Day 4

The Spirit of the Law

from the Romans reading plan

Romans 2:17-29, Deuteronomy 7:25-26, Psalm 51:1-12

“A man’s gotta have a code, a creed to live by…”
– John Wayne

My brothers and I grew up watching Westerns with our dad. It was a Saturday night staple in our household. Good guys and bad guys, gunslingers and cattle ranchers, A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More.

These revered moments gave real-life weight to the words of men like Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, and the Duke himself, John Wayne. Wayne’s call for a code is one I’ve always respected. Of course many different moral systems could be nested under the umbrella of Wayne’s famous saying. For some it’s the golden rule, and for others it’s a fiery pursuit of justice. For still others it’s the commitment to live the way their folks raised ‘em.

Creeds and codes are good. But they meet their greatest contest when the proclaimer of the code fails to keep it. Whether by deliberate choice or in the face of overwhelming opposition, codes eventually break down. What we do then says more about us than any ethic ever could.

Paul was confronting this gut-wrenching sort of breakdown in his letter to the Romans. For his Jewish readers, and for the God-fearing Gentiles among them, the Old Testament law was their code. It was, in it’s purest form, a gift from God. But over-legislation by the religious leaders of the day made the law a crushing and impossible burden to bear.

Paul knew from personal experience that even a deeply focused life dedicated to keeping the code would fall short. This murderer-turned-apostle had seen firsthand the mangled and marred disasters that could be found in the wake of law-based living.

His question, “Do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” begs a response; and his original readers would have intuited that. He is asking us to admit our hypocrisy. Why? So we can truly live. Rather than living as creatures of the code, Paul is calling us to be people living under lavish grace.

If we feel compelled to boast, let us boast in our weakness and in God’s unmerited grace and mercy. Codes, laws, rules—these things are fundamentally helpful, but our hearts are flawed. This is why God entered our litigious and punitive world: to reset the whole broken order. Certainly, we are encouraged to live lives of virtue. I think this is where the Duke got it right. But what sets us apart as New Testament believers is our ability to hand over our shortcomings, and to lay our failures at the feet of a gracious God.

Boast not in your virtue, boast not in your vice, but rather each day offer thanks to God that He covers it all. We fail, each of us, in keeping the code. But we have a Great High Priest who stands over it all. In Him, we can seek virtue, be released from the condemnation of the Law, and find a freedom and grace in Jesus that far surpasses it all.

Written by Andrew Stoddard

Post Comments (13)

13 thoughts on "The Spirit of the Law"

  1. Michael Paul says:

    Father, I am reminded that Funtional Christianity is what we are called to. May I never merely honor You with my lips while my heart is actually far from You. Forgive our Confessional Christianity and our Functional Atheism. May your people seek Your Face and the empowerment by Your Holy Spirit that we may put our sin to death. Especially, the terrible sin of Hypocrisy which does not image forth a Heavenly Father of Grace and Mercy. Hypocrisy is simply what an “unbelieving world finds unbelievable”. You save us in order to change us. Thank You for Grace and may we enjoy Grace ever mindful that we DO NOT deserve it, at all. This is Humility! -AMEN

  2. Michael Lansdowne says:

    Psalms 51:10
    Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.

    I believe this is the daily struggle for us all…
    “our ability to hand over our shortcomings, and to lay our failures at the feet of a gracious God.”

    To understand that no matter what I do in this lifetime I am bound to fall short. I am not perfect and I will make mistakes. The worst thing that I could possibly do is allow my failures to become my burden. There is a God that has already forgiven me. I just need to put my trust in Him and give him my burdens, sins, pain, and failures. When I think of it this way I feel like a weight has been lifted. I know God loves me and I can strive everyday to do my best to follow His example of Love. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for guiding me, accepting me, and allowing me another opportunity to draw closer to you. My boys are counting on me to set a GREAT example. Lord help me to strive for this everyday in Jesus name, Amen.

  3. Chris Greenwood says:

    23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.
    29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
    – Romans 2

    “Codes, laws, rules—these things are fundamentally helpful, but our hearts are flawed. This is why God entered our litigious and punitive world: to reset the whole broken order.”

    Lord, help me to recognize when I am wrongly placing my hope, trust, and effort into the hands of the law. It is you alone who brings life to this world and those in it.

  4. George Paz says:

    The devotional is true in that God’s grace covers our sin when we fail to keep the “code.” But I wonder if his message takes away the thrust of what Paul is getting it. Left to ourselves, we are all damned. No person (save Christ) can claim to have kept the law perfectly. Whether through outward expression, an inward thought in our heart, or through our lips, we have all sinned before God and stand condemned without the gospel. Lord, forgive me for transgressing your perfect law. Forgive me for judging others, for in so doing, I condemn myself. Thank you for the gospel. I praise you because all my sins have been nailed to the cross and even though I am prone to wonder, you continue to reign me in and keep me in yourself.

  5. Adam says:

    Thanks be to God, however, that the conversation about the law doesn’t end here. If we read this alone, we are prone to forsake the law and scorn anyone who keeps any of it… but that is where it all goes gray. Was Jesus not circumcised and did he not keep the law (not to pharisaical standards)? Did not Paul visit the temple, participate in ceremonies, and have Timothy circumcised? We’re not most of those named in Hebrews 11 (implicitly or explicitly) law abiding Hebrews including the human writer himself, Moses?
    In fact, in Romans the whole keeping of the law is inward with outward manifestations being natural outcomes of that keeping, showing why circumcision is of little value. The law now gives us a starting point both to live in holiness and to know what sin is. Paul will soon describe how it is inward then outward and not the other way around and that forsaking the law shows that you do not know God nor wish to know his creed.

  6. DES says:

    I love the connection here between boasting in the law and the first verse of the Psalm “…according to YOUR great mercy”. I can boast in the “law” and how “good” I am and can feel so self-justified, but i am only saved by His great mercy. A lot of thoughts from yesterday are flowing over and blending with today. The manner in which I judge is a thought that fits well with not boasting in the law and with realizing I am only saved by God’s great mercy. Everyday i realize a little bit more that so much of life is a balancing act. I am to be confident of who I am and what God has called me (a son of the Most High King, the righteous of God, an heir, loved, holy) but need a balance of remembrance that I am nothing except for the grace of God. We were all sinners. To some degree we still are, but in other ways we have been redeemed and made holy.

    Lord, thank you for your love and your mercy. And for choosing to love me. And choosing to forgive me. And choosing to lavish your tender mercies on me. Help me to love you more.

  7. Andy says:

    Following the law is definitely a good practice, but if my salvation is based on being a rule follower, I completely miss the point. All I do is switch out the chains of my sins to the chains of performance: an effort to “win” my ticket to freedom. I only go from one prison to another. Father, thank you so much for your endless love and continued faithfulness despite my shortcomings and outright rebellion. Create in me a new heart and renew my spirit everyday. Amen.

  8. Jeremy Wilson says:

    Our righteousness is filthy rags in the sight of God. Living a morally good and acceptable life in the eyes of this world doesn’t make me holy. Living by a checklist of dos and don’ts that are church approved do not make me holy. The content of my heart, Christ in me, is what makes me holy in the sight of God. May I never boast in anything save God’s mercy bestowed to me in Christ. God, direct my thoughts and desires to be Yours. Make Your dreams my dreams and your plans, mine.

  9. Nathan Selby says:

    The passages make me realize how I am being a hypocrite, but also the psalms 51 makes me feel like it is talking about myself. God knows what I’ve done. It’s right there before Him. I also know what I am doing. And it is very wrong. Please Jesus, create in me a new and clean heart that’s longs for you and your presence. One that wants your love and mercy over my own desires of this world. Please renew my heart and soul God, help me feel and know how significant your sacrifice was for us. Amen

  10. Drew Patrick says:

    The biggest thing that I took from this is a reminder that we had better be be relying on gods grace,

    Not our adherance to the law

  11. Del’Shawn says:

    Wow. What a word. Paul says that we are not to live solely by the law but live under God’s gracious mercy and power to wipe away our iniquities. That is the true power. That is our revelation. That is our salvation. God’s Love for us is so vast that it covers our short comings. He wants us to boast of God’s rescue in our moments of weakness. Paul reminds us that God knows that we will fall short of His glory but it is how we handle that shortcoming is what truly matters to God. Do we turn back to him? Do we run, hide in the dark and keep falling short or do we run to God and lay our transgressions before his feet and let him heal us? The latter is better. God wants us to always come to him, no matter what. He wants to wash us and restore us, so we can live and commune with Him.

  12. Trevor Gartner says:

    I think Pauls words in verse 5 make it clear to me. The Jews who proclaim thier “code/circumcision” as their virtue is great if held perfectly, but if not. It is their undoing. Which Paul has just explained in prior verses. It seems I am being asked to throw up my code, (even though I fail that too) to embrace Gods perfect law, and in that take in his Yoke via His Gospel, and embrace the Grace that He has lavished on me.

  13. David says:

    Where would I be were it not for Your grace?
    I am a wretched sinner apart from You.
    I am selfish on my own. I seek my own gratification. I chase initial momentary highs at the expense of long term problems.

    Lord, were You not infinitely gracious, I would be infinitely lost. I throw myself upon Your mercy and plead with You according to Your promise that You would see through to completion the good work You began in me.

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