Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why the law then? A Biblical Theology of Law in Galatians (Chris Poteet)

There is arguably no issue more fiercely debated within orthodox evangelicalism as that of Paul's teaching regarding the Christian and law.1 The debate has been around for centuries, and I am no position to say that I have come to an understanding that has been absent in church history. Actually, my understanding of the relation of law and gospel is similar to that of the reformers—in particular Martin Luther. He saw that the Mosaic Law had a temporal role in God’s plan of redemption, and he tended to stress what is commonly called the "second use" of the Law which is to drive the unbeliever to Christ.

Paul, I believe, espoused this position in his monumental letter to the Christians at Galatia. In chapters 3-6, he gives us a redemptive-historical perspective on the purpose of the Mosaic Law and life led by the Spirit in the New Covenant. Correctly understanding this perspective can, I believe, move Christians who are divided on the issue to a more fruitful discussion.

The structure of this essay revolves around my exegesis of Galatians 3:23-25. I will first provide the background of Galatians, and I will then analyze 3:23-25 through exegesis and contrasting various positions in Christendom on this passage. The essay concludes with a discussion on life in the Spirit over the age of Law and the Law of Christ as Paul explains in chapters 4-6.

Continue reading Why the law then, by Chris Poteet at BeginningWithMoses.org. Chris Poteet blogs at Imperishable Inheritance.


Bluegrass Endurance said...

I would recommend Samuel Bolton’s work The True Bounds of Christian Freedom. He does a great job of showing both the place of the law for the unbeliever and for the believer. In doing this I think he clearly shows how we should see freedom in Christ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave for profiling my work again!

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Excellent Post! The key for understanding this section of Scripture (and the whole Law/Grace dynamic) is to correctly identify God's purpose in the Law. As with all of Torah (the totality of Scripture), the Law of Moses was prophetic and promisory--it all spoke of Christ and its fulfillment in Him. As with all the Scripture (in my opinion), you correctly state that "...the Mosaic Law had an eschatological focus that has now been realized and fulfilled in Christ."

I believe that eschatology is the propulsion in redemptive history that advances God's purpose to "sum up all things in Christ"; and He does this, I believe, through the prophetic "promise/fulfillment" motif that encompasses the totality of the Scripture. I believe that this truth is profoundly expounded in Paul's confrontation with the Galation's regarding the Mosaic Law and you did a wonderful job interacting with it.

There is a statement, however, that you make on page 13 that is not clear to me. In the section on the "Life in the Spirit and the Law of Christ", you say this: "Only in the New Covenant, led by the Spirit, CAN the believer 'fulfill' the law (of Christ, I presume)" (emphasis and clarification mine). Then in the footnote you reference the New Covenant passage in Jeremiah with these words: "This covenant obedience established by God...."

Are you here suggesting that because of our new life in Christ by the Spirit that we are now CAPABLE of "obeying" the commands of Christ (as our new "law")? I'm confused by your wording here. Are you saying that we are now under obligation to obey the commands of Christ? If so, how do I understand this without it becoming simply another "moralism" teaching that is (and always has been) so prevelant "Christianity"?

Charlie Cameron said...

The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Some schoolmasters may be viewed as disciplinarians. I think, however, we should see the work of the Holy Spirit here. He convicts us of sin and leads us to Christ. This is not the impersonal law. It's the personal approach of the Holy Spirit. In grace and mercy, He shows us how far we have fallen short of God's perfect standard so that He might gently lead us to the Cross of Christ, the place where we receive the forgiveness of all our sins.
In Galatians 4:6, we learn that ‘God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.’ The Spirit is not a reward which we earn by being good people. We are bad people who have broken God's law. The Spirit is God’s gift (Titus 3:5). The Spirit is not a reward which we earn because of our good works. Paul connects the gift of the Spirit with Christ’s death for us and our faith in Christ(Galatians 3:13-14).
When the Spirit brings us to Christ our Saviour, He takes us through a process which could be described as disciplinarian. We could look at His work in this way - so long as we see much more of divine grace in this than we would normally associate with the word "disciplinarian"!
The Spirit strips us of our human pride. He leads us to come to Christ with humility. When the Spirit has done His work in our hearts, we do not come to God with our religion in one hand and our morality in the other, insisting that we deserve to be blessed by Him. We look away from ourselves to Christ - ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling.’ All pride in ourselves must be brought to Christ’s Cross as we humbly pray, ‘Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.’
Let's look beyond the idea of the law as a disciplinarian. Let's give thanks to God. He has given His Spirit to us. Let’s give ourselves to Him - to ‘be filled with the Spirit’(Ephesians 5:18).