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.