Under the Works of the Law

Our previous discussion of the Jerusalem council should naturally lead to a discussion of Galations. 

As mentioned in a previous post, the Jerusalem council met to decide what would be expected from the Gentiles who were coming to faith in Christ.  Acts 15:20 and 29 says these Gentiles were instructed to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.  By evading these actions, the Gentiles would avoid any association with idolatry.   Acts 15:21 further indicated that the Gentiles could learn the words of Moses in the synagogues every Sabbath.  In other words, the Gentile Christians were being encouraged to leave idolatry behind and show their love for Jesus by obeying the Torah.  By doing so, they would be conformed to His image.

When Christians read or hear this, they typically get very angry and start spouting other Scriptures to refute this.   The last thing most Christians want is to go back under their understanding of Judaism – to go back “under the law.”  After all, Christians are “under grace.”  They insist the Old Covenant was fulfilled by Christ and that the 7th day Sabbath and the feasts of the Lord are not applicable any more.  I plan to take a look at some of these claims to see if the Word of God is being properly interpreted while considering what Paul said in his letter to the Galatians.    

The Old Testament contains several covenants and/or promises, not just one.  They all build upon each other and none annul the former ones.  The covenant of circumcision was given to Abraham and God promised him that through his seed, the nations of the world would be blessed.  The promise was passed through the patriarchal lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob told Judah that the scepter would not pass from him but continue until it comes to the One to whom obedience belongs (Gen. 29:10).  Years later, God made a marriage covenant with the mixed multitude that Moses led out of Egypt at Mount Sinai.  This multitude consisted primarily of the descendants of Jacob.  As the generations went by, God made a covenant of salt with David that said the rulership over Israel would belong to David and his descendants forever (2 Chron. 13:5).  Eventually, Jesus, the son of David came according to the time given to the prophet Daniel to fulfill previous promises to God’s people. 

Throughout the Old Testament, the historical accounts of the patriarchs, judges, kings, and other people provide snapshots or patterns of the events of Jesus’ life, death, and second coming.  There are also numerous prophecies concerning the Messiah written in the Prophets and Writings.  Some of these were fulfilled during Jesus’ first ministry on earth but the rest will not be fulfilled until He returns.  In other words, Jesus has NOT fulfilled all of the Law and the Prophets.  That’s why the Torah will not pass away until heaven and earth passes away (Matt. 5:18).

In fact, the Feasts of the Lord which include the Sabbath are a shadow of things yet to come (Col. 2:16-17).  The spring feasts were fulfilled during Jesus’ first appearance—Jesus was the Passover Lamb, His dead (unleavened) body was in the grave for three days, His body was leavened or raised as firstfruits from a dead earth on the 3rd day, and the Holy Spirit representing the New Covenant was placed into the hearts of all believers.   This New Covenant was the same terms as the original covenant given to God’s people at Mount Sinai (Jer. 31:33).  When Jesus returns at the last shofar (trumpet), it should take place on the Feast of Trumpets in a year of Jubilee.  In addition, judgment will take place on the Day of Atonement, and the marriage supper of the Lamb will be celebrated during the Feast of Tabernacles.  Hebrews 4:1 tells us that the time of our eternal Sabbath rest still lies in the future.  Since all of these are yet to be fulfilled, we need to continue celebrating them.   

Someone recently told me that the New Testament does not teach a 7th day Sabbath but actually teaches against it.  First off, there was no need to teach a 7th day Sabbath because it had already been taught in the Old Testament.  To believe the New Testament teaches against it is absurd.  First, Paul and his associates always went to teach in the synagogues on the Sabbaths.  The Sabbath will also be observed during Christ’s millennial reign so it has not been made void (Isaiah 66:22-24; Ezek. 46:3).  When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He showed mercy to those who needed it.

Let’s consider some verses often used to justify a first day Sabbath.  Since creation, days began and ended in the evening.  This is still understood by Jews today.  In Acts 20:9, Paul was speaking on the seventh day Sabbath and continued speaking into the evening as the Sabbath gave way to the first day of the week.  At midnight, Eutychus fell out the window.   If Paul began teaching on the first day of the week as many people say, by the time it was midnight, it would really have been Monday when Eutychus fell out the window.   

A second verse that Christians use to justify a first day Sabbath is found in Revelation 1:10.  Christians often call Sunday “the Lord’s Day.”  John said he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”  This was not a reference to Sunday but to the “Day of the Lord” which is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible. 

A third verse that is used to authorize a first day Sabbath is 1 Corinthians 16:2 in which Paul encourages believers to set aside something on the first day of the week until he comes to collect it for the saints.  This may or may not have been money.  This could be done at home and did not necessarily have to be done at church.

Many say the Gentiles will never be circumcised.  As we know, circumcision was not part of the law given to Moses.  It was originally given to Abraham after he was declared righteous (Gen. 15:6; 17:10).  Circumcision was practiced over the following generations until the second generation that wandered in the wilderness failed to obey the covenant of circumcision given to Abraham.  Before they could enter the Promised Land, the remnant of the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt had to be circumcised (Joshua 5:2-7).  As the time approaches for the sons of Abraham to enter the long awaited Sabbath rest, they too will need to be circumcised because Ezekiel 44:9 says, “Thus says the Lord God: “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel.”

With these things in mind, there is something else we should address.  Many Christians today only follow the laws of the Old Testament as they were restated in the New Testament.  The Gentiles in the book of Acts could not have done this.  The writers of the New Testament began to write around 50 C.E. and the New Testament wasn’t canonized for about 4 centuries.[1]  The Gentile Christians had to have some kind of Scripture to learn what God expected from them.  They used what Christians refer to as the Old Testament because 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Old Testament was written over many centuries but God instructed Moses to write down the law –everything He commanded him when he was on Mount Sinai.  The Jews claim Moses also received oral law as well.  Rabbis Hillel and Shammai lived during the time of King Herod and were the first to equate the written law with oral law.  In other words, they considered both equally authoritative.[2]  Over the years, rabbis interpreted the law and created commandments on how to walk out the law.  This is called halakhah.  These laws were considered just as binding as the original 613 laws of Torah.[3]  This was a burden too great for God’s people to bear.  On the other hand, Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matt. 11:29-30).

Since Jesus was Jewish and was the fulfillment of the promised one of God to the Jews, it was assumed that the only way Gentiles could enter the new covenant was by becoming Jewish (sons of Abraham) first.  In order to convert to Judaism, circumcision was considered necessary by the group of the Circumcision since circumcision was part of what was required convert to Judaism. [4]

Now that we understand these cultural issues better, we can see what Paul was coming against in his writings.

After Jesus returned to heaven, God began lavishly dispensing His grace (favor) to the Gentiles and calling them to Himself; however, according to Galatians, the real Good news was being perverted by the teaching that circumcision (ritual conversion to Judaism) and observance of the law are the means to enter the Kingdom of God. 

Paul explained that man is not justified by the works of the law (Gal. 2:16).  Actually, the law never justified man.  Man is justified by his faith in Christ and faith is demonstrated by obedience to the law.

Originally, obedience to the law brought life and blessing but disobedience to the law brought death and cursing (Deut. 30:15-19).  Galatians 2:19-21 says, “For I through the law [sacrificial death of Jesus, the Living Torah] died to the [curse of the] law that I might live to God. 20 [In other words] 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. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”  Since Jesus became a curse for us, we are now free to obey the law without fearing the curse of the law (penalty of death) in the event of inadvertent sin.

In Galatians, Paul explains the way a person really becomes a son of Abraham is basically the same way Abraham was declared righteous.  Abraham demonstrated his faith by trusting in the promise of God and God credited him with righteousness.  So too we must trust in Jesus, the Promised One. 

One of Paul’s goals in Galatians was to explain how one becomes a son of Abraham and an heir to the promise God gave him.  Those who are not sons of Abraham are “of the works of the law” but sons of Abraham are “of faith” or are “faithful” to Jesus Christ.  A legalistic observance of the law to gain salvation is not faith but obeying the law out of love for God is faithfulness. 

Once we place our faith in Christ, we are released from the penalty of death (the curse of the law) that results from attempting to keep God’s commandments in our own strength.  We also receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the power we need to obey God’s commandments out of love for God.  Second John 6 says, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.”  God really intends for us to keep the original commandments of God and we can do so by the power of the Holy Spirit living within us.

Galatians 5:16-18 says, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  NKJV

This same idea was conveyed in Ezekiel 36:26-28:  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”  NKJV  Ezekiel makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit will cause us to keep God’s original commandments so the idiom “under the law” most likely refers to attempting to obey the law in the flesh.

Paul put it this way in Romans 8:3-4:  “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  NKJV

Jesus was born under the law which had become perverted by His time in order to redeem us so we could be adopted as sons of Abraham.  Before being adopted, the Gentiles were in bondage to pagan idol worship which contained weak and beggarly elements.  They had their own holidays that they participated in.  Paul did not want the new believers to return to their former ways.  In the same way, we should not participate in pagan forms of worship—even if we’re using them to worship God.  Instead, God gave us holy feasts which are a shadow of things past and yet to come.

Paul did not want Jewish believers who had perverted the gospel to lead the new Gentile believers into a legalistic version of Torah observance – the written law combined with oral law and numerous rabbinic interpretations.  This was represented by Hagar and could not justify anyone.  To attempt to do so would be to fall from grace.  Paul wanted the Gentile believers to be in bondage to the Jerusalem from above – to be born according to the Spirit which would empower them to obey the original law as God intended. 

Paul made it clear in Galatians 3:28-29 that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Paul explained that the blessing of Abraham only comes upon the faithful who trust in Christ.  The law of God was given to define sin and separate the faithful from the wicked so the wicked could not have the inheritance of the faithful.  The ultimate separation of mankind will take place sometime in the future.  Until then, we need to trust in Jesus and be faithful by obeying God’s written commandments by the power of the Spirit and not by the power of the flesh.

As we seek to obey these commandments, we should remember Philippians 2:12-13:  “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”  Paul is not telling us to earn our salvation.  He’s telling us to apply the law in our lives with fear and trembling.  To do so, we must first know what it says.  When we desire to be obedient to God and apply it as the Holy Spirit leads, it brings Him great pleasure.

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2 thoughts on “Under the Works of the Law

  1. All our righteousness is as filthy rags, the more you try to be righteous the more self righteous you will become oh wretched sinners that we are. But Christ died for the whole world, our heart soul and mind must be focused on him. Let go and let God lead by living by every word of love.
    God tells us how to find knowledge and how to understand the Bible Isa 28:9-10 It is by precept on precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little. In the Old Testament there was not truth or grace John 1:17. The Bible is the book of the knowledge of good and evil Gen 3:22, 2 Cor 11:15. The word of God must be rightly divided 2 Tim 2:15. The bible says the Lord will create a new thing on the earth Jer 31:22 where a woman shall compass a man. This man is Satan Isa 14:16. A woman shall bruise Satan at the heel of time Gen 3:15. Satan has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9, until this bruise of the true word John 1:1 is delivered to the whole world Rev 12:5, 13 as a witness.The bruising of Satan is now taking place at http://minigoodtale.blogspot.com If you strive to live by every word of God you will want to read his true word.

    • It is indeed precept on precept, line upon line, here a litte, there a little. There must be continuity of Scripture. Start with Deut. 12:32-13:5, Matt. 5:17-20, Rom 3:31, 2 John 6, and Rev 22:14 and build on these. The OT is the NT hidden in types and shadows and the NT is the OT revealed. If you do not consider the original Hebraic worldview, you’ll miss the proper interpretation of Scripture.

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