GRACE DISTINCTIONS #2– by Jack Cottrell
II. LAW CODES vs. THE LAW SYSTEM. In this second grace distinction, we are speaking about Paul’s use of the Greek word for “law,” namely, NOMOS. He uses this term many times, especially in Romans and Galatians. See, e.g., Rom. 2:12-15; 3:19-20; 3:27-28; 6:14-15; 8:1-4; Gal. 2:16. Here I am emphasizing a crucial distinction, namely, the distinction between LAW CODES and the LAW SYSTEM.
Understanding this distinction is essential for a proper understanding of grace. Unfortunately, you will almost never see anyone talking about it. It is virtually unrecognized. But I stress (holler, yell) this at you: in Paul’s use of “nomos” (law) you MUST distinguish between law codes and the law system.
When Paul refers to “law,” most of the time he means law codes. A law code is simply the complete list or set of commands given to us by God in his role as CREATOR and Lawgiver, and which we as his creatures are under absolute obligation to obey.
Which law code one is under depends on the historical circumstances under which one lives. In general, all age-of-accountability human beings are under the law code written on all hearts by virtue of our being created in God’s image (Rom. 2:14-15). In addition to that, all Israelites existing between Moses and Christ were under the Law of Moses as their law code. In this New Covenant age, we have a different collection of commands and instructions on how to live holy lives; this is our New Covenant law code. It consists of the instructions on holy living as found mainly in the New Testament.
This means that, yes, we as Christians are under a law code. There are no exceptions, since we are creatures of the Creator and Lawgiver. We are always related to God as our Creator.
Sometimes, though, when Paul uses the word “nomos” (law), he is not referring to any law code as such, but to what I call the LAW SYSTEM. The law system (and there is only one) is the method or program by which one may be right with God by the way he obeys his law code. In other words, totally apart from any consideration of grace or of Jesus Christ, one may be right with God solely in terms of his law code. How this works is the law system. (See point III. below.)
An analogy for these two uses of the word “law” is the way we use the word “medicine.” Sometimes we mean the pills and capsules and tonics we take in doses. Here we speak in the plural; these are our various “medicines.” But sometimes the word “medicine” (singular) is used to mean the WAY or METHOD of treating illnesses (as contrasted, e.g., with prayer, sorcery, or positive thinking). This latter use would refer to the “field of medicine.”
Likewise, a law code is composed of specific laws or commands, whereas the law system is a WAY of being right with God, a way of getting into heaven. It is crucial to know which Paul has in mind when he uses “nomos” (which is usually translated “law”).