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Works of the Law and Righteousness

by Danny Mihailovic last modified Feb 23, 2014 12:54 AM
It never pays to lower your standards in order to be accepted by others. Sooner or later this may back-fire.

In our previous observations dealing with Paul’s credentials being confirmed by the Jerusalem Council, we learned that there was a unilateral agreement among the Apostles and Paul in so much that they agreed on the fundamental issue of justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Namely that the works of the Law could not justify any man before God, simply because the law in and of itself could only condemn sin. It could not change the sinner in any way. Moreover, that the blood of Christ was sufficient for these things. As the work of the gospel began to spread among the Gentiles and the Jews, the justification argument was surely tested. Paul recognised at the outset that he and Peter were set apart by God to bring the evangel respectively to their mission; Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. (v8). The uncertainty of these early days showed up clearly in Peter’s reluctance to live out fully his new freedom in the gospel. When with the Jews, he acted as a Jew; he observed their ritual. Peter was willing to eat with the Gentiles while there were no Jews around. But when certain Jews came to eat with him, Peter withdrew himself from the gentiles lest he should be exposed to his Jewish brethren.

This was repugnant to Paul, and then to oppose his colleague, and co-worker in the gospel, Peter was a serious step. Even Barnabas who was originally a part of Paul’s party, moreover, an advocate of the doctrine of Justification, weakened, by joining in the “hypocrisy” as Paul described it. This was also Peter’s second denial of sorts; first before the cross, and now after it. But why did he weaken? The great Apostle to the Jews! What fear indwelt him to do this? Was it that he still didn’t fully grasp the concept of Justification as clearly as Paul did? After all, Paul had the knowledge of the law with regard to its purpose for the people of Israel, but more importantly even as a Jew, he had come to the conclusion that the purpose of the law had never changed, but that Christ now had brought the final perspective to it. “No flesh can ever be justified by the works of the Law.” It is important to distinguish law and works. The law itself stands as the absolute prescription for holiness because it is designed after the mind of God. It is the defining mark of God’s requirements for all humans not just the Jews, as it will be the bench mark for the Judgment day. The works of the Law define what the Jews had to do because of their peculiar calling under the Covenant. Whether they did them or not, did not change the requirements of God for salvation...which were grace and faith. (See Hebrews 11–12…our forefathers were saved by faith in Christ…the promised seed of the woman). But what Paul allured to here, was that the works of the Law, even though prescribed by God, were never designed to be the vehicle through which sinners would find salvation. God did not design the works, e.g. temple service, rituals, the feasts, covenant circumcision etc., as the means of salvation. These works were the witness to the Gentile world that God dwelt with Israel.  What convinced Paul of this was of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the works of the law were desirable and effective in matters of Jewish jurisprudence, they never saved anyone. Salvation was always found in the grace and mercy of God…who had now shown these wonderful gifts through His Son Jesus.

Imagine for a moment a jig saw that had never been finished for centuries. The missing parts were the miraculous conception and birth of Christ, the cross and the resurrection, filling in the gaps around the Holy of Holies where God met with Israel in the cloud. When Paul realised this, the whole plan fell into place. Hence the vehemence with which he opposed Peter, who possibly didn’t quite put the whole picture together at this stage. Though later, as confirmed in his letters, he saw the Israel of God, Jews and gentiles together saved by the blood of the cross; the building without hands made up of living stones. The concern that both Peter and Paul shared was this. Having been freed to serve God now, by the righteous merits of Christ, and no longer through the schoolmaster, the law, and having been saved by Christ, was it possible, that there was still confusion about what defined sin. In verse 17, Paul raised the issue. Why? Because it may have seemed to the Jews in particular, that having been freed by the gospel, they were still found to be sinners because they lived like the Gentiles. To live as the Gentiles, that is without “The LAW”…may have been attributed to the thought that Christ was therefore a “minister” or slave of sin, promoting sin then in the lives of those who followed Him. Paul saw beyond this concern by pointing out that, Christ had destroyed the works of the Law by His own good works. And now Paul Christ’s servant (v18) having argued against the law as the means of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, if he tried to rebuild the law in the lives of those whom Christ set free, makes himself a sinner because then he would be opposed to Christ.

The wonder of the gospel is not that we abide by a rule of some kind that satisfies God. It is this. “It is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me!” This is the crux of the gospel…If Christ lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brings to us all the benefits of Calvary and the Resurrection, then all that we are in the flesh, weakness and strength together, is covered by the blood of Christ; faith in Christ means to be able to trust Him for the outcome of our life that we now live in the flesh — i.e. natural life. Our salvation did not transform our bodies as such, but our minds. Therefore we leave the outcome of our body now and after death, to the Grace of God, and the certain hope we have in Christ who is the first fruit of all who belong to Him. But here is the final clincher to Paul’s argument. If the law is the means by which we gain righteousness then Jesus died in vain. He need never have gone through with the suffering and indignation as the Son of God. To what effect would His death have benefited anyone? But we know that the Father’s pleasure rested in His Son, because in Him, we were predestined before the foundation of the world to be Holy and Blameless in Christ, in Love, being adopted into the family of God.