What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Those who do not want to submit to God quote verses that seem to say that faith has replaced the requirement of keeping God's law. They mention such verses as Romans 3:20, "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight"; Romans 7:6, "But now we have been delivered from the law . . . so that we should serve in the newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter"; and Romans 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes." On their face, these scriptures seem to support their argument.
However, they will not quote balancing verses in the same book! Paul also says, "[F]or not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified" (Romans 2:13), and "Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. . . . For we know that the law is spiritual" (Romans 7:12, 14). Invariably, they leave out Paul's emphatic statement in Romans 3:31: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law."
They will note that "the law is not of faith" (Galatians 3:12), but they generally avoid Romans 3:27, where Paul says that boasting about righteousness is excluded "by the law of faith." How can a "law . . . not of faith" at the same time be a "law of faith"?
It seems to be quite a paradox! In their ignorance and disobedience, the deceived fail to ask the question Paul does in the first part of Romans 3:27: "By what law?" They fail to perceive that Paul was trying to save the true brethren from wolves in sheep's clothing, Judaizers who were contradicting the faith of Christ. Their purpose was to convert the brethren to their philosophy of salvation that centered on the rituals practiced under the Old Covenant law of Moses.
In reality, then, the paradox dissolves. Paul contrasts the spiritual, Ten Commandment "law of faith" with the temporary law of physical, ritualistic duties, the keeping of which required no faith. This is vital to understand: The apostle Paul describes two distinct sets of law. When reading his arguments, we must always discern "what law" from the context.
He writes of this ritual law in Hebrews 9:9: "It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot [and were never intended to] make him who performed the service perfect in regard to conscience." These temporary laws were "concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation," which Christ inaugurated (verse 10). This law, only "a shadow of the good things to come, . . . can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect" (Hebrews 10:1).
The spiritual "law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul . . . and in keeping [it] there is great reward" (Psalm 19:7, 11), if we believe it and do it. Unlike the ritual law, our keeping God's law of faith produces the attitudes, behaviors, and character that truly please Him. It is partially by our keeping of His law that we "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
Perfection comes by submitting to God's wisdom and believing in His eternal, spiritual law, as Abraham did. Notice James' argument, so reviled by the anti-law Martin Luther: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?" (James 2:21-22). The faith of Christ in us is perfected by our works. Abraham believed God enough to keep His commandments, and that lawkeeping faith in him was imputed to him for righteousness (James 2:23).
He continues with the example of Rahab: "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?" (James 2:24-25). Paul agrees with James when he writes, ". . . the doers of the law will be justified" (Romans 2:13). The doers of what law? The eternal, spiritual, Ten Commandment law!
Works of Faith (Part 2)
The Devil asserted that by taking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, human eyes would be opened—implying wisdom and enlightenment—to allow a person to know good and evil as God does. Immediately, Satan places the emphasis on knowing, but it is contrasted with living eternally. Satan proposes that mankind should be like God in taking to himself the knowledge—the definition—of what is right and wrong, asserting that this is a good thing! In contrast, the Tree of Life represents a way of living in which the meaning of good and evil already exists, and eternal life involves submitting through the Holy Spirit to that definition and the Sovereign who is its source.
Likewise, the Gnostics are those who know—who pursue mystical knowledge that they believe holds the key to eternal life through advancing beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm. Gnostics believed the key to eternal life was contained in right interpretation—knowledge—of those esoteric sayings.
The book of Revelation expounds on the Tree of Life in two places:
· To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
· Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into [New Jerusalem]. (Revelation 22:14)
The Tree of Life, then, is associated with a way of life—one that requires overcoming (growth against a standard of righteousness) and keeping (doing) God's commandments. The only ones who are allowed to partake of the Tree of Life are those who have changed themselves (with God's help, by His Spirit) to begin living in the same manner as He does. To those who submit to His standard of righteousness, then, He grants life that is both endless and of the same quality that He enjoys.
Satan, though, in addition to casting doubt on what God plainly says, and implying that God is unfair by withholding good things, offers a shortcut. He says, "You do not need to follow God's way, for it is obviously unfair and far too stringent. You can follow your own way. You can take knowledge to yourself of what is good and what is evil. You can be just like God in determining what is right and wrong." Adam and Eve took the bait, and ever since, man has rejected God's standard of righteousness in favor of his own.
This heresy is easily seen in the antinomianism (literally, "against law") of the Gnostics, who may not have been against every law, but were certainly against any law that impinged upon their standard of conduct. Thus the ascetic Gnostics who grieved the Christians in Colossae held to manmade regulations of "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" (Colossians 2:20-21), while rejecting the command to "rejoice" with food and drink during the God-ordained festivals. Similarly, mainstream Christianity will (rightly) use portions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to point out God's abhorrence of abortion and homosexuality, but will claim that the same law is "done away" when it comes to the Sabbath and holy days. They have taken to themselves the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, establishing their own standard of righteousness.
A core issue of the Bible is whether we submit to God's governance or try to form a government based on our own perception of what is good or what works. God's way results in eternal life, but it comes with the obligation to submit ourselves to God. It requires keeping all of His commandments and overcoming our human weaknesses that do not rise to that standard. Satan, conversely, seeks to persuade us to do our own thing and to usurp God's prerogative in defining right living. He encourages us to be enlightened, to have our eyes opened, by doubting God and rejecting His way.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
It is not a matter of them thinking God does not exist, but that they are denying Him. They do not want to believe that He is there. He has denied God by denying or renouncing what God says about Himself.
God says plainly in many scriptures that He will judge for sin. This is what the Ten Commandments are about: They define sin for us. By them, we know what is good and what is not good, so we can come into judgment before Him without excuse. A reason Christ came was to qualify to be that Judge, to judge all at the last day. We, however, are going through our judgment right now.
The wicked man has fooled himself into believing that God will not require an accounting for sin. He thinks God will not pass judgment on him; He will just let his sins slide.
It sounds much like modern, antinomian Protestantism. It is, in effect, what the psalmist is talking about. He speaks of a normal, everyday Israelite who would supposedly know God. He had entered into the covenant by circumcision, and so he should know better. However, he has decided to ignore what God has said and lives his life as a practicing atheist. He is not really an atheist, because he believes there is a God, but he lives his life as if God did not exist.
The wicked man here, then, could be somebody who professes Christ—a professing Christian—but his lifestyle betrays his real, inner conclusion that there is no God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is God in All Our Thoughts?
The entire nation—Jeremiah is reporting here on Judah around the time Nebuchadnezzar invaded in 607 BC—was spiritually and morally sick. "And the priests rule by their own power" means in more modern language that the priests were functioning on their own authority, that is, they had pushed the law of God aside.
The people loved it because in so doing, they allowed themselves to be deceived into thinking that the restraints and penalties of God's law would not affect them. "It will not happen to me." That is what God shows happened in the Garden of Eden. Satan said, "You shall not surely die," and Adam and Eve became convinced that the penalty for sin would not affect them if they disobeyed what God said. They fell for what Satan sold them.
Why does God concentrate on morals in His Book? There are many things He could have written about, but He chose to write a great deal about the morals of the people with whom He had made a covenant.
One reason is that morals are like a weathervane. They show the direction a nation, a church, or an individual is headed in.
A second reason why God concentrates on morals focuses on the prophets and the preachers. Why? Because He has appointed them to be the conscience of His people. Preachers tend to lead the people either into morality or immorality—one or the other. They are like the tip of the spear or the point of an arrow that points the direction of the nation. They are leading indicators. So it says in verse 30, "An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power."
Even if a minister is not doing his job, pointing out the sins of the people for whom he is responsible to God, we still, individually, have the responsibility to obey God regardless.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sin of Self-Deception
Of all people, we who have left the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in the past decade should be most aware of the antinomian spirit working in the church of God. The doctrinal changes that began to be instituted mere months after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong had as their goal the removal of God's law, particularly the Sabbath, from the church's beliefs. WCG's subsequent heavy emphasis on "grace" and "love," along with its renunciation of "legalism" exposed its antinomian position. Because of these changes, it has joined evangelical Protestant "Christianity" to the point that it now worships on Sunday, encourages celebration of Christmas and Easter, and permits the use of crucifixes and images of "Jesus" by its ministry and membership and in its publications.
The "Christian" churches of this world are predominantly antinomian to some extent. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism belong to what can be termed Hellenistic Christianity, that is, a form of Christianity heavily influenced by Greek philosophies, particularly Gnosticism. Catholicism is the more moderate of the two, having retained obedience to the Church and its traditions as well as requiring certain works for salvation. However, its belief of the afterlife, with its levels of heaven, limbo, purgatory, and beatific vision - not to mention its belief in an immortal soul - brand it as Gnostic.
Protestantism is more antinomian, having rejected Catholicism's works during the Reformation. Martin Luther's doctrine of salvation by grace "through faith alone" removes God's law from the equation altogether. Pure Protestant theology is so antinomian that it claims that lawkeeping in any form - which it terms "legalism" - is detrimental to the soul's growth in spirituality. This form of Christianity also champions the doctrine of eternal security, the idea that, once one accepts Jesus, he can never lose his salvation, no matter what sins he commits ("once saved, always saved"). This doctrine knocks out law and judgment for sin in one blow.
Of course, the world itself is antinomian because it is under the sway of Satan the Devil, who despises God's law (Ephesians 2:2; I John 5:19; Romans 8:7). He even tried his antinomian tricks on Jesus, who countered with quotations from the law (Matthew 4:1-10)! Certainly, our adversary will tempt us similarly, trying to get us to put God's law aside so we can fulfill our desires.
Jesus, however, in his prayer in John 17, asks God to help us in this, and He also gives us the antidote to antinomianism:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep [guard, protect] them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (verses 15-17)
Knowing God's truth and practicing it to become holy will protect us from the rampant antinomianism of this world, this age that is soon to end. Still to come are the Beast and his False Prophet, who will exemplify this anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-law spirit. To endure to the end, to survive the mystery of lawlessness that will mark the end time, we must hold fast to God's Word and seek His righteousness. "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the [New Jerusalem]" (Revelation 22:14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins could have depicted the original "sleeper cells," those groups that aid the enemy by their lethargy and inactivity. A sleeper cell is defined as a group of terrorists called "sleeper agents" that belong to a large terrorist organization. The cell "sleeps" or lies dormant, not acting until told to do so. Before the greater church of God was scattered, sleeper cells weighed it down.
Closely allied to sleeper cells are passive sponsors of terrorism. Daniel Byman, in his October 6, 2004, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Seminar address, "Passive Sponsorship of Terrorism," notes, "A regime is guilty of passive sponsorship if it knowingly allows a terrorist group to raise money, enjoy a sanctuary, recruit, or otherwise flourish but does not directly aid the group itself." Byman points out that not only are Iran and Syria on the list of "tacit" supporters of terrorism, but the Saudis have turned a blind eye to al Qaida, Pakistan has offered safe haven to the Taliban, and even certain groups in the United States offered sanctuary and economic and weapons support to the Irish Republican Army.
The greater church of God has been infiltrated with sleeper cells and passive sponsors of terrorism. After our previous fellowship was destroyed by neglect, the cells became active, endorsing the antinomian doctrine of eternal security. This false doctrine sabotages the Christian by making him believe that his salvation is eternally assured, causing him to neglect the very necessary works that strengthen his relationship with God and help him to overcome his sins and grow in character.
Interestingly, the term "sabotage" has the connotation of slowing something down. Communist Walker C. Smith, in his treatise on Sabotage, cites the following etymology:
A striking French weaver cast his woden [sic] shoe—called a sabot—into the delicate mechanism of the loom upon leaving the mill. The confusion that resulted, acting to the workers' benefit, brought to the front a line of tactics that took the name of SABOTAGE. Slow work is also said to be at the basis of the word, the idea being that wooden shoes are clumsy and so prevent quick action on the part of the workers.
Some who would not even consider bringing a plastic explosive into the workplace think nothing of spending thirty extra minutes around the water cooler or of idling away their time viewing questionable material on the company computer. Are we built-in liabilities—or worse, actual saboteurs—to our employers by just showing up to work?
As we move in our conversion process beyond justification, we dare not slumber, slow down, or do our work with slackness. The eternal security doctrine has been around since the Garden of Eden, but Jesus warns in Matthew 5:19:
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Emphasis ours.)
Those who teach that God's law has been done away are spiritual murderers, attempting to destroy for eternity those who have God's Holy Spirit. We have been called to overcome and grow, going through trials and tests, conforming to the image of Christ, meeting the requirements to be members of God's Family to the extent that we discipline ourselves, subduing our carnal natures, and taking on God's characteristics.
David F. Maas
Could You Be a Spiritual Terrorist?
Why do some push to do away with the law and commandments that we now see Christ created? Have we ever wondered what is so terrible about them? What is so bad about honoring one's parents and not murdering, committing adultery, stealing, or lying that they must be done away? Is it because to justify rejecting one commandment a person must reject all?
While most Christians would not outrightly reject nine of the Ten Commandments, there is one that most do—the Sabbath.
In Mark 2:28 and Luke 6:5, Christ says, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” “Lord” here is from the Greek word kurios. Zodhiates defines kurios in this way: “Lord, master, owner, as the possessor, owner, master, e.g. of property.” Christ, as the Creator of the seventh-day Sabbath, is rightly claiming to be the owner of that Sabbath. Nowhere in the New Testament does He trade that day for another. A Catholic cardinal concurs:
But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify. (Gibbons, James Cardinal. Faith of Our Fathers. First published 1876)
Cardinal Gibbons is correct. No such scripture exists that shows the owner of the Sabbath, Christ, ever relinquished ownership over the day nor that the writers of the New Testament ever traded it for another day (nor could they, as they did not have the authority from God to do so).
Therefore, by what authority do some observe a Sunday “Sabbath”? Christ, His disciples, and the first-century Christians kept Saturday, the seventh-day Sabbath. Who authorized a Sunday “Sabbath”? Who made this change? How did it occur?
The law created by Yahweh Elohim, Jesus Christ, included a seventh-day or Saturday Sabbath. Neither Christ nor the apostles sanctioned the change to Sunday. Nearly three hundred years after them, the Church of Rome did. That church and her daughters, the Protestant churches, continue to bow to that church's authority rather than that of Jesus Christ, Yahweh Elohim.
It is interesting that many in Christianity do not know who the God of the Old Testament is, even though the Bible teaches it plainly. It is also interesting to see how that blind spot has colored their view of God's law and commandments, particularly the Sabbath. Finally, it is sobering to realize how that blind spot has led many to unwittingly accept papal authority—human authority—over the authority of the Creator God, the God of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ.
The God of the Old Testament
Why is this term, "law," so repulsive? Law implies authority, and human nature likes no authority over it, even if the law expresses the authority of God and defines love. It is especially interesting that Paul says we will be judged according to what we actually know. Know of what? The law of God. The good works he mentions earlier include the works of keeping the law. Obviously, it is God's will that we live moral lives. Morality must have standards, or there is no such thing as morality. Laws define morality. We will be judged against what we know of the laws of God. Thus, he says in verse 13 that the doers of the law will be justified.
Despite what these verses say, theologians attempt to justify their "no-law" theology by claiming that Paul writes here of the natural man, not converted people. While partially true, it avoids the fact that this epistle was written to a church of God congregation (Romans 1:1-7) and that Paul repeatedly uses the personal pronoun "you"—as in "you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge" (Romans 2:1). This usage, combined with the fact that it is written to a church of God congregation, easily catches the converted in its purview.
In addition, it also avoids the fact that one reason God gives His Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). This includes the truth regarding morality, lawkeeping, and good works. As God leads us to greater depths of knowledge and understanding of His truth, it builds in us a more responsible knowledge of God's will. This raises the stakes in judgment because "to whom much is given, from him much more will be required" (Luke 12:48). Growth results in closer scrutiny against a higher standard of morality.
In the broader context of Romans, it becomes clear that each person—Jew or Gentile, converted or unconverted—is judged against what he knows, and God holds him responsible for working to produce obedience at that level. This is similar to what teachers expect of school children. They hold children in the higher grades more responsible for knowing and doing than those in lower grades. Courts use the same general system, holding adults more responsible for their crimes than children. Thus, for the same crime, an adult will receive a sterner punishment.
The called must realize that, because of their calling, the requirements—and thus the judgments—are much stiffer since they know so much more. This is why Paul says in Romans 3:31, "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." Faith upholds law or makes it firm because the law points out what righteousness, love, and sin are, and guides us in how faith is to be used.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
What is behind this argument? Paul is saying, "How do we involve Christ in our sins?" Because we are in Him! To someone who is less mystical, this does not make any sense at all, but this is something that a Christian knows by faith - that he is in Christ, and Christ is in him. We are sharing life together so the Christians can come to know Christ, be in the resurrection, and live with Him and all others who are living His way for all eternity. Does not Christ say to His disciples in John 14:23, "We will come to him [one who keeps His word] and make Our home with him"? This is what Paul is talking about: He is exhorting us to live as They do. Thus, how can we continue in sin, if we are dead to sin?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Resurrection From the Dead
Paul presents this as a condition. One cannot conduct his life any old way he thinks after he repents and believes. He must continue to meet the conditions that God lays down. Of course, God understands - and we all know - that we are not going to meet those conditions perfectly. We are going to sin, but that does not mean that we should not strive to fulfill the responsibility that God gives us: to remain faithful and loyal in keeping His commands. Thus, one must remain faithful and loyal to God, as shown through the way he lives. This is why Peter says that we are to be holy because God is holy (I Peter 1:16). It is a responsibility, an obligation, a condition of our covenant. It is plain that Paul says that we should not sin, which is to break God's law.
Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins, not in our sins. Do we understand what from means? We use this word constantly, every day. We are so familiar with it that we probably never stop to think what it means. From means "a word indicating separation beginning at a certain point." We are being saved from - separation beginning at a certain point - our sins. This indicates we are to come out of sin, the transgression of God's law. It is a qualification we must meet.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 2)
The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). This means that there will not be contradictions in God's Word. Jesus says that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law (Matthew 5:18). Paul says here, "Do not sin," and sin is the transgression of God's law (I John 3:4). Nonetheless, Protestants say that the law is done away. This raises a contradiction.
If Jesus' death combined with the New Covenant does away with the law, then there is no such thing as sin, and Christ died in vain—especially as far as those who have lived since His death are concerned. Romans 6:1-2 states plainly that Christians are not to sin, that is, break God's laws. Therefore sin—and thus God's law, which tells us what sin is—must still exist.
It cannot be both ways. If they say that the law is done away, then in the biblical context, it is logical to conclude that there can be no sin. It is therefore illogical for them to claim that it is still wrong for a person to murder or to commit adultery because those sins would not exist without the laws that determine they are immoral or illegal acts.
But the true answer lies elsewhere: Their conclusion that the law is done away is wrong!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Nine)
Is that not strong, plain language? "Certainly not" is translated as "God forbid," "perish the thought," or "may it never be," in other Bibles. In his epistles, Paul uses this exclamatory expression in relation to sin sixty times! Yet, this world's Christianity has succeeded in communicating to it adherents one of the most devastating of all false doctrines—that the works of keeping God's commandments are not required! They insidiously twist the truth that, though works most assuredly cannot save a person, stopping sin in one's life is absolutely required to provide evidence that one is indeed a Christian, to bring glory to God, and to grow. Jesus Christ died to provide forgiveness of sin. Therefore, if a person persists in sin following his forgiveness, he is trampling "the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified [as] a common thing, and insult[ing] the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
Paul states that the law has "dominion" over a man only as long as he lives. Some have interpreted this to mean that, now that we have died with Christ, the law is no longer binding on Christians. Indeed, some modern translations of the Bible translate this verse to say just that. However, note how Paul uses this word "dominion" in other places.
In Romans 6:9, Paul speaks of Christ's immortality now that He has been resurrected, saying, "Death no longer has dominion over Him." During the period that Christ was a flesh-and-blood human being, He could die, and He did die on the cross. Now, however, death no longer has any power over Him, because He is an immortal Spirit Being.
In Romans 6:14, Paul uses the same word to describe our relationship with sin. "For sin shall not have dominion over you." Here he shows how our past sins have been forgiven, and we have access to Christ's atoning grace for forgiveness of future sins. Therefore, sin no longer has the power to condemn us to death.
Throughout Romans 6 and 7, the Greek word translated "dominion" is kurieuo, meaning "exercise lordship over." Paul uses this term in the context of having power over something. In Romans 6:9 and 14, he states that death and sin no longer have power to harm us or to cause any adverse effect in our lives.
Now we can better understand Paul's meaning in Romans 7:1. In this verse, Paul explains how the law has "power" over a human being only while he lives. He means the law has power to condemn us as a sinner and, consequently, condemn us to death only as long as we are alive. Once we have died, the penalty for sin has been paid, and the law has no more power to condemn us.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Dead to the Law?
The apostle Peter admits that many of the things that his fellow apostle Paul wrote are hard to understand, and because of this, he warns, some people distort Paul's writings to their own destruction (II Peter 3:15-16). This is still happening today. People—some sincerely and some not—are constantly twisting what Paul said in an attempt to show that the law of God is abolished.
A favorite target of the "no-law" advocates is Romans 7:4. In this scripture, Paul writes that a Christian is "dead to the law" and is now "married to another." From these statements, some conclude that God no longer requires a Christian to obey His laws. Unfortunately, those who force such an interpretation on this verse fail to understand the profound truths that the apostle is explaining.
In verse 4, Paul further explains the marriage analogy (Romans 7:2-3) and how this relationship of a woman to her husband bears upon our relationship to the law and Christ. "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ." Just as the woman in his example cannot be condemned by the law as an adulteress if her first husband dies, so we cannot be condemned by the law because our "old man of sin" has died (Romans 7:1).
In other words, we have become dead in the eyes of the law! At the time of our baptism, the old man of sin was put to death and buried in a watery grave (Romans 6:4). Because Jesus Christ died in our stead, and we have been buried with Him in baptism, the law regards us as having died. Therefore, the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23) has been paid, and the law no longer has power to condemn us to death for our sins.
Paul continues in verse 4, "...that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." In the analogy of the woman and her husbands, the first husband is the old man of sin to whom we were "married" prior to conversion. After the old man of sin died at baptism, we are now free to marry Christ. Just as He died and was resurrected, so our old man of sin has died, and we have been raised out of the watery grave of baptism a new man, empowered to bear righteous fruit in service to God.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Dead to the Law?
At this point in his epistle, it occurs to Paul that it would only be normal for someone to ask the question, "What, then, was the purpose of the Old Covenant?" Thus, verse 19 begins with, "What purpose then does the law serve?" This broad question covers many more specific ones: Why was it needed? Why did God call Israel out of Egypt? Why did God write His Ten Commandments on tables of stone with His own finger? Why did God have Moses write the statutes and judgments in a book? Why did God establish the Levitical priesthood, the Tabernacle/Temple worship, the washings, oblations, and the sacrifices? What was the purpose of all the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant? Such questions would naturally come to the mind of anyone reading Paul's letter since he emphasizes that our salvation through Christ fulfills the promise made to Abraham. What need is there for another covenant?
The answer he gives is a key to understanding much of everything else he says in Galatians: "It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." "It was added" means that the Mosaic covenant was in addition to the one God had made with Abraham. But what "transgressions"? Abraham obeyed all of God's laws, commandments, statutes, and ordinances (Genesis 26:5). He taught God's laws to Isaac, who taught them to Jacob. However, after Israel was in Egypt for many years, they forgot them and lived in ignorant transgression of them. Having absorbed so much Egyptian culture in their sojourn, they were even ignorant of the Sabbath day. Paul explains that God "added" the Old Covenant because Israel had gone so far into sin when they lived in Egypt.
Therefore, God had to call Israel out of Egypt and teach them His laws all over again to prepare them for the coming of Christ. He wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, and Moses wrote the statutes and judgments in a book so that Israel would have a permanent record of His laws and statutes throughout the centuries. God gave them rituals of worship that made them different from other nations, and He forbade them to have anything to do with foreign, pagan customs. Circumcision identified them as a separate and distinct people. These rules and regulations put a hedge around Israel (Isaiah 5:5; Matthew 21:33) to preserve them pure for the coming of Christ.
Just prior to the scripture Paul quotes in Galatians 3:12, God says in Leviticus 18:3,
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
For years, people have wondered how anyone could have transgressed the laws before they were given. Simply put, Paul is talking about the laws of God which have been in full force since creation! When he writes that the Old Covenant was added "till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made," he means that the Old Covenant was temporary; Christ would replace it with the New Covenant. Rather than saying that any of God's laws had become obsolete, he is explaining how important it was to preserve the knowledge of God's laws in Israel to prepare them for the coming of Christ!
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?
In their struggle to find a New Testament scripture that supports their misconception that God's law is "done away," antinomians point to Colossians 2:14 to "prove" that Christ nailed the law of God to the cross. Proponents of such a teaching say that the "handwriting of requirements [ordinances, KJV]" refers to the law "that was against us." They further claim that Christ "took it out of the way" or abolished the law.
The phrase "handwriting of requirements" is translated from the Greek phrase cheirographon tois dogmasin. Cheirographon means anything written by hand, but can more specifically apply to a legal document, bond, or note of debt. Dogmasin refers to decrees, laws, or ordinances, and in this context means a body of beliefs or practices that have become the guidelines governing a person's conduct or way of life.
What Paul is saying is that, by His death, Christ has justified us—brought us into alignment with His Law—and wiped out the note of guilt or debt that we owed as a result of our sins. Before repentance, our lives had been governed by the standards and values of this present, evil world—the "decrees, laws and ordinances" of the society in which we lived. After repentance and acceptance of Christ, we embark on a new way of life and live by God's standards and values. Consequently, God wipes out the debt we acquired as a result of our sins and imputes righteousness to us.
Also notice that the phrase "handwriting of requirements" restates the phrase immediately before it. "Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us" parallels "having forgiven you all trespasses." Thus, Paul could not be referring to the law itself but rather to the record of our transgression of that law—sin!
The last sentence in verse 14 reads: "And He has taken it out of the way..." In this sentence, the word "it" is a singular pronoun and refers back to the singular word "handwriting." "Requirements" could not be its antecedent because "requirements" is plural. So, some kind of handwriting—a note, a record, or a citation—was affixed to the cross.
Historically, only two objects were nailed to the stake of crucifixion: 1) the condemned person and 2) an inscription naming the crimes for which he was being punished. Thus, when Jesus was crucified, only His body and Pilate's inscription ("This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"; see Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19) were nailed to the cross. Normally, the inscription would be more accusative, saying something like, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, who rebelled against Caesar." Pilate's complimentary inscription replaced the customary note or record of guilt—the "handwriting of requirements" that would have been found nailed to the crosses of the two malefactors crucified with Him.
Just before He died, when the Father forsook Him (Matthew 27:46), our sins were symbolically nailed to the cross in His body. "Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed" (I Peter 2:24). At the time of His crucifixion, Jesus Christ became sin for us. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). Our note of debt that we owed God as a result of our sins is what was "taken out of the way" and "nailed . . . to the cross."
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Was God's Law Nailed to the Cross?
For centuries, people have tried to use Colossians 2:16-17 to say that Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath and holy days. This distortion stems partly from a misunderstanding of Colossians 2:14, which many claim says that the law was abolished and nailed to the cross, and partly from having a carnal mind, which is enmity against God and His law (Romans 8:7). They reason that Paul is saying in verse 16, "Therefore [since the law is done away] don't let anyone condemn you for eating unclean meats or not observing the Sabbath or holy days." Consequently, they interpret verse 17 to mean that Paul dismisses the Sabbath and holy days as unimportant symbols of future events, while emphasizing that the only truly substantive Christian need is belief in Christ. From this, they conclude that we should not concern ourselves about these days because, since Christ died, their observance is not required. This is not true.
The Colossians had been significantly influenced by pagan philosophies that taught that perfection could be achieved through self-denial and abstinence from pleasure. As a result, Colossae tended to be an ascetic community which adhered to a religion of severity, and its citizens thought anyone who was religious should behave as they did. Many of the people who had come into the Christian church in Colossae had brought their pagan philosophies with them, and they soon began to have an adverse influence on the entire congregation at Colossae. Paul corrects the people in the church who were doing this in Colossians 2:20-23. It appears some of the people had begun thinking that this self-imposed asceticism could somehow contribute to their salvation and had begun turning away from trusting in Christ. They had more faith in their unchristian works. Paul warns them about this in Colossians 2:8.
God had called the people in the church at Colossae out of their pagan, ascetic way of life, and they had begun to learn how to enjoy life in a balanced manner as God intended. This included eating meat, drinking wine, and enjoying food and fellowship when observing God's Sabbath and festivals.
Because the converted Colossians were learning how to enjoy life as God intended, the people in the ascetic community began to look down on them and condemn them. In addressing these problems, Paul reminds the Colossians that they are complete in Jesus Christ; they have no need for the pagan philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:9-10).
Paul explains in verse 16 why they need not be bothered by the attitude of the Colossian society toward their practices and way of life in the church. To paraphrase, "Do not worry about what the people in the community think about your enjoyment of eating good food, drinking wine, and joyously celebrating the Sabbath and the festivals. Christ has conquered the world and all of its rulers, so we do not need to be concerned about what the world thinks about us."
In verse 17, Paul mentions that the Sabbath and holy days are "shadows," symbols or types, of future events in the plan of God. The Sabbath is a type of the Millennium when Jesus Christ and the saints will rule the world for a thousand years. The holy days symbolize various steps in the plan of God and remind us annually of God's great purpose in creating mankind.
A literal translation of the last few words of Colossians 2:17 reads, "but the body of Christ." What is the body of Christ? I Corinthians 12:27 shows that the body of Christ is the church! The exact same Greek expression that is translated "body of Christ" in I Corinthians 12:27 (soma Christou) is used in Colossians 2:17. Paul tells the Colossians that they should not let any man judge them or call them into question about these things but rather let the church make those judgments. He is pointing the members to the example of the spiritual leaders of the church who set the tone and pattern of worship on the Sabbath and holy days, exhorting them not to worry about what anyone in the community thinks about them. A similar exhortation is given in Colossians 2:18-19.
Far from doing away with the observance of the Sabbath and holy days, Colossians 2:16-17 is one of the strongest proofs that the early church kept these days and that Paul taught the Gentiles to keep them.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Are the Sabbath and Holy Days Done Away?
The structure of this paragraph ties together the doctrine of Balaam, the sins of eating things sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Christ implies that all three are the same basic heresy under different guises. This antinomian teaching affected the church in Thyatira as well (Revelation 2:20-21).
Moses records Balaam's story in Numbers 22-25, 31. Balak, king of Moab, hires Balaam to curse the Israelites, but every time he tries, Balaam instead blesses them. He then counsels Balak to send Moabite and Midianite women into the camp of Israel to seduce the men and invite them to the sacrifices of their god (Numbers 25:1-2; 31:16). Clearly, Balaam's instruction included getting the Israelites to commit idolatry and sexual immorality.
Interestingly, these two practices arise in the Jerusalem Council in AD 49. Paul and Barnabas, with Peter's help, convince the assembled elders that Gentile converts to Christianity should not be required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, Judaism's rigorous "yoke" of picayune laws (Acts 15:10). However, the Council enjoins the Gentiles on four points of typical Gentile religious practice:
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (Acts 15:28-29)
Obviously, the Council's decree does not exempt Gentiles from keeping the Ten Commandments, for it is clear from many New Testament passages that Jesus and the apostles taught them to both Jews and Gentiles (e.g., Matthew 19:17-19; Romans 13:9; etc.). These two issues—idolatry and sexual immorality—became a flashpoint in the conflict between true Christianity and Hellenistic Gnosticism, and a person's stance on them exposed which side he favored. Thus, Nicolaitanism and Balaamism are biblical symbols or representatives of the larger Gnostic, antinomian influence on Christianity.
Is Nicolaitanism passé? Evidently not, for Jesus' admonitions in Revelation 2 indicate that this antinomian influence will remain until His return. Notice His warnings to Pergamos and Thyatira:
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. . . . But to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan [another allusion to antinomianism], as they call them, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. (Revelation 2:16, 24-25)
This does not mean that the particular sins of eating meat sacrificed to idols and sexual license will pervade the church until the end, although idolatry and sexual sins will certainly exist in it. He is more concerned about the antinomian spirit, the attitude of lawlessness, that allows these sins to infest the church. When members of the church teach and practice that they are not obliged to keep the laws of God, sin will inevitably break out vigorously. When this occurs, Christians are no longer under grace but under the penalty of the law and the wrath of the Judge (Romans 6:11-23; Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:25).
Jesus, Paul, Peter, Jude, and John warn against the encroachment of antinomianism or lawlessness. In His Olivet Prophecy, Jesus says: "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:11-12). What will happen to such lawless people? Jesus Himself answers:
Many will say to Me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:22-23)
Among Paul's end-time prophecies is his prediction of a great apostasy that results from the unrestrained assault of "the mystery of lawlessness" (II Thessalonians 2:1-7). This comes
with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. . . . Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught. . . . (II Thessalonians 2:10-12, 15)
Peter and Jude use similar language in their books to counter the antinomian teaching extant in their congregations (II Peter 2:9-10, 12-13, 15, 18-19; 3:17-18; Jude 3-4). John's epistles are likewise full of warnings against antinomian heresies. For instance, notice these passages:
» Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:3-4)
» Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. (I John 3:4)
» In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (I John 3:10)
» By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:2-3)
» This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. . . . Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. . . . If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (II John 6, 9-11)
» Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. (III John 11)
In addition, the gospel of John uses Jesus' own words during His ministry to attack antinomian heresies in the church. This much scriptural attention along with its prophetic implications warrants our taking careful notice.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:16-20 to look for fruit as a way of testing what kind of a spirit would emanate from a beast like this. Biblically, spirit is used to indicate "that which motivates." Spirit is invisible. It is immaterial, but what it produces is not, because it shows up on the outside of the person in behavior and sometimes in the spirit that radiates out from them.
In a spiritual sense, "the mark of the beast" is Satan's attitude. He is the great red Dragon, who gives power to the beast, and a great deal of power over mankind resides in the spirit that radiates from him.
It was Satan who created the original bad attitude, and he sustains it in humans when we permit these things to enter into our conduct and manipulate others to gain advantage and to achieve our self-centered objectives. Spirit is something that inclines the mind and, in this case, in a hostile anti-God, anti-law direction.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
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