Truth: The Bible never claims that obedience to the law will save you - even in the Old Testament. In fact, it claims that obedience to the law alone will not save you.
"See, I told you..."
Now, here is where "everyone" translates this as meaning, "If you follow the law you cannot be in Christ", or something like that. The amazing thing is that most "Sunday" Christians think Paul stopped following the Jewish law when He met Christ. They think he kept Sunday and not the Sabbath. They think he stopped the sacrifices that were going on in the temple. They think this even though there is clear evidence to the contrary. Read Acts 21:26:
26The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
Sounds like Paul was still doing the things required by the law. Some had accused him of teaching the Jews who lived among the Gentiles that "those Jews" did not have to circumcise their children according to the law (Acts 21:21
21They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their male children or live according to our customs.
). What he actually taught was that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to follow Christ. He was doing this purification process, with the accompanying sacrifices (offering), to show that he was still a law-abiding Jew, and encouraged other Jews to remain law-abiding Jews.
So, if Paul was a law-abiding Jew, he also kept the seventh-day Sabbath according to the commandment which was still in effect after Jesus' death (Luke 23:56
56Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
). He said that the "freedom" we have in Christ does not allow us to ignore the law (Romans 3:31
31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
), and he was speaking to Gentiles when he said it. And remember what Paul told Agrippa in Acts 26:19-20:
19So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.
This preaching was directed at both the Jews and the Gentiles. He was saying that your works will demonstrate your faith in Jesus and His salvation, not that your works will save you.
So, Paul is a liar?
But, by the same person who wrote Galatians, even elsewhere the New Testament states:
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:12-16)
So many people, especially pastors, read verse 12 and automatically assume that this is making some sort of allusion to the law being evil. On the contrary, this is merely a statement of fact.
Pay particular attention to his statement in verse 13 above. How is it possible to interpret a writer in such a way as to insist that he contradicts himself? Essentially, that means accusing the writer of lying on at least one of his own points. Is Paul a liar? Does he tell different congregations different "truths"? Does his opinion differ from yours?
Show me where it says...
Another truth is that the Bible never claims that the law and faith are mutually exclusive. Oh, there are a multitude of believers and pastors who claim otherwise. How can this be? The only way this can happen is to make a claim about a passage that contradicts the word of God in other places. While this claim is often not intentionally obtuse, it seems that a more comfortable translation is often preferred over the truth.
Don't think so?
Rather than just say this, let's take a couple of examples. Most Bibles indicate that Luke 23:43 reports a statement made by Jesus to the thief next to Him at his execution:
Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
But, this is not necessarily an accurate translation of the verse, and leads many to a conclusion that contradicts the Bible itself.
It must mean this, so let's put it here
There is no punctuation in the Greek, but there is a comma before the word "today" in the translated phrase. That comma is placed in most translations so that Jesus' statement means one thing to most people - that Jesus will be in Paradise that same day with the thief . That concept contradicts Jesus' own statement to Mary on the day of resurrection days later (John 20:17
Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
). Notice that He said, "I am ascending...", not, "I have ascended...".
However, if the comma had been placed after the word "today", then the statement would mean that the thief has eternal life, and will be with Jesus in paradise when Jesus returns for His faithful. This second way of reading the statement causes no contradictions with other verses. More importantly, it agrees with the context of what the thief asked of Jesus (Luke 23:42
42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
An interesting, but confusing, article on this subject can be found at Grace Communion International. It took a bit to assure myself that this site (GCI) is not the same as Grace Community Church where John MacArthur is the pastor. In essence, this site explains that Jesus was actually saying to the thief something like, "Consider it done.", rather than, "we'll be in Heaven today together.", as many think. However, after taking a long time to explain that very idea, the article ends with this compromising phrase:
Did Christ and the malefactor, then, go to Paradise on that day? We must say that, in light of the popular notion and the context explained above, they did, even though they were in the grave. The language is picturesque. It is beautiful. Above all, it conveys the best possible news that the repentant criminal could have hoped to hear.
So, because the idea is so popular, the language is so beautiful and we like the concept, we can go on believing that they did go to paradise together that day - even if it is not what Christ said or meant.
Where does the comma go? The commonly accepted placement contradicts Jesus' own statement to Mary on the day of His resurrection - that He had not yet ascended to the Father. If He had not ascended to the Father, then where is the thief? That is, if he was supposed to be "with [Jesus] in Paradise" on that day?
"Well, if you look at it like this...leave out that...and add this... it could mean..."
Some will add a concept, not explicitly stated, that Paradise is another place, not Heaven, and Jesus could have gone there to be with the thief for a few minutes and had not ascended to the Father. We could just as easily, and as ridiculously, say that Paradise is a secret truck stop on Route 66 that only the dead can go to and only after they hop on one foot for the last mile on the way there. Hey, it could be...
As silly as that may sound, why would that be any more outrageous than making up anything else to make a concept fit our own beliefs rather than read what the Bible actually says and leave it there? If you place the comma after the word today, allowing it to match the statements in the rest of the Bible, it contradicts many people's belief that we go to Heaven immediately when we die. That is the main reason for the "well, it could be this" scenarios. If the word does not support our theory, the common practice is "let's make it mean something else, but we have to ignore any conflicts." If you don't add the comma at all, since it wasn't there in the first place, read what it says in context with the whole Word, and there is no issue.
More of the same
A second example is the use of the entire book of Galatians as some sort of proof that we Christians are to have no part in the law. If you read what the book actually says, it constantly reiterates that no one will be saved by keeping the law. It never says that when you keep the law you will not be saved. The only way you can get to that point is to add meanings that pervert the plainly stated intent of Paul's words.
There are several great sites that explain how to interpret the book of Galatians in a way that does not conflict with the rest of the Bible (Hoshana Rabbah Blog and Eliyah.com are a couple). The two examples here are from the Jewish perspective, but isn't that fitting based on the fact that a Jew wrote the book? Of course, if you are looking for a Gentile perspective on the writings of a Jew, you can certainly find many that take the popular, but incorrect, view - but then how do you handle the contradictions? Many just deny that the contradictions exist, and that settles that.
Down to brass tacks
Let's take a look at the book itself and see if we can see what Paul actually says. Chapter 1 essentially says:
1. Hi, I'm Paul. Jesus sent me.
2. Grace and peace to you from the One who can save us all.
3. Who told you that you have to be circumcized to be saved? I never said that and I told you the truth. Whoever said that is a liar.
4. I spent three years in the desert getting an education in the right Way.
5. You know who I was, and I am telling you that Jesus made me the man I am today.
Now, please show me in here where Paul said, "You either believe in Jesus or you follow the law, but you can't do both." He merely said that these guys are trying to con you into thinking that you cannot be saved unless you follow the traditions and laws of the Jews (the oral law, and, specifically, the covenant of circumcision). This tradition came about because of the covenant between God and Abraham, not the Ten Commandments, and was meant for the Jews and their servants. The Gentiles do not have to become Jewish in order to be saved, but that never means that they can just sin willy-nilly.
"But, I need it to mean all law!"
The problem here is that the modern stand by most "Christian" churches is to interpret the word "law" as referring to every command that God ever stated - whether to the people directly or through Moses. Does that mean that they feel that they could have eaten of the tree in the middle of the Garden and remained in the Garden?
Of course, according to them He supposedly never meant for those commands to cramp our Gentile style. If that supports the idea that we have no law left to follow, then supposedly you can just banish me, kidnap me, or even shoot me if you don't like my interpretations. Problem solved, and heaven awaits, right?
However, murder is against one of God's commandments, or at least it was until recently when the pastors reinterpreted Paul in this and other books of the love letter from God. Now, many say that the law does not apply to Gentiles, but somehow still applies to the Jews. Also, now we Gentiles do not have to obey anything to get the very thing that the Jews could not get because of their disobedience. Make up your own mind about what that means, but I think it means that many of today's Christians are deluded (2 Thes 2:10-12
10and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
Maybe in Chapter 2...
Moving on to Galatians 2, we see a continuation of Paul's concern. Summarizing, he says:
1. Fourteen years after my education, I went to Jerusalem with some friends, and spoke to some leaders of our Way about the bad preaching that seemed to be coming from some zealots. But, even Titus, one of my friends, didn't fall for their teaching that circumcision is necessary for salvation.
2. These zealots thought they were important, but they didn't change my mind about anything that I had learned from Christ Himself, and they could see I was right. My friends and I were doing the same thing for the Gentiles that Peter was doing for the Jews.
3. I reprimanded Peter when I saw him giving in to the Jews by not eating with Gentiles while the Jews were around. I reminded him that we know that following the law will not save you, but that does not mean that we should break God's law, but accept the grace of God through His gift. To break the law would be sin and Christ does not promote sin. If He did, then He would have died for nothing. If we live by faith in Christ, we will not continue in sin.
Now, in Galatians, this means that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcized (Gal 2:3-4
3But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
). Many will try to turn this into a statement that we should not follow any law, but that contradicts other statements by making them contrary to Paul's own words. If you have any doubts about the subject matter in Galatians, jump ahead to Chapter 5. This is not abrogation of all law, but references to something that some men require in order to be saved. The subtitle in my NIV Bible version for Chapter 5 is Freedom in Christ, not Freedom From All Law.
Not there, maybe here...
Let's move on into Chapter 3. Paul's points here are:
1. Who is confusing you? You didn't have to be circumcized in order to receive the Holy Spirit, but you received it because you believed and had faith! Why should you go back and be circumcized now?
2. Just believe and have faith, as Abraham did when he was ready to follow God's orders and sacrifice Isaac. Obey God, and you will be blessed.
3. Without that faith, you will not be justified, no matter what you do. Be like Abraham - have faith and obey God. Then you will receive the promise.
4. The law does nothing but point out sin, but it is not opposed to the promise of God as it keeps us in line with the will of God. The law leads to the promise, and without faith, that promise does no one any good. The law merely shows us how we should act when we accept the promise of God and Christ. Until Christ came, the law was our guide. But now, Christ in us will guide us and if we follow Him, we no longer need to worry about the law, as we will keep it naturally.
5. If we remain in the promise, we are all one body: Jew, Greek, male, female. We all belong to Abraham as heirs according to the promise.
Again, Paul is making it clear that obedience to the law will not save us, but it is not against the purpose of God, as many pastors will lead you to believe. The law is a guide. If you remove it, there are no guides to follow, so each will follow a path of their own choosing. If you doubt this, look at the number of churches with beliefs that clearly oppose each other, all claiming to be the "one true church of Christ". Are you in the right church? How can you tell?
Ah, we must be getting close
Moving on to Chapter 4, Paul's main topics are:
1. As children and heirs of our human fathers, we are supervised until we come of age. During this supervision, we learn the right thing to do in the world. When we become of age, we are ready to go out into the world and act as we were taught with all the priveleges and responsibilities of adulthood. Now that we have the Holy Spirit, we have come of age as Christians and ought to act like it as we are no longer in training.
2. Until I came along, you Galatians had been following the false pagan gods and activities around you and had not been paying attention to the real God. Now that you have been introduced to the real God, why do you want to go back to those pagan practices you followed before? Have I wasted my breath? You are good people, but you are being deceived by those trying to pull you back into your old ways. And don't listen to those who are trying to make you into Jews. Circumcision will not save you! In fact, if you give in and try to save yourselves with this act, and listen to them, you will be slaves of the oral law forever. Choose whether you will be forever a child of slavery, or a child of faith.
Consider the second point listed in the box above. Galatia was located in very pagan Asia Minor, nowhere near Israel. Their old practices were pagan and not related to anything remotely Jewish. Therefore, "those pagan practices you followed before" were not Jewish, regardless of the hype your pastor gives you.
The claim made by modern pastors that they were returning to the Old Testament laws of the Jews just does not fit the situation. The "Judaizers" were now trying to get them to start following the oral law in order to save themselves without Christ. Paul was fighting this action, but never says that anyone should ignore the law - they just needed to stay in the will of God and follow Christ.
Paul believed in the law
In fact, in Acts 21:21
21They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.
This is stated better in the Berean Study bible:
21But they are under the impression that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe our customs., Paul was accused of telling Jews that they need not follow the law. He very quickly had the whole matter brought before Felix and made the statement that he believed "everything that is in accordance with the Law" (Acts 24:14
14However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,
), which is pretty odd for a man who was supposed to be opposed to the law. He reiterated his stand before Festus in Acts 25:8
8Then Paul made his defense: "I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar."
. Since Galatians is one of the main books used by these pastors to discount the value of the law for today's Christian, if you add Paul's statements in Acts, their whole foundation is on shaky ground.
Paul uses the law to identify error, as we should
In fact, if Paul was saying the law is no longer in effect, especially for Christians, what was he talking about in 1 Cor 5:1-5
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
? Do you know where this complaint came from? Look at Leviticus 18:8
Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.
. If Paul goes back to Leviticus to explain why something is wrong to do, why would he then complain if others obey the same laws? He was speaking of those who were using the law instead of believing in the salvation of Christ. He was not telling people to ignore the law that points out sin. When he mentions sexually immoral people in 1 Cor 5:9-11
9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- 10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
, he made it clear that he was speaking to Gentile believers who were disobeying God's laws - those same laws that guide us.
Take it wrong, and then you can do anything you want
Many take these words to mean that no law is acceptable and that we answer to only the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Have you ever considered what that means in terms of actions taken? I know "faithful" people who indulge in adultery and claim that the Holy Spirit and Jesus actually approve of the activity because they have no prompting to stop the activity. To them, that is their only guideline, since the "law is gone and we have Jesus in our hearts". If this is what you think we should be teaching the world, then we have a fundamental disagreement. We need rules - not for salvation, but for guidelines to keep us in the will of God.
Drat, running out of Chapters
Moving on to Chapter 5, Paul reminds us of the topic of the letter to the Galatians:
1. Take a stand for the freedom you now have in Christ. Don't go back to the old pagan practices I just mentioned - and do not let yourselves be circumcized! If you do, Christ is of no use to you.
2. You were doing so well, what happened? I have never preached circumcision to you! Treat others as you have them treat you. That is the whole meaning of the commands of God.
3. Live by the Spirit and you will no longer want to do those things of the human nature, and will thus stay out from under the law. If you break the law, then the Spirit cannot help you.
4. These things include sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. No one who practices these things will inherit the kingdom of God.
5. Instead you should act to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Since there is no law against these things, you will then not be breaking the law. Encourage others to do the same.
Again, the central theme is circumcision. That is a symbol that if they feel they can save themselves by following that "law", then they deny their faith in Christ. There is no intimation here that they have no law to follow, as some hold. They are admonished to live in the Spirit and that will keep them in the will of God.
Finally, we get to Chapter 6. Ironically, the first sentence refers to actions to be taken if someone is caught in a sin. Well, first off, if you are caught in a sin, then you have broken some kind of rule. That rule is called a law. That is, unless you have a different way to twist 1 John 3:4
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
so that it means something less offensive. I'm pretty sure that John and Paul are on the same team. If the law has been removed, how can John say this?
Moving on, Paul's points here are:
1. Be gentle when you handle someone's sin to bring them back into the fold, and don't get caught up in it yourself.
2. Learn from what you are taught by a brother and share the results.
3. You alone are responsible for your actions. Act like one who believes.
4. Don't listen to those trying to get you to move away from Christ. They are only trying to stay popular with those of their group. They don't even do what they preach.
5. Nothing matters to you except being true to the gospel of Christ. If you stick to this rule, you will have peace and mercy. I know because I too have the marks of my love for Him.
Oops, the law is still out there
So, for those who say that Galatians proves that the law is gone and has no effect on Christians, how do they handle Galatians 6:1
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
? If there is no law for us, how can anyone sin? If there is no danger for us, why warn us not to be tempted? What was Jesus talking about in John 5:14-15
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
when speaking to the cripple from the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem? This man was definitely a Christian, yet Jesus warned him to stop sinning or something worse may happen!
How do you sin if there is no law?
One final point before you make up your mind. At the end of time, there is an individual that is supposed to be the wonder of the world, will lead the entire world astray, and will persecute the saints who remain alive at that time. Of the many references to the identity of this individual, the two main ones are "Antichrist" and "the lawless one". Now, what would "the lawless one" mean but that this person did not follow the law of God? (1 John 3:4
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
Now, if you are also one who thinks the law does not apply to the Gentiles, then you will be "lawless" yourself, and much more likely to follow what this Antichrist recommends. That's how this guy sets things up so that "The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast." (Revelation 13:3
3One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.
The law still applies, even to Gentiles
You can't sin if the law no longer applies to you. Yet Jesus, Paul, and James all speak warnings to their brothers in the faith about continuing sinning! This was before and after Christ's death. The constant presence of the law of God is supported by a multitude of other passages in the New Testament. To deny it is to cause contradictions in the word. To ignore the contradictions makes God out to be a Liar. He is not a Liar.
It's all well and good to take a stand, but using a Biblical reference to a book that does not support your claim is deceptive and disingenuous. Most know that a statement about "only following the law will not get you saved" is not saying that we no longer have to follow any law. Also, the converse, saying that you can be saved "only if you have faith in the Lord" does not mean that you can then disobey God and be saved anyway. If you have faith, you will obey. If you claim faith, but then do not obey, you are answering the Lord's question in Luke 6:46
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"
. Go ahead, try to spin it for the rest of us.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at email@example.com and give us your view.
After reading all the main pages from this site, one pastor responded with the response below.
If you have faith in Jesus, the law has no use for you. The law is gone for the Christian.
Response from a Baptist pastor:
UPHOLDING THE LAW, LAWFULLY
I, along with the Apostle Paul, uphold the law. Rom 3:31
And how does Paul say to uphold the Law? He says the law is good IF we use it lawfully, properly. 1 Tim 1:8-11
The Law was given to make us aware of our sin. Rom 7:7
It was also given, having made us aware of our sin, to point us to the answer. Gal 3:23-26
Having then come to the answer, He, Christ, has become our sin and we have His righteousness. 2 Cor 5:21
Since we have died with Christ, Rom 6:3,4, we have died, and have been released from the Law, Rom 7:1-6, to serve in the newness of the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:3-11
We who are righteous (in Christ) now operate in the (Holy) Spirit by faith. Rom 8:1-8; Gal 5:16-25; Eph 2:11-18; Rom 8:26-29; Eph 5:1,2; 15-18.
This response was followed by a five-hour verbal discussion of these and other points. To see the results of the discussion, and my responses, see Response to the Law discussion, listed in the menu at the center of this page.