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More Thoughts on the Law

We started a study on Galatians here and I watched the first part of your Galatians study. At some point you say smthg like “The Law is related to the flesh”, which 9ch is profoundly true. This is why Paul uses the metaphor of the dead old nature and says the Law has no bearings on those who are dead (Romans 7:2-4).

Are we to assume (as many others) that the first chirch with all these “tens of thousands of Jews who believed and who also fervently keep the Law” was not aware of the change that occured and the principle in Rom 7:2-4? I can perhaps summarize like this – could the first Christian Jews NOT KEEP the Law? Could they? What was the take of Art?

I just went over to our website and saw over to the side a link entitled, ‘Thoughts on Torah Observance‘ or something like that. The article was one that Art liked and had posted to the old BI site.

Also, there is a recording entitled, Paul’s Vehemence Against the Law, that took place in Pearl’s trailer with others interacting. Art’s break through convictions were greatly influenced by a book I had recently given him, which you will want to get if you can find it. It is, “Of God or Man?: Light from Galatians”, by John Metcalfe. Art did indeed observe Friday night ‘shabbat’ but not with the religious seriousness or zeal distinctive of adventists and others who see it as a make or break requirement of the believing life.

Scripture recognizes that what has come about in the revelation of the mystery of the gospel has brought a unique dispensation of responsibility towards the law. Any Jew who could read or hear Acts 13:38-39 would, or SHOULD know that the law can contribute NOTHING towards justification, nor towards the receiving of the Spirit. Nor can the failure of Jew or gentile to observe any of its requirements change their position in Christ, as forever dead and forever married to another. So clearly, even if some continued to keep the law as an issue of stewardship, and not of justification, it was crucial to understand that the law could play no role in either causing or measuring one’s standing in Christ. It could not contribute to justification, just as circumcision and sabbath keeping could not be used as a measurement to test if one were indeed justified.

It is a wholly different matter where the fruits of the Spirit are concerned. Though the fruits of the Spirit are fruits, and therefore not the cause of salvation, still, every believer will agree that they are a sure result of salvation, and therefore, in that sense, an indicator of true regeneration. This is NOT true of the law, because the law is something that man can (‘seem’) do in his natural power. That is why to depend on the law is to depend on self, and this is Paul’s great concern. In order for grace to be grace, nothing within human reach or power can be permitted to contribute anything towards regeneration. This is axiomatic for Paul. Nothing possible to the flesh can be permitted to contribute or assist in the miracle of regeneration. Otherwise, grace is mixed and the glory of an unilateral covenant is shared with something that of or from man, and this can never be, as Paul makes clear that even faith is a gift of divine working.

In the same way, neglect of the outward ordinances and institutions by gentiles (as “loosed” from circumcision, sabbath, temple ritual, etc.) is not regarded by the apostles as an indication that one does not have salvation, obviously. But what does this mean for Jews? Do Jews have a different stewardship of responsibility from gentiles? We know for sure that they do in the coming millennium, but what of now? Regardless of whether the Jew felt conscience-bound to the law as to his stewardship as a Jew, it was NOT permitted by apostolic revelation for him to conceive of that stewardship as contributing anything towards his justification. But what about the works of the law being an indicator that a Jew was regenerate in the same way that the fruits of the Spirit are an indicator that one has the Spirit? Paul seems to leave this question open to conscience as long as this does not become a source of dependency for salvation or to exalt above other believers of different persuasion, (“let every person be fully persuaded in their own mind”; and “whatever is not of faith is sin”; Ro 14:5, 14, 23).

So how far is one “free” from the law, not as a means of salvation, of course, but as a measurement of whether one is saved? I ask this because we know that to be completely devoid of the fruits of the Spirit is a sign that one is destitute of the Spirit. And since the fruits of the Spirit have much in common with the moral demands of the law, what can be the difference? That difference is ALL the difference, and it is Paul’s primary point. One is possible apart from the Spirit and the other is not. However short it may fall of the law’s full intention (perfection), it is possible for an unregenerate person to keep the law’s requirements to some (obviously imperfect) extent. Of course NT revelation makes clear that such imagined fulfillment of the law falls terribly short of what the law is really requiring. In contrast, the fruits of the Spirit is only possible by the power of the Spirit. There’s the great difference. It’s the difference between the living and the dead, and this is Paul’s point. He’s not at war with the law but the presumptions of humanism.

Note also, the Spirit is only possible and lawfully conferred where the sacrifice is perfect, which alone can justify from all sin, not only momentarily and provisionally, as in some “Christian” thought, but this is a righteousness that pre-supposes an entirely different source and residence. Already translated into the age to come, the born again believer is once and for all “sit down” (an idiom for finished finality) with Christ at the Father’s right hand, forever positioned far above all principality and power. This is a wholly other realm of existence. This new, eternal life of that subsists in union with God’s own life, exists entirely outside and beyond the reach of principalities and powers. It is “hid with God in Christ”. The proof of this reality is the manifest life and fruits of the Spirit. The presence and power of this life, the true seed, born of the Word and the Spirit, is sure and certain guarantee against lawless behavior, or disregard for the law, or any part of God’s holy government. This becomes logically impossible (“how …?; Ro 6;2), since the very Spirit who commanded all these things is one in vital union with the spirit of the “true”, and therefore overcoming believer. So there is no danger of ‘anti-nomiansm’ that declares “freedom” from the law (in that perverse and misguided sense).

So as long as Jews were not depending on the law, which is to say themselves for their justification, or looking to their own powers to keep themselves in the straight way of the Lord, it was perfectly acceptable for them to continue in all the ordinances of the law, just as Daniel and the faithful exiles had done, even in the absence of the temple. But to enjoin this upon gentiles would be a serious regression. It would be to undo all that had come about to release even Jewish believers from the yoke of an unattainable standard. But especially in the case of the gentiles, to put on them the yoke of the law would be especially reversionistic, because the law was never given to them in the first place. It was only given to Israel. (see below note).

I labor this point, because I see no discrepancy with a dispensational responsibility or stewardship towards the law, as with Israel before the cross, and Israel again in the millennium, and the many who, though under the law as a stewardship, were never “under” the law as a means of life or justification. Though under the law as a stewardship of responsibility, David , even as David, though ‘under the law’ was not ‘under the law’ as to righteousness (Paul’s point in Ro 4). Jews in the millennium are a perfect example of the principle I am pointing out. They will be gladly and gratefully engaged to fulfill distinctive commandments and ordinances intended for them in particular (a different dispensation of responsibility / stewardship from millennial gentile believers). Yet, they will be perfectly secure in their assurance of righteousness by faith and the preserving power of the Spirit through to the end of the millennial without apostasy or defection from a perfectly secure, eternal covenant.

Keeping the law as a stewardship is one thing. Keeping it as a means of life is quite another. Hope this gives some food for thought. It’s quite hurried and inadequate, of course. After all, the question of the law is perhaps the most involved and difficult of all questions. I believe Paul is a monergist who will permit nothing of man to contribute to his own salvation, nor anything of human righteousness to mix or enter upon a divine righteousness that is wholly other. This is the ground of his “apparent” vehemence and negativity towards law keeping. It is his war on humanism, and the tendency of man, unable to conceive of such an absolute sovereignty, to mix the un-mixable. Ro 11:6

(As an aside, we should note that although God did not give gentiles the law directly; He gave them Israel. Through them, the nations would have reinforced the moral sense in every person’s conscience. I may be alone in this, but I believe Paul is saying in Ro 2 that there were gentiles, even before the cross, that were regenerate and thus fulfilled the law in real measure. This was in contrast to Jews who had the law but did not fulfill it, being un-regenerate. (It is theologically preposterous to suppose that the OT believers, Jew or gentile, could be regenerate apart from the indwelling of the Spirit. What came at Pentecost was a unique fullness, and great advance in both understanding and power, but this is NOT the first time that believers had life and union with God by the Spirit). Also, when thinking about the law in relation to faith, it is well to keep in mind that for Paul, the issue of faith is never conceived apart from the work of the Holy Spirit to produce and maintain true faith. For Paul, as for John in 1Jn 5:4, the only faith that counts is a faith that is born of God, not mere belief, even ‘correct’ belief. That is why Paul can so closely associate the issue of faith with the issue of the Spirit, without implying thereby something that man is producing out of himself.

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