By Jeff Reed
In our weekly Bible Study in the Tyler church we have been discussing the Letter to the Galatians. Paul is pretty clear in this letter that we cannot earn our salvation from keeping God’s law. He explains that God’s promises were always a result of faith. It has never been God’s plan for man to receive justification from the law. He tells us “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Galatians 3:8-9).
Because of this emphasis, many have mistakenly believed that Paul was opposed to the law of God. Galatians is often used by some to say that Christians no longer have an obligation to keep the law. Others say that it shows that the law has been completely done away. It is actually hard for me to believe that those who hold these opinions have even read Galatians, even though many of them are no doubt well educated. Throughout the letter Paul continually upholds keeping the law. His goal was to simply explain that righteousness is not achieved by law keeping but by our faith in Jesus. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
This was written as a response to those who were saying the Old Covenant symbol of circumcision made them righteous. It never did and it never could. It would be the equivalent of us saying that the New Covenant symbol of baptism makes us righteous. Or for those who think that keeping the Sabbath makes them righteous. It is not the act, but our faith in the living Christ. I am a Sabbath keeper because the righteous Son of God lives in me. It is the right thing to do.
Those who oppose God’s law usually never teach what Paul explained as the purpose of the law.
“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” (Galatians 3:19).
The law “was added because of transgressions.” What does that expression mean? Years ago when I was attending with the Birmingham church we had services one day in a room that also served as a classroom for elementary students. I noticed on the door a sign posted that said “Classroom Rules.” Underneath it read, “No running. No hitting. No shouting.” I wondered if there was a time before the teacher posted those rules when the class behavior was becoming unmanageable. I imagined some of the children were running around wildly. Perhaps one student hit another student. Shouting was commonplace. Because of these “transgressions” the teacher became fed up and codified the rules for the class.
Before the list of rules was posted was it okay to run wildly? Was it alright to hit someone or shout loudly? Those actions were always wrong and disruptive to the classroom. Posting the list let the children know that those actions were bad and most likely would result in some sort of discipline. Before the Ten Commandments were given was murder wrong? Was adultery wrong? Was bearing false witness wrong? These actions were always wrong. By codifying the law God lets us know that they are sin and He holds us accountable. The purpose of the law is to let us know we need a Savior. Christ has redeemed us from the penalty of the law (Galatians 3:13-14). His role as Savior is not just someone to forgive us but that through His Spirit in us we can actually begin to keep the law.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16-18).
If we keep the law through the Spirit, the penalty and the unfortunate consequences from breaking it cannot be applied to us. Keeping it becomes our natural response to God’s grace in us and the continued process of transforming our character into His image.