Salvation by Works
The concept of salvation by works was given legs by Marin Luther. His goal was to expose the activities of the Roman Catholic Church, which he claimed was selling salvation. He contrasted salvation by faith with salvation by works.
The other reformers followed his lead and developed the concept of a covenant of works. They claimed that that God established a covenant of works with Adam that promised life and blessings on the condition of perfect personal obedience. This covenant of works applied from Adam to Jesus, when it was replaced by the covenant of grace.
The so-called covenant of works requires human to earn their salvation by living good lives. The law of Moses is presented as a covenant of works, in which the blessing promised depend on obedience to all the requirements of the law.
Despite its popularity, the concept of a covenant of works is contrary to the nature of God. He is a God of grace, from beginning to end. He has far more to give to us than we can give to him. God is gracious, so everything that he does is grace. All his covenants are covenants of grace.
God knows that a covenant of works can never work. Humans are incapable of earning anything from God. He does not make mistakes, so he would not set up something that cannot work. The covenant of works is a human idea. It is a fallacy created by people who want to prove that they deserve something. But we can never deserve something from God, we can on receive grace.
To show that covenant of works does not exist, I will begin by reviewing the original covenant that God made with Adam and Eve.
Covenant with Adam
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. When he had created humans, he established a covenant that gave them authority over everything that lived on the earth. The first part of this covenant was recorded in Genesis 1.
I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food (Gen 1:29-30).
God gave humans authority over everything living on the earth. This gift of the earth was unconditional and without recourse. The covenant was pure grace. No conditions were included. Adam and Eve did not have to earn authority on earth.
The covenant with Adam was a covenant of grace not a covenant of works. Adam and Eve were given the blessing of the earth, before God made the covenant. They had done nothing to earn it, and they could do nothing in the future to earn it. The covenant did not contain any guidelines about the nature of righteousness. God did not give a set of rules that humans must comply with. The only requirement he placed on humans was that they keep close to him. That was essential, because he was the source of the blessing of the covenant, but it did not earn them anything.
The covenant did not specify a standard of righteousness that humans should be tested against. Instead, he gave a relationship with the Holy Spirit. They did not have to keep a set of rules to maintain that relationship. As with any relationship, all they had to do was avoid grieving the other person. This was a covenant of mutual love, not a covenant of works.
The covenant contains just one condition. It was needed because humans were given authority over their own lives, which left free to make choices. Some of the angels had rebelled against God, so powers of evil were at work in the spiritual world, making it a danger place. Adam and Eve would have to be careful about their choices, or they could end up in trouble. God have given them the world, but they would have to be loyal to him to remain those blessings.
Every covenant contains a risk. The new covenant promised full salvation. We receive that as a free gift, because we cannot earn it. However, to receive the blessings of his salvation, we have to choose to follow Jesus, because it is only available in him. However, if we choose to reject him, we can lose our salvation.
The covenant with Adam carried a similar risk. God gave the earth to humans as a free gift. They could do nothing to earn it, but the only way they could enjoy this blessing was to follow God. They must avoid all contact with Satan and his powers of evil. This is the reason for the warning to avoid all contact with evil (Gen 2:17). This requirement was there for their protection.
All that the first humans had to do to keep the blessing of the covenant was to remain close to the Holy Spirit. This was essential for their protection. They were living in a dangerous world, where the spiritual powers of evil were at work to deceive and destroy. The only safe place was close to the Spirit of God. If the moved towards Satan or his representatives, the Holy Spirit would have to move away from them, because he is holy and cannot be close to evil. The humans would be left on their own in a contest with a powerful and deceitful enemy, so they would always lose.
Adam and Eve were not expected to be perfectly obedient. They could make many mistakes without any harm. If they picked all the fruit before it was ripe, or pruned a tree to hard, that would not matter, because God had given them abundance. The covenant was not one strike and you are out as many Christians suggest. It was not even three strikes and you are out. It was a warning not to wander out of bounds into danger, because it would be almost impossible to get back in.
Every covenant has symbols. The covenant with Moses had the ark of the covenant. The new covenant has the cross. The covenant with Adam had two trees in the centre of the garden as permanent reminders of the covenant.
In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9).
The two trees represented a choice between two options. God had made humans free. Because he is gracious and loving, it makes sense to follow him, but they always have the choice to reject him.
The best option was to stick with God. This option was represented by the tree of life. Adam and Eve were free to eat from the tree of life, but the fruit itself did not make any difference, because God had already given them life. They had received life when God had breathed on them when they were created.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7).
Adam and Eve did not have to do anything to get life. They did not need to eat from the tree of life to get it. God had already them life as a gift. The tree was a reminder of what God had already given them, just as the cross is a reminder of the salvation we have received through Jesus.
Knowledge of Good and Evil
Their other choice was represented by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said,
You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Gen 2:16-17).
These were staunch words, but not surprising. God had given them the world. If they rejected God, the cost would be huge. The Hebrew word "die" is repeated for emphasis. A more literal translation is "dying you will die".
Every covenant contains a choice. God gave Adam and Eve enormous blessings. They did not have to do anything to earn those blessings, because God had already given them when he established a covenant with them. However, they had to remain loyal to God to retain the blessings. Their freedom to reject God, was symbolised by the second tree.
The tempter told Adam and Eve that if they ate from this tree, they would be like God (Gen 3:5). This was a lie. They had been created in the image of God, so they were already like God. They already knew about the potential for evil. God put the tree there to remind them of it.
The Hebrew word for "knowledge" is not limited to knowing about things, it is also used for sexual intimacy. The second tree represents intimacy with good an evil. Adam and Eve were surrounded by the good world that God had created, so they could not avoid goodness. They were already intimate with good, but they could choose evil. If they made that choice, they would be intimate with good and evil.
Adam and Eve were already intimate with the Holy Spirit. When Satan came into the garden, the Holy Spirit would have moved away from him, because he hates evil. They should have moved away with the Holy Spirit. He would have urged them to keep away from Satan. However, they chose to remain where they were, which allowed him to communicate with them. By meeting with Satan, they were choosing to be intimate with both good and evil. This was their sin, not eating the fruit.
Adam and Eve had already sinned, before they ate the fruit from the tree. Eating the fruit had no effect, because it was just a symbol of their choice. Their real sin was in meeting with Satan and allowing him to speak. By doing that, they were choosing to be intimate with evil, as well as with good. That was their sin. Eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a way of publicly confessing the choice they had made.
The fruit of the tree is not mentioned much again in the scriptures. The reason is that it was just a symbol of the choice they made. Their real sin was choosing to communicate with evil. They had already made that choice, before Satan suggested eating if they fruit. Even if they had chosen not to eat the fruit, they had still sinned, because they had chosen to be intimate of evil. They gained knowledge of good and evil before they tasted the fruit. Eating the fruit just confirmed their choice
The fruit of the trees was good to eat, but they had limited significance. The trees represented a choice. Adam and Eve could not avoid God, because they were in the world he created, but they could choose to mix something else with their loyalty to him. The choice was stark.
Choose God alone and you will have life.
Choose involvement with evil, as well as with God, and you will die.
One choice led to life and the other led to death. The two trees symbolised the choice between life and death.
Naked and Exposed
When Adam and Eve sinned, everything changed.
First of all they realised they were naked.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked (Gen 3:7).
Saying their eyes were opened was really an understatement. The reality was that their ability to see into spiritual realms was lost. Before sinning, they could see god and his angels moving in the spiritual realms, and they could hear what they were saying. Once they sinned, that ability was lost and they could only see and hear things in the physical world. This made the physical world seem vivid by comparison to how it had been. (One reason that Satan had entered the snake was to remain visible to them once they had lost their spiritual vision).
Adam and Eve realised they were naked. However, they were not just naked. They were exposed, and their spiritual exposure was more serious than their physical exposure. By listening to Satan and following his suggestion, they placed themselves under his authority. He is a cheat, so one he gains authority he uses it to impose control. God have given humans authority over the earth. Once humans had given Satan authority in their lives, he seized authority over the earth and he refused to give it back. They were now living in a world where the powers of evil were unrestrained, and because they had lost their spiritual vision, they could not see them at work. This was a dangerous place to be.
God had warned Adam and Eve against any contact with the powers of evil, because he knew that any engagement with them would result in their losing authority on earth. Any attempt to know both good and evil would result in surrender of authority to evil. This is why God warned them to avoid all efforts to know both good and evil. This was not a command that had to be fulfilled to please God. It was a warning against actions that would allow them to be robbed of authority on earth by the powers of evil.
God came to Adam and Eve, but their relationship was broken by sin and they were afraid.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8).
They had made their choice. They would not follow God only, but would mix good an evil. Having made this choice, they had to hide from God.
However, God came and found them anyway. There excuses did not work, so they had to face the consequences of their choice. These are announced as curses, but they are really just the inevitable consequence of Adam and Eve giving Satan authority over their lives and over their earth. Adam was physically strong, so if evil worked in his life, Eve would suffer violence and control.
Satan hated God and loathed goodness, so he hated the goodness of the earth. As soon as he got authority on earth, he called in his demonic followers and set about wreaking destruction and violence on earth. The consequence for Adam and Eve was serious. Growing food from the land would become hard physical work.
God did not have to impose the curses he pronounced. They were things that he knew that the powers of evil would do once they gained authority on earth. By pronouncing the curses, he was just announcing what the powers of evil would do.
Covenant with Moses
Many Christians assume that God's covenant with Moses was a covenant of works. They believe that the Old Testament required salvation by good works, whereas the New Testament offered salvation by faith. The so-called covenant of works requires humans to earn God's favour by complying with the law. This is wrong, because it is not possible.
The covenant with Moses was a gracious gift to the people chosen by God. The law was not designed as something to be obeyed in order to receive salvation. They had already been saved when God rescued from Egypt. The law was given to help the people who had been saved live together in peace and safety. These things were a gift from God. They could not be earned.
Abraham understood this five hundred years before the law was given. He knew that good works could not earn forgiveness of sin.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about-but not before God. What does Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (Rom 4:1-3).
Human efforts cannot earn salvation. Justification was always by faith, so attempting to earn salvation by works of the law was always a distortion of its true purpose. Justification was always by grace and never by good works.
The assumption that Old Covenant was a covenant of works does not make sense because it assumes that God set up something that could never work. God does not make mistakes. He does not demand people do something that they are incapable of doing.
By the time of Jesus, many Jews and especially the Pharisees treated the law as salvation by works, but when it was given to Moses, it was given as a covenant of grace. The law was a grace system, not a works system.
Not a System of Perfection
The law of the covenant was not a system of rules to make people perfect. Moses understood the limitations of the law. Near the end of his life he said,
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deut 29:6).
Moses was a prophet. He was looking forward to a time when God would give his people a new heart, so that they could love him fully. This prophecy was fulfilled by the ministry of Jesus. Moses probably did not understand what Jesus would do, but he knew that his people needed a new heart. He knew that law could not change human hearts. The best that law could do was to limit the worst effects of sin, so that people could live together without fighting and destroying each other.
Humans have a tendency to try to prove their righteousness by creating a set of rules and struggling to abide by them. These efforts always fail, but this kind of legalism has been common in every age. The Pharisees twisted the laws God gave Moses into a set or rules that define righteousness. Jesus rebuked them for this. He said that they had placed an impossible burden on the people by transforming God's law into the traditions of man.
They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matt 23:4).
God never uses law in the way because he knows that no one can become holy by complying with a set of rules. When God gave the law, he was not giving a set of rules that people must keep to be righteous. He had a far more sensible objective. He was giving a set of laws that would restrain behaviour sufficiently to prevent the community from tearing itself apart.
The law was not given to make people righteous. It was given to unrighteous people to keep them from harming each other.
Paul spent a large part of his ministry debunking the myth that righteousness can be achieved by keeping the law. Here are two statements that make his position clear.
If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Gal 2:21).
Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith" (Gal 3:11).
The law never could make us righteous. True righteous can only be obtained through Jesus, and his righteousness is appropriated through faith. Trying to achieve righteousness by keeping the law is foolish, because it was not designed for that purpose.
Paul also explained that real Jews knew that they could not be justified by observing the law.
We who are Jews by birth an know that a person is not justified by the works of the law (Gal 2:15-16).
Many Christians assume that Paul taught that there is something wrong with God's law, but this is not true. He was very hostile to those who claimed righteousness through the law, but he was careful not to denigrate the law itself.
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. We know that the law is spiritual (Rom 7:12,14).
Paul understood that the law was spiritual and good, when used for the right purpose. He did not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Not a Holiness Code
Martin Luther treated the old covenant as a holiness code, because he wanted to use it as a slogan for rhetorical purposes, but he did not understand it. It cannot be used as holiness code, because it does not contain a complete list of all sins. Pride, patience, kindness, gentleness are not mentioned; neither is presumption or gluttony. We should not be surprised at these omissions, because this is not the purpose of the law. It focuses on sins that would prevent people from living in harmony. It was not intended to be a list of all sins.
Moses understood this. Although humility is not one of the Ten Commandments, Moses was the most humble man on the earth. He was humble because he loved God, not because it was required by the law. He understood that the law was not given to define sin, but to provide a way for people to live in peace with each other.
The Pharisees had tried to turn the law into a holiness code by adding hundreds of minor regulations. They had to do this, because too much was missing. Jesus slammed them for laying an impossible burden on the people, because he understood the real purpose of the old covenant.
Jesus corrected the Pharisee's error in the Sermon on the Mount, by giving a true standard of righteousness. He then explained that keeping the law was not sufficient for a holy life. There are plenty of people who have never committed adultery, murdered someone, stolen from their neighbour or perjured themselves before a court, but that does not make them holy. Jesus explained that anger and lust are sins, even though they are not forbidden by the law.
Our righteousness must surpass the standard required by the law (Matt 5:20).
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).
Keeping the law makes us peaceful citizens, but it does not make us holy. God's holiness requires a much higher standard than the law.
Some Christians assume that Jesus was changing the law and setting a higher standard. This is not correct, either. Jesus was not changing the law (Matt 5:17-18). He was explaining the difference between the laws needed for a harmonious society and the standard of righteousness required for holiness. The law is sufficient for people to live in harmony, because that is its purpose. It is not a standard for holiness.
Paul, explains that trying to be righteous by human effort is foolish.
Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh (Gal 3:3)?
Fit for Purpose
God had a purpose for the Mosaic covenant, and it was fit-for-purpose. However, it's purpose was not to do what the new covenant would do, so it is foolish to say it failed, because it did not achieve what the new covenant would do. Like everything he does, the covenant with Moses was fit-for-purpose. It had seven main purposes.
Purpose 1: Solution for Theft and Violence
God gave them a set of simple laws (against theft, violence and adultery) and solutions for when they were broken, so that unregenerate people could live close together in their new land. They did not need these when living as slaves, as any slave who stole or used violence was beaten or killed by their taskmasters. God gave Israel a remedy for theft and violence, before they even knew that they needed one. This was grace.
The solution was premised on the fact that the people would continue to steal and be violent, but provided a way to minimize the damage (restitution). These sins could destroy a community, but God gave them a way or preventing that from happening. Applying God's solution brought serious economic blessing, and most other primitive societies were constantly destroyed by theft and violence.
This is why the mosaic covenant was not given until the Israelites were going into the land, 3000 years after Adam had sinned. It was for unregenerate people living in close proximity. The growing population of the world, made it necessary. We still have unregenerate people living in close proximity, so we still need God's solution for this problem, but we choose human concoctions instead.
The law could not resolve all problems between people, but it restrained the worst behaviours that would divide and destroy the community. That is all that law can do. No system of laws is capable of perfecting people. Even perfect laws cannot make people perfect. Only the cross and the gospel have that power.
God did not give the law in attempt to turn his people into better people, because that would have failed, and he does not do failure. He gave the law to restrain the very worst sins of theft and violence. He gave a set of laws that would allow a diverse group of people to live together in relative harmony. That was all that could be done before the cross, and that was all he intended.
Purpose 2: Spiritual Protection
The Israelites had no spiritual protection, because they lived before the cross. The people of Canaan were saturated with evil spirits (the population of the world was much less then, so they were more intense). The only protection was to remain separate from the surrounding nations. God gave the Israelites cultural makers to make this easy. The two main cultural markers were the Sabbath and circumcision. These were not about righteousness, as the Pharisees thought, but to keep the people separate and spiritually safe. The laws about sexual immorality had the same purpose, because immoral sexual behaviour, gave evil spirits free access.
This was grace, not works, because God did the initial driving out of the Canaanites; the Israelites just had to walk in the separation God had given, by remaining separate. (The Hebrew word for holy qadesh, means separate, more than good or righteous).
Moses started in good works and became a murderer. After forty years of watching daggy sheep, he was mellow enough to live in grace. But he occasionally slipped back. When he struck the rock, he had reverted to doing to receive, so God slammed him. Joshua struggled with grace. He experienced it at Jericho, but could not accept it, so he did some killing that God had not commanded. He seemed to want to do it himself, so for the rest of the time, he operated in human strength and the people went down with him.
The Sabbath was grace too. God chose to bless the people's work on the first six days, so that they did not need to work on the seventh. Every other subsistence society had to work eight days a week, just to survive. The sabbath was a great blessing, gained by doing less work than everyone else. It was the Pharisees who turned the sabbath into a holiness burden. Christians have been pretty good at doing that too
Another example of a cultural marker is wearing tassels on garments.
Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel (Num 15:37-40).
The tassels would be a reminder not to "chase after the lusts of their hearts and eyes" (Num 15:39). The tassels would not give them a new heart, but they would remind them of who they are and mark them off from the surrounding nations in the same way as a sports uniform distinguishes a sports team. The tassels with blue cords were the original "labelled sweater" showing everyone in the world that they belonged to God.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law had focused so strongly on the cultural markers that they had a twisted view of God's requirements for his people.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former (Matt 23:23).
Jesus requires his followers to focus on justice, mercy and the love of God.
Jesus death on the cross provides much better spiritual protection, by destroying the authority of the spiritual powers of evil.
The old cultural markers are done. The new cultural markers are "love one another" and the gift of the spirit. They show that we belong to Jesus.
Purpose 3: Solution for Sin
God knew the people could not stop sinning, so he provided the tabernacle sacrifices, so that sin did not affect their ability to relate to him (albeit at a lower level than after the new covenant). For ordinary people, it meant giving a lamb a year: pretty cheap forgiveness. God took the sacrifices as expiation of sin. This was grace, not works, because the sin far outweighed the value of the sacrifices. God accepted the sacrifices, because they pointed forward to Jesus, ie those with faith in the sacrifices, were trust Jesus without realizing it.
The animals offered in the sacrifices were not a cost to the people. God made their livestock more productive, and the animals sacrificed represented only a part of the extra production. The people did not have to work to produce the things sacrifices, as God has supplied them to them. This was receive/do.
The efficacy of the tabernacle sacrifices explain why people like David were able to have such a wonderful relationship with God and right such beautiful Psalm. David was a serial murderer (he let his henchman murdered Abner long before he got to Uriah the Hittite). He was also a serial thief. He had dozens of officials whose job it was to steal from his people and enforce their forced labour. The sacrifices dealt with his sin, so he was able to relate to God despite his sin. Many other Israelites could have related to God too, but they were afraid and did not try).
Purpose 4: Authority
The mosaic covenant changed the authority situation in the promised land. Under the Adamic covenant, men had authority over the land. If they rebelled, they could shut God out of the land, and they mostly did. Under, the Mosaic covenant, men could still sin, but this covenant gave God the right to exile them from the land. They could no longer shut God out of this bit of land. This was a massive step forward in god's plan to restore his authority on earth.
Purpose 5: Learning to Live in Grace
All that was needed to get the Mosaic covenant blessings was to choose God and reject all other gods (most were represented by idols). The first two commandments covered this. The Israelites did not have to be good, to get the blessings of the old covenant, because the sacrifices dealt with their sins. (The priest offered the sacrifices, but they did not need to work, so it was receive/do for them too). The Israelites needed faith because the sin was out of proportion to the sacrifice. This is the same means as under the new covenant. We have to choose Jesus and have faith in what he has done for us. Therefore, both covenants are receive/ choose/trust.
The do/receive approach to the Old Covenant makes God seem illogical. If his ultimate purpose is receive/do through Jesus, it would be stupid to make his people operate under do/receive for 1000 years. If they continued under do/receive after Jesus, it would be his fault because he had made them practice do/receive for so long.
The truth is that the old covenant is receive/do. It was sinful people like the Pharisees (and Joshua), who turned it into do/receive. That is why Jesus was so hostile to them. Of course, humans slip naturally into do/receive, so the OT people often did, just as Christians do today. That is the fault of the old man, not the old covenant. The old covenant was actually given to train the people to walk in receive/do, ready for when the big receive came with Jesus.
God would never set up a situation where people get blessings by works, rather than grace, because it would be guaranteed to bring out the worst in human nature. Sin came into the world because Adam and Eve wanted to decide and do for themselves. That is the motive of the old man. God would never set up a system that reinforced this kind of behaviour. He is a God of grace, so all his covenants are covenants of grace. He has no place for a covenant of works, because works always strengthen the old man and sin.
Purpose 6: Guidance about Food Safety and Quarantine
The Israelites were living in a world where the climate was hot and most people lived on subsistence. This left them vulnerable to sickness through eating bad food. To protect his people in age when they did not understand the spread of infection and disease, God gave them guidance about foods they should avoid. Because God was blessing them, they would not need to be scavengers any more.
The food instructions are instructions to the people to keep them healthy. They are not expressed as laws, because God wanted them to know which foods are safe, and which they should avoid, now that food was plentiful.
God also gave them laws for quarantine of sick people, so they could prevent epidemics from spreading. This was the same method as he used for spiritual protection.
The Pharisees tried to make food and eating a standard for righteousness. To make this work, they created hndreds of detailed rules about eating, which placed an impossible burden on ordinary people.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (Matt 23:25-26)
The Pharisees were focussed on the trivial. Their hypocrisy really annoyed Jesus.
The Pharisees tried to use the food instructions as a tool for becoming righteousness. This produced pride and hypocrisy, because the law was not given for that purpose. Their multiplication of rules that turned the law from a blessing to a burden.
Purpose 7: Conviction of Sin
God used the law to remind his people of their sinfulness.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom 3:20).
Before the law was given there could be debate about what God required. People could claim that there was nothing wrong with what they were doing was acceptable.
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone's account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command (Rom 5:13-14).
Once some sins were specified in black and white in the written law, the ability to claim innocence was gone.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase (Rom 1:20).
It was not that the law made people sin more, unless they were rebellious and wanted to push the boundary. The law made it clear that all people had sinned. The daily sacrifices were a constant reminder that everyone had sinned and needed forgiveness.
The condemning role of the law is now complete, because Jesus has already satisfied the righteous requirements of the law to set us free from the law of sin and death.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:1-4).
The Holy Spirit has now been poured out on the people of God, which gives him much greater freedom to work in the world. He has taken over responsibility for convicting people of sin, so the law no longer has this role.
And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8).
Imprisoned in Galatians
The Letter to the Galatians has a long discussion about the role of the law. This was necessary, because the Christians in Galatia were falling back into legalism. Paul explains why the law was needed in the period between the Exodus and Jesus ministry (Gal 3:19).
The law was put into effect by angels.
The law was given through angels (Gal 3:20).
This means that those who knock the law are putting down the work of angels.
Paul explains that the law is not opposed to the promise of salvation through Jesus, because it was not capable of imparting life.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law (Gal 3:21).
The law could not provide full salvation, because no law can do that. Full salvation could only come with Jesus.
In most English translations the last part of Galatians 3 sounds like the people were prisoners of the law. This is bad translation by people who do not understand the purpose of the law. Paul is actually explaining to the Galatians that the law provided spiritual protection for the children of Israel. The Greek word "phroureo" in verse 23 is usually translated as "imprisoned". This is misleading. The core meaning of the word refers to a garrison. It also refers to a sentinel looking for trouble in the distance. In Phil 4:7 and 1 Peter 4:7, it is translated to mean "kept safe". This is Paul's meaning in Galations. The law was not a prison in which the people were locked up. It is a garrison, which keeps the people free from spiritual attack.
As described above, the law provided the people with Israel with spiritual protection from the spiritual powers that dominated the surrounding nations.
Now before faith came, we were guarded/kept safe together under the law until the coming faith would be revealed (Gal 3:23).
The law offered protection for the people of Israel until Jesus came. It did not lock people up. It actually guarded them, so they could live in relative freedom until the coming of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit would provide full protection and freedom.
This spiritual protection was not limited to the Jews.
The Torah embraced (encloses) everyone under sin, until the announcement of faith through Jesus could be given to those who believe (Gal 3:22).
Anyone who chose to serve God and reject evil could have the same protection.
The last two verses of Gal 2 is often translated as if the law was a schoolmaster to lead people to Jesus. This is misleading as it focuses on the conviction role of the law, when Paul is more concerned about the protection role.
So the Law has became our supervising servant to lead us to Christ that we may be justified by faith (Gal 3:24)
A "paidagoges" was not a tutor. The word refers to a servant who accompanies the son of his master on his amusements and studies to keep him safe from moral and physical evil and to ensure he does not wander into trouble. This is the perfect description of the role of the law. It could not make the people of Israel good. But it could go with them to keep them on the right track and free from evil.
After the coming of gospel, they no longer needed spiritual protection from the law, because Jesus provides better spiritual protection and the Holy Spirit provides better guidance.
Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Gal 3:25).
A fuller statement of the principle is in Lev 20:22.
Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.
This is protection. If they disobey the laws, Satan will get in their midst, and life will fall apart. They might eventually be exiled from the land.
Although the children of Israel could have been free if they had stuck with God's covenant, they rejected him, so they became slaves of the nations, first the Babylonians and then the Romans. This explains the meaning of the parable of Hagar and Sarah. The child of Hagar is a slave, and the child of the other is the heir of promises (Gal 4:21-23).
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother (Gal 4:24-26).
Most commentators assume that Hagar is the old covenant and Sarah represents the new, but that is not what Paul is saying. Hagar represents the current situation of Israel. They have chosen to be live under the Mosaic Covenant, but have refused to follow God, so they were enslaved by the Romans. Their situation would be made worse when the Romans destroyed the temple, because that put in an end to the temple sacrifices.
As the chosen people, they should have been first to receive the promise, but they chose to reject Jesus, although he had fullfiled the covenant on their behalf.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us... so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:13-14).
Jesus had taken the curse on behalf of the people of the covenant, but they refused to accept it, so they remained stuck under its curse of the law. If they had accepted him, they could have received the full blessing promised through Moses, plus the additional blessing of the gift of the Spirit. By rejecting what God was doing though, they had put themselves under the curse of the law. The consequence was slavery under the Romans.
Paul reminded the Christians in Galatia that they were children of promise.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman (Gal 4:31).
As children of promise, who have been set free from the power of sin, they should avoid placing themselves under the authority of those who are not free. Jesus has set them free from the powers of evil, so they should have nothing to do with people who would put them back into slavery. This is not just a matter of foolish rules. By submitting to the requirements of the Jews, they would be putting themselves back under the authority of the powers of evil.
The new covenant established by Jesus is a wonderful covenant. It dealt fully with all the consequences of sin and restores back to us everything that was lost to the spiritual powers of evil when Adam and Eve sinned and gave them authority on earth. With such a wonderful covenant, I am amazed that Christians should want to slip back into living by rules. Walking in the spirit by obeying his voice may be harder than obeying rules, but it is an amazing privilege to be a friend of God.
The glory of the new covenant, means that we no longer need much of what the mosaic covenant provided, but it has not been cancelled. When a new covenant is given, the old one is not annulled.
Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise (Gal 3:15,17).
The covenant with Moses did not set aside the covenant with Abraham. In the same way, the covenant of Jesus did not set aside the covenant with Moses. Each covenant builds on the previous one. However, in establishing his covenant, Jesus fulfilled many of the requirements of the covenant with Moses. We now have much better spiritual protection through Jesus, than the law was able to provide. Jesus shifted the authority situation much further than the covenant with Moses. However, we still need the system of government provided through the Moses, so we do not need to get rid of it.
Some Christians paint the law bad in order to made the gospel look better. That is unnecessary, as the gospel is wonderful and can stand on its own feet. Other Christians portray the covenant with Moses as based on work, to highlight the grace of Jesus, but that is wrong, as every covenant that God makes is based on grace. God has a plan to restore his authority on earth. He began with a covenant with Noah and then built on this with covenants with Abraham and Moses. He completed this plan with the covenant made through Jesus. All the covenants were part of a coherent plan, so we denigrating one covenant to make another look good is futile. If we fail to understand how God's plan worked together, we will miss out on some of what he provided.