Illogical Law

A World of Difference

There is a huge difference between the purpose of the law in the spiritual realm and in worldly society, yet they are both for our benefit.

Spiritually – God’s law is righteous (Romans 7:12), but anyone who relies on the law is cursed. (Galatians 3:10.)

Societally – Worldly laws operate differently.

The authorities that exist have been established by God. … Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:1, 5.)

But what happens when it is the authorities themselves who need governing? How can judges know how to order their lives in appropriate ways?

Enter the Code of Judicial Conduct, six canons of ethics that consist of numerous subparts. They cover everything from “A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary” (Canon 1) to things like “A judge shall not serve as executor, administrator, or other personal representative, trustee, guardian, attorney in fact, or other fiduciary, except for the estate, trust, or person of a member of the judge’s family, and then only if such service will not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.” (Canon 4E(1).) And in case you’re wondering what a “fiduciary” is, the code defines that for you. (It defines “family” too, so there’re no slip-ups.)

I do a lot of work with judicial ethics. I teach ethics classes to judges from one end of the state to the other, sit on ethics panels for judicial conferences, and chair a statewide ethics committee that (among other things) operates an ethics hotline. The judges who call the hotline or who come up to speak to me after a class or panel presentation are constantly asking how they can make sure to stay within the canons’ guidelines.

They ask about things like charitable fundraising (generally prohibited) and campaign fundraising (allowed for judicial elections, otherwise prohibited). They ask about receiving gifts from family and close friends (go ahead, the law’s not a complete Scrooge), and whether to accept gifts from attorneys who appear regularly in their courtroom (OK, we don’t actually get judges asking about something so obvious but if we did we’d tell them the canons prohibit accepting such gifts).

The questions I get from my colleagues around the state reveal something interesting to me: the canons of ethics do not drive judges to a desire to break the law (like the spiritual aspect of God’s law does in Romans 7) but to keep the canons (as earthly laws in the vein of Romans 13).

Released from the Law

People who aren’t judges don’t have to follow these canons, of course. Want to accept a gift from a complete stranger? Go ahead. Need to raise funds for your favorite charity? No one’s stopping you.

And this is where those canons are similar to God’s laws. Just as people who aren’t judges don’t need to concern themselves with obeying judicial canons, those who belong to God don’t need to follow the laws God presented under the Old Covenant.

Why? Because we “died to the law through the body of Christ”, we died “to what once bound us, [and] we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:4, 6, emphasis added.)

Those verses really do mean what they say. The law and those who belong to Jesus are no longer in relationship to one another because a death has occurred: ours in Christ’s crucifixion. (Galatians 2:20.)

What is the law to which we are no longer bound? It is the one written on stone, the one Moses revealed to the people of Israel, the one that leads to death. (2 Corinthians 3:7.) But if we aren’t to follow the commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, how will we know how to live?

We live by the Spirit.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18.)

It’s hard to take in, isn’t it? Can it really be true that the 10 Commandments are not binding on us? Yes, because we are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in us.

Grace is unbelievable. It’s freeing, and it’s free.

***

[This post is part of a week-long series on law, legalism, being a judge, and judging rightly. Here are Parts One and Two.]

***

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23 Responses to Illogical Law

  1. Tim you caught me off guard, had to think for a minute. While it is true as Paul makes obvious when he says chose to serve, offer your bodies, chose to live by and if you do not well, there is no more condemnation. As a result there is nothing left for me to do and I really am free to live as I please. However an understanding of our need for our ugliness of the cross should always bring me to Romans 12:1,2 and 1 Cor 10:31. The truth of the matter is that even when it does not, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Yet, we still need the law as it shows us the need to change and what that change looks like. Then as our understanding of our need for the ugliness of the cross grows, our desire to worship the one who calls us HIS beloved grows and to obey as we say “I Love You.” Which is the overall point of your post. I believe.

    • Tim says:

      Yes, I figure Paul had good reason to spend the first few chapters of Romans describing sin and its effects before he moved to a detailed discussion of grace.

  2. Excellent series. Look forward to reading one and two and the rest of them. Had an argument with a lady friend over this issue. She thought that grace does away with the law entirely.

    • Tim says:

      The law still exists according to Jesus, and governs those not under grace according to Paul. How anyone can say that it’s disappeared is beyond me.

  3. OK now that I’m more awake, man what a wake up call, can hear it now “Tim Fall said he’s throwing the 10 commandents out the door. Says to do what you want, when you want and how you want. He is encouraging sin.” Which is exactly the reaction Paul expected when he finished the section of the letter we call Romans 5 and why he began Romans 6 the way he did! If you have not already, then let me be the first, as someone who has already been attacked publically for that, to welcome you to the fraternity to being accused of being in the cult of Autonomy. Come on in, you can take my seat! LOLLLLLLLL! Let me commend you for getting ready to be accused of teaching how Paul taught though that is not what will be said.

  4. Jeannie says:

    I thought this part was especially interesting: “the canons of ethics do not drive judges to a desire to break the law (like the spiritual aspect of God’s law does in Romans 7) but to keep the canons (as earthly laws in the vein of Romans 13).” The judges you speak of are bending over backward to ensure they DO keep the rules, not trying to find loopholes in order to break them.

    • Tim says:

      Exactly, Jeannie. In the classes I teach and the hotline calls we handle, every year I come into contact with hundreds of judges who care greatly about doing things right for the right reasons.

  5. Aimee Byrd says:

    A couple of things:
    Fiduciary is a funny word that you can’t say out loud just once.
    The images of judges calling a hotline is also pretty humorous.
    The law is dead serious.
    We cannot fulfill it.
    It drove me to a Savior who did in my place, and took my curse for disobeying.
    And now that I am in the reign of grace, the law does expose my sin, and guides me to godly living, but has nothing to offer for my salvation.
    And even in my sanctification, it is God’s grace that does the work of obedience for me. So thankful for the righteousness of Christ, which is all that matters!

  6. Adriana says:

    Tim, I expected an interesting post on judicial ethics today . . . I also expected a rich, spiritual tie-in. I was not disappointed! You are such a fascinating teacher!

    But I did not expect Aimee to start rapping.

    Never a dull moment here at the Train Wreck, folks! 😉

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  9. Jeremy M. says:

    After reading this and thinking about it for a minute. I thought about the fruits of the Spirit. It’s interesting that obedience or adherence to the law isn’t part of them. Instead they’re fruit that to many may look weak or too forgiving compared to something like obedience. Maybe I’m forcing a connection there, but that’s what came to my mind.

    • Tim says:

      I think it’s a valid connection, Jeremy, especially in light of John 15. Jesus said our role is to abide in him and bear fruit while his role is to produce that fruit in us. Paul then described the fruit in Galatians 5.

      It’s not our obedience that is called for as it cannot accomplish anything that is not better – and perfectly – accomplished by the Spirit of Christ in us.

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