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Mark McCulley
Judge by the Gospel


A "Killing Instrument" and Not The Gospel? Romans 9:32

Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

In order to perform its killing function, the Mosaic covenant was law demanding perfection with the power to condemn... Law (mosaic or new or whatever law) is not simply a tutor that "reveals" sin or makes people aware of sin. Romans 5:20 says that the law (Mosaic for sure here) entered that sin would increase, not simply knowledge about sin. The law does not merely "kill" by making us thinking of things we should not do that we would not have thought of before; the main way that the law kills is that it is used by idolaters (us all by nature) to try to justify ourselves before God (I did it, or I did enough of it...)

So the law kills, leads to death, and if no gospel, only that. But in some cases, those under the law are brought to see that they are dead. As difficult as Romans 7 is, I think this is the meaning of verse 9: "I was alive once without the law, but when the commanded came, sin revived and I died." We were dead by nature, and already sinners: Romans 3:20 by deeds of law no flesh justified. But in this case, this is a good killing, it's life to see that you are dead and to see that any and all righteousness to be found in the law (Phil 3:9) is insufficient to stand before God.

But did the Mosaic law announce clearly that it was a "killing instrument" and not the gospel? If it didn't, who could blame any Jew for using the law wrong to be saved? The central text discussed in this connection is Romans 9:32--They did not seek if by faith, as it were by works of law.

The new perspective says that there is not law and gospel, but only a right way and a wrong way of pursuing the law, and that the gospel is the right way of pursuing the law. The most interesting rebuttal to this I have recently is an essay by David Gordon in WTJ (spring 1992): Why Israel did not obtain Torah Righteousness; A note on Romans 9:32

Gordon writes that the verse should be translated not "as if it were", but "because the law is not of faith" in line with Gal 3:12. "The qualification works-and-not faith in Gal 3:10-13 is parallel to the qualification works and not faith in Romans 9:32."

"If one group attained what the other did not, the difference between them might lie in the manner in which they pursued it...This is now what Paul says however. The two groups did not pursue the same thing (the gentiles pursued nothing)...Paul's point therefore is NOT that the Gentiles pursued righteousness in a better manner (by faith) than the Jews. Rather, God's mercy gives what is not even pursued."

Mark: But then what will we do if we can't tell "carnal Christians" that their "future justification" depends on 1. their pursuing and 2. how they pursue? Surely, we would not want to go back to that old dangerous teaching of Bunyan that God justifies the ungodly and does it before sinners even take the first step!
"When Paul asks why the Jews did not attain unto the Torah, his answer addressed the NATURE of the covenant (Torah demands perfect obedience), not the nature of the PURSUIT of the Torah."

The Mosaic covenant was never the gospel. The Arminians who say "we do it the right way, with the faith technique offered" do not understand the gospel: God did it. God did it at the cross, for the elect. We don't do it.

BTW, there is a new book of essays coming out with a critique of the new perspective. It's called Christ Our Righteousness and I read about it in an excellent essay by Mark Seifrid (SB Seminary) in a recent Themelios.

Mark McCulley

Copyright © 2000 by Mark McCulley. All rights reserved.