Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Law on our Hearts

Jeremiah 31:33-34 reads, "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (ESV)

Here the Lord speaks of the New Covenant He will make with His people, a covenant different from the Mosaic covenant that they broke. Instead He will put the law on their hearts and forgive them their iniquity and sin. So here's my question for you all: What is the 'law' he is speaking of writing on our hearts? This passage is reference twice in the NT, once in Heb. 10:16-17 where it is quoted directly, and Rom. 2:15 (note also preceding and following verses) where the 'law is written on their hearts' is again referred to. It seems, especially in the Romans text, that this is referring to the 'natural law' that is evident to all mankind apart from specific revelation, by which all mankind is held guilty before God for sin. This text also seems to put no limit on the timeframe in which this law on our hearts exists (i.e. before the New Covenant). However, the Jeremiah text seems to refer to this law written on the hearts that is something that is specifically revealed and within a timeframe (i.e. at the institution of the New Covenant). So again my question is what the 'law written on the hearts' of the New Covenant is. The Hebrews passage seems to deal more directly with the Jeremiah passage, and explicitly connecting the New Covenant to Jesus' one perfect sacrifice. So is the law here 'law' in the broad sense of God's Word as a whole, inclusive of both Law and Gospel? (cf. the Formula of Concord article V explanation of the Scripture's use of law--strictly speaking, and gospel--strictly speaking vs. their broad sense). Or is the law on our hearts (accd. to Jer. 31:33) the law strictly speaking, as God's commandments and precepts? Why then is it speaking of forgiveness? I appreciate your feedback on this question.


Keith A. said...

In Rom. 2:15 and surrounding, St. Paul is writing how only those who obey the law are justified (2:13). Jews received the law but that in itself does not save them (2:13, not the hearers of the law who are righteous), and Gentiles were not given the law as the Jews were, but one may still be a 'doer of the law' (2:14, by nature do what the law requires, etc.).

He then instructs the Jews in how regardless of having the law or even teach it, if you do not obey it (2:21-22) you break it and thereby dishonor God. Then circumcision is shown to be of the heart, that is, one is circumcised and thus of the Covenant with God, when one obeys the law regardless of their fleshly circumcision (2:25-27). In this way, all who are obedient to the law are Jews and all who are disobedient not Jews (2:28-29).

Romans 3 then goes on to show how no one, Jew or Greek, is righteous, and so forth, which you already know.

The short answer: The Romans passage is most certainly dealing with the 'natural law' that condemns mankind.
St. Paul has drawn a contrast showing that merely being of those who received the law by Moses is meaningless as even the Gentile has been given this law and stand condemned by it.

Romans 7 speaks of the "law of God" served in St. Paul's mind while in the flesh he serves the "law of sin". Here, of course, are two different laws, one obviously the aforementioned condemning law and the other the grace of Christ. Here, I think, is a more direct reference to Jer. 31. For the law of God, that is Christ, has freed us from the bondage of sin and gives us access to God. We know that no one who has even the slightest blemish upon his soul could stand before God and "'Know the LORD'" (Jer. 31:34), for the righteousness of God would surely blast him! However, God has forgiven us through he who is the fulfillment of the law, the one sacrifice for all (Heb. 10:10).

Thus, the law spoken of in Jeremiah and Hebrews is the law of God spoken of in Romans 7, that is the Gospel.

I think, however, that we will not realize the fullness of having God's law written on our hearts until in heaven, for in our flesh we still obey the law of sin. Jeremiah seems to speak more towards this aspect, as evidenced by 31:38-40, which tells of the city being rebuilt and how the parts wherein death resides (31:40, valley of the dead bodies and the ashes) will be sacred. These things will "not be uprooted or overthrown anymore forever". Certainly eschatological to me.

Josh Schneider said...

Thanks for your reply. I agree w/ your exposition of Romans, and also that Rom. 7:22 is probably a more direct ref. to Jer. 31. And also that there is an eschatological element to Jer. 31. However, the statment you made, "Thus, the law spoken of in Jeremiah and Hebrews is the law of God spoken of in Romans 7, that is the Gospel" I disagree with.

I don't think we can simply flip the words and say that the Law of God (Rom. 7:25) is really the Gospel. First of all, the Romans 7 text is speaking of the spirit-flesh struggle of the new believer in sanctification, and the 'law of God' that he delights in, in his inner being is the law that teaches him the good things that he wants to do. So this law of God, teaches him the good he ought to do, but it does not enable him to do so. As such, it cannot be the Gospel, for the Gospel refers to Christ's action not ours, and IS what enables us to do good.

Which brings us back to Jeremiah 31 and Heb. 10. The Law written on the heart, (same law as Rom. 7:22) must be actually law. But what distinguishes the Old Covenant from the New seems to be that the Old Covenant was law given externally, which no one kept. The New Covenant, is defined by forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34), but also includes the giving of the Law internally. Jeremiah doesn't seem to indicate that this Law on our hearts will be the basis of salvation, but rather the forgiveness. The Law has no part in justifying faith (Gal. 3:12), but faith does not abolish the law, but rather upholds it (Rom. 3:31). This last paragraph I was helped considerably by consulting Walther's Law/Gospel and Pieper's Dogmatics today, regarding those verses. They didn't give an entirely satisfying explanation of my question, but helped elucidate those last few points.

So what do you think? This explanation leaves the law on the hearts as law, but along with the text gives no justifying value to the law.

Keith A. said...

That makes sense to me.

In my defense, when considering the third use, which I believe is part and parcel of "having the law on the hearts" in the New Covenant, I tend to use Gospel in the broader sense. That law doesn't justify (none do, of course), but is only followed by the justified (by God's gracious hand, etc.). Thus it follows our salvation temporally and lasts only so long as we remain in Christ, and so I speak of the Gospel.

But you were right to disagree with my words. It too easily leads to confusion of Law and Gospel (not to mention my phraseology was just plain wrong anyway). *slaps self on wrist*

SerenDip Man said...

I bring you this message from my Guru, the Swami Shyamananda, who is as much at home with the Christ, as he is with the Buddha, or Krishna. We can all learn from this enlightened soul

May the peace of the universal spirit bless you

Swami Shyamananda

Josh S said...

Whoa man, that was like really deep. I'm trippin' out on like, this universal spirit stuff. Ya dig?

Josh Schneider said...

Keith, I have no problem with your explanation of it as Gospel (or rather Law) in the broad sense as the whole Word of God. I think that is even indicated by the use of the word 'torah' in the Hebrew of Jer. 31.

To Serendip man: if you really understood Jesus Christ's teachings, you could not be as 'at home' with him as with Buddha or Krishna. Jesus taught that He was the *ONLY* way to the Father (John 14:6). There is only one God and one way to salvation, and that is through Jesus Christ.

Keith A. said...

It would seem the swami follower never responded. Not really surprised at that. I guess we witnessed a drive-by proselytizing attempt.

Stuart Floyd said...

Josh, nice website. I look forward to reading your sermons and Biblical expositions in the future.

Phil Hodson said...

The Jeremiah passage has been taken as a prophecy of the New Covenant benefits in Christ, namely the coming of the double-grace of Justification and Sanctification in an eschatological way. The law written on the heart is counterposed to the law on stone which had no power. The law written on the heart is the sanctification to reflect the image of God as it now has been seen in the crucified and raised Christ Who has now sent down His Spirit in order that through our union with Him we might overcome sin and out of gratitude and love for Him now keep His commandments, the greatest of which is to love as He has loved, which is to take up our crosses and offer ourselves to Him and toour neighbors (two greatest commandments=law) as living sacrifices, i.e. greater love hath no one than this.
The forgiveness of sins on the other hand is the forensic benefit we have in Christ as He forgives all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight through our having His verdict rendered to our account. So it's Jsutification and Sanctification. It acquittal and renovation. It is peace with God and victory over sin. It is acceptance and deliverance. Peace, Phil Hodson