By Mike Willis
Justification Without The Law
What a new doctrine was being taught when, for the first time, salvation without obedience to the law of Moses was taught to the Jews! Yet, this is exactly the message of Romans. Paul wrote,
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets . . . (Rom, 3:21).
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28).
Statements such as this reveal the fact that the New Testament Scriptures release man from obligation to observe the law of Moses. Other passages show the same thing.
Second Corinthians 3:6-18 contrasted the Mosaical law with the new covenant as follows:
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|1. Written within ink (v. 3, 8)||1. Written with spirit (v. 3)|
|2. Written in tables of stone (v. 2)||2. Written in fleshly tables of heart (v. 3)|
|3. Of the letter (v. 6)||3. Of the Spirit (v. 6)|
|4. Killeth (v. 6)||4. Giveth life (v. 6)|
|5. Ministration of death (v. 7)||5. Ministration of the Spirit (v. 8)|
|6. Glorious (v. 7)||6. Exceeds in glory (v. 9)|
|7. Ministrations of condemnation (v. 9)||7. Ministrations of righteousness (v. 9)|
|8. Glory fades (v. 7)||8. Glory remains (v. 11)|
Romans 7.-1-6 teaches that Christians died to the law with Christ and, therefore, are no longer obligated to obey it. “But now we are delivered from the law” (Rom. 7:6).
Ephesians 2:14-17. The law which was the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was abolished having been nailed to the cross.
Colossians 2:14-17. The handwriting of ordinances which was contrary to us was nailed to the cross and blotted out. Therefore, one no longer has obligations to obey the Mosaical law.
Hebrews. Inasmuch as Christ, a descendant of the tribe of Judah, is now the High Priest, a change of law was necessitated (Heb. 7:12). Hence, the first covenant was removed in order to establish the second covenant (8:7-13). “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (10:9).
Man’s release from the Old Law was not contrary to the Old Law. Rather, Paul said, “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live to God” (Gal. 2:19). Through the law man was left spiritually dead, condemned to Hell because of his sin. Furthermore, the law itself foretold its own cessation (Jer. 31:31-34). The sacrifices of the Old Law only foreshadowed the one true sacrifice for sin. When Christ gave His life a ransom for sin, the law’s dominion over man was over.
Hence, man’s justification is totally separated from obedience to the Mosaical law! He is not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14). “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:25). In Christ, we died to the law (Rom. 7:1-6).
Reversion To The Law
What happens when those who have been justified through faith in Christ Jesus decide to return to subjection to the Mosaical law? That is exactly the question faced by the early Christians in the issue of circumcision. Circumcision was not viewed as it is now as a mere operation for cleanliness related to one’s health; it was properly understood in its relationship to the Mosaical law. Those who demanded that one be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-2) were demanding that Gentile Christians submit to the law of Moses in order to stand justified in God’s sight.
The apostle Paul properly understood the seriousness of this issue. It struck at the very heart of the gospel of Christ. Hence, he stated that reversion to the law of Moses frustrated the grace of God, “for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal. 2:21). That is, if any person could be justified by law-keeping, then Christ did not really need to come to this world to die for the sins of mankind; there was already a way prepared for man’s salvation which did not involve the death of God’s Son. Hence, His death would have been in vain.
Inasmuch as this was contrary to the very heart of the gospel, Paul correctly charged that reversion to the law of Moses was apostasy (Gal. 5:1-4). In that argument in Galatians 5, Paul stated that reversion to the law made the death of Christ of no benefit, obligated one to keep all of the law if one kept so much as one part of it, and resulted in one falling from grace (Gal. 5:1-4). Peter had earlier stated that those who taught that one had to be circumcised in order to be saved were subverting souls and troubling brethren (Acts 15:24).
Hence, when Paul realized that salvation was by faith in Christ Jesus and not through obedience to the law of Moses, he forsook the law as a means of justification (Gal. 2:16). The things which he had considered important while serving the law, he now considered to be mere refuse; he. cast them aside in order that he might be saved through Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:2-12).
The Attitude of First Century Jews Toward The Law
The books of Acts, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Hebrews show that the early church had conflict because certain members of it felt that the law of Moses was still binding on Christians. Other Christians disagreed; consequently, a conflict ensued. The early church manifested at least three distinct parties: (1) The Judaizers. These Christians earnestly believed that one had to be obedient to the law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-2). (2) Jewish Christians who kept the Law of Moses as apart of their heritage. Luke records that many in the Jerusalem church still kept the law of Moses, in spite of the fact that an official document had been sent out stating that Gentiles did not have to obey the law of Moses in order to be saved. Yet, James said to Paul, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law” (Acts 21:20, 24). Hence, there was a group who kept the law of Moses but not in order to be saved. (3) Gentile Christians. These men did not keep the law of Moses for any reason whatsoever. These parties came into conflict with each other, during the first and second centuries.
As this conflict continued throughout the first century, different men manifested different attitudes toward the law. Yet, the truth as the Holy Spirit proclaimed it through Paul received the full approval of the Jerusalem apostles, and prevailed. He stated that he became a Jew to the Jews and acted like a Gentile to the Gentiles. He wrote,
For though I be free from all men, yet have 1 made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that 1 might gain the Jews; to them that, are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law of Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (I Cor. 9:19-22).
This passage reveals that Paul’s studied conduct was to present himself inoffensive to the people with whom he was laboring. Hence, when among Jews, he kept the law of Moses (Acts 21:26); when among the Gentiles, he conducted himself as a Gentile.
Yet, there is no doubt that Paul’s inspired view was opposed in the New Testament era. The Gentiles thought that he made too many concessions to the Jews; the Jews thought that he forsook the law of Moses. Yet Paul did neither. In living in obedience to the law of Christ, he tried to accept the differing cultures of both groups.
Under Law To Christ
Although the Christian does not live under the Mosaical law and is not justified through perfect obedience to any law, he is, nevertheless, under law. Paul stated that although he was not under the Mosaical law, he was “not without law to God, but under the law to Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). In the book of Galatians, one of the great treatises against justification through perfect obedience to law, he stated that one should. fulfill the “law of Christ”. (Gal. 6:2). James also spoke f “the perfect law of liberty” (Jas: 1:25; 2:12). From these passages, we see a reference to law under which Christians live. Let us notice the following points from this observation.
1. If there was no law, there would be no transgression. The point which we observed with reference to those who lived prior to the giving of the Mosaical law needs to be restated with reference to those who are living after the law of Moses was abrogated. Sin is the transgression of the law (1,,1n. 3:4). Where there is no law, there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15; 5:13). If a person is going to be guilty of sin today, there must be a law in force. Those who state that there is no law in force today have denied the need for Christ. Without law, there is no sin; without sin, there is no guilt and penalty for sin; without the penalty of sin, there is no need for Christ. Hence, to deny that (here is a law for people today is to deny the need for Christ.
2. The law of Christ provides a remedy for the sins of mankind. The Mosaical law had nothing but the shedding of the blood of bulls and goats to atone for sin; yet, the blood of bulls and goats was not sufficient to pay the penalty of sin (Heb. 10:4). The person who sought to live under the law of Moses in rejecting the Christ as the Savior of the world was left with no method of justification but to keep the law of Moses perfectly. However, through Christ one can obtain forgiveness of sins. Though he is under law to God, he is not in bondage to sin because of the forgiveness of sins which is available to him through Christ. He is delivered from the body of this death through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:24-25); there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
One can understand why James could refer to the law under which we Christians live as a law of .liberty (Jas. 1:25; 2:12) in contrast to the law of condemnation which, left man dead inns t’respa’sses and sins. The law of Christ provides a way of releasing a man from the guilt and penalty of his sins. The blood of Christ which has been shed for the sins of mankind redeems man from the curse of sin.
3. There is a revealed pattern of conduct by which men are to live. Without law, man would be left free to live as he might please. Yet, Christianity is not ethical anarchy, religious worship without rules, or any other form of religious subjectivism. God has a law for men today which is variously known as the “law of liberty” or “law of Christ.” Inasmuch as it is also derived from God, it can also be called a law of God. This law details a pattern of ethics, a pattern of worship, and other matters revealed to man from God.
This law is not merely an outward code by which men keep the letter of the law, It is a law which penetrated much deeper than that. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied of this new law saying, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (as quoted in Heb. 8:10). The new covenant under which we live is written in the fleshly tables of the heart (2 Cor. 3:3). It is a ministration of the spirit and of righteousness (2 Cor. 3:8, 9). The crucified and risen Savior is at the heart of the gospel system in all its parts. And that Savior exalted in man’s heart is the secret of the gospel’s unique spiritual power. The word of God is spiritual and life-giving, not a grievous burden (Jn. 6:63; 1 Jn. 5:1-4). One can certainly see from these references that man is not left without a divinely revealed standard of conduct for this age.
From this study of the usage of law in the New Testament, we draw the following conclusions:
(1) Man cannot be saved through perfect law-keeping of any law.
(2) Man can be saved without living in obedience to the law of Moses.
(3) Man is saved conditionally on the ground of Jesus’ shed blood.
(4) Man is presently to live in obedience to the law of Christ.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 11, pp. 179-181
March 13, 1980