What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Within the spirit of the word "religion," any system of morality is an expression of religion because it is a way of life. Webster's Dictionary of the English Language defines religion as "a system of beliefs and practices relating to the sacred and uniting its adherents in a community." It is also "something which has a powerful hold on a person's way of thinking, interests, etc." Thus, religion does not need to be related to the divine, for Webster's proceeds to use the example, "Football is that man's religion." Devotion to anything creates a way of life.
Webster's New World Dictionary adds, "the state or way of life of a person in a monastery, convent, etc." Combined, these dictionaries show that "religion," while most frequently (and rightly) understood in relation to God and church, can also indicate a secular devotion to a body of beliefs, values, and laws that effectively motivate one to live his life in a certain way.
When applied to secular life, this has interesting ramifications. Any system of morality is an expression of religion because it concerns itself with values and the way we live. Law, therefore, is enacted, codified morality.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
A hotly contested point within Christianity is what part God's law plays in the life of one who has been justified by Christ's sacrifice. The function of law within a nation is not to grant citizenship, but to guide the behavior of the citizens and define what is acceptable conduct to ensure peace and order. If an American were to travel to Canada and abide by every one of its laws, doing so would not make him a Canadian citizen, for that is not the purpose of Canadian law. Canada's government must still grant the right of citizenship. Nevertheless, abiding by Canadian law would help to ensure that he would get along with Canada's citizens and that he would not merit punishment under its system of justice.
Likewise, keeping the laws of the Kingdom of God will not guarantee full entrance, as that is not the purpose of God's law. God's law provides a guide for conduct and a definition of acceptable behavior toward the goal of living eternally. It is the way that the citizens of His Kingdom should conduct themselves so that same quality of life is possible for everyone.
With human governments, a person does not immigrate based on his good deeds. Immigration officials do not care if he does community service, is kind to his neighbors, or donates to charities. The decision—or not—to grant admission into the nation is entirely the prerogative of the government officials.
Similarly, "immigration" into God's Kingdom is not granted based on works. We cannot buy our way in or convince God that He should let us into His Kingdom because of what good people we are. The decision of who receives an application and who is granted citizenship is entirely His.
David C. Grabbe
Immigration and the Kingdom of God
He covers every aspect of every day. The laws of God have to be considered and committed to memory for life. They have to be practiced, practiced, practiced. In a way, we have to drill, drill, drill, like a soldier in boot camp, so that they become instinctive behaviors. We have to force ourselves, if need be, to yield to them. This is our part in spiritual circumcision because human nature will put up a fight. It does not want to yield.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)
A commandment is a specific instruction or law from God that we are to obey forever. Commandments have no precedents because they establish original, divine law.
A statute designates a law that one engraves, meaning a lawgiver establishes it unchangeably unless he alone changes it. A religious statute sets rules for worship. Secular statutes have the force of a royal decree. A statute is formulated like a law: "You shall (not) do so-and-so" (Exodus 22:18-23:33). A synonym for statute is "oracle."
A judgment is a decision based on an established law. A judge takes associated factors into account to decide appropriately for the specific situation. It takes the form of a case-law: "If you do so-and-so, you will pay so much" (Exodus 21:1—22:15). A synonym for judgment is "precedent."
Martin G. Collins
The Ten Commandments
Modern versions replace "vision" with "revelation," but the choice is negligible because God's revelation is the true and most important vision (foresight, discernment, insight) for our lives. The Living Bible paraphrases this verse as, "Where there is ignorance of God, the people run wild, but what a wonderful thing it is for a nation to know and keep His laws!" An old English version based on the Latin Vulgate provides a fascinating rendering in light of what has happened recently in the church: "When prophecy shall fail, the people shall be scattered." Adam Clarke comments, "Where divine revelation, and the faithful preaching of the sacred testimonies, are neither reverenced nor attended, the ruin of that land [or church] is at no great distance."
All these renderings show a measure of cause and effect. The vision a person has is the cause, and the effect is the way he then conducts his life. Where there is a true vision, or revelation of God, it motivates those who have reverence for it to conduct their lives in a way that produces good fruit - happiness. If the vision that guides is not from God, the people are motivated to "run wild" or "cast off restraint." That is, they will not discipline themselves to take proper responsibility, and the result is they perish - quite a contrast to the satisfying result of keeping God's laws!
There can be no doubt about what vision produces. It enhances our perception of what will occur or be produced if a certain course is followed. Thus, it increases our discernment and sharpens our judgment about which way we should go. If the vision, the foreseen result, seems good to a person, he is motivated to proceed in that direction. When vision and the fear of God combine, they produce a strong stimulus to obey Him. Vision gives a mental picture of results, and the deep and abiding respect for God produces a compelling inclination to please Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision
The ultimate fulfillment of of the process implicitly mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31-34 will culminate when we are completely composed of spirit, and God's law will be our first nature, not just second nature. But, while we are in an embryonic stage, the process has already begun in us, incrementally, as God gradually displaces our carnality and sin, replacing it with His Holy Spirit, leading to righteous behavior and godliness. Actually, no human being is completely converted, but many people are in various stages of conversion.
Conversion, then, is a life-long process in which we move from a reactive approach to lawkeeping—motivated by rewards and punishments—to a proactive approach—motivated by a deeply placed inner desire to yield and comply to the law's principles, knowing intrinsically from experience that they work for the good and harmony of all. (Proactive is a term author-speaker Steven Covey uses to distinguish internal motivation to do or accomplish something as opposed to external motivation.)
As the process of conversion begins, God must use carrots and sticks to keep us moving in the right direction. The blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 served as carrots and sticks to encourage righteous and godly behavior in our Israelite forebears. God uses carrots and sticks in the early part of our calling—for instance, the carrot of the Place of Safety and the stick of the Tribulation—and literally drives us into a frantic study of prophecy. Carrots and sticks have motivated our educational system in the forms of gold stars, grades, praise, trophies, extra homework, and detention.
Recently, Dr. Alfie Kohn, in his book, Punished By Rewards, questions the long-term effects of external motivators, such as grades, financial incentives, gold stars, or tokens, to sustain learning behavior. He supplies some surprising evidence that carrots and sticks—reflecting the philosophy, "Do this and you'll get that"— actually become detrimental in the long run, diverting the focus away from the learning outcome onto the reward or punishment. Dr. Kohn, Dr. Jerome Bruner, and a host of other educators suggest that internal motivators, such as satisfying curiosity, imitating role models, and attaining competency, work better to motivate over the long term than do G.P.A.'s, scholarships and grants, and other external incentives.
To illustrate this, one of the supreme tragedies in the music world occurred when the government of Finland supplied composer Jean Sibelius a guaranteed pension and a large mansion in the woods near Jarvenpaa. After this huge reward, an external motivation, not one musical idea—not one note!—emanated from his pen. Likewise, our spiritual growth and maturity will become stunted if our motivation for righteous behavior is externally determined rather than internally determined.
To an individual truly endowed with God's Spirit, the laws cranked out yearly in Washington, DC, our state capitals, and our local city halls should strike us as juvenile and elementary—or as one minister would call it—knee-pants stuff. Consider the carrots and sticks used by lawmakers to control litter: up to $1,000 fine for littering, or a sign reading, "This segment of highway adopted by Yourtown Jaycees."
These examples ignore the heart and core of the problem. Until the law gets from stone-tablet pages of the Scripture, or the statute books of a local, state, or federal assembly, into our hearts and minds—unless the motivation for doing what is right comes from the inside out—we are no more converted than a donkey. On second thought, a donkey at least behaves as it is programmed to act.
David F. Maas
Righteousness from Inside-Out
Law in Amos 2:4 refers to instruction, not legislation and its enforcement. From a verb that means "to throw," its root describes casting lots or throwing dice. When lots or dice were cast, God revealed His will in the way they landed (Proverbs 16:33; see Leviticus 16:8-10; Acts 1:26). At times lots were used in making judgments in criminal cases in which God's will needed to be ascertained (Joshua 7:13-25). Thus, by setting a legal precedent, the casting of lots served to give instruction in other cases in which the same basic principles of behavior were involved. God's will—His law—was taught to His people through the casting of lots.
This instruction process implies a teacher-student relationship. When the Israelites rejected God's instruction contained in His law, they rejected the Instructor as well. Their relationship with Him quickly deteriorated.
Commandment means "to engrave or cut into stone," suggesting its permanence and immutability in contrast to temporary and changeable lies. The law comes from an unchangeable, righteous, and pure God in contrast to fickle and iniquitous men.
Judah's despising of God's law and revelation of Himself was internal—from the heart (Psalm 78:37; 81:11-12; Jeremiah 5:23). The personal and social failures Amos records are evidence that the people had rejected the truth. So it is with us: God wants to change our hearts so He can change our actions and turn around our lives.
In every area of life, Israel perverted the truth of God to accommodate the ideas of men. In the final tally, they loved lies rather than the revelation of God (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Thus Amos says that God's people despised His law. They made the mistake of devaluing their calling and considered it common. Believing they were God's elect, they thought they were irrevocably saved. With this attitude it was only a matter of time before spiritual and moral complacency set in. As the church of God, we cannot allow ourselves to slip into this attitude because we, too, would fall into immorality.
If that occurs, God must pass judgment because His justice is the same for everybody (Colossians 3:25; I Peter 1:17). God's laws govern the people on the outside as well as the people on the inside. No matter what makes Israel or the church distinctly different, His judgment is always righteous. When God could not change Israel's immorality through His prophets, He had to punish them. So will He punish an apostate church.
It is easy to see why this book is written to the end-time church. The people of America and the British Commonwealth are already in the moral and spiritual condition of the people of Israel and Judah in the time of Amos. Members of God's church come out of such a world. Just as Israel's privileged position became a curse, so will it be for the Christian who ultimately rejects his calling (Hebrews 6:4).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
The translation of "law" is misleading. The word is torah, and in this context it does not mean a code of rules written in a book, like a book of law. That aspect is found in the word "commandments" or "statutes," which means written, in this case, on stone. The word is literally "engraved." "Law" is teaching or instruction, suggesting a relationship that exists because an instructor is teaching a pupil.
When God says, "they have despised the law," in reality they have rejected Him, the Instructor. In effect, He says, "The relationship has been broken and now you are breaking My commandments," showing that it is a cause and effect process. Just in case they missed the point, He illustrates what He meant from examples out of society.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
What did Jesus Christ establish to be taught in the churches? What He brought - in what we consider to be the New Testament era - is not at all contradictory or fundamentally different from what the Old Testament teaches. His message is complementary, completing the teaching of the Old Testament, rounding out and finishing God's revelation to mankind.
The word "but" in verse 17 has been inserted by the translators. In those Bibles that use the convention, it is in italics, which shows that it is a word added by the translators to clarify what they believe is the sense. Why did they choose "but"? The translators' fundamental belief is that Jesus came to change what was taught by Moses. However, if they had put together what the rest of the New Testament says, Jesus came and added to and completed what Moses and the other prophets preached. There is a better word to insert there: "and." Thus, "For the law was given through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." They are complementary, not contradictory. Perhaps the word "supplementary" would better explain it, though what Jesus brought is both complementary and supplementary.
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Consider a candy jar, which is filled only an inch. That represents what Moses taught, the law. But Jesus filled the rest of the candy jar full! Jesus brought the spirit of the law. He filled to the full the revelation of God.
What Moses taught in the law is the law of the Kingdom of God. It cannot be separated from the gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought because the Kingdom of God needs law to function. God's Kingdom is a real entity. It is designed to function, and it will only function through law and, of course, grace, as they work together.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Paul is on trial before Felix, the governor. "They" refers to the Jews. Paul says, "I confess," as he is giving testimony. He is a witness before a court, as he is on trial. "The way" is Christianity, which the Jews call a heresy.
"Believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets" is really an astounding statement in light of what has gone on in Protestantism over the past few hundred years. The very man whom they say wrote most clearly and lucidly that "the law is done away" is the one who says he believes all things that are written in the Law and the Prophets. There is absolutely nothing in the Law and the Prophets that says anything at all about the doing away with God's law! Paul did not have the same position in relation to the law as modern theologians do.
One might think that maybe this was said before Paul wrote that the law was done away. Oh, no. The two books that contain most of what Protestants quote as their authority for doing away with the law are the books of Romans and Galatians. This instance in which Paul was on trial before Felix took place in either AD 58 or 59, most like the latter.
In either case, the book of Romans and the book of Galatians had both already been written. Both were being circulated through the church. All those doctrinal explanations were written prior to Paul's statement before Felix, yet Paul is still saying, "I believe all things that are written in the Law and the Prophets." Obviously, the common Protestant interpretation of Romans and Galatians is incorrect.
Certainly, salvation is by grace, but salvation in no way, of and by itself, does away with any of the law of God. Salvation is something that must be given. First of all, God's justice demands that there be a penalty for sin. Since His justice demands that the law be satisfied - that His own government be satisfied for crimes against it - He must follow through. He cannot wink at disagreements in a person's conduct against His rulership over His creation.
Secondly, once one of His laws has been broken, there is no way it can be undone. It has to be accepted according to what was done. Consider two simple examples of this:
If somebody is murdered, can that be undone? His life is gone. He is lying on the ground, dead. What is done is done. A person cannot resurrect him. The clock cannot be turned back. Nothing can be done to undo that act, unless there is a a power mightier than we are. So the law is broken. Another clear illustration might be a person's virginity. Once the virginity is taken away, or given away, it cannot be undone. The clock cannot be turned back. It is gone, never ever to be recovered.
The same is true with any act done, even when we are not considering law. However, we are considering law here, so we have to understand that it is God who has provided a solution for the breaking of law. What He has determined is to allow the death of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty, and then, in His mercy (called "grace" in the Bible), He will freely give the sinner relief from the penalty hanging over his head. We cannot make up for what has been done in the past. It can only be covered by a perfect sacrifice and God's willingness to accept that sacrifice.
If one studies the New Testament, and especially the writings of Paul, it is good to examine carefully the context in which the word "law" appears. Paul uses it very broadly. In fact, he uses the word "law" 110 times. Sometimes, he uses it to indicate a single law. At other times, he uses it to indicate the Mosaic law. There are other times when he uses it to indicate the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Yet at other times it refers only to the Ten Commandments.
A couple of interesting references are in Romans 2, where he uses "law" to indicate the will of God written in the hearts of Gentiles. Why Gentiles? Because they had not been given the law by God, yet he says they did the things contained within the law by nature. What it amounts to, in modern terminology, would be that he uses "law" in the sense of "natural law," that it is a standard that people consider to be in force without having been formally instructed by it. This became an issue, incidentally, in the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States, because he professed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believed in natural law. The liberals on the Committee did not like that at all, because liberals like to be free of the constraints of natural law; they do not feel responsible then.
Another way Paul uses the word "law" is as if God Himself were speaking. He does not use the name or title of God, but the term "law," as in Romans 3:19. At times, Paul appears to contradict himself when he uses the word "law." In one place, he says, "Yea, we establish the law," but in another, he says, "Yea, we abolish the law." He uses it in the sense of it being both necessary and unnecessary. If one is careful, he will begin to become adept at figuring out how Paul uses it.
Paul's use of "law" appears in two general categories. If the subject of the context has to do with justification, then it is likely he will use a "no law" approach. That is both logical and right: No man can justify himself. All the lawkeeping in the world will not undo that murder or the loss of virginity. We cannot justify ourselves by what we do after we have broken a law. We cannot make up for it.
However, if the subject is sanctification - which has to do with a person's conduct, with right living, with discipline or character building - then Paul will say the law is valuable and necessary. It must be kept.
If we will just keep our eyes on the context, it will help us greatly to understand how Paul uses "law."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 17)
In verse 1, Paul says that anybody participating even in some of the more easily mastered practices of human nature is putting himself on dangerous spiritual quicksand. Today, in the wake of the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, a common judgment is to call Herbert Armstrong into account yet say at the end, "But I loved him." Those who do this have overlooked how vulnerable and subject to God's judgment this makes them.
Verse 2 carries Paul's warning a step further by reminding us that God judges according to truth. Those who judge and act as Paul describes in verse 1 have precious little truth. However, this major element gives God the right to judge. He alone knows all the facts and can arrange them all in the light of perfect righteousness.
He reveals in verse 3 the weak position of those judging: They are guilty of committing the same sins, or ones just as bad, as those they are judging! Paul is saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones! In fact, their judgment of others may be one of those sins! In verse 4, he counsels them to lay aside their pride and concentrate on making the best use of God's patience by repenting of their sins.
In verse 5, the apostle plays on the word "riches" in the previous verse. Physical wealth is something one normally sets aside and treasures, but those who persist in evil works are "treasuring up" judgment for themselves! Verses 6 through 11 are a classic argument for the doing of good works after justification from the mind and pen of the very man most often accused of saying no works are necessary.
Within the context of the entire book, Paul is saying here that, while a person is justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, establishing a relationship with God that because of sin never before existed, good works should result from justification. Good works are the concrete, open, and public expression of the reality of our relationship with God. They are its witness.
Just as surely as day follows night, if our faith truly is in God, the works that follow will be according to God's will. Living by God's will should be the natural consequence of faith in God. Though we are justified by faith, II Corinthians 5:10 spells out that we are judged according to our works. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Is it not logical, then, for a person, knowing he will be judged according to his works, to want at least some clearly stated absolutes to show him what is expected of him rather than a fuzzy and vague statement about loving one another? Would not such a person want to know more specifically what constitutes love?
In Romans 2:7, Paul is not saying using one's faith will be easy, but that those who have that faith will use it to work. "Patient continuance" presupposes a measure of hardship, and "seek" implies pursuing something not yet attained. Together, they indicate a persistent quest of God's righteousness. In verse 10, the apostle uses the phrase "to everyone who works what is good." He does not define what "good" is at this point, but whatever it is, work is necessary to accomplish it. In verses 11-12, he reiterates that we will be judged, introducing a word that many seem to find so repulsive: law!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
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
If we take to its logical conclusion the statement that "justification by grace through faith does away with law," then there is no such thing as sin any longer, for the law defines what sin is (see also I John 3:4). If that is true, Christ died in vain.
In addition, it violently flies in the face of two clear facts: 1) Two thousand years after Christ shed His blood to pay the penalty for sin—providing the means for justification—we still must repent of sin to be forgiven. That has not changed, so sin must still exist and law still exists. Thus, the Ten Commandments still exist, as sin is the transgression of that law. How can this be if there is no law to transgress? 2) The New Testament record of Jesus Christ's and the apostles' exhortations to Christians not to sin, especially after one is forgiven.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 4)
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 29)
Law shows us our duties. In reference to God, it awakens us to a consciousness of sin. Through law, we become aware of the contrast between what we ought to do and what we actually do. Our civil legislators enact laws, and thus they tell us what is ethical, right, and good in a particular, secular area of life.
Instead of calling a transgression of the state's laws "sin," we call it "crime." Many crimes are also sin. The difference between secular law and God's law is that God's law relates directly to the divine. It reveals our duties to Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
These New Testament verses agree with Genesis 9 that human governmental authority derives from God. A purpose of human government is to keep chaos from developing. Paul does not specifically stipulate the extent of the wrath that human governments use to keep order, but his mention of "sword" indicates its use as an instrument of capital punishment.
Within God's purpose, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). A person practicing sin earns death by his conduct. A difference between this and capital punishment is that God executes directly. Although He has given governments the authority to take life to preserve order—in conjunction with the testimony of at least two witnesses—He has never extended the same right to an individual.
God is the source of life, and He alone, or those to whom He delegates it, may take it. Of all of God's physical creations, only man has a mind capable of becoming like God's. God gave man dominion, but to rule properly requires character, wisdom, and understanding. The building of these requires experience, and gaining experience requires time.
Several of the Bible's writers comment on the brevity of a man's life. When a person's life ends prematurely by murder, or even accidentally, it at least interrupts, or in some cases, ends God's great gift. No puny man has the right to take it upon himself to interfere with the continuation of God's great gift to another. If a man does this, he will pay a terrible price.
Capital punishment, consistently and fairly administered, will deter murder. However, capital punishment is an after-the-fact deterrent. Jesus preached a much more effective deterrent in His Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder," and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, "Raca!" shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, "You fool!" shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)
It is essential to understand that Jesus did not do away with laws, but brought to completion the laws that already existed. Likewise, He did not do away with the Old Testament death penalty principles, which act as guides to civil governments. Jesus was a pioneer, not a revolutionary. A revolutionary seeks to destroy the existing order and places himself above conventional standards. A pioneer accepts the restraints laid upon him and moves forward.
Men's governments deal with the end of the act, Christ deals with the beginning. Jesus changed the law's restraint from the act to the motive. For the Christian, merely abstaining from the act is not sufficient. Jesus imposes the positive obligation of the spirit of the law on him. He seeks to prevent crimes of violence by rooting out the attitudes and drives in a person's character that make him kill. The New Covenant law searches the heart without doing away with the Old Covenant letter.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
Once we understand God's sovereignty over the nations, it is not difficult to understand where Paul bases his instructions in these verses. Thus we can understand why Moses so quickly and surely considers the actions of Korah and his group as rebellion against God rather than merely against himself (Numbers 16). When Israel rejects Samuel as judge over them because they want a king, God reveals to the prophet that the people are really rejecting the rule of God Himself (I Samuel 8:7). It does not matter whether a Christian considers his nation's government to be unlawful. What matters is whether God permits it. If He permits it, this One, who is aware of even sparrows falling, has allowed it or has directly brought it to pass because of the purpose He is working out. That is all that matters. God is ruling His creation, and this is what we are here to learn and trust.
Jesus lived His entire life under an unlawful civil government. The Roman government ruled over Judea as a result of military conquest. Moreover, at times even the ecclesiastical government was not in the proper hands because corrupt Roman officials discovered that just-as-corrupt Jews were willing to pay bribes to "buy" the high priesthood. But the Scriptures repeatedly show Jesus subject to them, though He called both, especially the ecclesiastical one, into account. Matthew 17:24-27 is a clear example:
When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes." And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."
The Temple tax was one-half shekel per year for every Jew over 20. Since Jesus Christ was Lord and Owner of the Temple, He and His "children" should have been free of taxation. Jesus orders Peter to pay it anyway for both of them to avoid a bitter and offensive debate on the merits of His claim. By doing this, Jesus sets the right example looking by faith beyond a legal technicality to the True Ruler, the Father. God likely brought this episode to pass for our instruction.
Perhaps a brief statement of Solomonic wisdom will summarize Christian understanding of God's sovereignty over the governments of men: "There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the LORD. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the LORD" (Proverbs 21:30-31). His meaning becomes clearer in other translations. The Living Bible renders it, "No one, regardless of how shrewd or well-advised he is, can stand against the Lord. Go ahead and prepare for the conflict, but victory comes from God." The Revised English Bible translates it as, "Face to face with the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel avail nothing. A horse may be made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord."
It may seem a remote possibility, even strange, that we would fight against the Lord, yet because human nature remains in us, we do. The apostle Paul complains in Romans 7:14-23 that what he did not want to do he did anyway because a law of enmity against God worked within him. Proverbs 21:30-31 tells us that human wisdom, insight, and counsel must be in conformity with God's will to be successful. God's children must understand His sovereignty over everything and conduct their lives knowing that nothing avails against God and nothing without Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five
Though all of us should understand obedience to the laws of man, it is good from time to time to ask, "Should we obey the governments of man over us?" Should we obey it if we consider it an "illegal" government?
The apostle Paul had to address this subject two thousand years ago in Romans 13. Albert Barnes in his Barnes' Notes suggests what prompted Paul to write this to the Roman church:
In the seven first verses of this chapter, the apostle discusses the subject of the duty which Christians owe to civil government. . . . There is no doubt that he had express reference to the peculiar situation of the Christians at Rome; but the subject was of so much importance that he gives it a general bearing, and states the great principles on which all Christians are to act. The circumstances which made this discussion proper and important were the following: (1.) The Christian religion was designed to extend throughout the world. . . . Christians professed supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; he was their lawgiver, their sovereign, their judge. It became, therefore, a question of great importance and difficulty, what kind of allegiance they were to render to earthly magistrates. (2.) The kingdoms of the world were then pagan kingdoms. The laws were made by pagans, and were adapted to the prevalence of heathenism. Those kingdoms had been generally founded in conquest, blood, and oppression. Many of the monarchs were bloodstained warriors; were unprincipled men; and were polluted in private, and oppressive in their public character. Whether Christians were to acknowledge the laws of such kingdoms and of such men, was a serious question. . . . Soon the hands of these magistrates were to be raised against Christians in the fiery scenes of persecution; and the duty and extent of submission to them became a matter of very serious inquiry. ("Romans," p. 284.)
The phrase "let every soul be subject" is a military term implying subordination. It is a willingness to occupy our proper place, to yield to the authority over us. That these governing authorities are "appointed by God" stems from another military term denoting the order or organization found in a military unit. Not only should we be subject, but we should submit in the knowledge that God Himself has had a hand in allowing them to exist!
Paul's conclusion flows naturally from this. Those who resist, or rebel against, man's governments also resist the ordinance of God! What God has ordained we should obey! This means we are to regard man's governments as instituted by God and agreeable to His will. This is a hard pill to swallow for those who consider themselves sovereign!
Paul continues with his instruction with a warning that, if we break the law, we will be punished by the civil government as lawbreakers. Those in authority generally do not punish people for doing good, but they have God-given authority to punish those who do not accept their rule and laws. The apostle says we should be afraid to break man's laws because his government administrators are really "God's ministers"! They are servants of God! Thus, we should be subject, not just for fear of punishment, but also for conscience' sake.
He concludes the section with specific instruction concerning taxes, custom, obedience, and respect. He says, "Pay your taxes and your fines. Obey the laws and respect government officials." Sovereign citizens directly disobey this explicit command of God's Word on each count!
Many who complain about the government over us fail to remember the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. He and His apostles lived under an "illegal" government for years; they were subject to Roman conquerors who levied stiff taxes and brutally oppressed freedoms. But what was Jesus' instruction, specifically regarding taxes?
[The Pharisees asked,] "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:17-21)
Thus, Jesus advises us to pay our taxes, as He also paid them. Matthew 17:24-27 shows that He paid the Temple tax as well.
Some, considering this world to be Babylon, refuse to come under its laws. Though this world is truly Babylon the Great (Revelation 18), these people also forget the examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. These men not only lived in literal Babylon, but also served in Nebuchadnezzar's government, giving great honor and loyalty to the king. When Babylon's laws conflicted with God's laws, as in the case of idolatry (Daniel 3), they stood rock solid for God's way, willing to take whatever punishment the civil government gave them. This is the principle we should always follow (Acts 5:29).
God has appointed authority over men to bring order to our society, and in bringing order, He has given each of us an opportunity to learn the lesson of how to submit to government. This is a lesson we all must learn, for even Christ is subject to the Father (I Corinthians 15:23-28)!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Should We Obey the Laws of Our Government?
Laws are stated and have penalties. Rulers enforce them, but that does not stop people from breaking them—in many cases with impunity—especially if they feel no government representative is watching them. The government's power lies largely in coercion, meaning forcible constraint or restraint, whether moral or physical. In other words, it is government by force.
For instance, most people flagrantly disobey the speed limit on freeways and interstates, especially when they are not crowded, until they spot a patrol car with a trooper or two in it. Suddenly, the speed limit becomes the norm until the trooper is again out of sight. That the law is on the books, prominently displayed and common knowledge are insufficient motivation for many people to obey.
But love toward God, the love of God, can motivate us to do what the law says to do but cannot motivate us to do. We can conclude that Paul claims that if one exercises God's love in paying his debt to man, he will keep the commandments.
We could also conclude that Paul says that if one does not break the commandments, he is acting out of love. This is the weaker of the two. Within this context, then, every phase, every facet of our responsibility to God and man, is covered if we make sure love has its place as the motivation for all we do.
If we really love another person, we cannot possibly injure him. Love would immediately stifle any thought that leads to adultery, murder, theft, or any form of covetousness because love cannot harm. Since love cannot break the laws designed to protect another, it is supreme in providing the right kind of persuasion.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
Paul presents us with an interesting paradox. On the one hand, he says that we should owe no man anything that he can rightfully claim from us. But on the other hand, we must owe everyone more than we can hope to pay, that is, perfect love.
He extends and intensifies the concept of obligation. We must be more scrupulous within the limits of the common idea of indebtedness, and also infinitely widen the range within which it operates. Did not our failure to meet our obligations to God and man accrue for us an unpayable debt? Now that the debt has been paid, we are obliged not only to strive to avoid further indebtedness, but also to expand and perfect the giving of love.
This paradox is more apparent than real, because love is not an added duty but the inclusive framework within which all duties should be done. Love is the motivating power that frees and enables us to serve and sacrifice with largeness of heart and generosity of spirit.
If we view love as just the keeping of God's laws, we are stuck on a low-level, letter-of-the-law approach to righteousness. Do not misunderstand, keeping God's law is a necessary aspect of love, but love is far more complex. Commandment keeping is compulsory and can be done in an "only because" attitude, one that concludes, "I must love the person, but I don't have to like him." Drawing upon Christ's teaching, Paul gives an entirely new significance to the idea of obligation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover, Obligation, and Love
In these verses, Paul injects love into the context of law, showing that it is the sum of all duties. He does not say love ends the need for law but that it fulfills—performs or accomplishes—the law.
Notice love's relationship to law in context with what immediately precedes it. The context is a Christian's response to government. He should submit to and honor human government as God's agents in managing human affairs. A Christian is indebted to the government to pay tribute and taxes. When we pay them, a Christian is no longer financially indebted to the state until it imposes taxes the following year.
Regarding men, we are not to be in debt. He is not saying a Christian should never owe anybody money, but that there is a debt we owe to every person that we should strive to pay every day. This debt is one of love, paid by keeping God's law, and this Paul illustrates by quoting several of the Ten Commandments! Inherent in this debt is that no matter how much we pay on it each day, when we wake up the next day, the debt is restored, and we owe just as much as we did the day before!
This sets up an interesting paradox because we owe everyone more than we can ever hope to pay. The paradox, however, is more apparent than real because this is not what Paul is teaching. He is teaching that love must be the driving force, the motivation, of everything we do. This points out a weakness of law regarding righteousness. Law, of and by itself, provides neither enough nor the right motivation for one to keep it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
1 Corinthians 7:14
The children of believing parents are "holy," meaning "set apart." God considers such a child to be "clean." That does not mean "sinless," but they are still legally clean in His sight. They are therefore acceptable in His presence and have the opportunity to have true success in life as a result. They have the chance to believe God, to cast their lot with Him, and to be spared the horror of having to face many of the evils in this world.
But, just as parents can lose their sanctification, so children who are set apart can also lose their status. Law plays no favorites. It does not care whether one is male or female, or thirteen, nineteen, or ninety-three. If a ninety-three year old male jumps off the 80th floor of the Empire State Building, which direction will he go? What if a 16-year old girl does the same thing? The law of gravity does not play favorites.
Law does not care what one's race, sex, or age are. If parents who are sanctified break the laws of God persistently, they will lose their sanctification. If a seventeen-year-old does the same thing, even though his parents are sanctified and a child is held to be clean because of God's judgment, he can lose his too.
For a child who is sanctified, even though unconverted, there is still a great deal that he will be held accountable for. "To whom much is given, much is also required." Jesus does not say that this only applies to converted parents.
The child's sanctification gives him the advantage of access to God. Because of that access, he has the guidance of God available to him, and from that guidance he can form a proper vision of what he wants to do with his life (Proverbs 29:18). This allows him to see what he wants to do in terms of conduct—what he wants to pursue, the way he wants to do work, the attitude he has toward other people, parents, neighbors, fellow-employees, etc.
We can tell from the conduct of people in this world that they do not have this guidance. But a sanctifed child has access to the knowledge of what God expects, and from that he can make it his goal in life to act that way. He can set his will to do the right thing. He is sanctified, and divine guidance is what he gains from it.
He has access to truth. Even if his parents fail to give it to him directly, every Sabbath that he attends church services he is receiving it through one of God's ministers. It is available, but he still must make choices. He must discipline himself to follow the information, the true knowledge, given to him. The advantage lies in the fact that he has access to truth about the way life is to be conducted and how he can please God. He can do it because he is not cut off from God. His lamp is not put out (Proverbs 20:20).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and the Teens
1 Corinthians 7:19
Here the apostle Paul tells us that we are to keep the Ten Commandments under the New Covenant. It cannot be refuted. The Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant too. That part is not obsolete; we are still using it in the brand new model. The moral law is still in force and effect. To break the commandments is sin, while to do them is righteousness.
That includes all ten - not just nine. Remember Jesus' declaration that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law. If Jesus speaks the truth, how can people say that the fourth commandment is done away? They directly refute their Savior. It is really quite silly.
Most of the rest of the law, that is, part of the terms of the Old Covenant, still directly apply. How about tithing, part of the Old Covenant? We find that tithing supersedes the Old Covenant. What about the food laws, also is part of the Old Covenant? The New Testament records that they were still being kept by people who should have known better if they were done away. Many of those laws still directly apply.
Even those that may only indirectly apply are still applicable in their spirit, in their intent. Intent suggests "the stretching out." Those laws help to define sin and righteousness in specific situations. Their positive intent is always to bring us to holiness - to the image of God.
We need to discipline ourselves never to look at a law of God - whether it is civil or ceremonial - and assume it has no application for us, as if God just intended it for the Israelites back then. Far from it! God's law (and its intent) is always love and eternal, which is why Jesus says that none of it would pass until all is fulfilled.
Obedience to those laws can neither justify nor save us, but they are the wisdom and the love of God, given to guide us. We should be studying them to understand how to make our lives holier than ever before.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 29)
Paul is quoting here from Deuteronomy 27:26, a principle echoed in Jeremiah 11:3.
"Of works," like "of faith" in verses 5 and 7, shows a person's origin—their source or basis of their spiritual life, and what they depend on. This follows the theme that we are justified and glorified (saved) by grace through faith, and not by our own righteousness. So Paul is saying here that those people who have their basis of spirituality in their own works and righteousness, rather than in their Creator, are under a curse.
In this verse, as with much of the rest of his letter to the Galatians, Paul is addressing the problem of justification by works—he is not condemning the law. It is evident from his other writings that Paul is not in any way anti-law (Romans 2:12-16,26; 3:31; 6:12; 7:12,22,25; 8:7; I Corinthians 7:19; I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 2:5; Titus 1:16; 2:11-14; Hebrews 1:8-9; 8:10; 10:26-29), but rather in this epistle he is endeavoring to show the place that law and works should hold in a Christian's life. He is against the misuse or abuse of law. God's law plays a vital part within the sanctification process, because it is during this time in a Christian's life that character is being built, that we are growing, overcoming, etc.—all of which require that a standard of conduct (law) be present.
James explains this further in James 2:10-12:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
This shows that our own righteousness could never suffice for the purpose of justification, because we all have sinned. But after we have been justified and entered into the New Covenant, the law is still very much valid for the purpose of sanctification. We are told in James 2:12, as in other places, that we will be judged, and the standard for that judgment will be the law of God.
David C. Grabbe
Galatians 3:17 confirms that, when Paul was talking about the law, he was also talking about the entire Old Covenant. He uses "law" synonymously with "covenant."
The translators have difficulty deciding whether the "covenant" refers to the Mosaic covenant or the one made with Abraham. Most modern translations connect "covenant" to the one God made with Abraham. However, the more literal translations such as the King James version and Young's Literal Translation put the word "covenant" in the sentence so it refers to the Mosaic covenant. The Emphatic Diaglott translates it as, "Now this I affirm, that a covenant-engagement previously ratified by God, the Law, issued four hundred thirty years afterwards does not annul, so as to invalidate the promise." Thus, Paul viewed the law as the symbol and embodiment of the Old Covenant and used the terms "law" and covenant" synonymously.
This agrees with the way the covenant was sometimes referred to in the Old Testament. In II Chronicles 6:11, Solomon says, "And there I have put the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which He made with the children of Israel." Only the two tables of stone upon which were written the Ten Commandments were in the ark (II Chronicles 5:10).
Moses writes, "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone" (Deuteronomy 4:13; see Exodus 34:28). Even without this evidence, it is very clear that Paul refers to the two covenants, not just to what we would consider the law itself.
Further, notice how Paul uses the term "law" in Galatians 4:21-23. The births of Ishmael and Isaac are recorded in Genesis 16 and 21. Though this happened long before the Ten Commandments and the other laws were given through Moses, Paul refers to this portion of Scripture as the law! Obviously, Paul uses "law" to mean the entire Pentateuch or Torah (the first five books of the Bible), not just the Commandments. In Galatians 4:24, he specifically mentions the Old and New Covenants.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?
Throughout his writings, Paul uses the terms "law" and "covenant" interchangeably. One has to use the context to determine whether he is talking about a single statute, a body of laws, a covenant/agreement, or the Pentateuch. Notice how Paul uses the term "law" later in the book of Galatians:
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. (Galatians 4:21-23)
The births of Isaac and Ishmael are recorded in Genesis chapters 16 and 21, hundreds of years before the Old Covenant was given. Yet, Paul refers to that portion of scripture as "the law"! Obviously, in this example Paul uses "law" to mean the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), not just the commandments.
The end of Galatians 3:19, as well as verse 20, show that the "law" here was not just instruction to a group of people by a superior; the reference to a mediator shows that there was an agreement being discussed rather than a decree or a body of laws. If a king makes a law, there is no need for a process of mediation because the matter it is not open for discussion with the people. A mediator is only necessary when both parties have to agree to something, which clearly indicates a covenant rather than just a decree or law.
The Old Covenant was in addition to the one that God made with Abraham ("it was added"). It was not the first time that God's law had been taught, though; the Bible says specifically that Abraham kept God's commandments (Genesis 26:5). It shows Abraham and Jacob both tithing. It shows Abel and Noah already having an understanding of clean and unclean animals. The Sabbath harkens back to Creation (Genesis 2:1-3), and was given to Israel again after they left Egypt but before the Old Covenant was proposed (Exodus 16). Reading through Genesis and Exodus, it is very clear that there was a codified set of rules—laws—long before they were officially recorded at Mt. Sinai.
The Old Covenant was added because of the sins of the people. It was added, not to provide a means of justification, but to demonstrate to Israel what was right and wrong, because their "moral compass" had been badly damaged through their experiences in Egypt. The children of Israel sojourned in Egypt for centuries, during which time they lost the knowledge of God's way. They forgot His instructions to such a degree that God had to teach them all over again the way of life that was pleasing to Him. They had been so immersed in the pagan Egyptian culture that all of these laws, statutes, judgments, instructions, etc., were completely new to them. God added the Old Covenant to the one He made with Abraham as a sort of "booster shot"—Israel was so off track that God had to realign them with His ways by means of this temporary covenant.
Paul says that the Old Covenant is "becoming obsolete and ... ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13). However, even though the agreement is ready to vanish away, that does not mean God's law has become obsolete. The law and the covenant, in practice, describe two different things. The law is the codified standard of conduct God gave to His people; the covenant was the agreement in which Israel agreed to abide by God's laws. A change to the agreement, though, does not abolish the standard of conduct! The New Testament abounds with examples of God's law still being in effect (Matthew 19:17; 23:23; John 14:15,21; 15:10; Acts 21:24; 24:14; 26:19-20; 28:23; Romans 3:31; 6:1-2,15; 7:12,22,25; 8:7; I Corinthians 7:19; Ephesians 5:5; I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 2:5; Titus 1:16; 2:11-14; Hebrews 8:10; James 1:22-25; 2:8-12; 2:14-26; I John 2:3-6; 3:22-24; 5:2-3; II John 1:6; Revelation 12:17; 14:12; 22:14).
Christ Himself stated clearly that He did not come to destroy the law, but to show how to fulfill it—to keep it in its entirety (Matthew 5:17-20). He then goes on to demonstrate the intent, or spirit, behind some of the laws. James admonishes each to "fulfill the royal law of liberty"—and there is no hint that he means we should individually "do away" with it!
The Old Covenant was "ordained" by angels (Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2; Acts 7:38; Psalm 68:17; I Corinthians 10:4). "Ordained," diatageis (Strong's #1299), usually means "to arrange," "to dispose in order," and is commonly used with reference to the marshalling of an army. A similar word, diatagas (Strong's #1296), is used in Acts 7:53, where it is translated "disposition." It properly means the "constituting" or "arranging" of an army; disposing it into ranks and proper divisions. Hence, it has been supposed to mean that the Covenant was given "amidst" the various ranks of angels being present to witness its transmission.
Deuteronomy 33:2 also shows God with His "holy myriads"—literally "ten thousands of holiness." God was attended by a vast army of intelligent beings, witnessing the ratifying of the Old Covenant with Israel and helping with prescribing, ordering, and arranging the covenant.
The covenant was "in the hand" or "under the control" of a Mediator, one who intervenes between two parties, either as an interpreter, intercessor, or reconciler. In the New Testament, in all the places where it occurs, it is applied to Jesus Christ, the great Mediator between God and man (I Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24).
David C. Grabbe
Paul uses an analogy that is similar to Galatians 3:23-25, where he likens the Old Covenant to a tutor meant to teach, but his application is very different. He says, "Now I say," indicating a different approach to his instruction.
As long as an heir is a child, as long as he is immature and unable to inherit, he is not much different from a servant. The child's potential is much greater, and his future is much brighter, but in day-to-day activities, he is restricted, limited, and controlled just as much as a servant of no lineage. The net effect of the immaturity is the absence of control. The child, like the servant, can only respond to what happens to him rather than having any power over his well-being or destiny.
Galatians 4:2 shows that the immature child is ruled over by others until the father, the one who gives the inheritance, decides that the heir can be freed from the grasp of the tutors and governors. This does not mean that at the "appointed time" the heir actually inherits from the father, but rather that at the appointed time he is no longer under the control of somebody else.
In this analogy, Paul does not say that the "tutors" and "governors" are positive elements, or that they are good for the child. He only says that they restrict the child and make him little better than a servant. Verse 3 likens the "tutelage" and "governance" to bondage, not like the schoolmaster of Galatians 3:24-25, which was meant to train and prepare.
In this series of verses, Paul is showing that until God the Father decides to drag someone out of this world (John 6:44), even though it has been preordained that they have a chance to "be a lord" and to inherit eternal life and other promises from the Father, they are powerless against the "elements of the world"—the rudiments of the cosmos, the world apart from God. These elements are demonic in nature. Before God called the Gentile Galatians, they were in bondage to sin and to Satan. Even though they had a higher potential—to inherit the Kingdom of God at the resurrection—until the appointed time when God saw fit to remove the shackles, they were just as controlled and powerless as the average servant of Satan.
Similar imagery is found in Colossians 2:20-22, where Paul was arguing against Gnosticism and asceticism:
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles [rudiments, KJV] of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—"Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
Paul is clearly not referring to a commandment of God, as verse Colossians 2:22 shows. He is referring to false, pagan teachings that are considered to be the "basic principles" or "rudiments" of the cosmos.
This is also shown in Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Before God redeems a man and "quickens" him—makes him alive—he walks according to the course of the cosmos. This passage shows clearly that the cosmos is ruled by the "prince of the power of the air," Satan the Devil. His spirit works in the children of disobedience, and they serve him. They are powerless in his grasp until God pays for them with the blood of His Son.
The "elements of the world" in Galatians 4:3 cannot be a reference to the Mosaic law, because the Gentile Galatians were never exposed to it until after their conversion—after God had ordained that they be taken out of the control of the "governors of this world" (Ephesians 6:12). The "elements of the world" are those basic things that make this cosmos what it is—a world apart from God. These elements are sinful, rebellious, and pagan.
It is blasphemous to say that anything that God ordained as a way to live (e.g., the Old Covenant) would put a man in bondage, when God's every intent is to free mankind from the bondage of Satan, sin, and human nature (Exodus 6:6; 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; 13:5,10; John 8:33-36; Romans 8:15). Would God liberate the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 1:14; 2:23; 6:5; Deuteronomy 6:12; 8:14; 26:6; Acts 7:6-7) only to shackle them again? On the contrary, He had their best interests in mind, providing for them a "schoolmaster"—the Old Covenant—which would be in effect until the Messiah came. Those who declare that the law of God brings one into bondage are pronouncing that they are anti-Christ: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
God's law is not a burden. It is a definition of right and wrong and an extension of God's own character. It is the way that He lives, and there is no Being in the universe that has more freedom than God! James refers to the law of God as the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25), not the "law of bondage." He also calls it the "royal law" (James 2:8), not the "weak and beggarly law." Further, the apostle John was inspired to write in I John 5:3 that "this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous [burdensome]." It is the height of carnality and blasphemy to consider God's perfect, royal law of liberty to be a weak and beggarly element that keeps mankind in bondage.
Some have tried to use Galatians 4:3-5, 9-11 to argue that God's law in general, and the Sabbath in particular, has been "done away with." They twist these scriptures to try to say that God's law kept us in bondage, but now Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the law so we no longer need to keep the Sabbath(s) holy. This is ironic, because one of the fundamental meanings and symbols of the Sabbath is redemption and liberation—not from any moral law, but from slavery and bondage to Egypt (sin):
Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work ... And remember that thou [were] a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out [redeemed, rescued, freed] thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-13,15).
God had to instruct the Israelites about the Sabbath again because they had been in Egypt for centuries and had forgotten the instructions to their fathers. The Sabbath was reintroduced right after they were brought out of Egypt (Exodus 16), long before God made a covenant with Israel (Exodus 20). So, while the Sabbath command was a requirement included in the Old Covenant, its validity, importance, and necessity by no means ended when the Old Covenant became obsolete.
David C. Grabbe
These verses confront us with a list of spiritual-sounding words: grace, saved, faith, gift, works. Even those who have been in God's church for many years and who may clearly understand each of these words individually are slowed down in comprehension when faced with such terms presented one after the other.
So, let us take a very brief Greek lesson. Here are the key terms contained in this scripture in English and Greek, the Strong's Concordance reference number, and, to make the meanings clearer, other English terms translated in the New Testament from the same Greek words:
- Grace (#5485): charis (khar'-ece). Also translated as favor, thanks, thank, pleasure.
- Saved (#4982): sozo (sode'-zo). Also translated as make whole, heal, be whole.
- Faith (#4102): pistis. Also translated as assurance, believe, belief, those who believe, fidelity.
- Gift (#1435): doron. Also translated as present, offering.
- Works (#2041): ergon. Also translated as deed, doing, labor.
Ergon is the original Greek for the English word "works." It does not appear to be a very difficult, ambiguous, or confusing term. But what do the many people and churches who claim that works are not required perceive "works" to be?
Opinions vary. One group perceives works to mean the whole law in general. A second group perceives works as specific portions of God's law, which they look upon as being "Jewish" or"Old Covenant," or that they are just not willing to keep and teach. A third group, amazingly enough in their rejection of it, perceives this term as meaning works of charity in general!
Individuals or groups who choose to substitute the word "law" for the word "works" in Ephesians 2:8-9, and who thus say that New Testament Christians do not have to keep God's law, do not appear to mean it totally and literally. Instead, most of them reserve the right to choose which parts of the law they wish to keep ("You shall not kill," "You shall not steal," etc.) and those that they do not wish to keep ("Remember the Sabbath," holy days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, etc.). God has nowhere given authority to His people to be selective in these matters, thus this stance toward the law is inconsistent and even hypocritical.
The church of God has always agreed one hundred percent with those who say that salvation is a gift, and that a Christian cannot earn salvation by charitable works or by obedience to God's law. However, obedience is a condition we must meet before God will give us His free gift of salvation. New Testament evidence is overwhelming on the matter. Here are just a few verses:
» And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit, which God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:32)
» He who says, "I know him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:4)
» So He said to [the rich young ruler], "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17)
» If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9, does not say that works are not required at all. The purpose of his statement is to show that works do not save us, but that grace and faith do! In fact, the very next verse, verse 10, shows that God calls members of His church for the very purpose of performing good works: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
The apostle's language is very clear. God desires us to walk in good works, and He has prepared our spiritual educational process so that we will learn to do them. Doing good works in the name of Jesus Christ is a major part of the purpose for the life of each true Christian. We cannot truly be Christians without them!
Faith Without Works
Only by careful study of God's Word, the ultimate standard of thought, speech, and conduct, can we know what is right and wrong. We must follow our study with honest and truthful comparison of those words with our own lives. If we read the words of God and walk away, forgetting what we saw, we deceive ourselves. None of us compares favorably with what we read in Scripture, so we must make changes. James says our religion—our practice of God's way of life—is vain if we omit either the positive instructions (visiting widows and orphans) or the negative ones (removing the spots from our character).
Overcoming (Part 1): Self-Deception
James mentions "law" ten times in his epistle, and in each case it is the moral law. He has nothing but good to say about it. James, taught by Christ, exalts the law—he glorifies it, identifying it with the gospel.
In James 1, when speaking of the Word and the importance of hearing and doing it, he, in the same breath, speaks of looking into "the perfect law of liberty." James looks at the law as explained in the gospel—the gospel shows the law in its spirituality—as the guide of the true Christian who has entered into the spirit of the law or is keeping the spirit of the law as well as the letter.
Even in the Old Testament, as Psalms 19 and 119 specifically show, it was possible for spiritually-minded people to see the beauty of the law and find delight in its precepts.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
1 John 3:4
It is easy for us to think of sin only in terms of I John 3:4. It is, however, a good place to begin. Sin is directly connected to breaking laws. "Law," especially in the Old Testament, frequently means the broader term "instruction." Thus, we have more to consider as sin than just the breaking of a specific law. However, sin is not a complicated concept.
Numerous terms in both Old and New Testaments describe sin, but collectively they all give the same sense: to deviate from a way, path, or law; to fail to live up to a standard. We find two of these words, translated as "trespasses" and "sins," in Ephesians 2:1: "And you He has made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins."
Trespasses, from the Greek paraptoma, means "to go off a path, fall or slip aside." When it is applied to moral and ethical issues it means to deviate from the right way, to wander. Sins, the Greek hamartia, is generally associated with military usage and means to "miss the mark." It indicates failing to make a bull's-eye. In moral and ethical contexts, it means to fail of one's purpose, to go wrong, or to fail to live according to an accepted standard or ideal. Sin is the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.
The Hebrew equivalents of hamartia and paraptoma are chata and asham, respectively. In Hebrew, asham comes closest to meaning the actual breaking of a law; in Greek, it is anomos. Both of these will sometimes be translated "iniquity" or "lawlessness." (See E. W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible, appendices 44 and 128.)
When we understand the terms God inspired to describe sin, we can easily see why sin is so universal. Because the robber, murderer, drunkard, rapist, and child-abuser are so obviously evil, we readily agree that they are sinners. In our hearts we consider ourselves to be respectable citizens since we do none of these things. These terms, though, bring us face to face with the reality of sin—that it is not always obvious. Sin is not confined to external conduct. Sometimes it is buried within one's heart and very cleverly concealed from all but the most discerning.
The ministry has not invented sin; it is part of the territory Christianity covers. Christianity is a way of life from God that reaches into every facet of life. The central idea of sin is failure. We sin when we fail to live up to the standards of this way of life that God established and revealed through His prophets, apostles and Jesus Christ, the Chief Revelator.
As such, sin reaches into marital relationships, childrearing, cleanliness, clothing, hospitality, health, employment—even how we drive our automobiles. It involves itself in the entire gamut of human attitudes such as pride, envy, anger, hatred, greed, jealousy, resentment, depression, and bitterness. In the New Testament, the biblical writers always use hamartia in a moral and ethical sense, whether describing commission, omission, thought, feeling, word, or deed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
1 John 5:3
Romans 3 teaches us that law tells us our duty, that is, what we are obliged to do. It defines right and wrong. Combined with this is the wonderful Personality behind it: We find that the keeping these commands—His law—teaches us God's greatest attribute. The law does two things: It shows negative things and positive things. The negative is what sin—wrongdoing—is. The positive is love—the love of God.
His law is a reflection of His character in words. It points the way toward what we are to become. Answer this simple question: Does God call people to salvation and then throw away the road map? It is ridiculous to think such a thing.
The law has a Personality behind it—in terms of love. The law provides the basic outline, and then, when combined with the examples of God's living and acting in both Testaments, it presents a full picture of love. God's actions and Christ's example amplify and make practical what the law says in words.
One has to begin somewhere, and this the law does in providing us with its letter. Then there is its spirit, which is the magnification of the letter, but it does not do away with the law. The law, then, is not only the guideline to what is right and wrong, but the law is also the guideline—in words—to what love is.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 17)
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