Lou: That was a beautiful statement at the end, and it touches me deeply. But it seems to me that the very title of this chapter implies that there are many sincere individuals who have seen God’s law as a threat to our freedom. Many Christians feel that God’s law is something from which they want to be free. For example, I’ve heard people quote Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the law.” Doesn’t that verse imply freedom from the law? What does that text mean?
Graham: I don’t think God wants us to stop loving, or to be disorderly and live in chaos, do you? The text needs to be analyzed, first for the words and then for the context. First of all, the word “end.” One rare but possible meaning is “purpose,” Christ is the goal or purpose of the law, but I doubt that’s the meaning in the context. I do think it means termination, all right. Law here does not have an article in front of it, so it is not referring to any particular law. Paul, all the way through the book of Romans, is contrasting the obedience that springs from love and trust with the obedience that springs from law. And the obedience that springs from law is often the obedience that comes from fear, and that can turn us into rebels even as we obey. So when Paul comes to 10:4 the meaning is, “Christ is the termination of law as a way of being saved.” Christ is the end of legalism. Phillips has a marvelous rendering of that. “Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness by works of law, that everyone who has faith in God may be saved.” That’s beautifully done.
Lou: But along with a text like Romans 10:4, I think of the one in Romans 6 which I could hear someone asking about. It says, “We are not under the law, but under grace” (based on Romans 6:14). Isn’t that more evidence freedom is not under the law but under grace?
Graham: Again, that depends on the meaning of being “under the law.” People often explain that as meaning we’re not under the “condemnation” of the law. For Paul, I think, it has to do with our relationship with God. We’re not under law, we’re under grace. We are not dealing with a legalistic God. We are dealing with a God who is graciousness personified. So Paul is saying, “If you realize that you are dealing with a gracious God, it helps you get rid of sin.” Because when you’re dealing with God in a legalistic manner, it actually provokes the very sin you are trying to avoid.
You may remember that in Romans 7 Paul describes this very thing. He says, “There was a day when I looked at the law and it provoked me to sin. Especially commandment number ten irritated me (based on Romans 7:7-11), until I realized God’s gracious purpose in giving it to us. Now I delight in the law” (based on Romans 7:22 and 8:2). So one really cannot understand law until one understands God’s gracious purpose, which means one has to know what He’s like. And that’s Paul’s message. We do not deal with a God of legalism, but a God of graciousness. It makes all the difference in the world. It places the law in its proper context.
Lou: This reminds me of Paul’s statement in Romans 14:5. Speaking in the context of the Sabbath he says, “Let everyone be persuaded in his own mind.” Isn’t that just leaving it up to personal choice? What should we really make of this?
Graham: I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that you’re not free to make up your own mind on any of the other commandments. It seems to me that if we have not made up our own minds freely about God, then our worship is worthless. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” is the way God approaches us about everything He asks us to do. It isn’t just with respect to the Sabbath. When it comes to love, trust, obedience, you name it, we are free to make up our own minds. That’s why He says, “Don’t go around condemning other people.” God does not condemn them. Everyone is free to make up their own mind.
Lou: But God isn’t saying that all roads lead to the same place or that it doesn’t matter what choice you make, is He?
Graham: No, He isn’t, the choice you make is very important, but it must still be yours. God is not going to force you to do what is right or what is best for you. Now before Paul knew God was gracious, before the Damascus road, he would say, “I know some of you are wrong, and I’m on my way to put you into prison and have you stoned.” But when he wrote Romans, there was no more of that! He had learned that we are not under the law but under grace (Rom 6:14).