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How did Paul Teach Salvation?


From the book "The Sabbath Under Crossfire" 
by Samuele Bacchiocchi Ph.D.
Dr.Sam as he likes to be called has a Website:

     In the Sabbath-Sunday debate, it has been customary to
appeal to Paul in defense of the abrogation-view of the Old
Testament Law, in general, and of the Sabbath, in particular.
This has been especially true in recent attacks launched against
the Sabbath by former Sabbatarians. For example, in his open
letter posted on the Internet on Apri11, 1995, Joseph W. Tkach,
Jr., Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God, wrote: "Paul
does not hold the Mosaic Law as a moral standard of Christian
conduct. Rather, he holds up Jesus Christ, the suffering of the
Cross, the Law of Christ, the fruit and leadership of the Holy
Spirit, nature, creation and the moral principles that were
generally understood throughout the Gentile world as the basis of
Christian ethics. He never, I repeat, never, argues that the Law
is the foundation of Christian ethics. Paul looks at Golgotha,
not Sinai."
     Similar categoric statements can be found in Sabbath in
Crisis, by Dale Ratzlaff, a former Seventh-day Adventist Bible
teacher and pastor. He writes: "Paul teaches that Christians are
not under old covenant Law ... Galatians 3 states that Christians
are no longer under Sinaitic Law ... Romans 7 states that even
Jewish Christians are released from the Law as a guide to
Christian service ... Romans 10 states that Christ is the end of
the Law for the believer." 1
     These categoric statements reflect the prevailing
Evangelical perception of the relationship between Law and Gospel
as one in which the observance of the Law is no longer obligatory
for Christians. Texts such as Romans 6:14; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18;
Galatians 3:15-25; Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15; and Romans
10:4 are often cited as proof that Christians have been delivered
from the obligation to observe the Law, in general, and the
Sabbath, in particular, since the latter "was the sign of the
Sinaitic Covenant and could stand for the covenant." 2
     For many Christians these statements are so definitive that
any further investigation of the issue is unnecessary. They
boldly affirm that so-called "New Covenant" Christians live
"under grace" and not "under the Law;" consequently, they derive
their moral principles from the principle of love revealed by
Christ and not from the moral Law given by God to Moses on Mount
     For example, Ratzlaff writes: "In old covenant life,
morality was often seen as an obligation to numerous specific
Laws. In the new covenant, morality springs from a response to
the living Christ" 3 "The new Law [given by Christ] is better
that the old Law [given by Moses]." 4 "In the New Covenant,
Christ's true disciples will be known by the way they love! This
commandment to love is repeated a number of times in the New
Testament, just as the Ten Commandments were repeated a number 
of times in the Old." 5

     This study shows that statements such as these represent a
blatant misrepresentation of the New Testament teaching regarding
the role of the Law in the life of a Christian. They ignore the
fact that the New Testament never suggests that Christ instituted
"better commandments" than those given in the Old Testament. On
the contrary, Paul unequivocally stated that "the [Old Testament]
Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good"
(Rom 7:12). "We know that the Law is good" (1 Tim 1:8).
     This prevailing misunderstanding of the Law as no longer
binding upon Christians is negated by a great number of Pauline
passages that uphold the Law as a standard for Christian conduct.
When the Apostle Paul poses the question: "Do we then overthrow
the Law?" (Rom 3:31). His answer is unequivocal: "By no means! On
the contrary, we uphold the Law" (Rom 3:31). The same truth is
affirmed in the Galatian correspondence: "Is the Law then against
the promises of God? Certainly not" (Gal 3:21). These statements
should warn antinomians that, as Walter C. Kaiser puts it, "any
solution that quickly runs the Law out of town certainly cannot
look to the Scripture for any kind of comfort or support." 6
     There are few teachings within the whole compass of biblical
theology so grossly misunderstood today as that of the place and
significance of the Law both in the New Testament and in the life
of Christians.

     Fortunately, an increasing number of scholars are
recognizing this problem and addressing it. For example, in his
article "St.Paul and the Law," published in the Scottish Journal
of Theology, C. E. B. Cranfield writes: "The need exists today
for a thorough re-examination of the place and significance of
Law in the Bible . . . The possibility that . . . recent writings
reflect a serious degree of muddled thinking and unexamined
assumptions with regard to the attitudes of Jesus and St.Paul to
the Law ought to be reckoned with-and even the further
possibility that, behind them, there may be some muddled thinking
or, at the least, careless and imprecise statement in this
connection in some works of serious New Testament scholarship
which have helped to mould the opinions of the present generation
of ministers and teachers." 7
     Ishare Cranfield's conviction that shoddy biblical
scholarship has contributed to the prevailing misconception that
Christ has released Christians from the observance of the Law.
There is an urgent need to re examine the New Testament
understanding of the Law and its place in the Christian life. The
reason for this urgency is that muddled thinking about the role
of the Law in the Christian life affects a whole spectrum of
Christian beliefs and practices. In fact, much of the
anti-sabbatarian polemic derives from the mistaken assumption
that the New Testament, especially Paul's letters, releases
Christians from the observance of the Law, in general, and the
Sabbath commandment, in particular.

     Objectives of This Chapter. 

     The purpose of this chapter is to examine Paul's attitude
toward the Law which is one of the most complex doctrinal issues
of his theology. To determine Paul's view of the Law, we examine
four specific areas. First, the background of Paul's view of the
Law from the perspective of his pre- and post-conversion
experience. Second, Paul's basic teachings about the nature and
function of the Law. Third, the five major misunderstood Pauline
texts frequently appealed to in support of the abrogation view of
the Law. Fourth, why legalism became a major problem among
Gentile converts.
     By way of conclusion, I propose that the resolution to the
apparent contradiction between Paul's negative and positive
statements about the Law is found in their different contexts.
When he speaks of the Law in the context of salvation
(justification-right standing before God), he clearly affirms
that Law-keeping is of no avail (Rom 3:20). On the other hand,
when Paul speaks of the Law in the context of Christian conduct
(sanctification-right living before God), he upholds the value
and validity of God's Law (Rom 7:12; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19).


Various Usages of "Law." 

     Paul uses the term "Law-nomos" at least 110 times in his
epistles, but not uniformly. The same term "Law" is used by Paul
to refer to such things as the Mosaic Law (Gal 4:21; Rom 7:22,
25; 1 Cor 9:9), the whole Old Testament (1 Cor 14:21; Rom 3:19,
21), the will of God written in the heart of Gentiles (Rom
2:14-15), the governing principle of conduct (works or faith-Rom
3:27), evil inclinations (Rom 7:21), and the guidance of the
Spirit (Rom 8:2).
     Sometimes the term "Law" is used by Paul in a personal way
as if it were God Himself: "Whatever the Law says it speaks to
those who are under the Law" (Rom 3:19). Here the word "Law"
could be substituted for the word "God" (cf. Rom 4:15; 1 Cor
     Our immediate concern is not to ascertain the various
Pauline usages of the term "Law," but rather to establish the
apostle's view toward the Old Testament Law, in general. Did Paul
teach that Christ abrogated the Mosaic Law, in particular, and/or
the Old Testament Law, in general, so that Christians are no
longer obligated to observe them? This view has predominated
during much of Christian history and is still tenaciously
defended today by numerous scholars 8 and Christian churches.
Unfortunately, this prevailing view rests largely on a one-sided
interpretation of selected Pauline passages at the exclusion of
other important passages that negate such an interpretation.
Our procedure will be, first, to examine the positive and
negative statements that Paul makes about the Law and then to
seek a resolution to any apparent contradiction. We begin our
investigation by looking at the background of Paul's view of the
Law, because this offers valuable insights into why Paul views
the Law both as "abolished" (Eph 2:15) and "established" (Rom
3:31), "unnecessary" (Rom 3:28), and "necessary" (1 Cor 7:19; Eph
6:2, 3; 1 Tim 1:8-10).

The Old Testament View of the Law. 

     To understand Paul's view of the Law, we need to look at it
from three perspectives: (1) the Old Testament, (2) Judaism, and
(3) his own personal experience. Each of these perspectives had
an impact in the development of Paul's view of the Law and is
reflected in his discussion of the nature and function of the
Law. Contrary to what many people believe, the Old Testament does
not view the Law as a means of gaining acceptance with God
through obedience, but as a way of responding to God's gracious
redemption and of binding Israel to her God. The popular view
that in the Old Covenant people were saved, not by grace but by
obeying the Law, ignores the fundamental biblical teaching that
salvation has always been a divine gift of grace and not a human
     The Law was given to the Israelites at Sinai, not to enable
them to gain acceptance with God and be saved, but to make it
possible for them to respond to what God had already accomplished
by delivering them from Egyptian bondage. The context of the Ten
Commandments is the gracious act of divine deliverance. "I am the
Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of
the house of bondage" (Ex 20:2). Israel was chosen as God's
people not because of merits gained by the people through
obedience to the Law, but because of God's love and faithfulness
to His promise. "It was not because you were more in number than
any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose
you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because
the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to
your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty
hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage" (Deut 7:7-8).
     Obedience to the Law provided the Israelites with an
opportunity to preserve their covenant relationship with God, and
not to gain acceptance with Him. This is the meaning of Leviticus
18:5: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by
doing which a man shall live." The life promised in this text is
not the life in the age to come (as in Dan 12:2), but the present
enjoyment of a peaceful and prosperous life in' fellowship with
God. Such life was God's gift to His people, a gift that could be
enjoyed and preserved by living according to the principles God
had revealed.
     The choice between life and death laid before the people in
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 was determined by whether or not the people
would choose to trust and obey the Word of God. Obedience to the
Law of God was an expression of trust in God which revealed who
really were His people. The obedience demanded by the Law could
not be satisfied by legalistic observance of external commands,
like circumcision, but by an internal love-response to God. The
essence of the Law was love for God (Deut 6:5; 10:12) and for
fellow-beings (Lev 19:18). Life was understood as a gift to be
accepted by a faith response to God. As Gerhard von Rad puts it,
"Only by faith, that is, by cleaving to the God of salvation,
will the righteous have life (cf. Hab 2:4; Am 5:4, 14; Jer
38:20). It is obvious that life is here understood as a gift." 9

     It was only after his conversion that Paul understood that
the Old Testament view of the function of the Law was a
faith-response to the gift of life and salvation and not a means
to gain life through legalistic obedience. Prior to his
conversion, as we shall see, Paul held to the Pharisaic view of
the Law as a means of salvation, a kind of mediator between God
and man. After his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road,
Paul was compelled to reexamine his theology. Gradually, he came
to realize that his Pharisaic view of the Law as a way of
salvation was wrong because the Old Testament teaches that
salvation was promised already to Abraham through the Christ, the
Seed to come, 430 years before the giving of the Law at Sinai
(Gal 3:17).

The Jewish View of the Law. 

     These considerations led Paul to realize that salvation in
the Old Testament is offered not through Law, but through the
promise of the coming Redeemer. "For if the inheritance is by the
Law, it is no longer by promise" (Gal 3:18). It was this
rediscovery of the Old Testament meaning of the Law as a response
to God's gracious salvation that caused Paul to challenge those
who wanted to make the Law a means of salvation. He said: "For no
human being will be justified in his sight by works of the Law,
since through the Law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20).
     The view that the observance of the Law is an indispensable
means to gain salvation developed later during the
intertestamental period, that is, during the four centuries that
separate the last books of the Old Testament from the first books
of the New Testament. During this period a fundamental change
occurred in the understanding of the role of the Law in the life
of the people. Religious leaders came to realize that
disobedience to God's Law had resulted in the past suffering and
deportation of the people into exile. To prevent the recurrence
of such tragedies, they took measures to ensure that the people
would observe every detail of the Law. They interpreted and
applied the Law to every minute detail and circumstance of life.
At the time of Christ, this ever-increasing mass of regulations
was known as "the tradition of the elders" (Matt 15:2).
     During this period, as succinctly summarized by Eldon Ladd,
"the observance of the Law becomes the basis of God's verdict
upon the individual. Resurrection will be the reward of those who
have been devoted to the Law (2 Mac 7:9). The Law is the basis of
hope of the faithful (Test of Jud 26:1), of justification (Apoc
Bar 51:3), of salvation (Apoc Bar 51:7), of righteousness (Apoc
Bar 57:6), of life (4 Ezra 7:21; 9:31).

     Obedience to the Law will even bring God's Kingdom and
transform the entire sin-cursed world (Jub 23). Thus the Law
attains the position of intermediary between God and man." 10
     This new view of the Law became characteristic of rabbinic
Judaism which prevailed in Paul's time. The result was that the
Old Testament view of the Law "is characteristically and
decisively altered and invalidated." 11 From being a divine
revelation of the moral principle of human conduct, the Law
becomes the one and only mediator between God and the people.
Righteousness and life in the world to come can only be secured
by faithfully studying and observing the Law. "The more study of
the Law, the more life. . ." "If a person has gained for himself
words of the Law, he has gained for himself life in the world to
come." 12

Paul's Pre-Conversion Experience of the Law. 

     This prevailing understanding of the Law as a means of
salvation influenced Paul's early life. He himself tells us that
he was a committed Pharisee, blameless and zealous in the
observance of the Law (Phil 3:5-6; Gal 1:14). The zeal and
devotion to the Law eventually led Paul to pride (Phil 3:4,7) and
boasting (Rom 2:13,23), seeking to establish his own
righteousness based on works (Rom 3:27).
     As a result of his conversion, Paul discovered that his
pride and boasting were an affront to the character of God, the
only One who deserves praise and glory (1 Cor 1:29-31; 2 Cor
10:17). "What he as a Jew had thought was righteousness, he now
realizes to be the very essence of sin, for his pride in his own
righteousness (Phil 3:9) had blinded him to the revelation of the
divine righteousness in Christ. Only the divine intervention on
the Damascus Road shattered his pride and self-righteousness and
brought him to a humble acceptance of the righteousness of God."
     The preceding discussion of Paul's background experience of
the Law helps us to appreciate the radical change that occurred
in his understanding of the Law. Before his conversion, Paul
understood the Law like a Pharisee, that is, as the external
observance of commandments in order to gain salvation (2 Cor
5:16-17). After his conversion, he came to view the Law from the
perspective of the Cross of Christ, who came "in order that the
just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us" through
the enabling power of His Spirit (Rom 8:4). From the perspective
of the Cross, Paul rejects the Pharisaic understanding of the Law
as a means of salvation and affirms the Old Testament view of the
Law as a revelation of God's will for human conduct.


     This brief survey of Paul's background view of the Law
provides us with a setting for examining now Paul's basic
teachings about the Law. For the sake of clarity, we summarize
his teachings under the following seven headings.

(1) The Law Reveals God's Will. 

     First of all, it is important to note that for Paul the Law
is and remains God's Law (Rom 7:22, 25). The Law was given by God
(Rom 9:4; 3:2), written by God (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34),
contains the will of God (Rom 2:17, 18), bears witness to the
righteousness of God (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with the
promises of God (Gal 3:21). Repeatedly and explicitly Paul speaks
of "the Law of God." "I delight in the Law of God in my inmost
self" (Rom 7:22); "I of myself serve the Law of God with my mind"
(Rom 7:25); the carnal mind "does not submit to God's Law" (Rom
8:7). Elsewhere he speaks of "keeping the commandments of God" (1
Cor 7:19) as being a Christian imperative.
     Since God is the author of the Law, "the Law is holy, and
the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12). The Law is
certainly included among "the oracles of God" that were entrusted
to the Jews (Rom 3:2). To the Jews was granted the special
privilege ("advantage") to be entrusted with the Law of God (Rom
3:1-2). So "the giving of the Law" is reckoned by Paul as one of
the glorious privileges granted to Israel (Rom 9:4). Statements
such as these reflect Paul's great respect for the divine origin
and authority of God's Law.
     Paul clearly recognizes the inherent goodness of the moral
principles contained in the Old Testament Law. The Law "is holy
and just and good" (Rom 7:12) because its ethical demands reflect
nothing else than the very holiness, righteousness, and goodness
of God Himself. This means that the way people relate to the Law
is indicative of the way they relate to God Himself. The Law is
also "spiritual" (Rom 7:14) in the sense that it reflects the
spiritual nature of the Lawgiver and it can be internalized and
observed by the enabling power of the Spirit. Thus, only those
who walk "according to the Spirit" can fulfill "the just
requirements of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
     The Law expresses the will of God for human life. However,
what the Law requires is not merely outward obedience but a
submissive, loving response to God. Ultimately, the observance of
the Law requires a heart willing to love God and fellow beings
(Rom 13:8). This was the fundamental problem of Israel "who
pursued the righteousness which is based on Law" (Rom 9:31); they
sought to attain a right standing before God through outward
obedience to God's commandments. The result was that the people
"did not succeed in fulfilling that Law" (Rom 9:31). Why? Because
their heart was not in it. The people sought to pursue
righteousness through external obedience to commandments rather
than obeying the commandments out of a faith-love response to
God. "They did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were
based on works" (Rom 9:32).
     The Law of God demands much more than conformity to outward
regulations. Paul makes this point when he speaks of a man who
may accept circumcision and yet fail to keep the Law (Rom 2:25).
Superficially this appears to be a contradictory statement
because the very act of circumcision is obedience to the Law. But
Paul explains that true circumcision is a matter of the heart,
not merely something external and physical (Rom 2:28-29).
For Paul, as C. K. Barrett points out, "obedience to the Law does
not mean only carrying out the detailed precepts written in the
Pentateuch, but fulfilling that relation to God to which the Law
points; and this proves in the last resort to be a relation not
of legal obedience but of faith." 14 The failure to understand
this important distinction that Paul makes between legalistic and
loving observance of the Law has led many to wrongly conclude
that the apostle rejects the validity of the Law, when in reality
he rejects only its unlawful use.

(2) Christ Enables Believers to Obey the Law. 

     For Paul the function of Christ's redemptive mission is to
enable believers to live out the principles of God's Law in their
lives and not to abrogate the Law, as many Christians mistakenly
believe. Paul explains that in Christ, God does what the Law by
itself could not do-namely, He empowers believers to live
according to the "just requirements of the Law." "For God has
done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending
his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he
condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirements
of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to
the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:3-4).
     The new life in Christ enables the Christian to keep the
Law, not as an external code, but as a loving response to God.
This is the very thing that the Law by itself cannot do because,
being an external standard of human conduct, it cannot generate a
loving response in the human heart. By contrast, "Christ's love
compels us" (2 Cor 5:14) to respond to Him by living according to
the moral principles of God's Law. Our love response to Christ
fulfills the Law because love will not commit adultery, or lie,
or steal, or covet, or harm one's neighbor (Rom 13:8-10).
     The permanence of the Law is reflected in Paul's appeal to
specific commandments as the norm for Christian conduct. To
illustrate how the principle of love fulfills the Law, Paul cites
several specific commandments: "The commandments, 'You shall not
commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You
shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in the
sentence, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does
no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the
Law" (Rom 13: 9-10).
     Paul's reference to "any other commandment" presupposes the
rest of the Ten Commandments, since love fulfills not only the
last six commandments that affect our relationship with fellow
beings, but also the first four commandments that govern our
relationship with God. For example, love fulfills the Sabbath
commandment because it motivates Christians to truly love the
Lord by giving priority to Him in their thinking and living
during the hours of the Sabbath.
     Central to Paul's understanding of the Law is the Cross of
Christ. From this perspective, he both negates and affirms the
Law. Negatively, the Apostle repudiates the Law as the basis of
justification: "if justification were through the Law, then
Christ died to no purpose" (Gal 2:21).
     Positively, Paul teaches that the Law is "spiritual, good,
holy, just" (Rom 7:12,14,16; 1 Tim 1:8) because it exposes sin
and reveals God's ethical standards. Thus, he states that Christ
came "in order that the just requirements of the Law might be
fulfilled in us" through the dynamic power of His Spirit (Rom
     Three times Paul states: "Neither circumcision counts for
anything nor uncircumcision;" and each time he concludes this
statement with a different phrase: "but keeping the commandments
of God ... but faith working through love ... but a new creation"
(1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism shows that Paul
equates the keeping of God's commandments with a working faith
and a new life in Christ, which is made possible through the
enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

(3) The Law Is Established by the Ministry of the Holy Spirit.

     Christ's ministry enables His Spirit to set us free from the
tyranny of sin and death (Rom 8:2) and to re-establish the true
spiritual character of the Law in our hearts. In Romans 8, Paul
explains that what the Law, frustrated and abused by sin, could
not accomplish, Christ has triumphantly accomplished by taking
upon Himself the condemnation of our sins (Rom 8:3). This Christ
has done, not to release us from the obligation to observe the
Law, but "in order that the just requirements of the Law might be
fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but
according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4).
     The Spirit establishes God's Law in our hearts by setting us
free from tampering with God's commandments and from "boasting"
of presumptuous observance (Rom 2:23; 3:27; 4:2). The Spirit
establishes the Law by pointing us again and again to Christ who
is the goal of the Law (Rom 10:4). The Spirit establishes the Law
by setting us free to obey God as our "Father" (Rom 8:5) in
sincerity. The Spirit enables us to recognize in God's Law the
gracious revelation of His fatherly will for His children. The
final establishment of God's Law in our hearts will not be
realized until the coming of Christ when the "revealing of the
sons of God" will take place (Rom 8:19).
     The slogan of "New Covenant" Christians - "Not under Law but
under love" - does not increase the amount of true love in the
world, because love without Law soon degenerates in deceptive
sentimentality. E. C. Cranfield perceptively observes that "while
we most certainly need the general command to love (which the Law
itself provides in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18), to save
us from understanding the particular commandments in a rigid,
literalistic and pedantic manner, we also need the particular
commandments into which the Law breaks down the general
obligation of love, to save us from the sentimentality and
self-deception to which we all are prone." 15

(4) The Law Reveals the Nature of Sin. 

     As a revelation of God's will for mankind, the Law reveals
the nature of sin as disobedience to God. Paul explains that
"through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20), because
the Law causes people to recognize their sins and themselves as
sinners. It is self-evident that this important function of the
Law could not have been terminated by Christ, since the need to
acknowledge sin in one's life is as fundamental to the life of
Christians today as it was for the Israelites of old.
     By showing people how their actions are contrary to the
moral principles that God has revealed, the Law increases sin in
the sense that it makes people more conscious of disobeying
definite commandments. This is what Paul meant when he says: "Law
came in, to increase the trespass" (Rom 5:20; cf. Gal 3:19). By
making people conscious of disobeying definite commandments, the
Law increases the awareness of transgressions (Rom 4:15).
     The Law not only heightens the awareness of sin but also
increases sin by providing an opportunity to deliberately
transgress a divine command. This is what Paul suggests in Romans
7:11: "For sin, finding opportunity in the commandments, deceived
me and by it killed me." The term "deceived" is reminiscent of
the creation story (Gen 3:13) where the serpent found in God's
explicit prohibition (Gen 2:17) the very opportunity he wanted to
lead Adam and Eve into deliberate disobedience and rebellion
against God.
     It is in this sense that "the power of sin is the Law" (1
Cor 15:56). "In the absence of Law sin is in a sense 'dead' (Rom
7:8), that is, relatively impotent; but when the Law comes, then
sin springs into activity (Rom 7:9 - 'sin revived'). And the
opposition which the Law offers to men's sinful desires has the
effect of stirring them up to greater fury." 16 

     Sinful human desires, unrestrained by the influence of the
Holy Spirit, as Calvin puts it in his commentary on Romans 7:5,
"break forth with greater fury, the more they are held back by
the restraints of righteousness." 17 Thus, the Law, in the
absence of the Spirit, "increases the trespass" (Rom 5:20) by
attacking sinful desires and actions. To claim that "New
Covenant" Christians are no longer under Law, in the sense that
they no longer need the Law to expose sin in their life, is to
deny or cover up the presence of sin. Sinful human beings need
the Law to "come to the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20), and need a
Saviour to "have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:14;
cf. Eph 1:7).

(5) Observance of the Law Can Lead to Legalism. 

     The goodness of the Law is sullied when it is used
wrongfully. Paul expresses this truth in 1 Timothy 1:8: "Now we
know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully." Contrary to
what many believe, Paul affirms the validity and goodness of the
Law, but it must be used according to God's intended purpose.
This important distinction is ignored by those who teach that
"New Covenant" Christians are no longer obligated to observe the
moral Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai, because they claim to
derive their moral principles from the principle of love revealed
by Christ. God has only one set of moral principles. Paul openly
and constantly condemns the abuse, and not the proper use of
God's Law.

     The abuse was found in the attitude of the Judaizers who
promoted the works of the Law as a means to achieve
self-righteousness before God. Paul recognizes that observance of
the Law can tempt people to use it unlawfully as a means to
establish their own righteousness before God. He exposes as
hopeless the legalist's confidence of seeking to be justified in
God's sight by works of the Law because "no human being will be
justified in his sight by the works of the Law, since through the
Law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). Human beings in their
fallen condition can never fully observe God's Law.
     It was incredible pride and self-deception that caused the
Jews to "rely upon the Law" (Rom 2:17) to establish their own
righteousness (Rom 10:3) when in reality they were notoriously
guilty of dishonoring God by transgressing the very principles of
His Law. "You who boast in the Law, do you dishonor God by
breaking the Law?" (Rom 2:24). This was the problem with the
Pharisees, who outwardly gave the appearance of being righteous
and Law-abiding (Luke 16:12-15; 18:11-12), but inwardly they were
polluted, full of iniquity, and spiritually dead (Matt 23:27-28).
The Pharisaic mentality found its way into the primitive church,
among those who refused to abandon the wrongful use of God's Law.
They did not recognize that Christ's redemptive accomplishments
brought to an end those ceremonial parts of the Law, like
circumcision, that foreshadowed His person and work. They wanted
to "compel the Gentiles to live like Jews" (Gal 2:14). These
Judaizers insisted that in order to be saved, the Gentiles needed
to be circumcised and observe the covenantal distinctiveness of
the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1). In other words, the offer of
salvation by grace had to be supplemented with the observance of
Jewish ceremonies.
     Paul was no stranger to the attitude of the Judaizers toward
the Law of Moses, because he held the same view himself prior to
his conversion. He was brought up as a Pharisee and trained in
the Law at the feet of Gamaliel (Phil 3:5; Acts 22:3). He
describes himself as "extremely zealous for the traditions of my
fathers" (Gal 1:14). From the perspective of a person who is
spiritually dead, Paul could claim that as far as "legalistic
righteousness" was concerned, he was " faultless" (Phil 3:6,
     After his conversion, Paul discovered that he had been
deceived into believing that he was spiritually alive and
righteous, when in reality he was spiritually dead and
unrighteous. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Paul
recognized that "having a righteousness of my [his] own, based on
Law" (Phil 3:9) was an illusion typical of the Pharisaic
mentality. Such mentality is reflected in the rich young ruler's
reply to Jesus: "Teacher, all these I have observed from my
youth" (Mark 10:20). The problem with this mentality is that it
reduced righteousness to compliance with Jewish oral Law, which
Jesus calls "the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8), instead of
recognizing in God's Law the absolute demand to love God and
fellow beings. When the Holy Spirit brought home to Paul's
consciousness the broader implications of God's commandments, his
self-righteous complacency was condemned. "I was once alive apart
from [a true understanding of] the Law, but when the commandment
came, sin revived and I died" (Rom 7:9).
     In his epistles, Paul reveals his radical rejection, not of
the Law, but of legalism. He recognizes that attempting to
establish one's righteousness by legalistic observance of the Law
ultimately blinds a person to the righteousness which God has
made available as a free gift through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom
10:3). This was the problem with the prevailing legalism among
the Jews of Paul's time, namely, the failure to recognize that
observance of the Law by itself without the acceptance of Christ,
who is the goal of the Law, results in slavery. Thus, Paul
strongly opposes the false teachers who were troubling the
Galatian churches because they were promoting circumcision as a
way of salvation without Christ. By so doing, they were
propagating the legalistic notion that salvation is by works
rather than by faith-or we might say, it is a human achievement
rather than a divine gift.
     By promoting salvation through the observance of such
ceremonies as circumcision, these false teachers were preaching a
"different Gospel" (Gal l:6), which was no Gospel at all (Gal
1:7-9), because salvation is a divine gift of grace through
Christ's atoning sacrifice. With this in mind, Paul warns the
Galatian Christians: "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if
you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to
you at all .... You who are trying to be justified by law have
been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal
5:2,4, NIV). It is evident that what Paul opposes is the unlawful
use of the Law, that is, the attempt to earn acceptance with God
by performning rituals like circumcision, thus ignoring the
gracious provision of salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

(6) The Law Was Never Intended to Be a Means of Salvation.

     After his conversion Paul understood that the Old Testament
Law was never intended to be legalistic in character, that is, a
means to earn salvation. From his personal experience, he learned
that he could not gain self-merit or justification before God by
faithfully obeying the Law. Gradually he understood that the
function of the Law is to reveal the nature of sin and the moral
standard of human conduct, but not to provide a way of salvation
through human obedience.
     This truth is expressed in Galatians 2:19 where Paul says:

"For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God"
(emphasis supplied). 

     Paul acknowledges that it was the Law itself, that is, his
new understanding of the function of the Law, that taught him not
to seek acceptance before God through Law-works. The Law was
never intended to function as a way of salvation, but to reveal
sin and to point to the need of a Savior. This was especially
true of the promises, prophecies, ritual ordinances, and types of
the Mosaic Law which pointed forward to the Savior and His
redeeming work. In the great Bible lessons of all time, Christ
expounded "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, ... what
was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).
     Paul insists that the Mosaic Law did not annul the promise
of salvation God made to Abraham (Gal 3:17,21). Rather, the Law
was added "till the offspring should come to whom the promise had
been made" (Gal 3:19). The function of the Mosaic Law was not
soteriological but typological, that is, it was not given to
provide a way of salvation through external ceremonies but to
point the people to the Savior to come, and to the moral
principles by which they ought to live.

(7) The Law Pointed to the Savior to Come. 

     The typological function of the Law was manifested
especially through what is known as the "ceremonial Law" - the
redemptive rituals like circumcision, sacri fices, sanctuary
services, and priesthood, all of which foreshadowed the work and
the person of Christ. Paul refers to this aspect of the Mosaic
Law when he says that "the Law was our tutor ... to Christ, that
we may justified by faith" (Gal 3:24, NASB). Here Paul sees the
Mosaic Law as pointing to Christ and teaching the same message of
justification contained in the Gospel. The tutor or schoolmaster
to which Paul alludes in Galatians 3:2425 is most likely the
ceremonial Law whose rituals typified Christ's redemptive
ministry. This is indicated by the fact that Paul was engaged in
a theological controversy with the Judaizers who made
circumcision a requirement of salvation (Gal 2:3-4; 5:2-4).
When Paul speaks of the Law as pointing to Christ and teaching
that justification comes through faith in Christ (Gal 3:24), it
is evident that he was thinking of sacrificial ordinances that
typified the Messianic redemption to come. This was also true of
circumcision that pointed to the "putting off of the body of
flesh," that is, the moral renewal to be accomplished by Christ.
"In him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without
hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of
Christ" (Col 2:11). The moral principles of the Ten Commandments,
like "you shall not steal," hardly represented the redemptive
work of Christ.
     Paul insists that now that Christ, the object of our faith,
has come, we no longer need the tutorship aspect of the Mosaic
Law that pointed to Christ (Gal 3:25). By this Paul did not mean
to negate the continuity and validity of the moral Law, in
general. This is indicated by his explicit affirmation in 1
Corinthians 7:19: "For neither circumcision counts for anything
nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." Usually
Paul does not distinguish between the ethical and ceremonial
aspects of the Law, but in passages such as this the distinction
is abundantly clear. Commenting on this text, Eldon Ladd notes:

"Although circumcision is a command of God and a part of the Law,
Paul sets circumcision in contrast to the commandments, and in
doing so separates the ethical from the ceremonial-the permanent
from the temporal." 18

     The failure to make such a distinction has led many
Christians to mistakenly conclude that Paul teaches the
abrogation of the Law in general as a rule for the Chri stian
life. This conclusion is obviously wrong, because Paul while
presents to the Gentiles "the commandments of God" as a moral
imperative, he adamantly rejects the ceremonial ordinances, such
as circumcision, for these were a type of the redemption
accomplished by Christ (1 Cor 7:19).

     For Paul, the typological function of the ceremonial Law, as
well as the unlawful legalistic use of the Law, came to an end
with Christ; but the Law as an expression of the will of God is
permanent. The believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit is energized
to live according to "the just requirements of the Law" (Rom

     The starting point of Paul's reflection about the Law is
that atonement for sin and salvation come only through Christ's
death and resurrection, and not by means of the Law. This
starting point enables Paul, as well stated by Brice Martin, "to
make the distinction between the Law as a way of salvation and as
a norm of life, between the Law as it encounters those in the
flesh and those in the Spirit, between the Law as a means of
achieving self-righteousness and as an expression of the will of
God to be obeyed in faith.... The moral Law remains valid for the
believer." 19


To be continued

Entered on this Website May 2008

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