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!

Galatians: We Are Children of Promise!

ABCsIn Galatians 4, Paul writes of the “elementary principles of the world” the “weak and worthless elements” (ESV). The NKJV translates as follows:

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. (Gal. 4.3)

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? (Gal. 4.9)

Notice the slavery / bondage aspect to the elements. These “elementary principles” are like the ABCs, the basic building blocks of religious activity. Paul here writes of the Jewish religion, originally mediated and recorded by the hand of Moses. Although the law contains the greatest expression of God’s holiness the world has ever seen, Paul still considered it “weak and worthless” because of its inability to deliver from slavery. In fact, people were enslaved to those elementary things.

God never intended for us to stay in the ABC stage, though, and when the fullness of time came, God sent Jesus to live according to the law in order to deliver everyone from the law. The result? We become the actual adopted sons of God! No longer does the tutor watch over our every move; now we enjoy great freedom in Christ!

SlaveryWhy, then, Paul asks, would you go back to those elementary principles? Why return to the ABCs if you have already graduated? You want to become slaves again?

At the end of Galatians 4, Paul allegorizes events from Abraham’s life. Abraham had two wives. Sarah was his free wife, and Hagar was his slave wife (concubine). Each wife bore a son. Hagar had Ishmael and Sarah had Isaac. Notice Paul’s train of thought:

  1. The son of the slave woman was born according to the flesh (by the forethought and will of man). The son of the free was born through a promise (by the forethought and will of God).
  2. The slave child represents the Jerusalem below, tied to the image of Mt. Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments, the Law of Moses. The free child represents the Jerusalem above, which is free from the Law of Moses.
  3. Those in Christ, like Isaac, are children of promise. Those outside of Christ are children of bondage.
  4. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so now the children of the flesh persecute and afflict the children of the promise.

Paul ends the analogy with a quote: “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal. 4.30). Paul finds this business so serious that he will not even allow the free to live side-by-side with the slave. And who are these? The free is he who has been released from the Law in Christ; the slave is he who continues to trust in his keeping of the Law for salvation.

Brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman! We are children of promise, born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.13).

Galatians: How Is the Promise Fulfilled?

PonderingTo Review…

Thesis: We are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2.15-16)

Proof #1: You received the Holy Spirit not by works of the law but by hearing with faith (Gal. 3.1-9)

Proof #2: All who rely on works of the law are under a curse (Gal. 3.10-14)

To Continue…

Proof #3: The Promise was not fulfilled through the law (Gal. 3.15-20)

God promised that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Despite what the Jews were thinking, the special covenant Moses ratified between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai did not fulfill that promise God made to Abraham.

CancelledDid the covenant with Israel cancel out the promise? Paul says absolutely not! The law given through Moses did not change a bit of what God had promised.

Paul makes a great deal out of the phrase “to his offspring,” showing how offspring is singular and means one man, namely Christ. The promises God gave Abraham were to be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ–not through Moses and the Law. Abraham lived 430 years before the Law was ever written, so God was faithfully working out His promises long before the Law came, and the Law did not change the direction of that work. When you read the Old Testament, it’s often good to think of the BIG STORY in which God works out the Seed of Abraham in such a way as to bring Jesus onto the earth “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4.4).

Therefore the Law must have served some other purpose(s), since it did not accomplish the fulfillment of God’s promise. This is why Paul begs the question, “Why then the law?” (Gal. 3.19)

  1. It was added because of transgression (3.19)
  2. It was a bi-lateral covenant between God and Israel (3.19-20)
  3. It imprisoned everyone under sin (3.22) / held people captive (3.23)
  4. It served as a guardian / tutor / schoolmaster (3.24)

How long did God intend for the Law given through Moses to endure?

  • “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3.19)
  • “until the coming faith would be revealed” (3.23)
  • “until Christ came” (3.24)

Rapt AttentionGalatians 3.21 is extremely important for us to hear and understand:

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.

The little “if” can change your worldview! Paul plainly teaches NO LAW in existence can give life. Law inherently cannot redeem, save, justify, etc. Just the opposite, law condemns and binds us under judgment and wrath. Law has no mercy. In order for us to receive mercy, forgiveness, and grace, we must receive it from someone who loves us and has the ability to give it to us.

It’s not as if God’s law to Israel was imperfect–it is the most perfect law which has ever been given to mankind! If any law could save, that would be the one.

Neither did God abandon the Law of Moses simply to replace it with a better law, the Law of Christ, by which we are now saved. The Bible never reads like that anywhere. Christ didn’t come to save us via a better law; He came to save us from the condemnation of the law. That’s important, and we must not miss it, because the Galatian brethren missed this point and were cursed because of it.

Why then the law? The law pushes us on to Christ! It displays the absolute holiness of God and exposes our own lack of holiness. But the law doesn’t save; for that we need Christ! “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3.29).