Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Christians are not under law, we never were!

Galatians 3v15-25 is hard to understand. Really hard. But Oh it's worth the hard thinking. It's been great to day to spend several hours rubbing my nose in God's word, with Dave & Debbie. And here's what I'm thinking:

"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" v15.

At first glance that doesn't seem very "everyday" to me. But the idea is of a promise between people. An unbreakable commitment. A rarity today, but hopefully we still have the idea of a promise. Where a promise must be kept - a promise that can't have extra conditions added to it, or be cancelled out by anything. So the scene is set.

"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds", meaning many people but "and to your seed" meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise;l but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise." v16-18

First we come back to God's promise to Abraham. Paul looks at it and interprets it. He tells us that the seed (or offspring) of Abraham should not be read as the many people of Israel, but as refering to one person, namely Christ. He explains by saying that this means that the law, given later, doesn't set aside the promise - because a change in terms would step away from the promise, and that's not going to happen.

What??? Paul is saying a promise was made, not just to Abraham but also to Christ. While that promise was waiting for fulfillment, in Christ, the law was given - but this didn't set aside the promise, because you can't change a promise. It stands.

"What, then, was the purpose of the law?" v19a

Good question!

"It was added because of transgression until the Seed to whom the promsie referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however does not represent just one part; but God is one" v19b-20

It's not immediately evident how that answers the question! We get some indication of the purpose of the law: "because of transgression", though how or why that is the case isn't yet clear. And then Paul starts talking about mediation of the law. Law comes through angels and a mediator (Moses?). But the mediator represents two parties - and God is one, not two. Er? I think this draws further distinction between the promise and the law. The promise from God to Christ, the law between Israel and God.

"Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?" v21a

Is God offering two ways to life? Are the promise and the law rivals to each other?

"Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to thsoe who believe" v21b-22

No! Paul is adamant. Law doesn't give life. If God had intended for the law to give life then it would have done. But it doesn't. So law and promise aren't two things from God trying to do the same thing by different methods. Rather, we know from the Scriptures that the world is prisoner of sin. This means that people are unable to get free. They are unable to gain life by obedience to law. They can't help but sin. So the only hope for the world is to believe in Christ - and receieve the promise.

"Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law" v23-25

Til Jesus comes, Paul says, we (Israel - Jewish Paul writes) were prisoners under law. Prisoners of sin, and then further locked up by law. Why? So that the law could lead Israel to Christ, supervising them. But then Jesus comes, and God's promise is fulfilled. So, the law that has been in force since 430 years after Abraham has done its work. It's no longer required to lead Israel to Christ - they have Christ himself.

So what?
Paul undercuts everything the invading false teachers are doing. They're coming to a Gentile church and imposing law. Paul says - you, Gentiles, were never under law - and even Israel are no longer under it. Obedience to it is not required of you. These are laws given to another people, in another place, for another time. They came from God but they're not for you.

So too we're not under law. We're not obliged to keep it. And we (Gentile Christians) never were! What freedom!

This begs several questions!
Why do Christians try and make people keep the law?
How pointless is that!

What do we do with the law since its part of scripture which Paul tells us elsewhere is all useful to equip God's people?
I'd suggest we see from it how Israel were pointed to Christ, and we see something of God's character revealed - what we don't see is law's to obey.

How do we then live?
Ultimately in Galatians that answer waits til chapter 5. That tells us to live by the Spirit! And that might look similar to law obedience, but it really isn't. It's more about putting on a new self, and being transformed into the image of Christ. It's not about keeping a list of Christian laws. It can't be. Going for law serves only to deny the Cross (2v21) - and that has got to be a bad idea.

...as Justin Mote said in teaching Leviticus, this should make us cry out "Hooray for Jesus!" In him we find life and righteousness and receive the Holy Spirit!