Galatians: What Is the Law of Christ?

Fruit of the SpiritAs we have seen, Paul explicitly declares the Law to have no power over the Christian. One who is in Christ, being led by the Spirit, is not under law:

  • “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse…” (Gal. 3.10)
  • “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law…” (Gal. 3.23)
  • “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” (Gal. 4.21)
  • “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal. 5.18)

Yet Paul still speaks of us fulfilling the Law:

  • “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Gal. 5.13-14)
  • After giving the fruit of the Spirit, Paul concludes, “Against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5.23)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6.2)
  • “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 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, 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.” (Rom. 8.2-4)

What is the law of Christ, the law of the Spirit of life? It is not circumcision, that’s for sure, since Paul spends most of Galatians condemning those who preach and practice circumcision! It’s also not “the whole law” of Moses (Gal. 5.3). Is it part of the law of Moses, then? Doesn’t the verse Paul quotes in Gal. 5.14 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) come from the Old Testament (Lev. 19.18)? Is he instructing his readers to observe that commandment but not to observe circumcision? How do we know, then, what Old Testament passages we should still keep and apply today and which ones we should understand as having already been fulfilled?

BlessedHere is where the simplicity of God’s “law” in Christ comes in. We should recognize the difference in type of law–the Law of Moses was a law of commandments written on stone; the Law of Christ is a law of faith written on hearts.

Moses went up on the mountain and brought down Ten Commandments and a host of other moral, civil, and ceremonial laws.

Jesus went up on the mountain and spoke. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus identified the two core laws upon which all the law and the prophets hung: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you strength, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the law of Christ.

No longer do we have lists of commandments which are against us; now we have core principles about how our hearts should be towards God and towards men. The New Testament avoids lists of laws, as a matter of fact. Jesus and the apostles mainly taught by example, by narrative, by principle. They gave plenty of applications to help readers discern and refine our understanding of principles given.

Returning to Galatians 5, we are to walk by the Spirit, and by so doing we will avoid gratifying the desires of the flesh. The fruit the Holy Spirit bears in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As we walk in these things, we literally walk outside of law. There is no law against these things. The law of Christ truly is a law of liberty in which mercy triumphs over judgment. We are set free from sin, from the works of the flesh (Gal. 5.17-21), in order to walk by the Spirit with Christ our Lord!

When and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

We noted Paul’s thesis for Galatians is Galatians 2.15-16:

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Then we asserted that God has never saved man through law.

In Galatians 3 and 4, Paul offers proofs as to why the law is powerless to save and, in fact, condemns those under it. Paul’s first point has to do with the process by which the Galatian Christians received the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3.1-9).

Sharing the GospelWhen and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

Understanding when and how we receive the Holy Spirit is vital! Is getting theology right really so important? To Paul, getting this gospel right was of utmost importance! Those who got it wrong were (and are) damned, severed from Christ, fallen from grace (Gal. 5.4), and Paul wished those who taught this perverted gospel would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5.12).

So then, how did the early Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Galatians 3.1-9?

Twice Paul contrasts working the “works of the law” against “hearing with faith.”

  1. Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (3.2)
  2. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith–just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (3.5-6)

Notably, Paul never distinguishes between working works of the Old Law and working works of a New Law. No, he only contrasts works with faith, for the two are at odds, contrary to one another. One has to do with our own power and ability; the other has to do with trusting in God’s power and ability.

In Christ AlonePaul says the GOSPEL was preached to Abraham centuries before Christ ever came, and it’s encapsulated in the promise: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3.8). We who are of faith (in Christ) are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith! Just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gal. 3.6), it’s exactly the same with us–we believe God and He counts it to us as righteousness today. Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit to this counting as righteousness, the Holy Spirit being an evidence of our justification.

No obedience to law is necessary to receive the Holy Spirit–only hearing with faith. But doesn’t faith obey, work, and submit?! Yes, but biblical, saving faith is born in the heart of man, while works of obedience and submission flow from faith. The Galatians received the Holy Spirit by hearing the gospel and believing in the gospel. They were baptized, it says in Galatians 3.27, into Christ, surrendering only to Him. Baptism is not a commitment to a law system; it’s a commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior!

Am I saying you don’t have to follow laws any more? Not hardly! Am I saying God doesn’t want us to do any works? No! God created us to walk in good works (Eph. 2.10). Jesus and His apostles taught that we should be obedient to the laws of the land, to our parents, ultimately to God. We must understand the place of law in a Christian’s life, which is Paul’s point of contention here.

Law cannot not justify or save, so what was it / is it for? We shall continue…

Galatians: Never Justified by Law

Moses and 10 CommandmentsSince the beginning of time, what is the most perfect law ever given whereby men might live? Is it not the law God gave at Mount Sinai through His prophet Moses? The Ten Commandments form the bedrock basis for all of the Law of Moses, which only Israel received. God personally intoned the Decalogue from the top of the mountain, and the people trembled when they heard His voice (Exodus 20)! God has not given another law which so perfectly establishes His concerns for mankind and His own glory.

But did God not give us a new law in Christ Jesus? Indeed, the New Testament mentions, even in Galatians, the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2), but I contend that Christ’s law does not nullify or replace God’s Mount Sinai laws (Matt. 5.17-19).

But doesn’t Hebrews speak of nullifying the old law of Moses and bringing in a new law in Jesus? With our digital access to the biblical texts, it’s easy to search for “old law” and “new law.” I challenge you to run a search on those two phrases and read every instance you find.

What’s that? You couldn’t find a single instance of “old law” or “new law”? Interesting.

Illegal ImmoralWhat you will find are references to “old covenant” and “new covenant” (Heb. 8.13; 9.2, 15; 12.24) and to a “first covenant” and “second covenant” (Heb. 9.1), but that’s not exactly the same as “old law” and “new law.” A covenant is an agreement between parties; law may be included within the covenant, but it’s not equal to the covenant itself. We would do well to distinguish between Old Testament moral laws (instructions towards holy living), ceremonial laws (such as sacrifice, temple worship, special days, and circumcision), and civil laws (such as specific penalties for breaking laws).

Jesus and His apostles continued to refer back to the Law of Moses for moral guidance. Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 for the Greatest Commandment and it’s human corollary (Matt. 22.37-40). He told a young man in Matthew 19.16-19 to keep the commandments in order to have eternal life. Paul often taught Christians using the commandments and the Law (Rom. 7.7-12; 13.8-10; 1 Cor. 14.34; Gal. 5.14-15; etc.).

JusticeMoral law has been the same since God created man. When has it ever been right to murder, to lie, to cheat, or to steal? When God spoke the Ten Commandments, He was not giving the world something new; He was instructing Israel in His character and in how they ought to live before Him! God’s moral law, then, displays His holiness and provides a means for us to understand our right place before Him. But it also condemns, giving judgments for violations.

If the Law of Moses contains the most perfect revelation of moral law since time began, then the way to have a relationship with God must have been through the correct keeping of that law, right? Wrong! This is Paul’s contention in the letter to the Galatians. Notice:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2.21)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3.11; and notice Paul quotes from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2.4, for this proof!)

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Gal. 3.21)

Law has never given life, has never justified a man before God!

There is a huge reason that Paul never contrasts the “old law” with a “new law” in Christ. He always contrast the law with faith and grace. Just as the Jews were not and are not justified by law, neither are we justified by law. Any law.

Think on these things.

Galatians: What Is the Gospel?

Reading the BibleA critical question for any Christian is “What is the gospel?” Paul taught incessantly about the gospel, claiming, among other things, that it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1.16).

Gospel simply means “good news.” What is the good news Paul would have us know?

Paul’s letter to the Galatians contributes much to our understanding of the pure gospel. At the beginning Paul identifies a cancer within the churches of Galatia–men who were preaching a different gospel (Galatians 1.6-9). It’s not as if there were multiple gospels, but they were twisting, perverting, distorting the real gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have many perversions of the gospel today, and (following Paul’s instruction) we find it paramount to seek after and vigorously defend the real gospel. How have men perverted the gospel of Christ? They do it the same way people have always perverted the word of God–by either adding to it or taking away from it. Certainly teaching that Jesus really did not come in the flesh (2 John 7) or that He was not raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.12ff) constitute gospel perversions. But that’s not the point of Galatians. Paul deals with a specific issue in Galatians, one particular insidious and spiritually destructive perversion of the gospel.

Among the Galatian churches certain Jewish teachers insisted the gentiles (non-Jews) be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul unconditionally denounced this form of teaching, in the process clarifying for us what the true gospel is. Paul’s thesis may be found in Galatians 2.15-16:

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

GavelClearly the issue encompasses justification. To be justified means to be declared righteous. It does not mean the person is made righteous in the sense that he no longer sins and is completely holy within his own person. It may help to understand that the opposite of justification is condemnation. Before God declares you righteous, you stand condemned before Him, under judgment because of your own guilt. But when God declares you righteous, there is no condemnation (Romans 8.1); God no longer considers you guilty because He lays all your sins on His Son Jesus Christ who has already paid the penalty for your sins! This is the good news of the gospel.

So the perversion of the gospel in Galatians has to do with how a person stands justified before God. Paul gives two options throughout the letter:

  1. You can be justified by keeping the Law (specifically the Law of Moses is under consideration, although the principle applies to all law)
  2. You can be justified through faith in Jesus Christ

In his thesis (Galatians 2.15-16), Paul lets us know up front which is the actual gospel, explaining that a person IS NOT justified by works of the law! Let that be clear in our minds. Seeking to be justified before God by keeping law is actually a path to condemnation, misery, and slavery.

I plan to continue to flesh these ideas out over the next few posts, but in the meantime why don’t you study the letter to the Galatians to discover how Paul explains and supports his thesis? I’d love to hear your feedback.