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, 173:2, 5, 10Rom. 3:20, 28) help us understand his meaning?



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?

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Monday: Works of the Law — 13 Comments

  1. By the works of the works of the law, shall all flesh be justified before God, was a statement believed by every Jew from the time God gave His laws to the Israeites on mount Sinai, some three thousand years prior. In fact, so true was this statement; that if on the day of Atonement; if the Israelite sinner had one unconfessed sin; he would be killed by God.

    With the above understanding, the Israeilte had a mistaken understanding of why "that" Israelite was killed on the day of Atonement. It is this mistaken understanding that Paul was trying to correct; and his discussion re the law and its corresponding relationship with Grace is what Paul's epistles are all about...And this discussion had no better forum than on a stage that included the most unlikely of all sinners- the Gentiles.

    Courtney

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  2. If that rich yound had obey jesus it would have be counted as righteous because it requires faith to do the will of God.

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  3. According to me I feel that am loosing away to Jesus if am not keeping the Laws of God.Everymorning I read the ten commandments and pray to God to remind all I read,but according to Pauls writings I agree that am a sinner and any one too.One thing we have to remember is that the law was given to show how sinful we are and also to show that our God is faithful and no one is good than him.Finaly here Paul he is not saying that we have to stop keeping the law,remember john 14:15

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    • Vincent i understand your concern,what paul was emphasizing here is that no matter what we try to observe the law,we will always come short of absolute observation which you and i cannot do.The law just make us conscious of sin but it cannot save us.

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  4. It is useless to try and keep the law of God; with all our efforts to try and please our heavenly father so He will save us is futile.
    Paul is saying that we are saved by His righteousness, His merits, they will be credited to us. Faith in this process gives us peace of mind.
    Hebrews 11:1 and 2
    1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
    2. For by it the elders obtained a good report.
    We keep the law as evidence that we are saved or we keep the law out of gratitude because He saved us. All through His power.

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  5. In your experience, how well do you keep God’s law?

    Not very well, I often find myself “slipping” down the wide path.

    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.)

    Absolutely not! I can easily see that I must drop to my knees at the foot of Jesus for forgiveness and guidance every day; if not multiple times a day.

    If not, why not—and how does your answer help you understand Paul’s point here?

    I have come to realize that I am an addict of sin. Sure there are points of the “law” that are no problem for me to keep. However other points I stumble over every day, even knowing at the time that I have done so. I feel ashamed and sorry that I have disappointed Jesus yet again. I am so very thankful for the redemption that Jesus offers and through Him the salvation of my being. I realize that without Jesus I would be lost and never understand right from wrong. I continue to strive to be like my Savior, and ask for His help in defeating my temptations. I am afraid it may very well be this way till the day I “sleep in Him”.

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  6. An addict is probably an understatement. The law does two major things. First is shows us our sins, second it gives us a goal to strive for. That goal is a moving target for as soon as we gain a victory ten more goals pop up.

    Justification clears us of our sins then as soon as it happens we come under the process of sanctification. The difference between the two is that justification is instantaneous being a declaration of righteousness while sanctification is an actual changing of our life which is a work of a lifetime. It is a process that we may not even be able to detect from day to day. It is something that the Holy Spirit does at His pace and in His way because He knows us better than we know ourselves.

    In commenting on the parable of the growing seed (Mk 4:26-29) Ellen White has this to say.

    “The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a beautiful figure of Christian growth. As in nature, so in grace; there can be no life without growth. The plant must either grow or die. As its growth is silent and imperceptible, but continuous, so is the development of the Christian life. At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God's purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be continual advancement. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime. As our opportunities multiply, our experience will enlarge, and our knowledge increase. We shall become strong to bear responsibility, and our maturity will be in proportion to our privileges.

    The plant grows by receiving that which God has provided to sustain its life. It sends down its roots into the earth. It drinks in the sunshine, the dew, and the rain. It receives the life-giving properties from the air. So the Christian is to grow by co-operating with the divine agencies. Feeling our helplessness, we are to improve all the opportunities granted us to gain a fuller experience. As the plant takes root in the soil, so we are to take deep root in Christ. As the plant receives the sunshine, the dew, and the rain, we are to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. The work is to be done ‘not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.’ Zechariah 4:6. If we keep our minds stayed upon Christ, He will come unto us ‘as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.’ Hosea 6:3. As the Sun of Righteousness, He will arise upon us ‘with healing in His wings.’ Malachi 4:2. We shall ‘grow as the lily.’ We shall ‘revive as the corn, and grow as the vine.’ Hosea 14:5, 7. By constantly relying upon Christ as our personal Saviour, we shall grow up into Him in all things who is our head.” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p 65,66)

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  7. If the following words are to be taken literally,consider latitude they offer for licentiousness:"All things are lawful unto me...all things are lawful for me"{1cor 6:12};and again"All things are lawful for me"{1cor,10:23}.Add to these the verse"Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows"{Rom,14:22}.If this combination does not offer a license to sin,then words have no meaning! What shall we conclude from such statements? I Know that Paul did condone no sin.No man ever preached Holiness to a higher level than he did.But such his writings have a limited application.Please enlighten me on this.

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    • Wilfred, we all know that scripture like the writings of Ellen White has a nose of clay and that it can be bent any way one wishes. Furthermore, most things that are said in the Bible are not univocal but have various opinions within the body of Scripture. For these reasons we have to adhere to interpreting things in the context in which they are given by the writer. If we don’t do this then we can get anything we wish out of inspired writings. Here are some examples of what I mean.

      “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Mat 18:8-9 NKJV).

      “Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one’” (Luke 22:36 NKJV).

      “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you’” (John 6:53 NKJV).

      So context becomes rather important to correctly understanding what a writer is talking about.

      Both of the texts in 1 Corinthians are in the context of foods offered to idols. The first text is but a precursor to what Paul deals with four chapters later. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them” (1 Cor 6:12-13 NKJV). The second text is unquestionably set in the context of the problem of Gentiles buying meat in the temple meat markets. In order for the temples to have a supporting income they sold the sacrifices that were offered to their god in meat markets adjacent to the temples. While the Gentiles thought it amounted to nothing and was cheaper than other markets the Jews considered it supporting idols and therefore an abomination. What Paul said was to consider the other person and not to give a mixed message to outsiders concerning the church. While they certainly had the freedom to buy meat in those markets it was destabilizing the church and casting a question among the pagans as to the Christian’s relation to their gods. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being” (1 Cor 10:23-24 NKJV).

      Again in Rom 14 Paul touches on the problem of food that the Jews considered unclean (he is not here dealing with foods considered unclean under the Mosaic distinctions between the clean and unclean). It is the same problem we saw with the Corinthian church.

      “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:13-17 NKJV).

      So when Paul says, “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:22-23 NKJV) he is talking about the guilt that comes from doing what you know you shouldn’t do and the joy of doing what you should (Acts 24:16; 1 John 3:21) in the context of eating foods that cause problems for other people.

      What we must remember is that the main message Paul gave to the Galatians is, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal 2:16 NKJV). And that, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4 NKJV).

      His whole message is not a convoluted, confusing bunch of gibberish. It is one that should be very clear which he also presents in other letters he wrote dealing with the same issue of salvation on the basis of what God does for us.

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    • In answer to Wilfred's question, I heard it explained this way.

      Paul is addressing the misunderstandings of the Corinthians.
      THEY have said, "All things are lawful to me".
      So Paul addresses this in the context of the freedom to eat all foods and freedom to commit fornication.
      6:13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
      6:14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
      6:15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.

      So obviously he is NOT saying all things are lawful but answering THEIR concept by saying it is NOT.

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  8. "If the following words are to be taken literally,consider latitude they offer for licentiousness:"All things are lawful unto me...all things are lawful for me"{1cor 6:12};and again"All things are lawful for me"{1cor,10:23}.Add to these the verse"Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows"{Rom,14:22}.If this combination does not offer a license to sin,then words have no meaning! What shall we conclude from such statements? I Know that Paul did condone no sin.No man ever preached Holiness to a higher level than he did.But such his writings have a limited application.Please enlighten me on this.Wilfred

    Wilfred....To understand Paul's statements you must first read and understand 1 Cor.9:21...."I became as them that are ithout law...that I might gain them that are without law"....Yet Paul qualified his being "without law"...by acknowledgeing ("being not without law to God;but under the law of Christ")

    ...His statements..."all things are lawful for me"{1cor 6:12};and again"All things are lawful for me"{1cor,10:23}"...are statements directed totally to the Gentile belief that they have the right to do whatever they wish..or they can do no wrong. Paul referred to the Gentile "without law" in these words..."For when the Gentiles which have not the law,......these having not the law are a law unto themselves".Rom.2:14

    paul then makes he point that "he"...could be...like the Gentile..."see all things as lawful or right for him to do no matter whom he hurts or no matter how he does it[he is a law to himself, just like the Gentile] but; says Paul,though he could claim such a right, like the Gentile, he acknowledges that there are some things that are not "expedient", even if he thinks, like the gentile, that it is his right to do, even at the expense of others. Yes, continues Paul, all things are lawful unto me to do as any Gentile can do; ut says he, "I will not be brought under the power of any such act that "expediency" offers to me. Or says Paul I will be judged by the law of God..1Cor.9:21 and not by the law of the Gentiles.

    ""Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows"{Rom,14:22}.Wilfred

    This statement is referring to whether discussions around meat eating and wine drinking should be reasons to "destroy the work of the Lord". Paul said that he who eats the meat or drink the wine...If "he has faith before God" will be doing the right thing; because he will be eating and drinking while having faith in God.. and hence will be happy in not condemning himself....when he eats meat or dink wine...while on the other hand he, the Jew or the Gentile, by his not having faith in God, is damned any way...Because eating meat or drinking wine with no faith in God makes you a condemned sinner.[because "whatever is not of faith; is sin"]

    Courtney

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  9. It is true that the pagan people of Nineveh believed Jonah-s message and repented. What a miraculous contrast with the Israelites who were stobborn to God message( Jonah 3: to 10). Also the thief on the cross who repented was forgiven because of his faith to that christ was sinless and he deserved not to die but not by his works.

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