The Fork in the Road: A Question About Galatians

Jimmy S asked,

Why therefore do you have to throw out the moral law to defeat your opponents? Is you agenda perhaps much wider than you let on?


I have no interest in promoting immorality. In fact, I oppose all forms of immorality. Rather, the goal is to get us away from legalistic thinking and into thinking in terms of the Spirit.

The reason I say “law” includes the moral law in Galatians and in Romans is because in Paul’s usage, it plainly does —

The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 1 (Gal 1 -2)

The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 1A (Further on the “Law”)

And, as a result, Paul had to deal with the same questions as the ones you raise  —

(Gal 2:17-18 ESV) But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

Paul responds to the very legitimate concern that salvation by grace through faith might be perceived as license to sin by pointing out the meaning of our salvation — but he doesn’t fully respond until he gets to chapter 5.

(Gal 2:19-21 ESV) 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Paul dealt with the identical issue in Romans, for the very same reason —

(Rom 6:1-2a ESV) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means!

And just as he did in Galatians, Paul poins to the meaning of our salvation.

(Rom 6:2b-3 ESV) How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

But in Romans, Paul doesn’t give the full answer until he gets to Romans 8, just as he doesn’t give the full answer in Galatians until chapter 5 — and both chapters deal with the Spirit —

(Rom 8:1-6 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Paul here expands on themes introduced earlier in Romans, one of which is that God has changed our hearts through the Spirit —

(Rom 2:29 ESV) 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

(Rom 7:6 ESV) 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Paul’s point, in both books, is that we’ve been transformed into different kinds of people who no longer obey due to the external constraints of a written law but from the inner constraints of a heart circumcised by the Spirit.

This cannot be understood legalistically, because Paul is speaking in relational terms. For example, when I was a child, I obeyed my parents out fear of whippings and to obtain rewards. My parents are now just way too old to whip me, and they seem intent on spending my inheritance. And yet I’m obedient — not because of fear or desire for reward, but because of love for my parents. Even more so, it’s because my nature is that of an obedient son. I couldn’t live with myself if I were to be rebellious, and I take pleasure in being a good son.

Just so, the mature Christian’s heart is tranformed by the hand of God himself, through the Spirit, so that we obey, not because of law, but because our faith expresses itself through love — because that’s the kind of people we are.

This makes no sense to the legal mind, but I can give testimony. In my home church, we have several couples who are in the process of selling their houses and moving next door to a very poor housing project so they can pour their lives into people there — all out of love for Jesus.

There’s no law that requires this. We’ve never preached a sermon requiring this. They are doing it because of love, not out of compulsion. They are transformed people behaving in transformed ways.

You see, when we give the Spirit the leadership we’re supposed to, obedience becomes more moral, more sacrificial, more downright amazing. No longer are we demanding that our members meet some minimal threshhold — 3 services and 5 acts of worship — but rather we stand back in amazement as we see the hand of God at work among us. There’s no comparison.

(2Co 3:5-6 ESV) 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

(2Co 3:17-18 ESV) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.


4 Responses

  1. This is so important for everyone to understand. Not just people of Church of Christ backgrounds.

  2. The Law, (God’s life rules given to Moses), defined what sin was, and demonstrated that man, because he has a heart/nature ruled by the flesh, is incapable and powerless to overcome the rule/law of sin he sees in his own life (Rom 7:7-25). Well intentioned grit cannot accomplish what God’s sanctifying grace provides through the power of the indwelling Spirit. (Rom 8). The spiritual birth (Jn 3:5-8; Jn 4:10-14 & Jn 7:37-39) forgives (regenerates) and prepares man’s heart for the Spirit’s greatest work – transformation to the likeness of Christ. “As you come to him, the living stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him- you are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 2:4-5). ” But now that you have been set free from sin (regeneration) and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness (sanctification) and the result is eternal life” (glorification, Rom 6:22).

  3. Is not the law of love worth more than the love of law?

    Are there not two basic freedoms: the false, where people freely do only what they like; the true, were people freely do what they know they ought.?

  4. Being transformed by the Spirit in order to become able to keep the Law is not the same as oeying “automatically/naturally” because of our new birth.

    We could not keep the Law because of the weakness of our flesh and our hardened hearts.

    But we still have to deal with our flesh (to crucify it on a daily basis), and our hearts can become hardened again because we give in into the old ways.

    So our Christian life is rightfully described as striving to enter the Kingdom, striving to obey and become saved in the end, because it does not happen automatically since the old nature is still present and active within us.

    God’s will – as revealed in His Law – has not changed either. The way he put it into words has changed, or better: The full meaning of the Law has been revealed through Christ so we may proceed from the letter to the Spirit. This means, that we are to live by an even higher standard that the Israelites.

    This includes – if we really need the terms – the ceremonial laws as well as the moral laws. Being priests, serving in God’s temple can only be understood by a spiritual understanding of the (ceremonial) Law, as well as the Sermon on the Mount shows the spiritual understanding of the (moral) Law. We cannot skip either of both, but we must not take them literally but spiritually.

    The whole discussion in Romans and Galatians has to do with Judaizers, who did not want to proceed from the letter to the Spirit. That’s the point. Paul’s point is not to say, that we don’t have to do good works or live obediently in order to become saved in the end. This we have to do – as he says – with fear and trembling in the power of the Spirit (Phil 2:12-16)

    in Christ

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