I have a friend who became a part of a Christian group that believes that the OT law largely still applied to Christians today.
It is impossible to obey all of it…animal sacrifices for instance
But other things…like food laws and the like…he probably wouldn’t think it was required for salvation (I’m not sure)…but it was an important part of making you a better Christian.
So dietary laws, Sabbath laws…I’m not sure what else…but these kinds of things, he believed, set you apart as being a more mature Christian.
I don’t believe that is true.
What are we to do with, the OT laws?
My friend, had to be inconsistent in what laws he chose to try and keep(there are about 600 of them)…but what do we do with them ourselves? What do we do with the OT?
If you have ever tried to read through the OT it’s pretty clear sailing, in fact very interesting reading, until about Exodus 20…then the laws start kicking in.
The ten commandments are good stuff…but man it gets into the legalese weeds pretty quickly…what’s really up with all that?
We are working our way through Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.
He is frustrated because they are being influenced to try and add Old Testament law keeping to their new found faith in Christ.
Listen to his frustration in 3:1
“You foolish Galatins! Who has bewitched you?” (Cast a spell)
Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified….Did you receive the Spirit (become Christians) by observing the law or believing what you heard? (faith).
Are you so foolish, after beginning with the Spirit (faith alone), are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort (law keeping).
Here’s how I want to proceed this morning…Gal. 3 is a somewhat complex argument regarding faith and the law.
I’m going to read some of the verses as we move through this chapter in overview form.
Then I want to go over some principals and applications for how Christians are to look at the OT laws
Let’s see how Paul makes his case for “faith alone” versus “law keeping” as the way to gain and maintain relationship with God…in Gal. 3
*In this first section I benefited greatly from Alan Cole’s Commentary on Galatians.
Let me read verses 6-9
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith
Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
Abraham, like the Galatians, had believed God…taken him at his word.
God in turn had accepted that faith, that trust, as though it were “right standing with God” which Abraham could never win by his own efforts…or the Galatians for that matter.
Abraham, by throwing himself on the mercy of God, counting on him to do what he could not, had entered into the blessing of relationship with God.
This was, Paul wrote, was an early announcement of the Gospel in advance of the coming of Christ.
The blessings of God will follow faith…just like Abraham experienced.
But the Galatians, having started by faith…having justified by faith…were trying to finish their own salvation by law keeping.
In verse 10-14 Paul addresses what he knows will be the response to this.
“We know Abraham was great, but God later gave the law of Moses…clearly this was the next step, the progression of what God was doing.”
No, Paul writes…it’s not…in fact all who rely on observing the law remain under the wrath of God…the judgment of their sin that separates them from him.
In verse 11 he quotes from Habakkuk 2:4, an Old Testament prophet who wrote, “The righteous will live by faith.”
The coming of the law, after Abraham, did not change the way God justifies people…it remained by faith….always has been, always will be.
Christ absorbed our curse…our judgment…for us on the cross.
Now through faith in him we receive the blessing of right relationship with God.
“But”they are going to ask…Paul knows its coming…
“Surely any later laws would have voided the earlier arrangement made with Abraham.”
“No,” Paul writes…”think about it like this.”
Just like in everyday life…you can’t just set aside or add to a duly established contract…so too…what happened later in the giving of the law did not void the covenant of faith God made with Abraham.
*Corrie signed a contract with KS Board of regents
-They would pay for her school if she agreed to teach at an underserved area or subject matter.
*A covenant of sorts…here is how you will be blessed…here is how you demonstrate loyalty.
-It also said if when she applied, no jobs were available, then she was released from the obligation.
-That is exactly what happened…she took a job in another district not orginally listed on the contract…BECAUSE no jobs were available in the listed districts.
-Later she received a letter telling her that she needed to pay back thousands of dollars for not teaching in the district…she was very unhappy…as was I.
-I sent them a letter with a copy of the original contract.
-Their reply “We didn’t mean to say that and we have changed it since then…please repay the money.”
-My reply… was “nope…that’s the whole point of a contract…you can’t just change your mind later.”
-Corrie got a letter saying she was released from her obligation.
Paul is using this same common sense logic here.
Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.
The promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed (and Paul says, that seed was in fact Jesus.)
The law, given 430 years later, doesn’t set aside the covenant of faith or make void the promise.
A covenant is a binding contract between two parties.
In OT times it was most often between a more powerful and less powerful party…could be a local war lord, or city state, or a nation.
The more powerful offered protection and other benefits that blessed the less powerful person or a nation.
In return the less powerful was responsible to give loyalty and to keep the rules of behavior of the agreement.
God used this then, well known, covenant form when he made his covenant with Israel.
Just a reminder: The word “Testament”, as in old and new, is synonamous with covenant.
In what we call the Old Testament, God made a covenant with Abraham, and the promise given was he would bless his family line and through them bless the world.
This covenant was a covenant of faith.
It was centuries later, when the Sinai (law) Covenant was given. (named for the mountain where God first initiated it with his people through Moses) .
So, Paul has made his case…but now he anticipates the question…
“Then why was the law given at all?”
19 What, then, was the purpose of the law?
-he asks…then he answers-
It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.
“Added because of transgressions” is a phrase that can mean “restrain human sin nature”
Until Christ came humanity needed both the incentive and the pattern to know how to live as God’s blessed people.
It can also mean to “make wrong doing, a legal offense.”
In this case, the function of the law is to teach us our own moral bankruptcy…the law doesn’t make us sinners it reveals us as sinners…shows our need.
So…the law of God, like our laws…has two functions: deterrent and punitive.
But not merely to punish…but to reveal our need.
To reveal our need…to lead us to Christ.
It was added as a supplement until the one arrived who would completely fulfill the promise.
So…a good summary would be “The law was our escort to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by trusting him.”
He elaborates more, using some different analogies:
23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
First analogy: The law held us in protective custody pending the arrival of the full pardon that faith in Christ would someday be.
Second analogy: The law, was “put in charge” to lead us to Christ.
The word used here is a “custodian” or “tutor”…whose job is to watch over and instruct a child until that child comes of age.
When the child grows up…it doesn’t need the tutor…but it still loves, respects and is grateful for the tutor.
As Christians, the law has its place in the history of salvation and as an abiding witness to the character of God.
The law we follow now, Paul will call in Gal. 6:2, is “The law of Christ.”
To make sense of Galatians (and in fact the Bible itself) we need to a get handle on the “law” in the Bible, and in the life of the Christian.
Before we try to do that…Sometimes people will ask for resources on a topic…so I’ll give some that I have used, going from easiest to hardest…there are more but this is a good start.
- The Bible project video: How to read Biblical Prose Discourse: Biblical law (7 minutes)
- How to read the Bible for all its Worth: Fee and Stewart: Chapter 9 (longer than 7 minutes but worth it)
- Christian Ethics: Wayne Gruden: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning: Chapter 8 (also longer but worth it)
- The Pentateuch as Narrative: John Sailhamer (way, way more than 7 minutes)
*At the very least…invest the 7 minutes in the Bible Project Video…super helpful.
I also mentioned those four resources in order to give attribution to them…I will draw heavily from them as we do this overview.
In order to help clarify and not make things muddier…this will just be an overview of the topic.
I know there are many more questions and nuances than what I will deal with.
But for our purpose, which is to understand and apply Galatians as the Word of God to our lives…I am going to paint in broad strokes.
First two Key defintions:
Covenant…we already talked that…it is important to this conversation.
-We live under the New not the old covenant.
Jesus said to his friends, at his last meal…
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20
This new covenant is entered into through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Our part of the covenant is to have “faith”…to transfer trust to God away from self.
In return we enter into the blessed life…a life of relationship with God.
*We then demonstrate through changed lives…that we have in fact entered into this new covenant…but we do not do anything other than transfer trust to enter it.
*Relationship with God is by faith not works…but faith…does work.
Meaning…it changes us into people who believe, value and do things differently now.
*For example in my marriage covenant with Christy: I didn’t have to “grow up” in order to marry Christy…she took me as I was…I said “I do!” she said “I do”
-But in order to grow in my relationship with her, and because I love her…I have had to make choices to “grow up” as a person.
*She didn’t require a certain amount of change in order to marry me…but the marriage relationship/covenant has resulted in significant change in me.
Law: The term is used in the Bible to refer to four different things (all related), but we will look two.
- The 600 plus specific commandments (why can’t you just count them?)
-The Laws that are included in our OT are not exhaustive, they are selective and representative…of a larger body of Laws that Israel, as a nation, was governed by.
-Israel had many more laws than what is given…but what we have represents all the facets of law needed as a nation…and what is needed to tell us what we need to know of the character of God.
The way they are portrayed by the author demonstrates they were given incrementally in response to the refusal of the people to remain loyal to God.
-Narrative (people mess up)
-Narrative (people mess up)
Much like the way we develop laws…as people find more ways to violate the very simple “Golden rule”…do unto others as you would have them to unto to you….more laws are added.
Virtually every crime in our culture…is a violation of “love your neighbor”…and every crime (sin) is a violation of “love God, love people”
As people find new ways to sin against others…new laws are needed as a punishment and deterent.
Israel’s law system became increasingly complex as they found more ways to mess up…to be disloyal.
***Remember: God never intended the law to be the way to relationship with him.
-He wanted them to trust him (faith) and to be blessed(obey, live as he designed life)
The laws were not added to make it increasingly harder for people to measure up.
They were given, as Paul said, as a tutor to bring us to Christ.
In the Garden God said: “Hey kids enjoy all that I have made, and enjoy me…but don’t eat from that single tree.”
The next thing you see is the first couple hanging out by that single tree….chatting it up with Satan.
Okay, now you have to leave the garden…you can’t come back in here…but I will provide for you “out there”
So the story will repeat…over and over.
There are three major law collections in the first five books of the OT:
-Covenant Code (10 commandments and others)
-Code of the priests
-Holiness Code…rules for loyalty, blessing, and justice…for everyday people.
As Moses was getting the Covenant code…the ten commandments, etc….which included no idol worship or false images…the people were literally down at the base of the mountain making a calf god and worshipping it.
-So they were given the “code of the priests”…they clearly needed a set apart priesthood…because they couldn’t stay loyal to God.
*So we find next a rather elaborate list of laws for this priesthood to help the people stay right with God.
Later, it became clear this was not enough…the nation was given the holiness code for the rank and file.
Of course, that didn’t work well either.
*Sometimes the laws are broken down into: civil, ceremonial, and moral…as general headings…but they were given by God in response to ongoing sin and disloyalty
NOT as punishment…but as a grace gift.
Like putting up fences around kids who keep wondering off and getting in trouble or getting hurt…until they are grown up and can live in mature freedom.
Second use of the word “Law” in the Bible (that we will discuss) is the Pentateuch as a whole.
-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy…they were collectively called the “law”
And they include lots of laws…but the laws are embedded in lots of historical narrative.
So the point is not to give a rule-book but to tell a redemptive story…the laws are not the point…redemption is the point.
-The name means “five-part” book…but it was originally a single book, later divided.
-Jesus in Mark 12 spoke of these “five books” as the “book of Moses”
-Written by Moses, during the Exodus…for the generation about to enter Canaan.
-There are three levels or viewpoints given us by the author:
-Global or Cosmic scale (mostly Gen 1,2)
-National (world history)
-Personal: Noah got drunk, Abraham had a vision, etc.
-Moses wrote a history of Israel to explain who they were and why they had come to be slaves in Egypt…and why they were being made into a nation to dwell in the land they were about to enter.
-He begins, Genesis 1, with the God who made the universe, and humans to dwell on his good earth and live under his blessing.
-This same God is the one who entered into a covenant with his people Israel.
*he is not just one of the many Canaanite gods…he is THE God.
-There is relationship…loyalty and blessing…then sin & exile
-Then restored relationship…covenant with Abraham…loyalty and blessing…sin…exile/slavery in Egypt
-Then restored relationship…covenant at Sinai…loyalty and blessing…sin and exile.
The repetition and the different emphasis you find in the Pentateuch are there for a purpose.
They are not accidental, or errors.
When I was in college I was challenged by a person who tried to use the differences in Gen 1 and 2 to prove that the Bible has errors.
As if the author forgot what he just wrote and immediately contradicted himself…from one chapter to another (which of course, Moses didn’t add the chapter headings)
This is a book, not an email…and it was written slowly, carefully, over years…not to mention by divine inspiration.
What you find in Gen 1 and 2 is not contradictory but complemantary information.
Historical writers, like Moses, or John writing about Jesus have to be selective…and they wrote with a specific purpose.
John 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Exactly…that would be true for any attempt to capture events in a written history.
Why did he choose then things he chose?
Because his gospel is not a history textbook (though it is historically accurate)…is a gospel…a good news document.
When you find curious or confusing things in the first five books…ask “I wonder why he put this here, like this?”
Be sure…he did it on purpose…he being Moses (and of course, God who inspired him)
Repetition for instance, is used in the bible, for the same reason you use it…to hammer home a point…not to bore you.
Restating something in a different way is also used, as we would…to make an important point clearer…not as a sign of error.
John Sailhamer, was a Hebrew and OT scholar…he summarizes the Message of the Pentetauch (again which is the single five part book that is mostly historical narrative with the law embedded).
- The author wants to link God’s original plan of blessing for humanity with his establishment of the covenant with Israel.
- The author wants to show that the covenant at Sinai failed to restore God’s blessing to humanity because Israel failed to trust God and obey his will.
- The author wants to show that God’s promise to restore the blessing would ultimately succeed because God himself would one day give to Israel a heart to trust and obey him (Dt. 30:1-10)
The Pentateuch, looks to the future when God’s faithful promise (blessing) would be fulfilled…through Jesus, the faithful covenant keeper.
The message of the Penateuch is hope, God’s people should trust and obey him, and like Abraham, have faith in his promises.
The Pentetauch was to show the way of faith and the weakness of the law
So, the “laws” contained in the first five books, are dispersed through the story of what God was doing with humanity to restore them.
To read it and grab for certain laws to obey and apply is to miss the point entirely.
This same thing is what was happening at Galatia and it drove Paul crazy…
“Who has cast this spell on you…you are free, why are you going back into slavery…the entire OT is the story of why we cannot keep the law…and the good news…we were never supposed to try and live that way…it has always, since Abraham, been by faith.”
General statements about the law:
- The Law Covenant was temporary
-It came 430 years after the one given to Abraham…a covenant of faith
-It was given (3:19) until Christ came
- It was intended to be fulfilled by Christ.
Matt. 5:17-18 “I have come to fullfil it”
- It cannot impart spiritual life or empower people to obey it.
Gal. 3:21. “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.”
- The entire Old Covenant is no longer binding.
“Then what good is the OT?”
It’s like saying, what good is the first chapter in a biography?
How do we understand now without then?
The entire Bible is about Jesus…God’s plan to redeem his people.
Or from another perspective…it is about blessing…God’s original intent, restored.
Didn’t Jesus say the law will never disappear and so we must keep it?
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
His death on the cross accomplished it
All the OT is still the Word of God for us even though it is not still the command of God to us.
Nowhere in the OT is it suggested that anyone was saved by keeping the law.
It was neither given for that reason nor could it possibly function that way.
Gordon Fee and Stuart Douglas give 6 helpful “do” and “don’ts” regarding the law:
- Do see the OT law as God’s fully inspired word for you; Don’t see the OT law as God’s direct command to you.
- Do see the OT law as the basis for the old covenant and therefore for Israel’s history; Don’t see the OT law as binding on Christians in the new covenant, except where specifically renewed…in the New Covenant.
- Do see God’s justice, love, and high standards revealed in the OT law; Don’t forget to see that God’s mercy is made equal to the severity of the standards.
- Do see the OT law as a paradigm—providing examples for the full range of expected behavior; Don’t see the OT law as complete. It is not technically comprehensive.
- Do remember that the essence of the law (Ten commandments and the two chief laws) is repeated in the prophets and renewed in the NT; Don’t expect the OT law to be cited frequently by the prophets or the NT.
- Do see the OT law as a generous gift to Israel, bringing much blessing when obeyed; Don’t see it as a grouping of arbitrary, annoying regulations limiting people’s freedom.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Jews were thought of as being superior (and more blessed of God) than Greeks
Free were thought of a being superior (and more blessed of God) than slaves
Males were thought of as superior (and more blessed of God) than females
All are equally able to come to God through faith in Christ and live in his originally intended blessing for humanity.
There is no other requirement than faith…I have nothing to bring to him, he has everything that I need.
Does this mean I can do whatever I want?
Yes, you can, but you always could do whatever you want.
You just couldn’t do whatever you want and live in God’s blessing before you were a Christians and you still can’t.
The difference now is that you want to do what he wants…and you have been given the power to obey…if you stay plugged into that power.
If you have received God’s blessings in Christ by faith…you will want to live in those blessings…that will require understanding and applying what God has revealed about this blessed life.
Believe…value…do…what he has, in his mercy, shown us in his word.
How different a vision of obedience is this of God’s revealed will to us…than what is most often believed both inside and outside the church.
Children often see the “rules of belief, values, behavior” in their family as oppressive and uneccesarily strict…hamper their freedom that they believe will make them happier.
*Why not eat candy for dinner, candy is delicious…veggies are not!
*Why do I have to tell my brother I’m sorry…and why do you care that I “mean it?”
*Why are you so upset that I lied…It almost worked, I almost got away with it…who needs truth all the time in relationships anyway?
But as children, in healthy families grow up…they see these “oppressive rules” as the pathway to living in blessing together.
So…its not “Keep these rules or you are not loved and not a part of this family.”
But… “You are part of this family, we want to enjoy the blessing of life together…so we will believe, value, and do these things.”
All the Law is summed up, Jesus said… “Love God, heart, soul, mind, strength…love others as you love yourself” (put their interests first)
When you look at the heart of the commandments…all were given to Israel so that they could love God and others…live a blessed life.
All the OT is still the Word of God for us even though it is not still the command of God to us.
The New Testament…covenant…initiated by Christ on the Cross is where you live as a Christian.
Your part is to place your faith in his finished work…period.
Then…to live in the blessings of this relationship (not in order to earn anything)…we seek to do understand, love, and apply the things that God has, in his grace, revealed to us…in this New Covenant.