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My Morning Devotion

Pastor Philemon, Kenya

As I was doing my morning devotion from Galatians Chapter 2: 17-21, the Holy Spirit opened up to me a new and exciting insight of the passage which I want to share with all my friends.

"But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." NASV95

"But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down.  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law––I stopped trying to meet all its requirements––so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” NLT

 To the Jew Paul’s gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ would remove all incentive for moral effort. In their eyes it would lead to a lower moral standard than under the Law of Moses. Therefore, even Christ would have only become ‘a minister of sin’. This, incidentally, is the argument which modern legalists (Neo-Judaists) also advance for the keeping of the law. But Paul recoils with horror from the blasphemy suggested in the argument that faith in Christ would be a gateway to sin. Paul’s countering argument is that: If, at the very moment while we say that we ourselves are justified by faith alone, we turn out to be preaching to others that “faith alone” is inadequate, but that they must keep the law as well, then that means that trusting in Christ is only leading them to sin because it excludes the law.

My Seventh-day Adventist background helps me a great deal to understand what Paul is saying above. The SDA argument is an exact replica of the modern legalists because to them we are saved by grace to keep the law as our moral guide. What they do not realize is that justification and sanctification are inseparably tied together in the grace of God which has saved us because being ‘put right’ with God involves a subsequent total change in our moral behavior (though this in itself could never commend us to God). The change is occasioned by the same grace that has saved us and not our obedience to the law (Titus 2: 11-14). The grace of God is our motivation for right living. Our moral conduct as Christians is never a product of law-keeping but that of God’s grace which has made us His children!

All that the legalists of all ages seek to do by their insistence on the law can be understood in two ways: either

To re-introduce law-keeping as an essential of salvation,

-- or---

To promote Law-keeping for protecting the salvation already possessed.

For Paul the one would amount to a painful re-building of the very structure of human ‘merit’ which had come crushing in ruins on the Damascus road, while the other is sheer nonsense because the law cannot protect what it cannot give. According to Paul, the best that the law can do is to show that I am a ‘law-breaker’. This is the whole function of the Law of Moses. But there is no path to salvation lying in that direction!

Paul’s ‘once-for-all’ conversion experience will allow no turning back. The law had brought him to the gates of death; he was in despair, a condemned criminal, with no hope. He accepted as far as the law was concerned. He would never again turn to it, hoping for a path of life. But he turned from it as a way of self-condemnation to God only in order to find the path of life offered by God in Christ.

You see friends; the mistake that neo-legalists are making is in trying to make peace or friendship with the law by making effort to keep it. This pacifies their consciences while cheating them that indeed they are now better because they are making effort. What they forget is that the law’s demands are infinitely impossible for sinners to attain because “the law brings punishment on those who try to obey it.” Rom.4: 15 NLT

To find peace and life in the faith of Jesus Paul went through the turbulent waters of life under the law. Now in Christ he has reached calmer waters and he can sit back to reflect more clearly on his spiritual experience which has made him turn away from the law (to which he had devoted the best part of his life). As a Jewish Rabbi he thought of himself as married to the Torah. So it was an act of unthinkable sacrilege and unfaithfulness to leave Torah for a new bride! That is why it is a monumental task for Paul to explain the breach of faith which he allegedly committed but it is in doing this that he gets to clarify the gospel to us as we read in Romans 7. This is why Galatians 2: 20 is one of the central passages in the book because it presents a very powerful argument for the total sufficiency and efficacy of the work of Christ. Its central thought is the complete breach with old ways of thought that is demanded by faith-committal to Christ. It is asserting that the ‘faith that justifies’ is total, in both extent and quantity.

So when Paul says that I am crucified with Christ he is making a simple statement of his relation to the law. It stands for a complete change in his way of looking at all things-a ‘reorientation of thought’. He means that, as the death of Christ marked a total change in the relationship of Christ to all things so it did for him. The cross was, for Christ, a complete break with this life. He had perfectly fulfilled the law; we have utterly failed. But for both Christ and us law is now no more. Henceforth, Paul is dead to all claims of the law to be able to commend him to God. In his earlier life, Paul had labored all his life under the nagging fear that perhaps in spite of all his rigorous observance of the law, he might not be able after all to win God’s favor. Now as he sees the cross of Christ, he realizes all the work of love and grace that was necessary to save him, he freely admits that this nagging fear was justified. Not only is it possible that he may fail to commend himself to God; it is actually impossible for him so to do. All his hopes vanish at this point and a lifetime of accumulation of ‘merit’ is wasted. Paul confesses himself a sinner like any Gentile and that marks the death of the ‘old man’, the last killing blow to pride and self-esteem. Paul has died – a very agonizing death for the proud self-righteous Pharisee! But this death has another side to it which is even more important: Beneath this death is a blessed peace and relief together with new freedom and joy coming out now that the old suppressed fear has been faced and acknowledged. This is what makes a return to the law as a means of ‘putting one right’ with God an utter impossibility to Paul.

From this point on it is important to note how Paul moves on to describe the new release of spiritual life and power. He says, Nevertheless I live.  Live how? Of course he lives – but it is Christ living in him now. As in the old days the law had filled his horizon and dominated his thought-life, so now it is Christ. Christ is the sole meaning of life for him now; every moment is passed in conscious dependency on Him, to whom he looks for everything. This is Christian faith; and it is intensely personal, both as regards subject and object. It is faith in God’s Son (linking the cross with the will of the Father) who loved Paul, and gave himself for Paul.

In conclusion, Paul’s attitude is one that is full of appreciation of the grace of God shown in Christ. But to act like the Judaizers is to declare God’s grace invalid or better still, to nullify it. This is rather obvious! If they are preaching a return to law-keeping, it can only be because they consider what God did on the cross as being ineffectual. Furthermore, if this is true, then Christ is dead in vain, His death was gratuitous (unwarranted, uncalled for, unjustified, unnecessary, unreasonable and superfluous); it achieved nothing. He might as well not have died. The reason and logic of this is incontrovertible. That is why I challenge Seventh-day Adventists and all Neo-Judaists on this point: If the law is still necessary for the Christian to know what is good for him to do and if doing that which the law as so pointed out as being good and valid helps to keep a Christian in his saved status with God and vice versa.

In other words, what is the position of the law with regard to the Gospel and Christians? Is it a “fifty-fifty” situation between the law and the Gospel as SDAs want believers to know and practice? Or is it one of mutual exclusiveness for salvation AND Christian living. The Scriptures teach that where faith is, the law is excluded.

Your brother in Christ,

Pr. Philemon