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Law and Gospel

by Danny Mihailovic last modified Feb 23, 2014 12:54 AM
The Apostle Paul was not one of those men who persuaded people by claiming miracles and visions to stamp divine authority upon his ministry. Rather, he exiled himself with God to explore and analyse what he had experienced; as any good “lawyer” would do.

The time away from the Apostles initially was understandable. The persecutor of the church, Saul, needed to be away from the scene. This troubler of Israel needed to bring a measure of freedom to the church before he could start preaching to the Gentiles freely. Moreover, Saul needed to confer with the disciples and the church in Jerusalem as to the veracity of his vision. He had already witnessed the stoning of Stephen and heard the name of Jesus being proclaimed faithfully by those who knew Him; and now, he was about to face similar pressures upon himself as he proclaimed the same Jesus. Yet he preached in Syria and Cilicia and to the churches of Judea, as an unknown entity. Obviously what he preached was received gladly by all who heard him. (Gal 1:24).

After conferring with the official heads of the church in Jerusalem, it was confirmed to Saul, now known as Paul, that the ceremonial aspects of the law, namely circumcision, were not required by the Apostles. In Chapter 2:2, Paul once again, checked out his understanding of the gospel in case he was mistaken or had run in vain. We pick up here, that there were even then, false brethren who secretly spied out what Paul termed, “our liberty” which we have in Christ Jesus that “they may bring us into bondage. This is the crux of Paul’s concern for the Galatian church.  The strength of Paul’s argument was reinforced by the fact that neither he, not Titus or Barnabas yielded to the pressure of the false brethren who were most probably Jews enamoured by Jesus Christ but not converted by the power of the Holy Spirit. Herein lurks the danger for all who desire to understand Christian Liberty. Nowhere does the New Testament present the gospel as a ticket to sin, because grace abounds! Neither does the New Testament belittle the Law of God as to negate it. The thread that divides Law and Gospel is so fine yet it is there. Jonathan Edwards described this as a sinner walking across the jaws of hell, on the thin threads of his works, which are ready to tear apart as his foot slips and in due time will fall of his own accord.

Paul will argue in the letter, that the law can only do one thing in its relation to man, and that is, to condemn him. Humanity is a condemned species. Jesus even said that of people in general and in particular, to the Pharisees, “You are from beneath…” meaning hell itself. i.e. because of human sin, there is only one pronouncement suitable for human beings and that is condemnation; in spite of all the great and wonderful things we achieve, in our own eyes, these have no bearing upon the law of God. For example, you may be a benevolent supporter of some great charitable work, or you may give all you have to the poor, yet if a police officer catches you Jay-walking across a busy city street, all of that wonderful background you possess cannot change the punitive consequence of the “Jay-walking law”. Yes, you will still get a ticket. That is the law.

The bible teaches that human beings by their very nature even though fallen, still possess the image of God and therefore the restraints of God in holding back his ultimate judgment upon us allows us to exist. But ultimately without the vicarious life of Christ accounted to us by grace, the ultimate judgment will take place.

So the Law has a distinct purpose. It is Holy and Good, therefore necessary to bring meaning to the gospel of Christ. It tells us what we cannot do and won’t do. To detract from that great gospel principle of freedom from the condemnation of the law, by making the law something that it is not, namely, steps to salvation by means of external observance, was to the Apostle Paul, a curse upon those who preached such false doctrine.