Commentary on "The Gospel and the Church"
Day 5: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - The Law of Christ
Today's lesson discusses the meaning of the phrase, "the law of Christ" in verse two. The author states that it is an incorrect interpretation to say that a new law replaced the law given at Mount Sinai. The author writes that, "‘fulfilling the law of Christ' is another reference to fulfilling the moral law through love." The author states that the "moral law interpreted by love continues to play an important role in the Christian life. This is the epitome of what Jesus taught during His earthly ministry and also practice through His life and even in His death. In bearing the burdens of others, we are not only following in the footsteps of Jesus, we are also fulfilling the law." After dealing with the law of Christ, the lesson then deals with the apparent contradiction of 6:2 and 6:5 (see Tuesday's commentary for our comments on this matter).
Scripture means what it says. If we come across something that confuses our understanding on an issue, we must do a couple things. We must first pray for the Holy Spirit to teach us and we must be willing to be wrong about our original interpretation. We must look at the context of the passage within the chapter as well as within the entire letter. Then look to see what the rest of scripture has to say about the issue. If you have access to a Greek translation/dictionary (there are several online) it is helpful to consider the original language. What we must never do, is turn to the all the "wisdom of man" to explain the passage and then choose the interpretation that best fits our (possibly inherited and unexamined) theological framework.
Context in Galatians
The context of the passage is that Paul is teaching believers how to fulfill the law of Christ: to love one another, to bear one another's burdens and do good to others, especially to those who are in the body of Christ.
The context of the letter is that Paul is admonishing the church in Galatia for "deserting Christ" by accepting a yoke of slavery from the Mosaic Law resulting in their adding to the gospel of Grace, which is not the true gospel of Jesus Christ but another gospel.
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel" Galatians 1:6
"We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose…" Galatians 2:15-17, 21
Paul is also teaching that the Mosaic Law (given 430 years after the promise made to Abraham) kept man in slavery until Jesus Christ came and established a new order: that man would be justified by grace (God's unmerited favor) through faith, thereby nullifying our former guardian and establishing Jesus Christ as our righteousness.
"Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian," Galatians 3: 23-25a (emphasis mine).
"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." Galatians 5:18
This does not mean that believers are free to intentionally sin. Jesus Christ came with new as well as expanded commandments: "believe in me", repent, be born again, be baptized, participate in the LORDS supper, love God and man as Christ loved us, serve the body of Christ…etc. For more on this, see tomorrow's commentary. Paul tells us in Galatians that what matters for inclusion in the gospel of Grace is that we are a new creation (born from above).
"For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." Galatians 6:15 (emphasis mine).
What does other scripture reveal about this?
We see the phrase, "new creation" also in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (emphasis mine)
We talked about what it is to be in Christ on Monday, but for a refresher we will go to Ephesians 1:13,
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." (emphasis mine)
Once we are born from above we are included in Christ and are a new creation. We are no longer captive to the law of sin and death but are set free by the Spirit of life.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2 (emphasis mine)
In Hebrews we see that Jesus Christ is our high priest after the order of Melchizedek. This is a new priestly order. Jesus ushers in a new law:
"Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well." Hebrews 7:11-12
Listen to the words of God quoted in Hebrews 8:8-9a:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt."
What covenant did God make with their fathers after bringing them out of Egypt?
"And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said: 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me….'" Deuteronomy 5: 1-7 (emphasis mine)
This is clearly the covenant given by Moses at Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. This is where God gives the Law to Israel; 430 years after the promise made to Abraham. Adventists say that the "Moral Law" (defined as the 10 commandments) is eternal. While we can agree that God is eternally good, it makes no sense to say that the law itself is eternal. Only God is eternal, He has created everything else. To say the law is eternal is to make a graven image out of it. The law is not God. Furthermore, what need would there be in heaven for commands concerning adultery? Why do Adventists say that the Sabbath commandment was instituted at creation if they also say it is a part of the eternal law? What has been instituted can not be eternal. The Holy Spirit says in Hebrews 8 that the new covenant He will establish will not be like the Mosaic covenant, which scripture clearly states includes the 10 commandments—the tablets of the covenant.
"When God speaks of a "new" covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete." Hebrews 8:13a
"He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect." Hebrews 10:9b (emphasis mine)
In Hebrews 9:1-4 the writer describes the old covenant (which is called obsolete) and again clearly includes the 10 commandments written in stone.
"That first covenant between God and Israel had regulations for worship and a place of worship here on earth. There were two rooms in that Tabernacle. In the first room were a lampstand, a table, and sacred loaves of bread on the table. This room was called the Holy Place. Then there was a curtain, and behind the curtain was the second room called the Most Holy Place. In that room were a gold incense altar and a wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides. Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron's staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant." (emphasis mine)
What are the tablets of the covenant?
"Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. These tablets were God's work; the words on them were written by God himself." Exodus 32:15-16 (emphasis mine)
"Once again the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets and gave them to me. They were the same words the Lord had spoken to you from the heart of the fire on the day you were assembled at the foot of the mountain. Then I turned and came down the mountain and placed the tablets in the Ark of the Covenant, which I had made, just as the Lord commanded me. And the tablets are still there in the Ark." Deut. 10:4-5 (emphasis mine)
The writer of Hebrews clearly includes the Mosaic Law given on Mount Sinai in the old covenant, which is called "obsolete" ("no longer in use or no longer useful." Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary).
Many Adventist struggle with this because they believe that this would mean Christians are free to go on sinning. This is because Adventists are not taught that there is a Law of Christ that is different from the Mosaic Law. They cannot be taught this because it would destroy the pillars of Adventism. Believers are certainly not free to go on in intentional sin. Through regeneration, the Holy Spirit works in us to will us to act in accord with God's purpose for us. Before the new birth we are under the law of sin and death and man is not under the law of Christ until He is born again (Romans 8). The new law has several names: A new covenant (Jer.31:31); the law of faith (Rom.3:27); the law of the Spirit of life (Rom.8:2); the law of righteousness (Rom.9:31); the law of Christ (Gal.6:2); the new testament (Heb.9:15); the perfect law of liberty (Jam.1:25); the royal law (Jam.2:8); the holy commandment (2Pet.2:21). See Monday's commentary to understand how we are made new as believers.
We do not have the time to show from all of scripture how Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law and the Prophets, or how Christians are not under the Mosaic Law. However, we encourage you to pray that the Holy Spirit would illuminate scripture and show you the truth. Romans is a wonderful place to start, and if you find yourself confused about whether or not the Law is divided into two sections (as Adventism teaches), we encourage you to read Hebrews in one sitting. Sometimes it helps to listen to an audio bible while you read along.
The original language
"Ton nomon tou Xristou", or "the law of Christ" means exactly what it says. "Nomon" is correctly translated "law." If this text were talking about fulfilling a "principal" or "command" of Christ the word used would be "entole" which means instruction or command.
In the Sabbath school quarterly the author writes;
"‘fulfilling the law of Christ' is another reference to fulfilling the moral law through love…moral law interpreted by love continues to play an important role in the Christian life. This is the epitome of what Jesus taught during His earthly ministry and also practiced through His life and even in His death. In bearing the burdens of others, we are not only following in the footsteps of Jesus, we are also fulfilling the law."
Man is not to "interpret" God's "moral law" (known as the 10 commandments within Adventism) through "love" or anything else. Jesus fulfilled the Torah: the Law and the Prophets. Interpretation of scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit. The words of this author may sound nice, but they are simply the ideas or "interpretation" of man and not based on the word of God. For the author to write that the "law of Christ" is the Mosaic Law given at Mount Sinai and interpreted through love, then write here that we are capable of fulfilling that law, is to nullify the grace of God and the atonement of Jesus Christ. We cannot fulfill the Mosaic Law before or after the new birth. If we could, we would have no need for a savior. When scripture says we "fulfill the law of Christ" it is talking about something entirely different.
Copyright 2011 BibleStudiesForAdventists.com. All rights reserved. Revised December 15, 2011. This website is published by Life Assurance Ministries, Glendale, Arizona, USA, the publisher of Proclamation! Magazine. Contact email: BibleStudiesForAdventists@gmail.com.
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