Monday: Works of the Law
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Paul says three times in Galatians 2:16 that a person is not justified by “works of the law.” What does he mean by the expression “works of the law”? How do these texts (Gal. 2:16-17; Gal. 3:2, Gal. 3:5; Gal. 3:10; Rom. 3:20; Rom. 3:28) help us to understand his meaning?

Obeying food laws

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Before we can understand the phrase “the works of the law,” we first need to understand what Paul means by the word law. The word law (nomos in Greek) is found 121 times in Paul’s letters. It can refer to a number of different things, including God’s will for His people, the first five books of Moses, the entire Old Testament, or even just a general principle. However, the primary way Paul uses it is to refer to the entire collection of God’s commandments given to His people through Moses.

The phrase “the works of the law” likely involves, therefore, all the requirements found in the commandments given by God through Moses, whether moral or ceremonial. Paul’s point is that no matter how hard one tries to follow and obey God’s law, our obedience never will be good enough for God to justify us, to have us declared righteous before God. That’s because His law requires absolute faithfulness in thought and action — not just some of the time but all of the time, and not just for some of His commandments but for all of them.

Although the phrase “works of the law” does not occur in the Old Testament and is not found in the New Testament outside of Paul, stunning confirmation of its meaning emerged in 1947 with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of writings copied by a group of Jews, called Essenes, who lived at the time of Jesus. Although written in Hebrew, one of the scrolls contains this exact phrase. The scroll’s title is Miqsat Ma’as Ha-Torah, which can be translated, “Important Works of the Law.” The scroll describes a number of issues based on biblical law concerned with preventing holy things from being made impure, including several that marked the Jews out as separate from the Gentiles. At the end the author writes that if these “works of the law” are followed, “you will be reckoned righteous” before God. Unlike Paul, the author does not offer his reader righteousness on the basis of faith but on the basis of behavior.

In your experience, how well do you keep God’s law? Do you really sense that you keep it so well that you can be justified before God on the basis of your law-keeping? (See Rom. 3:10-20.) If not, why not — and how does your answer help you understand Paul’s point here?
Amen!(32)

Comments

Monday: Works of the Law — 26 Comments

  1. The law can only train an individual to be a good and faithful citizen, but, cannot make one to stand righteous before God. It's only on the basis of faith that a person is declared righteous.

    Amen!(36)
  2. Works of the law can only be understood when cited in its context.
    If the Ten Commandments is the context of the chapter then works of the law is related to the Ten Commandments. If the ceremonial law is the context of the chapter then works of the law is related to the ceremonial law.

    The subject of Galatians chapter one and two is circumcision imposed upon the christian gentiles by a Jewish group in the Galation church. Hence, works of the law is only related to the laws of circumcision and not the Ten Commandments or any other law. These laws of circumcision are also related to Paul´s letter to the Ephesians chapter two. To be precise, Paul is talking about the works of the law in relation to circumcision required by these Jewish enthusiast who preach a false gospel apposed to salvation in Christ.

    Amen!(14)
  3. This lesson will help define with certainty 'works' in James 2 and the ' works of the law' in Romans 3:20.We are told in the bible the devils too believe and tremble? Does this mean they are saved because they believe? No. Their work betray them.

    On the other hand Abraham believed God. His works testified to the character of his faith, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness.[works]. There is work that sanctifies. Galatians 5 explains clearly that which comes from human power and that which comes from the Spirit.

    Paul in his epistle to Romans writes "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin" Romans 7:14. How can a man living in the flesh discern that which is spiritual? Christ says unless one is born of the Spirit, it would be impossible to discern that of the Spirit.

    First, the spirituality of the law. The spirituality of the law creates a spiritual man. Christ says of such "...I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them" Heb 10:8 , 10:16 " Into their hearts" refers to the thought of the heart that man carry always as long as he lives. This is from within. Out of love. The life of Christ flows from inside. For this reason Paul says "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” Galatians 2:20. He means that he no longer live by the dictates of his own strength. He is controlled by the Spirit of Christ. That is his "dying to self".

    When accused of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus responded by asking "Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?" Mark 3:4 .By numerous traditional regulations and senseless restrictions the Sabbath had become a budern to many. Christ called these Commandments of man. This only creates a religious man. The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength [ works of law].

    His teachings restored the Sabbath from being a legalist institution to its proper place as a day for doing acts of charity and mercy. He rescued it from the garbage bin of tradition, false ideas ,and superstitious beliefs by which it had been degraded. By healing on Sabbath He magnified it and made it honourable. Isaiah 42:21.

    Paul seeing the constant battle between the spiritual man and physical man[ Spiritual man and Religious man]says "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I" Rom 7:15. “Without me,” Christ says, “ye can do nothing.” [John 15:5.] He demonstrates how much vain are man's efforts without Him. This is shown by what Ellen White says here "Fasting was practiced by the Jews as an act of merit, and the most rigid among them fasted two days in every week. . .” DA 276.4. The spiritual aspect of fasting was lost.Fasting became a mere ritual. God condemns this type of worship in Isaiah 58:3-7 [works of the law]. It reduces worship to a state of formalism which is a recipe for legal religion : round of ceremonies without any sanctifying effect.

    Ellen White says the sinner ought to come to the cross, which has been placed midway between Divinity and humanity, and repents of his sins of transgression, because Christ has been drawing him to Himself. He doesn't expect the law to wash away his sin. There is no pardoning quality in the law to save the transgressors of the law. Only the blood of Christ washes away sin. He must look to the atoning Sacrifice of Christ his only hope, through repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ as the One who can save and cleanse the sinner from every transgression. 8MR 355.

    In closing: Christ is the means to salvation. For all who comprehend the spirituality of the law : all realize its power as a detector of sin". It does not make us perfect. Perfection is through Christ.

    Amen!(19)
    • Hi Anele, a question for you, you have explained well about how pple were taking the sabbath as a burden..I have a problem on a related issue. Am a born again Adventist, my family is catholic, they often plan family gathering s on Saturday, of which pple come together, eat drink chat...just enjoy the moment of a family. I always miss to attend due to the fact that its on sabbath, but makes me feel sad, but keep strong assuming that I want them to learn we should observe the sabbath and keep it holy. Do you think am doing the right thing or like you sayed am taking th sabbath as a burden?

      Amen!(3)
      • Dear Aneli,

        If you go to church in the sabbath morning and be with your family in the afternoon, I do not see anything wrong in that. We have to spend time witnessing to our families and that side is called evangelism on a sabbath.

        God be with you!

        Tony

        Amen!(3)
        • Thank you Tony.What I pointed out is how the Sabbath was viewed by commoners. And they still do view it this way even today. The true picture of the Sabbath is badly distorted. I guess you would agree with me. If what you do with your family on Sabbath is what Christ said 'good' then there is no problem. Read Isaiah 58 and you will see that which God calls good.

          Amen!(2)
      • Dear Jane.
        You have a big calling dear. Christ said we "are the salt of the world" and I say you are the salt of your family. Do not lose your saltiness.
        I will remember you in my prayers tonight.

        Amen!(1)
      • Unfortunately many have a wrong perception of IS 58:13 because of the poor choice of the word "pleasure" in some translations. "Doing as you please" is a better translation--reflecting a disregard for God and others. Start by reading the entire chapter. Look at the practices God is condemning and the fact that some of those wicked things were being done on the Sabbath. It helps to put the last two verses in context.

        The passage is not saying don't do anything pleasurable. In fact, in the original it is primarily concerned with conducting business. The Sabbath was meant for man, both to strengthen our vertical relationship to God and also to strengthen horizontal relationships with family and friends. To think that nothing that isn't directly focused on God should be done on the Sabbath is a great misunderstanding.

        I avoid activities that will cause me to forget it is Sabbath. I avoid things that focus me on the work week or the challenges of daily living. But time spent with family and friends, even if it isn't focused on spiritual things is certainly part of God's plan for Sabbath.

        Amen!(2)
  4. Question. In the process of being saved, how many times does one get justified? We use the expression 'the work of a moment' to distinguish it from sanctification, 'the work of a life time'. Does that suggest that we are justified only once and then the process of santification takes over? Thanks.

    Amen!(6)
  5. Jacob, I once heard one of our university theologians explain justification through Romans 3:23; he explained the text says "all have sinned [present perfect tense] and (do) fall short [present tense] of the glory of God." Thus, he said, we need justification daily! EGW in our Notes for this lesson said "Pardon and justification are one and the same thing." We are reborn daily as we give our will to God for Him to guide us according to His purposes, and daily we ask and thank God for the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth and all that He wants us to know and be. Daily we repent of and confess our sins; daily we are pardoned. For me, then, justification (being put right with God) and sanctification (ever growing into Christ) go on simultaneously!

    Amen!(13)
  6. a person is not justified by the works of the law
    we may be justified by faith in[d] Christ
    by the works of the law no one will be justified.

    Justification can be a defense in a prosecution for a criminal offense. When an act is justified, a person is not criminally liable even though their act would otherwise constitute an offense.

    it is very interesting sandwiched in between the Works of the law
    Paul does give an answer to our justification which is found only in Christ and Christ alone.

    Amen!(5)
  7. By saying we are not saved by the works of the law, Paul is simply making the point that not even the loyal angels in heaven, who have never fallen have earned their eternal life. They were created in heaven with eternal life as a free gift. They didn't earn being created angels in heaven. Before sin as well as after sin, life has always been a free gift. No creature, fallen or unfallen has earned eternal life. Of course the angels perfectly obey as a result of their gift. So it should be with us.

    Amen!(12)
    • However, the unfallen angels, do not have sinful natures like we as humans do. We humans have to deal with our sinful natures that always betray us with sin in our lives. The unfallen angels manifest the fruit of the spirit every single moment of their unfallen lives. We as humans fail to do this 24/7/365 and that is why we need the robe of Jesus own unfallen, sinless, righteousness, by faith, 24/7/365 to stand in place of our fallen sinful unrighteousness-----as in the parable of the wedding feast and wedding garment----not the bad or even the "Good," but those wearing that garment were allowed to stay in the reception hall of that wedding feast.

      Amen!(4)
  8. What is the “Importance of the works of the Law”? Is it a prerequisite to salvation (justification by faith in Jesus Christ) or an outcome of it?
    To me the law in its entirety (moral and ceremonial) acts a little more than a mirror, not only does it show me my current state and imperfections/shortfalls to the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:10 - …There is none righteous, no not one). It also, defines and shows me the epitome of a Christ like life in complete obedience to God which I must strive for. It doesn’t take away my imperfections, it doesn’t add to it nor does it change me in any way, hence it cannot save me. The difference between a person who picks out flaws in his/her reflection in the mirror and one who doesn’t notice anything wrong, is through the conviction, correction and active participation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit also reveals to me the righteousness of Jesus embodied in His laws.

    The process of justification is ongoing, as every time I look in the ‘mirror’ I see so many areas of my life that fall short of the glory of God, and like Paul, I must die to self-daily.
    Halleluiah, that my advocate, my judge and redeemer is my Lord Jesus Christ. Because I love Him for saving me, I will try to faithfully keep His commandments and His laws all the days of my life. Without this personal relationship with Jesus Christ, empowered through the Holy Spirit, my keeping of the law would be meaningless and futile to both my physical existence here on earth and my hope for eternal life with Jesus.

    Amen!(7)
    • Stephanie

      The “importance of the works of the Law” is neither a prerequisite to salvation nor an outcome of it. I agree with the author of the commentary that the phrase “the works of the law” likely involves, therefore, all the requirements found in the commandments given by God through Moses, whether moral or ceremonial.

      In Rom 9:31, 32 Paul stated that Israel did not attain righteousness because they sought it by “the works of the law.”

      Paul mentioned the phrase at least seven times in Galatians, where he emphasized that justification and receiving the Holy Spirit do not come about by the works of the law. In Gal 3:10, in stronger language he says that as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse. Very strong language.

      It therefore appears that the application of “works of the law” to our lives, is not an appropriate path for the Christian who is seeking to be like Christ. If we keep looking at the mirror we will always see flaws. Whereas, if we keep looking at Christ we see His righteousness. By beholding we become changed. Since we already know we are sinners, we should keep our eyes on Jesus, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Heb 12:2. If righteousness does not come by the works of the law, then why not place our concentration on the path of righteousness, which is the path of strengthening our faith by immersing ourselves in the knowledge and study of the life and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit on our behalf. God will do His work in us when we seek Him with all of our heart.

      Amen!(7)
      • Fred,

        I agree with all that you are saying on this subject (this week and last week). Many of us have already forgotten that earlier this week the lesson pointed out using Galatians 2:21, "for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."

        Let's all keep studying God's word. God blessings to all!

        Amen!(4)
  9. Looking at Jesus we are changed into His image reflecting His charakter. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Then there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Does the law have any function in justification and sanctification? It seems that the law has a threefold function.

    First, the holiness of the law, reflecting God`s holiness in Christ Jesus, (Romans 7:12) reveals not only our sin, but also our sinful condition (Romans 3:20; 7:18).It is impossible for the law to redeem us from sin; therefore, not the law, but Christ was crucified for sin to be condemned in His substitutionary death at the cross. (Romans 8:3)

    The second function of the law and the prophets therefore consists in pointing the sinner to the redeemer for the problem of sin and the condition of sin to be solved. (Romans 3:21)

    Having arrived at the point of no condemnation (Romans 8:1), does the law end his function of pointing out sin and the redeemer to solve the problem of sin? (See function 1 and 2)

    It is interesting to note the words of Paul speaking of what is following justification (Romans 8:3) saying: "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit." (Romans 8:4) Paul is saying that the righteousness of justification is being extended and fulfilled in those who walk after the spirit, which is sanctification. Both, justification and sanctification are carried out by grace, for the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those who walk after he spirit and in the spirit. All are operations of grace. (See also 1 Corinthians 1:30)

    Do believers and churches always walk after the spirit? Falling away from love means to fall away from the law fulfilled by love. (Galstians 5:14) As a matter of fact, Paul is deploring spiritual canibalism among the Galatians. (Galatians 5:15) There seems to be much room for the role of the holy law, reflecting God`s holiness in Christ Jesus, to carry out the functions mentioned under (1) and (2), which would aim at repentance followed by the fruit of the spirit, which is another operation of grace. (Galatians 5:22)

    Thus, the law is acompanying us in the process of justification and sanctifiction being written within our hearts as well as in the written decalogue of the Bible in order not to be carried away just by feelings.

    God does never ever forsake us, only we are forsaking Him, so He has to call us back to repentance, even by the law.

    Winfried Stolpmann

    Amen!(4)
  10. Amen Robert!
    When justified, we should keep growing in our knowledge of our Saviour and in our christian walk. Growth in our christian life should be daily and continuous till we reach the perfection desired of heaven- thus Justification-Sanctification-Glorification.
    We all sinned, lost our first nature. We should all strive to regain our lost nature by looking to the author and finisher of our faith where is the emblem/model of our righteousness

    Amen!(3)
  11. The works of the law may have been based on the Bible but it was not works found in the Bible. The Essene law was that Essenes could not eat with those outside their community (that included Jews who were not Essenes). Their "works of the laws" was not the Torah and had rules not found in the Bible. They had many strange rules that set them apart from the other Jews and the Gentiles too. Again the "works of the law" is a phrase that is not found in the Bible nor in Rabbinic literature, it appears only among the Essenes.

    Amen!(0)
    • Robert

      Please elaborate when you say that the phrase "works of the law" is not found in the bible. Depending on your translation I see it in Romans 3:20,28; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5; and Galatians 3:10.

      Some of the works Paul was referring to in Galatians include the requirement for circumcision. That requirement is found in the law. I believe Paul was pointing out that any "work," regardless of which law one may think they are promoting, that is a requirement for justification or righteousness, does not lead to salvation. Anything we try to add to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, is a work and is of no meritorious value in God's sight.

      Amen!(3)
      • Obviously, Paul uses the phrase "works of the law" and it should be obvious that is not what Paul taught. "Works of the law" in the time of Paul had a specific sectarian meaning and usage. The Essenes used the phrase with a very specific meaning and set of laws. Both the meaning and many of their laws are not to be found (taught) anywhere in the Bible. The Bible did not and does not require gentiles to be circumcised, nor does the Bible forbid Jews from eating with gentiles, and if you read the rules they had you will find that not only are they not in the Bible some even break the commandments found in the Bible.

        It goes without saying any kind of works (those found in the Bible or those people make up) does not lead to salvation. Jesus Christ is our only salvation.

        Amen!(1)
  12. Here's a short story on how I see justification and sanctification:

    In some smaller counties in America, where they don't have enough money and population to have jury trials, the judge listens to the cases and make the final judgment. One day, a young man about the age of 18 came in face of the judge. This teenager did all kinds of things, assault and battery, gang violence, drugs, you name it; the only crime he hadn't committed yet was murder. The judge listened to the lawyers on both sides as he read the young man's past record. When it was time to give his sentence to the young man, the judge stood up and looked at the young man and said, "You're free to go, but don't let me see you again." Both lawyers were besides themselves, and the community was outraged. The lawyers asked the judge, "Why would you do this? Why did you let him go free without parole or anything?" The Judge just answered, "I freed him from himself. I also wanted him to know what mercy and grace feels like. Whatever decisions he makes from now on is up to him."

    That's what Jesus told many of the people that He healed and/or forgave, "Go and sin no more". He didn't judge them on their past sins; but He let them/us know that our future is up to us (freewill). Salvation (justification) is a free gift from God; but Sanctification is a lifetime commitment to God (freely surrendering our will to God daily). As Paul said "I die daily", 1 Corinthians 15:31. Thank you Jesus, for your mercy and your grace to me.

    Amen!(7)
  13. There is nothing wrong with the law. The law is holy, just and good – Rom 7:12. However, the law is our guide to bring us to Jesus Christ – Gal 3:24. Having found Christ, the source of our strength, the One who keeps us from falling - Jude 24, the One who makes a way of escape - 1 Cor 10:13, if we rest in Him – Matt 11:28, 29, and look to Him – Heb 12:1,2, and place our complete trust and faith in Him, we receive power - Acts 1:8.

    The law is still there, but it is not the focus of, or the primary guide for the person within whom the Spirit of God dwells. God places His character and His overarching law in the born-again sinner, working in him from the inside.

    It is like putting your car in cruise control at the speed limit on the highway. You are no longer in control, but the car “keeps the law” because of the mechanism working inside. You do not have to fear if you see the police cruiser up ahead. You don’t even think about the law. You can enjoy the ride because you are now resting in the control of the vehicle. This does not remove the speed limit signs or other laws, but it takes you out of the way, so that the car can “keep the law” for you. That is what total resting, trusting and committing our way to Jesus means to me. Those who feel that they must bring the law back into their modus of daily operations, are in effect, taking the car out of cruise control and trying to steer the wheel again – taking the control away from Christ. They want to rely on their own “works” to keep them on the path of righteousness.

    We do not throw out the law, but we look to a higher power to keep us in harmony with His principles and His specific desires for our lives. That is also what Paul means when he says that he died to the law. Gal 2:19

    Amen!(3)
  14. When talking about the works of the law the context of the chapter determines what law we are talking about and not speculative works of the law.

    Amen!(0)
    • Tony

      Agreed. The context is always important.

      However, regardless of any law, there are no works that can bring justification.

      Adam and Eve performed their own works which violated the stated word (law) of God.

      Abraham sought to carry out his own “works” in connection with the law before him.

      The children of Israel thought that their righteousness was based on obedience to, and their works in connection with either the Moral or Ceremonial law, or both - Deut 5:25.

      The Jews in Christ’s day held the same opinion. Matt 19:16-22.

      Paul in Galatians 1 and 2 is specifically starting with the works of circumcision, but as you will see in Galatians 3, 4 and 5, he expands it to include the law from Sinai, and law in general.

      So when it comes to any law pronounced by God, attempting to perform the "works of any law" as a means of salvation or justification will not yield righteousness, and will be fruitless before God. Matt 7:22, 23

      Amen!(1)

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