|RIGHTEOUSNESS: The Law As Witness To The Righteousness Of
God In Christ
Mark A, Seifrid
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Feb 13 2009 08:00AM
When Paul rejects the saving value of the 'works of the law' in Galatians and Romans, he does so with full recognition
that he is dealing not merely with a misreading of the law, but with the law itself. The law is a 'law of works', which
demands deeds of obedience in order to obtain the offer of life (Romans 3:27; 10:5; Galatians 3:12). This misuse of
the law lies in the refusal which entails seeking to be justified before God by the 'works' which lie within our power
(Romans 3:20). In its manifestation of sin, the law bears witness to Christ. That is its divine purpose, which we shall
now explore in selected texts from Paul's letters.
Selected passages from Galatians
As we briefly discussed earlier, although Paul's letter to Galatia obviously was prompted by controversy, his argument
appears less shaped by the immediate problem there than by his own 'biblical theology'. At least initially, he formulates
his attack upon the Galatians' acceptance of circumcision in terms of the 'works of the law'. Nevertheless, we have just
observed, Paul recognizes that the law itself requires works. When he speaks of the 'works of the law' in Galatians, he
immediately turns to discussion of the law proper, first in his brief description of his rebuke of Peter at Antioch (2:15-21),
and then in his extended argument in 3:1-4:7. His adversaries have rightly grasped the obvious demand of the law
upon which blessing or curse follows. They have failed, however, to see the extend of the law's claim upon their
persons and the place of the law in service to the promise.
Since we have already discussed the 'works of the law' and the connection Paul draws between life and righteousness,
we shall here focus upon a single, significant statement about the law in 2:15-21.
In elaborating his confrontation of Peter at Antioch, Paul asserts: 'If seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves are
found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? By no means! For if I again build those things I have done away
with, I establish myself as a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God ' (verses 17-19).
In context, Paul has just distinguished between 'we who are Jews by nature' and 'sinners from among the Gentiles.' Now
he makes them equal. Even 'a person of the works of the law' is justified through the 'faith of Christ' alone. 'We' Jews
who 'seek to be justified in Christ' have been revealed by God as sinners. We need not suppose a technical use of the
term 'sinner' in this context. Paul does not have in view mere ethnic status, but the judgment of the law. As we have
seen already, Paul here speaks of the justification of believers as lying in the future: they seek to be justified in Christ.
In the meantime they are also sinners according to the law. Paul's question, then, as to whether Christ serves as a
minister of sin is entirely understandable.
His answer is based upon faith in Christ: 'I' have done away with 'those things', i.e., my existence as a sinner and my
relationship to the law. If I should reconstruct them (as Peter had done) I make myself, not Christ, a transgressor. Paul
regards the law itself as sanctioning the severance of his relation to it: 'through the law, I died to the law' (verse 19). In
a very compressed manner, Paul expresses the thought which we encounter in Romans 7:1-6, that the law finds its limit
in its sentence of death. Once that punishment has been meted out, its jurisdiction ceases. Consequently, to re-
establish a relationship to the law after having believed in Christ is to violate the law itself. The one who returns to the
law is a transgressor of it.
The end of our relationship to the law arises from our participation in the cross and resurrection of Christ: 'I died to the
law, in order that I might live to God' (verse 19). As in Romans 7:1-6, we here meet an 'either-or'. Life before God and
service to him are possible only where there is freedom from the law. Although Paul does not develop the thought here,
he is preparing already for his instruction of the Galatians concerning the 'new obedience' brought by the Spirit of God.
Paul, and all who believe, live 'by the faith of the son of God' and know the reality of Christ living in them (verse 20).
Before the law we are sinners, in him sin has been overcome.
As we have seen, in Galatians 3:1-4:7 Paul describes the law as the means to the fulfillment of God's promise to
Abraham. Its purpose is therefore circumscribed. Those who believe are justified with Abraham and receive his
blessing (3:9). This blessing is mediated through Christ, Abraham's seed, in whom God's promises have been fulfilled
and through whom they are distributed (verse 16). Those who have been 'clothed' with Christ and belong to him are
Abraham's seed (verses 26-28, cf. 19). They are heirs of sonship and of the age to come (verse 29). The law cannot
displace or add conditions to God's promise to Abraham, since it represents an unalterable 'decree' or 'ordinance'.
This priority of the promise raises a serious problem, of course. If the promise is unchangeable, the law seems to serve
no purpose: 'Why then the law?" (verse 19). Paul has a simple answer to the question. The law serves the promise,
and not vice versa (cf. Romans 4:13-15). The law performs this ministry, moreover, in a backwards and contrary way,
effecting the very opposite of what the promise offers. It was given in order to effect transgressions and has brought
about the curse which it threatened (verse 10, 19). In a strange work of God, the law has brought condemnation so that
redemption itself might come: 'The Scripture has imprisoned all things under sin, in order that the promise might be
given to those who believe' (verse 22). The curse of the law is the precondition to the fulfillment of God's promise in
Christ. It imprisoned humanity for the 'faith that was to be revealed' (verse 23). Now that Christ has come, it has
become a guardian who temporarily confined us, so that we might be justified by faith (verse 24). The law, which
offered life on the condition of obedience, could not impart life (verse 21). As Paul indicates in the opening of this letter,
the entire 'age' in which we live is evil (1:4). Redemption comes only from beyond, from Christ, who was sent forth from
God and became human, coming to be born of a woman, under the law (4:4-5; cf. 1:1-4).
Paul's line of thought is very similar to that which we saw in Romans 3:19-20. He gives no indication that the demands
of the law in themselves create a sense of guilt within the human being. Indeed, he could hardly suppose that it would
do so, given the Galatians' desire to take the obligations of the law upon themselves. The law rather provides the
visible context for the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ: 'When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his
Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those under the law, that we might receive the
instatement as sons' (4:4-5).
Paul also finds the witness of the 'law' to the gospel in the story of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis 21. The exclusion of
Ishmael from Isaac's inheritance corresponds to the work of the law in 'shutting up everything under sin' (Galatians 2:
22). Not the son born according to the flesh and under slavery, but the son born according to promise and in freedom,
is the heir of salvation. Paul perceives the patter of law and promise in God's dealings with the sons born to Hagar and
Sarah. The former corresponds to human inability and failure despite the greatest of efforts, the latter to the triumph of
the divine word despite the greatest of efforts, the latter to the triumph of the divine word despite all appearances. The
distinction between them lies again in the difference between the work of the fallen human being and the work of God.
Hagar, the slave, signifies the 'covenant from Sinai', whose children are begotten 'according to the flesh'. It
corresponds to the 'present [mount of] Jerusalem', which, according to Paul, is 'enslaved along with its children'. In
contrast, those who believe are children of the free woman, the heavenly Jerusalem. As we have seen, the law is
neither God's first nor last word to us. The first and last word is the promise to Abraham which has been fulfilled in
II Corinthians 3:1-18
The contrast between the 'written code' and 'the Spirit' which we examined above reappears in extensive form in II
Corinthians 3. We will not concern ourselves here with the background of this passage, except to say that it seems best
to read the text as a response to the Corinthian insistence upon letters of commendation. Paul defends his apostolic
ministry in biblical terms, taking the misplaced Corinthian focus on external standards to their ultimate implications by
contrasting the ministry of the gospel with the ministry of the law. The Corinthians are Paul's letter of commendation.
They are a letter 'of Christ' himself, written through the agency of the apostle, not with ink, but with 'the Spirit of the
living God', not upon stone tablets, but upon tablets of 'fleshly hearts' (verse 3).
With this last phrase Paul probably alludes to Jeremiah 17:1, which speaks of the 'sin of Judah...written with a pen of
iron and inscribed with a tip of diamond on the stone tablet of their hearts'. Despite the law which had been given them,
Judah was entirely given over to evil, unable to love and obey the Lord. Nevertheless, God promises to overcome this
incorrigibility by inscribing his law upon their heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Paul recalls both the negative and ironic
passage from Jeremiah and its promissory supplement with his reference to the 'tablets of hearts'. The Spirit of God
performs His work not upon 'human hearts' (as both the NIV and RSV translate kardia sarkinai) but upon 'fleshly hearts',
that is, hearts hardened in rebellion against God, stony counterparts to the tablets of the law. The Spirit of God
transcends the 'plates of stone' given at Sinai by writing the will of God upon hearts formerly inscribed with sin. Subtly,
but firmly, Paul speaks to the Corinthians about their fallen state, and sets the question before them as to whether or
not their minds have been penetrated by the light of the gospel.
This promised inscription of the will of God upon the human heart is effected through the apostolic ministry, which Paul
speaks of here as 'the new covenant' (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Actually, the use of the term 'covenant' is somewhat
misleading, since it may call to mind notions of a contract or mutual obligations into which two parties enter. In biblical
usage, the terms b rît and diatheke generally signify an 'ordinance' or 'decree' which is undertaken by or imposed upon
one party. So, for example, God takes an obligation upon Himself in His promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 and in
contrast places an obligation upon His people in the giving of the law at Sinai. In the passage from Jeremiah, God
promises a new b rît, ''not like the one I made with your fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them up out of the
land of Egypt' (Jeremiah 31:32). This reference to the exodus b rît signifies the law given at Sinai, obedience to which
was the condition for blessing, and of which Jeremiah speaks in an earlier prophecy: 'But this command I gave them,
"Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people" (Jeremiah 7:23).
In Jeremiah 31:31-34 God announces that He will make a new b rît, different from the earlier 'covenant' broken by the
fathers. Now he lays an obligation upon Himself, not upon them. The content of the b rît therefore changes. The law
no longer represents the substance of the b rît, but has become an object of it: God will write the law upon the hearts of
His people. He promises to replace the former commandment with an act which will accomplish that which the
commandment could never achieve. God Himself alone will effect obedience within His people. He will then truly be
their God. The people themselves will no longer need instruction or admonition: to put the matter in Paul's terms, no
'written code'! Each one from the least to the greatest will know the Lord. This new b rît which God takes upon Himself
is predicated upon his utter mercy. He will forgive the iniquity of his people and remember their sin no longer.
Here we may remind ourselves again that Paul does not suppose that the fallen world has passed away, or that
Christian struggle is over. Believers live in the early dawning of the eschaton, not at its high noon. Indeed, Paul writes
to the Corinthians on account of their 'fleshly hearts', and subsequently appeals to them to accept the gospel as if they
never had done so (II Corinthians 6:1-13). His sufferings as an apostle are a testimony to the battle between the new
creation and the old which is taking place in the world (2:14-17; 4:7-18). Nevertheless, through the apostolic
proclamation, the Spirit of God is imparting the new life of the age to come (3:6; 5:17).
Having defined apostolic ministry in terms of this 'new ordinance' or 'covenant', Paul contrasts it with the former
covenant. The 'letter', that is, the written code, 'kills' (3:6). Moses' ministry is one of death and condemnation (verses
7,9). Many interpretations of this passage fail at precisely this point, supposing that the sentence of death which the
law effected represents merely something to be escaped. For Paul, however, Moses' administration is divinely ordained
and represents an essential precursor to the gospel. The Spirit gives life to nothing other than that which has been put
to death (II Corinthians 3:6). The ministry of righteousness arrives only where the judgment of condemnation has been
rendered (verses 7-11). The administration of death is a divine ministry (verse 9). Paul speaks here of the rightful
power of the law to condemn and kill, not merely its weakness.
The ministry of death, inferior though it was to that of the 'new covenant', bore a glory of its own. Indeed, it is precisely
the glory associated with the law that becomes the focus of Paul's interest: 'If the ministry of death came with glory, how
much more shall the ministry of the Spirit be attended by glory?' (verses 7-8). The glory associated with the apostolic
ministry so exceeds the glory of Moses' face as he descended from Sinai, that in comparison the former glory is no glory
at all (verse 10; Exodus 34:29-35). This eclipse of the glory associated with the promulgation of the written code
corresponds to the temporary function of the law. Paul repeatedly makes the point in this passage that the Mosaic
covenant and the ministry which proceeds from it have been 'done away with' or 'annulled' (verses 7, 11, 13, 14). Yet
the earlier glory of the law was actual glory, and establishes its continuity with the gospel. Although the work of the law
is God's 'alien' work, not his 'proper' work, it remains God's work. Consequently, the law points beyond itself to a
greater end: 'Moses used to place a veil upon his face in order that the sons of Israel might not behold the goal of that
which is annulled' (verse 13).
The glory of Moses' face prefigures the surpassing glory of the 'new covenant', and represents the unseen 'goal' (telos)
of Moses' ministry ('that which is annulled'). The administration of death was accompanied by a portent of the better
things to come. At that time Moses enjoyed access to the divine presence, yet he enjoyed it alone. He thereby bears
witness that the law is not God's final word: the first glimmerings of God's 'proper work' appear already in the face of the
minister of God's 'alien work'. Now through the work of the Spirit all who believe behold the glory of the Lord (verses 17-
18). In the ministry of the new covenant the intermediary has been removed or, more properly stated, replaced by
'The sons of Israel' could not endure the former glory, and were afraid to come near Moses (Exodus 34:29-35). He
accordingly covered his face with a veil in order that, in Paul's words, 'they might not gaze upon its glory' (II Corinthians
3:7). Paul interprets Moses' placement of the veil as an act of judgment, signifying the hardening of the minds of the
sons of Israel. They remain so, in Paul's words, 'until this day' (verse 14). The law brought condemnation upon them in
the fullest sense. God had not yet opened their 'fleshly hearts' to perceive the end of his dealing with them through
Moses. Paul does not thereby call into question the capability of Israel to understand the requirements of the law. Nor
does he suggest that the condemnation which came upon Israel was due to some sort of misunderstanding or misuse of
the law. Quite the opposite: the very purpose of the law was to bring death. Rather, the 'veil upon the hearts' of the
Israelites represents their inability to see the purpose of the law. Only by the Spirit, who is given forth in the apostolic
proclamation, is one able to see that the law which puts to death has the gospel which gives life as its goal. Those who
believe gaze at the glory of God not as it is dimly reflected in the face of Moses, but as it shines forth from Christ, the
image of God (verse 18; 4:4-6).
Paul has dealt with the purpose of the law already in a relatively thorough manner earlier in Romans (3:27-5:21). The
law is subordinate to God's promise to Abraham, effecting God's wrath in preparation for God's grace in Christ (2:12-13;
4:13-17; 5:20). Yet he has ascribed a divine purpose to the law which he has not yet explained in this letter: 'through
the law comes the knowledge of sin' (3:20). Up to Romans 7, he has been primarily concerned to place the law within
the course of God's dealings with humanity. Now he completes his treatment of the law by returning to the theme with
which he began, the effect which the law is to have within the human being. His immediate point of departure lies in his
discussion of freedom from sin in Romans 6. He there interjects a declaration which is as startling as it is direct: 'Sin
shall not be lord over you, for you are not under law but under grace; (verse 14). Freedom from sin has its basis in
freedom from the law. This is the theme which Paul takes up in Romans 7. At its opening he suddenly shifts from
speaking of the 'wages of sin' to the topic of the law: 'Or do you not know...that the law has lordship over a person [only]
as long as that person lives?' (6:23-7:1).
The law and sin are joined in the fallen human being: 'When we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which come
about through the law were active in our members so as to bear fruit for death' (7:5).
Our release has been secured in Christ, in whose death we have died to the law (Romans 7:1-4). The law has its
sphere of jurisdiction only within the present, fallen world. Once we have passed through death, it has no claim upon
us. Consequently, those who have died with Christ to the law 'serve in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness
of the letter' (verse 6). Service to God takes place only where there is freedom from the law.
Although 7:1-25 constitutes a distinct unit within Paul's argument, it is quite clear from this last statement concerning
service 'in the newness of the Spirit' that Paul's discussion of the law is not complete without his treatment of the work of
the Spirit in 8:1-11. His description of the 'wretched person' who knows condemnation by the law obviously corresponds
to 7:5, just as his statements about those who 'walk according to the Spirit' in 8:1-11 correspond to 7:6. Consequently,
the two units belong together and must be interpreted together.
In the narrative section of the chapter, Paul is concerned with the bondage of the human being to sin. The text falls into
two distinct sections: a retrospective concerning the encounter with the law followed by an assessment of the human
being under sin (7:7-13, 14-25). The change in tense usage between the two parts has to do with Paul's shifting of his
focus from the encounter with the law, to the fallen person who knows the law. He does not speak of a specific Christian
struggle in verses 14-25. The decisive 'present' of God's work in Christ appears only at the beginning of Romans 8. He
is not merely contemplating his preconversion life either. The confessional introduction to this section and its seemingly
anticlimactic conclusion make it clear that he is speaking about a reality which continues in him, even though it has been
overcome in Christ.
At the outset of his narrative, Paul quickly brushes aside as unthinkable the idea that the law of God has somehow
served an evil purpose. It rather effects God's good intent: 'Is the law sin? by no means! Rather, I would not have
known sin, except through the law' (verse 7). The law imparts the 'knowledge of sin', as Paul has announced already in
Romans 3:20. The commandment against coveting awakened 'all coveting' within him (verse 8). As a result, says Paul,
'I died' (verses 9-10). Sin deceived him, and through the commandment killed him (verse 11). In each one who is
confronted with the law, Adam's transgression is recapitulated, not as a fall from a pristine state (or Paul would not
speak of indwelling sin), but as a re-enactment of the primal sin. This recapitulation takes place, moreover, as the
violation of our responsibility toward our neighbor.
All other transgressions against others (the dishonouring of parents, murder, adultery, theft and false witness, and so
on) have their root in coveting, which is the antithesis of the love commandment. In this commandment the whole weight
of the law comes to bear on us. No one can hide from this commandment in outward deeds or apparent piety. The law
with its offer of life and blessing has become a tool of sin and death (verse 13).
Nevertheless, the divine purpose of the law has not been thwarted. Sin itself remains a tool in God's hand. In deceiving
the human being and bringing about death, the reality of sin is manifest. It openly effects death through the good
commandment which offers life. In Paul's words, sin thereby becomes 'sinful beyond measure' (verse 13). Here we may
speak with Luther of sin as the annihilatio Dei which the law exposes. The human being acknowledges that the law is
good, but does otherwise. The cause of our disobedience lies in our desire to do away with God, who gives the
The first-person pronouns notwithstanding, Paul's tone is dispassionate well into his narrative, more like a physician's
diagnosis than personal reflection. Although Paul speaks of the coveting which the commandment awakened within
him, he treats this encounter and its results in a detached manner: 'This commandment unto life was found for me to be
unto death' (verse 10); 'Sin deceived me and through the commandment killed me, so that the law is holy' (verse 11).
The reality of sin established itself in his encounter with the law independent of any appreciation of it on his part.
The second section of Paul's narrative begins with a confessional statement: 'We know that the law is spiritual, but I am
fleshly, sold under sin' (verse 14). His following reflection and analysis are nothing more than the personalizing of the
truth with which he begins. The 'we' becomes an 'I'. Paul recognizes that which he has confessed as true in him, and
implicitly true in his readers and all human beings - although they must come to own it themselves. Here the fallen
human being comes to a knowledge of the self in the light of the law: 'I do not do what I will, but I do what I hate' (verse
15). This rent in the fabric of the human being between the approval of the law and the practice of evil forms the basis
of the entire analysis. That I 'will' to do contrary to what I actually do shows that I confess the goodness of the law
(verses 14-16). That I act contrary to what I 'will' shows that sin has possessed me (verses 17-20). I know that the law
is good. I know that there is no good in me. Before the law, then, I stand guilty and condemned: 'Wretched person that
I am! Who shall set me free from the body of this death?' (verse 24). The one who approves the law with his mind is
subject to a 'law of sin' which makes him, the one who wishes to do good, a prisoner to the evil which indwells him
In this anguished exclamation, the law has fulfilled its divine purpose. The divine contention which was brought to an
end in the cross has been brought to an end in the human heart (cf. 3:5-8, 21-26). Here we see that 'sin' has
overpowered us in such a way that we are united with 'sin'. What sin does, 'I' do. Sin works coveting, and, in
disobedience to the commandment, I covet (verses 8, 11). 'For me' the commandment which offers life brings about
death (verse 10). I am guilty before God. Nevertheless, the 'self' remains paradoxically passive. 'Sin' takes the active
role, effecting coveting, deceiving me, killing me. In the latter part of Romans 7, Paul states quite directly, and more
than once, that 'I am not the one effecting it [transgression], but sin which indwells me' (verses 17, 20). It is 'I' who
perform the evil, and yet not 'I' but sin which indwells me. All transgression is Adam's transgression recapitulated in
humanity under condemnation, just as all obedience is Christ's obedience in the humanity justified in him. The
confession recalls Paul's earlier announcement that God has 'surrendered' the idolators to transgression (1:24, 26,,
28). The 'I, but yet not I' in Christ has its counterpart in Adam (cf. Galatians 2:20). The person in whom sin dwells is
both guilty and enslaved, and for this reason 'wretched'.
This confession of sin does not exist in isolation, but in conjunction with the knowledge of Christ. Paul's shout of joy
immediately follows his lament: 'Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!' (verse 25a). The deliverance God
has accomplished in Christ becomes manifest only where the full reality of sin and guilt are also manifest, and vice
versa. Freedom from the law is present only where the law arrives at its divine purpose of effecting our
acknowledgment of guilt. Paul's final statement on the matter in Romans 7, which has seemed to many interpreters to
be strangely anticlimactic, in reality summarizes his main point: 'So then, I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but
with my flesh the law of sin' (verse 25b). This final confession is no retreat. Just the opposite: in manifesting the reality
of sin and the nature of redemption, it exposes the battle in which believers are engaged. Anything less is self-
With this background, Paul continues to speak of the theme of deliverance in Romans 8. In sending His Son as an
offering for sin, God 'condemned sin in the flesh', accomplishing that which the law could not do for us (verse 3). In this
manner Christ's death is to bring to 'fulfillment in us' the 'righteous ordinance (dikaioma) of the law' (verse 4). For a
number of reasons, it is best to understand this 'righteous ordinance' as the 'life' which the law offered on the condition
of obedience. Paul begins and ends his thought in this section with a declaration that believers will be raised from the
dead, so that it is quite natural to think that he is speaking of it indirectly in verse 4 (see 8:1-2, 10-11). We have also
seen that Paul characterizes the law in Romans 7 as 'good' and beneficial (verse 12), and that he describes the
commandment concerning coveting as 'the commandment unto life' (verse 9). It therefore makes sense that he now
speaks of the resurrection from the dead as the 'fulfillment of the righteous ordinance of the law'. We have here a
counter part to 1:32, where Paul uses this term to refer to the sentence of death. The same law, after all, both
threatened death and promised life (7:10). In 8:4, then, Paul is simply completing the thought with which he began in
verse 3: what the law could not do, God did in Christ. He vindicated us and gave us the life which the law offers by first
effecting the sentence of death which it pronounces upon us.
While in 1:18 - 3:20 Paul treats the guilt of all humanity, in 9:30 - 10:13 he treats Israel's failure in particular. In a
strange turn of events, while many Gentiles have come to faith in Israel's Messiah, Israel has largely remained
unresponsive to the gospel. Those who were not the least concerned with the pursuit of righteousness have attained it
(9:30). Israel, which pursued 'a law of righteousness', failed to arrive at the law (verse 31). Its guilt therefore consists
not simply in its rejection of the gospel, but in its failure to heed the law itself. Rather than (pursuing) and attaining to
the law (i.e. righteousness) 'by faith', it pursued the law (and its righteousness) 'as if attainment of it were by works'
This 'pursuit of the law by faith' does not constitute some special form of accomplishment of the demands of the law.
We can hardly set aside the message which Paul has presented thus far in Romans when we arrive at this passage. He
surely has not forgotten his declaration that 'apart from the law...the righteousness of God has been manifest' (3:21), or
his assertion that 'the law works wrath' (4:15). This same understanding of the law is implicit in Paul's citation of
Leviticus 18:5 in 10:5 ('the one who does these things shall live by them'). Furthermore, 'faith' for Paul cannot be
regarded as the special means by which one may obey the law properly, since it is not a mere disposition of the human
being. Faith is defined by its content: Israel stumbled against the stone which God placed in Zion and did not submit to
Christ, the righteousness of God (9:33; 10:3; cf. II Corinthians 1:20). To 'pursue the law from faith', as Israel might have
done, would have been to look for and expect 'Christ', who, Paul says, 'is the goal (telos) of the law' (10:4).
What 'Moses writes' is transcended by that which 'the righteousness of faith says' (10:5-8). 'Speaking' stands in
opposition to 'writing' here, just as the Spirit does to 'the letter' in II Corinthians 3. The written commandment addresses
the fallen human being with the offer of life on the basis of obedience: 'The one who does these things shall live by
them' (Romans 10:5; Leviticus 18:5). The 'righteousness of faith' speaks of what God has done in sending His Son (10:
6-8). This is no repudiation of the righteousness of the law which Paul has characterized as 'holy' (7:12). It is rather an
announcement that it has been superseded by the higher, greater righteousness of faith. Whereas the former
righteousness, were it possible, would belong to the human being, the latter is God's alone, revealed in Christ (10:2-4).
Righteousness comes through faith in Christ, and not performance of the demands of the law (10:9-13). This saving
righteousness accords with the promise of Isaiah: 'No-one who believes in him shall be put to shame' (Isaiah 28:16;
Romans 10:5; cf. 9:33). This allusion to the very speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:11-14 does not contradict Paul's
preceding reference to what 'Moses writes'.
Rather, it again places the law within its biblical context. The law which brings death is subservient to Christ in whom
there is life (10:5; 4:15). The law, after all, is God's law and serves His purposes. Paul sees in the gift of the law to
Israel (the gratuity of which is emphatic in Deuteronomy) an anticipation of God's greater gift in Christ. The nomothesia
through Moses anticipates the huiothesia in Christ (9:4). As in II Corinthians 3, the ministry of death bears witness to
the ministry of life.
In the context of Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Moses' declaration of the 'nearness of the word' serves to prevent Israel from
evading its responsibility toward the Lord. In delivering them from Egypt, God had bound them to himself and placed
upon them the obligation of love and obedience. If they do not follow him, they will perish. For this reason, the
commandments which they receive represent God's good gift. By them they will ensure their well-being and preserve
their life in the land. Disobedience will bring destruction, exile, and servitude (Deuteronomy 4:7-8; 5:29; 6:18, 24; 27:1-
28:68). Moses' appeal to the 'nearness of the word' therefore simultaneously reminds Israel of God's gracious
revelation of his will and binds Israel to its obligation. Yet this good law is given to a stubborn and rebellious people
(Deuteronomy 9:4). 'To this day', Moses warns, 'the LORD has not given you a heart to understand, nor eyes to see,
nor ears to hear' (Deuteronomy 29:4). The promised 'circumcision of the heart' which brings obedience lies in Israel's
future, on the far side of judgment, curse, and exile (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).
Paul joins one of these passages from Deuteronomy which speaks of Israel's waywardness to his use of Deuteronomy
30:11-14. The introductory admonition in Romans 10:6, 'Do not say in your heart', echoes a pair of warnings related to
Israel's possession of the land. In one of these, Moses charges the nation not to forget the Lord in the midst of future
blessings by saying, 'My might and the strength of my hand have got me this wealth' (Deuteronomy 8:17). Similarly,
when Israel dispossesses the peoples dwelling in Canaan, she is not to say, 'Because of my righteousness the LORD
has brought me in to possess this land.' Only the wickedness of the nations dwelling there caused Yahweh to drive
them out. And only because of the promise to the patriarchs will he bring Israel, 'a stubborn people', into the land
(Deuteronomy 9:4-7). By appending this warning to Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Paul turns it into an admonition. While
Moses had simply instructed Israel that it need not ask idle questions about discovering God's demands, the personified
'righteousness of faith' warns against pride. In this way Paul renders the text applicable to his larger purpose of
responding to the challenge to God's right as Creator. Israel must not foolishly put itself in the place of God.
ASCEND INTO HEAVEN? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, WHO SHALL DESCEND INTO THE
DEEP? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? THE WORD IS NIGH THEE, EVEN IN
THY MOUTH, AND IN THY HEART: that is, the word of faith, which we preached;" Romans 10:6-8
Righteousness comes as a gift from God who sent forth His Son, delivered him up to die, and raised him from the dead.
No-one can scale the height or plumb the depth of the divine deed. The dimensions of Christ's saving work expose the
vanity of Israel's pursuit of righteousness through deeds of obedience. Not the horizontal course which a human may
run, but the vertical path which God alone can traverse brings righteousness (cf. 9:16, 31). Not one's own 'works of the
law', but the incarnation, cross, and resurrection of God's Son form the only way to salvation. God demands 'mere'
faith, the confession that the crucified Jesus is the risen Lord.
Christ, our Righteousness, by Mark A. Seifrid, Copyright 2000, InterVarsity Press.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES