any power over salvation. Salvation can only occur when you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead to be your personal savior. Since this is the only way to the Father, then why even do good works? Why not sin that grace may abound? There are many answers to those questions…the answer that makes most sense to me is this: When we accept Jesus Christ completely into our heart, the Holy Spirit plants itself in us and slowly over time Jesus transforms our heart to become more like his. So, though works do not save us, good works will naturally happen when we truly accept The Lord. Good works will happen naturally when we become a Christ follower.

  5. I think it is such interesting wording to say that the law is powerless or weakened. It was something that was good and provided us with an eternity life opportunity, but sin destroyed its purpose. Even though sin ruined that possibility, God was still able to use it. As stated above “the Mosaic Law was to define sin so that humanity could be justly punished and know they are in need of a savior.” Even though it lost its actual purpose to sin, it was still used to show His goodness and love for us. “Jesus took on the likeness of sinful flesh” (Moo, 117). Him doing that, leading a sinless life, and dying on the cross took care of the debt of sin because he was the perfect sacrifice. Knowing that we cannot do anything to change our circumstances, but Jesus did, shows the powerful divide of the flesh and the Spirit; which we now know, as believes, we have access to that same Holy Spirit and it dwells in us (Romans 8:9).

  6. The was needed to guide a new nation of people who had just been freed from slavery. The Law would have guided them to help understand what was right form wrong that does not mean it was able to stop them from sinning. I liked the idea of the law being powerless because it became more difficult to keep as the leaders kept adding to it. What I get from Paul is that even a person who keeps the law is stil going to sin no matter how well they do at keeping the law. Paul points in Ephesians 2:8 that we can not be saved by our works which is what the law was focused on

  7. The law that Paul refers to here is likely the Mosaic law given to Israel. Because of the influence of sin the law was ineffective for salvation. In Romans chapter 7 Paul states clearly that the law in itself is not sin but rather holy. Yet the law defines sin and provides opportunity for sin in the flesh. Sometimes sin increases when one is commanded not to do something. The command, while good, stirs up evil desires (TTP p.184). Through the sacrifice of Jesus believers are liberated from the law which was insufficient for salvation and life by the Spirit. It is the Spirit that allows Jesus-follower to overcome the power of sin so that, in their lives, they could truly fulfill the righteous requirements of the law (TTP p.185). The Mosaic law provided guidelines for right living which showed people that they could not live righteously apart from God. The power of sin could even overcome the intention of one who delights in the law (Romans 7:21-23). The law was given for a season but it’s true power was to direct people towards the saving power of Jesus Christ and a transformed life in him.

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