Galatians: Has the Old Law Been Replaced by a New Law?

1cor15-56-57We left off on our last post with the question “Why then the law?” Paul asked this because he had already shown that God never intended to save man by the law or through the law–so now he must explain why God initially bound Israel under the law.

Things Law Cannot Do

  • Bless (3.10-14)
  • Correspond with Faith (3.12)
  • Fulfill God’s Promise (3.15-18)
  • Give Life (3.21)
  • Give Freedom (3.22)

Negative Things Law Does

  • Brings a Curse (3.10-14)
  • Imprisons Under Sin (3.22)
  • Holds Captive (3.23)

Positive Things Law Does

  • Defines and Exposes Sin (3.19)
  • Brings the World to Christ (3.24-29)

And remember how long God planned for the law to endure: “until the seed should come” (3.19b), until faith came (3.23, 25), “until Christ came” (3.24).

Out with the Old...

Has the Old Law Been Replaced with a New Law?

A brother argued recently that we are under Christ’s law today (1 Cor. 9.21); therefore, he insisted, while Galatians tells us we are no longer under the law of Moses, Christ brought a new law by which we are saved today if we keep it.

That is a theological theory. I say theory because the Bible never speaks of Christ coming to replace the law of Moses with a new law. This is important! We must speak where the Bible speaks, and if you insist on a universal law switch-up, you must support your position with scriptures which speak to that effect.

New TestamentWhat the Bible does clearly state is that the old covenant has been replaced with a new covenant. Covenants, truly, may have law embedded within them, but not necessarily.

Exodus through Deuteronomy lists God’s laws to Israel, a law system like none given other on earth, including moral, civil, and ceremonial precepts. It was obviously written as law.

Come, then, to the New Testament, and search diligently for something similar today. You’ll be hard pressed to find it. Many comb the New Testament looking for laws to extract; they seek to discover a New Law similar to the Old. If God has given a new law similar to the old, shouldn’t we expect to find it clearly defined and stated, just as He did for Israel?

How is the New Covenant contrasted with the Old?

The old covenant is associated with works; the new covenant is associated with faith (Galatians 3; Romans 3.27-28; 4.2-8; etc.). James speaks of the law as a thing which convicts and holds accountable; he contrasts that with a “law of liberty” in which “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.8-13).

When God speaks of “law of faith” (Rom. 3.27) or “law of liberty” (James 2.12), there is a fundamental difference in type of law as we contrast it with the law of commandments. The law of liberty is not the same kind of law as we find in the Old Testament. The law of faith is not the same kind of law as the Law of Moses. Paul shows this distinction: “the law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Gal. 3.12).

Remember, if there had been a law which could actually give life, then righteousness would have come through the Old Law (Gal. 3.21). The point? Law, as we understand law, cannot save. Period.

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.