Paul’s Verdict on the Law in Galatians

ceremonial law and christian

I was recently involved in a lengthy conversation on Twitter about the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic law. The conversation revolved around whether some of the dietary laws are still in force (Lev. 11). The question came up in light of James’ recommendation of Gentile partial dietary abstinence—”from things sacrificed to idols and blood and things strangled” (Acts 15:29). Paul said that Christ abolished in His flesh the law of commandments in ordinances (Eph. 2:15). This would certainly include the three main ordinances of Judaism—the Sabbath, circumcision, and the dietary regulations. All three have been abolished and fulfilled in Christ.

Let no one therefore judge you in eating and in drinking or in respect of a feast or of a new moon or of the Sabbath, which are a shadow of the things to come, but the body is of Christ. –Col. 2:16-17

A Constellation of Christ

The New Testament can be thought of as a constellation of verses. When viewed as a whole the figure that we can make out is Christ in the economy of God. This is because the Bible is a revelation of God’s operation in and on Christ to produce what He wants. Within this massive constellation are several discernible verse clusters that form asterisms of varying brightness (an asterism is a pattern of stars within a constellation, e.g. the Big Dipper in Ursa Major). One of these verse patterns is the relationship of the Christian to the Mosaic law. Although this pattern stretches across the entire New Testament sky, the densest cluster of verses in this pattern appears in the book of Galatians.

Why Paul Wrote Galatians

Paul wrote Galatians to deal with the problem of the law and liberate God’s people into the experience and enjoyment of Christ as the Spirit, through the cross, and for the new creation. The law, for religious people, is the biggest distraction from Christ (just like philosophy is for the non-religious person, hence 1 Corinthians and Colossians). Galatians is an apostolic rescue mission to save us from its bewitching power.

I just started Galatians again in my Bible reading schedule and decided to collect all the statements that Paul makes about the law. I came up with 60 instances where the observance of the law is denounced[1].

The Observance of the Law:

  1. Is part of the present evil age (1:4)
  2. Removes us from the God who has called us in grace (1:6)
  3. Is a different gospel (1:6)
  4. Troubles the believers (1:7)
  5. Perverts the gospel of Christ (1:7)
  6. Its preaching is cursed by Paul (1:8)
  7. Pales in comparison to the revelation of God’s Son (1:16)
  8. Brings people into slavery (2:4)
  9. Is against the truth of the gospel (2:5)
  10. Is opposed by Paul (2:11)
  11. Is condemned by Paul (2:11)
  12. Causes separation among the believers (2:12)
  13. Produces hypocrisy (2:13)
  14. Is to walk contrary to the straightforward way of the truth of the gospel (2:14)
  15. Adds nothing to our justification (2:16)
  16. Is to build again things the gospel has destroyed (2:18)
  17. Is something we have died to (2:19)
  18. Nullifies the grace of God (2:21)
  19. Makes Christ’s death vain (2:21)
  20. Is foolish (3:1)
  21. Is bewitching (3:1)
  22. Has nothing to do with receiving the Spirit (3:2)
  23. Is related to the flesh (3:3)
  24. Cannot perfect us (3:3)
  25. Brings people under a curse (3:10)
  26. Justifies no one (3:11)
  27. Is not related to faith (3:12)
  28. Is something Christ has redeemed us out of (3:13)
  29. Is not the means by which we inherit the blessing of Abraham (3:14)
  30. Is preceded, and therefore superceded, by the promise to Abraham (3:17)
  31. Was a temporary addition until Christ (3:19)
  32. Is unable to give life or righteousness (3:21)
  33. Is a prison (3:22)
  34. Was a temporary guard (3:23)
  35. Is a child-conductor unto Christ (3:24)
  36. Is something we are no longer under (3:25)
  37. Was a temporary provision while God’s people were children (4:3)
  38. Is to turn back to the weak and poor elementary principles of the world (4:9)
  39. Is something Paul fears (4:11)
  40. Shuts people out from the gospel (4:17)
  41. Is in the position of a concubine, not a proper wife (4:22)
  42. Produces slaves, not rightful sons (4:30)
  43. Is something to be cast out (4:30)
  44. Is an entangling yoke of slavery (5:1)
  45. Makes Christ of no profit to the believers (5:2)
  46. Makes people debtors to the whole law (5:3)
  47. Reduces people to nothing (5:4)
  48. Separates people from Christ (5:4)
  49. Causes people to fall from grace (5:4)
  50. Avails nothing (5:6)
  51. Is a hindrance to our progress, faith, and obedience (5:7)
  52. Is not a persuasion that comes from Christ (5:8)
  53. Even if practiced a little, leavens the whole church (5:9)
  54. Annuls the stumbling block of the cross (5:11)
  55. Causes the believers to bite, devour, and consume one another (5:15)
  56. Is powerless against the lust of the flesh (5:16)
  57. Produces vainglory, provoking, and envy (5:26)
  58. Is related to making a good show in the flesh (6:12)
  59. Is part of the world that has been crucified (6:14)
  60. Does not count for anything because it is related to the old creation (6:15)

 

1. What I have in mind here is the ceremonial law, not the moral law. Also, I’m viewing the law from its negative aspect, although I DO recognize a very positive aspect of the law as 1) God’s testimony to reveal who God is, 2) God’s living word to impart what God is, and 3) a marriage covenant to accomplish what God wants. The difference depends on whether someone approaches the law as a letter-keeper or a loving seeker of God. Although the ceremonial law is no longer in force, the moral law as a testimony of God describes (because the law is fixed and finite it can at best approximate; only the incarnate living Word of God can fully describe the living that God desires for His expression) the kind of living God wants from His people so that they can become His testimony. Romans 8:4 most clearly and succinctly shows the present relation of the Christian to the moral law. The righteous requirement of the law is still here, but it is fulfilled IN us, not BY us. When we walk in the spirit, living Christ and keeping the law become one and the same thing. This is why the apostles don’t speak in terms of keeping the law but in terms of living Christ and walking in the spirit.