TBU: The Bible Unpacked: In-Depth Edition

I.  Jesus Christ and the Law’s Diminished Role

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Chapter 14  Part I

Jesus Christ and the Law’s Diminished Role

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The law was given to Israel through Moses – hence the term the “Mosaic Law”. It was what God’s covenant with Israel was based upon. (The contents of this law – including its provisions for dealing with sin – are discussed in the sections cross-referenced above.)

In order to be righteous before God, the Israelites had to continually follow this law, keeping all of its commands – something which they proved incapable of doing. But through Jesus Christ’s life and death, God has provided a new way of righteousness, for all people – leading to salvation. As a result of this, the role of the law has been profoundly changed.

Note that the term “the law” is used in a number of ways in the NT, but most commonly to refer to the Mosaic Law. The references to “the law” in verses in this section have been interpreted here as referring to the Mosaic Law.

Righteousness Not by Law, but Faith in Jesus Christ

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The Mosaic Law cannot bring perfection . . .

Heb 7:11  Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? ▤ 

The Levitical priesthood was an integral part of the law, and so closely associated with it.

Heb 7:18-19  For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. ▤ 

Heb 10:1  For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. ▤ 

Rom 8:3  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,g he condemned sin in the flesh, … ▤ 

g Or and as a sin offering

The last part of the verse clarifies that “what the law … could not do” was condemn sin. The law could not “do away with sin” (GNT), and so could not bring perfection.

. . . The law only exacerbates the problem of sin

Rom 4:15  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. ▤ 

The law clearly stipulates boundaries or rules which we must not break, but we inevitably do break them. So the law “brings wrath” because we face God’s wrath as the consequence of sinning and breaking the law. Without the law there is no “violation” (NASB, NRSV) of such rules and ensuing wrath.

Rom 5:13-14, 20  … for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. ▤ 20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, … ▤ 

Verse 13 indicates that with the law people are more accountable for sin, the reason being is that in sinning they are breaking commands that have been clearly specified as Adam did (v. 14). In view of this, the expression “to increase the trespass” (v. 20) may well mean that the law increased the seriousness of sin. Other possibilities are that this expression means that the law was added to: magnify sin, as in make it more apparent; or literally increase sin (cf. GNT). It may even encompass all these concepts. (For a fuller explanation see The primary purpose of the law is to make people aware of sin.)

Rom 7:5, 7-11  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. ▤ 7What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. ▤ 

The law actually stimulates sin, arousing sinful passions (v. 5), such as “all kinds of covetousness” (v. 8). In fact if it were not for the law, sin would be “a dead thing” (v. 8, GNT) – immaterial. The clause “when the commandment came” (v. 9) may refer to the introduction of the law which brought sin into the picture, but more often it is interpreted to mean Paul’s full realization of what the law meant in his own life. This realization caused sin to come to life in him, bringing his death (vv. 9b-11; cf. v. 5) – referring most likely either to provisional spiritual death or being under condemnation of death. Verse 1 appears to mean that the law allows sin the opportunity to deceive, as the law presents truth and – being contrary to the law – sin deceives us in regard to its truths.

1Cor 15:56  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. ▤ 

The law gives sin its power. For it is the law that makes sin transgression against God, i.e. violation of standards he has set. As such it gives sin the power to bring about condemnation (of sinners) and so bring death.

Gal 3:22  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. ▤ 

The reference to “the Scripture” primarily has the law in view. Under the law the people were effectively imprisoned by sin.

People are not justified or made righteous by obeying the law – but by faith in Jesus Christ . . .

See also:

God’s way now for us to be made righteous before him is through having faith in Jesus Christ. This primarily involves believing Jesus Christ to be (with what he has accomplished) the means of righteousness – and accordingly trusting in him for one’s own righteousness. In conjunction with this, faith in Jesus Christ encompasses believing what the Bible says about: who he is; his death and resurrection; and the outcomes of his mission. This is discussed further in Belief in Jesus Christ (I): General; and Belief in Jesus Christ (III): Outcomes.

Acts 13:38-39  Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39and by him everyone who believes is freedh from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. ▤ 

h Greek justified; twice in this verse

The two instances of “freed” in v. 39 appear to speak of being freed from the guilt of one’s sins – i.e. “justified” (cf. ESV text note).

Rom 3:20  For by works of the law no human beingi will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. ▤ 

i Greek flesh

Rom 9:30-33  What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousnessj did not succeed in reaching that law. 32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” ▤ 

j Greek a law of righteousness

Because Israel was intent on pursuing righteousness via the law and the associated “works” rather than by faith in Jesus Christ, they stumbled (v. 32) over him – the “stone” (vv. 32b-33a); i.e. they failed because they did not try to gain righteousness by the only means that it can be obtained. This is in contrast to the Gentiles (v. 30) and “whoever believes in him” (v. 33b). The latter is spoken of as not being “disappointed” (CEV, GNT, NCV, NLT), presumably regarding being made righteous through faith, and so not being ashamed – particularly before God.

Gal 2:16, 21  … yet we know that a person is not justifiedk by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. ▤ 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousnessl were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. ▤ 

k Or counted righteous (three times in verse 16); also verse 17

l Or justification

Gal 3:2-5, 10-12  Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected bym the flesh? 4Did you suffern so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— ▤ 10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”o 12But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” ▤ 

m Or now ending with

n Or experience

o Or The one who by faith is righteous will live

Although there is no mention in verses 2-5 of justification (or being made righteous), receiving the Holy Spirit is indicative of it – even alluding to it. In v. 10 Paul says that all who rely on observing the law to gain justification are cursed because no one is able to continually do everything written in it. In v. 11 Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to imply that one can only be justified by faith. Verse 12 has been included here as it makes the associated point that the inaccessible way of the law to justification and life is incompatible with the way of faith. The contrasting phrases – “live by them” (v. 12b) and “live by faith” (v. 11b) – indicate that the law stipulates that we will live by doing the things it says, whereas the way of faith stipulates that we will live by faith. The two paths are diverse and in fact incompatible.

Gal 3:21b-22  For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. ▤ 

By asserting that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin” (v. 22) Paul affirms that righteousness certainly did not come by the law, as v. 21b implies. The “promise” (v. 22) is no doubt inclusive of righteousness (v. 21), but probably also incorporates associated concepts, notably life (v. 21) and salvation.

Gal 5:4-5  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justifiedp by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. ▤ 

p Or counted righteous

The “hope of righteousness” (v. 5) is either referring to being pronounced right with God on Judgment Day, or being made righteous in ourselves (i.e. the consummation of our sanctification) following Christ’s return. In conjunction with being justified by faith and so even now viewed by God as righteous, we also await by faith these final aspects of “righteousness”.

Heb 6:1  Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, … ▤ 

The writer is actually rebuking his readers for failing to build on elementary Christian beliefs, with them not having moved on to more advanced aspects. In doing so he speaks of repentance “from dead works” together with faith as being elementary and foundational aspects of Christianity. The term “dead works” is likely a reference to trying to obtain righteousness by works.

. . . This is the way of the righteousness from God, who justifies by faith – not by law

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Rom 1:17  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,q as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”r ▤ 

q Or beginning and ending in faith

r Or The one who by faith is righteous shall live

The phrase “the righteousness of God” – as with similar expressions in the following passages – likely primarily means “righteousness from God”, whereby people can be deemed righteousness in his sight. It may also point to God’s own righteousness in effecting this righteousness in a way which satisfies his own justice and holiness. The expression “from faith for faith” appears to mean “through faith from beginning to end” (GNT; cf. NCV, NIV, NLT). Another possible meaning is “both springing from faith and leading to faith [disclosed through the way of faith that arouses to more faith]” (AMP). The quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 (as with Galatians 3:11 in the previous subsection) is used by Paul to support his assertion that one can only be deemed righteous by faith, implying by it that because of their faith the righteous will live.

Rom 3:21-22a, 28-30  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. ▤ 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. ▤ 

Note that v. 21 indicates that in fact the law itself testifies to this “righteousness of God … manifested apart from the law”.

Rom 10:1-10  Brothers,s my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.t 5For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ▤ 

s Or Brothers and sisters

t Or end of the law, that everyone who believes may be justified

The Jews’ zeal in their attempt to establish their righteousness in their own way, was not acting in accordance with knowledge of God’s righteousness (vv. 2-3). Verse 4 indicates that through Jesus Christ, God’s righteousness (cf. v. 3) is now gained by belief or faith, and that the law is no longer a valid means of gaining righteousness before God. The basic thrust of verses 6-8 is that the righteousness that is by faith – in contrast to that which is by the law – is not inaccessible or too difficult. The references to bringing “Christ down” (v. 6) and bringing him “up from the dead” (v. 7) most likely are alluding to his incarnation and resurrection. These have already taken place and been achieved; nothing else needs to be done to gain righteousness and justification but to confess and believe (vv. 9-10).

Phil 3:3-9  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of Godu and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh4though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,v blameless. 7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith ▤ 

u Some manuscripts God in spirit

v Greek in the law

The expression “put no confidence in the flesh” (v. 3) refers to not relying on our own human effort to gain “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law” (v. 9). In vv. 7-9, Paul says that he had regarded the things he listed in vv. 5-6 as credit towards acquiring righteousness by the law, but now realized that they were in fact useless, incompatible with God’s way to righteousness – which is by faith in Christ (v. 9).

  • We are to believe in God who justifies and credits righteousness apart from any works of our own:

Rom 4:5-8  And to the one who does not work but believes inw him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” ▤ 

w Or but trusts; compare verse 24

In the quotation in vv. 7-8 (Ps 32:1-2), David speaks of forgiveness of sins – and thus righteousness – which did not come through works of the law. David was forgiven when he confessed his sin (Ps 32:5), with his words (Ps 32:1-2, 5) being indicative of his faith. Note that v. 24 in the following subsection similarly speaks of righteousness being counted to those who believe in God.

By faith Abraham was declared righteous and received the promise – and so will all who emulate him

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In believing God’s promises, Abraham was credited with righteousness – and received the promises. Paul maintains that likewise those who believe what God has said/promised regarding righteousness by faith – having faith in Jesus Christ – will be credited with righteousness. Additionally, with their belief – and consequent righteousness – showing them to be children of Abraham in a spiritual sense, they become heirs of the promise made to Abraham (cf. Rom 4:13 ).

Note that just as Abraham was declared righteous by belief or faith, similarly Hebrews 11 speaks of Abel’s (v. 4) and Noah’s (v. 7) righteousness also coming by faith – “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. …  7By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”  This also appears to be the case in the example of Enoch (v. 5), who because of his faith “was commended as having pleased God.”

Rom 4:2-3  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” ▤ 

The phrase “but not before God” (v. 2) may be meaning that if the prior supposition was true – that he was justified by works – Abraham could still not boast before God (cf. CEV). Alternatively it may mean that this supposition was not true in God’s eyes (cf. NCV, NLT). This second alternative is consistent with v. 3, which by implication refutes the supposition.

Rom 4:9-12  Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. ▤ 

Rom 4:13-24  For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, … ▤ 

The promise that Abraham “would be heir of the world” (v. 13) in the context may be alluding to Abraham being the father of all believers (vv. 11-12 ; v. 16) – who like him would be granted righteousness by faith – i.e. “the father of many nations” (vv. 17, 18), Gentiles as well as Jews. Alternatively, it could be referring to Abraham and his spiritual offspring inheriting the earth (cf. Matt 5:5) – in the form of the world to come – as an ultimate fulfillment or extension of the promise to Abraham that he would inherit the land of Canaan.

Regarding v. 16, the promise comes by faith to all Abraham’s spiritual offspring, both believing Jews (“the adherent of the law”) and Gentiles who have faith like Abraham did. In v. 20, the expression “he grew strong in his faith” means either: “his faith grew stronger” (NLT); or “His faith made him strong” (CEV; cf. AMP, GNT).

Gal 3:5-9, 13-14  Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith6just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justifyx the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. ▤ 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirity through faith. ▤ 

x Or count righteous; also verses 11, 24

y Greek receive the promise of the Spirit

Abraham by his example (v. 6) leads the way to righteousness by faith, and so all who have faith are likewise blessed through him (v. 8) and along with him (v. 9). Verse 14 indicates that by Christ’s redemptive work (v. 13) the blessing given to Abraham of righteousness through faith has been extended to the Gentiles – along with the associated outcome of faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Note that the phrase “the promised Spirit” may be associating the gift of the Holy Spirit with the promise (or promises) made to Abraham, with the Spirit being an integral part of the fulfillment of the promise.

  • The promise to Abraham, and his “offspring”, was not done away with by the law:

Gal 3:15-18, 29  To give a human example, brothers:z even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. ▤ 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. ▤ 

z Or brothers and sisters

God’s covenant with Abraham was not superseded by the later introduction of the law (v. 17; cf. v. 15). Thus the covenant to Abraham and his “offspring” – with its promises – still stands. Due to their association with Christ – who is Abraham’s “offspring” (v. 16) – believers are also counted as Abraham’s seed (v. 29) or spiritual offspring and so heirs of the “promise” (v. 29) or promises (v. 16) made to him.

With these references to the “promise” Paul may have primarily in view justification by faith (cf. vv. 5-9 ; v. 24). (Other possibilities are the promise of the Spirit by faith, as per v. 14 above; or even various or all of the promises made to Abraham, cf. v. 16, 21.) The references to the “promise” and “promises” at least allude to faith and righteousness, as it was because of faith and the righteousness that comes by faith that Abraham received the promise (cf. Rom 4:13, 16 ). So Paul appears to imply that the law did not set aside faith as the basis for righteousness; the principle still applies for those who have faith in and belong to Christ – and so are of Abraham’s “offspring” (v. 29).

One’s righteous standing is no reason to boast, as it is not due to what one does – but to faith

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Rom 3:27-28  Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. ▤ 

We have no reason to boast because we cannot ourselves earn justification, through observing the law; our justification is only by faith. Note that “the law of faith” is akin to “the way of faith” (NCV™).

Eph 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ▤ 

Rom 11:17-21  But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing roota of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. ▤ 

a Greek root of richness; some manuscripts richness

The natural “olive root” represents Israel, particularly the patriarchs with whom Israel’s relationship with God was established. The “wild olive shoot” represents Gentile believers accepted into “Israel”, God’s people. Gentile believers should not be arrogant toward or boast over (cf. AMP, NCV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV) Israel in being of God’s people because: they do not stand on their own (vv. 17-18); it is only by faith that they stand at all (v. 20); and they can be broken off too (v. 21).

  • There is nothing special about believers when God calls them, so they cannot boast as it is only because of God that they are in Jesus Christ:

1Cor 1:26-31  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,b not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human beingc might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of himd you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” ▤ 

b Greek according to the flesh

c Greek no flesh

d Greek And from him

In v. 28 Paul expands on the previous verse, saying that God has chosen the lowly, the despised and those seen as nothing, “to reduce to nothing” (NRSV) the things that are important in the eyes of the world – so that no one can be in a position to boast before him (v. 29), as it is nothing to do with what they were. Rather it is because of God alone that believers are in Christ, by whom they have their righteousness – along with sanctification and redemption (v. 30). So no one can boast about their standing, for it is in no way due to ourselves; one can only rightfully boast in God alone (v. 31).

Pray for persecuted Christians

Salvation by Grace, through Jesus Christ

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Bear in mind that in this section, “works” refers to things one does to attempt to work for or earn righteousness and salvation. This includes good deeds but mainly has in view actions specifically aimed at fulfilling the law’s demands. Note that the following subsections all speak of aspects of God’s salvation, as per the theme of this section.

God chooses and calls people by his grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ – not because of works

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That God would choose some people and not others has been a subject of great debate and frustration. But the Bible never gives any indication that this is in any way unjust; to the contrary, as shown in the references below, it takes the view that the fact that God would choose any at all is indeed a reflection of his glorious grace. For further discussion, see the introductory comment on Prologue: God Draws People to Himself.

Eph 1:4-6  … even as he [God] chose us in him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined use for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. ▤ 

e Or before him in love, having predestined us

Gal 1:6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— ▤ 

In essence this may be referring to God calling people “by his grace through Christ” (NCV™; cf. CEV, NLT) – his grace expressed in Christ. This is supported by the fact that some manuscripts do not refer to Christ (cf. CEV and text note, GNT and text note).

Gal 1:15  But when he who had set me apart before I was born,f and who called me by his grace, … ▤ 

f Greek set me apart from my mother’s womb

The reference to being called by grace may be speaking of Paul’s conversion – hence the verse’s inclusion here. Alternatively his apostolic work (cf. v. 16, GNT, NCV) may primarily be in view. Possibly Paul is not intending to distinguish between the two.

1Pet 5:10  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ▤ 

1Pet 2:9-10  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ▤ 

By God’s mercy (v. 10b), believers are “a chosen race”, “called… out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9).

Rom 9:16  So then it depends not on human will or exertion,g but on God, who has mercy. ▤ 

g Greek not of him who wills or runs

Here “it” refers to God’s choice of persons to be his people (cf. vv. 11-12). This and the following verses (11:5-6; 2Tim 1:9) speak not only of God’s choice of persons being due to God’s mercy or grace, but also indicate that it is not due to our own efforts or works.

Rom 11:5-6  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. ▤ 

The “remnant” refers to those that God had chosen from among the largely unbelieving Jewish nation.

2Tim 1:9  … [God] who saved us and called us toh a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,i ▤ 

h Or with

i Greek before times eternal

God leads people to respond to him by his grace

See also:

Acts 11:21-23  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, … ▤ 

Acts 18:27  And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, … ▤ 

Rom 2:4  Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? ▤ 

God’s kindness is akin to his grace, which is often described as his “undeserved kindness”.

2Cor 4:15  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. ▤ 

This is speaking of God’s grace being extended to people to bring them (cf. NCV, NLT) to him.

1Tim 1:13-14  … though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. ▤ 

Particularly in light of v. 13, the clause “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me” (v. 14) would appear to primarily have in view the effecting of Paul’s salvation. In line with this, the addition of the following phrase – “with the faith” – points to Paul’s faith being a product of the aforementioned grace. (Note that it is Jesus Christ’s grace that is referred to here.)

People are justified and made righteous by God’s grace, through Jesus Christ – not by law

Rom 3:22b-24  For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, … ▤ 

Rom 5:1-2  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, wej have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faithk into this grace in which we stand, and wel rejoicem in hope of the glory of God. ▤ 

j Some manuscripts let us

k Some manuscripts omit by faith

l Or let us; also verse 3

m Or boast; also verses 3, 11

The “grace in which we stand” quite probably is referring to believers being justified and at peace with God (v. 1), a position in which they stand by grace, through Jesus Christ.

Rom 5:15-21  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18Therefore, as one trespassn led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousnesso leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ▤ 

n Or the trespass of one

o Or the act of righteousness of one

In vv. 15-16 “the free gift”, evoked by grace, primarily refers to “the free gift of righteousness” (v. 17). Verses 18-19 speak further of this justification and righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. In vv. 20-21 grace is again associated with righteousness. Paul says that despite the proliferation of sin, God’s grace has overcome it (v. 20), for in providing righteousness, God’s grace brings eternal life through Jesus Christ (v. 21; cf. vv. 17-18).

2Cor 5:216:1  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ▤  6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ▤ 

In 6:1, Paul urges the Corinthians not to waste the grace of God, his grace manifested in making people righteous through Jesus Christ (5:21).

Titus 3:7  … so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. ▤ 

Gal 2:21  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousnessp were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. ▤ 

p Or justification

Righteousness comes by God’s grace – by what Jesus Christ’s death accomplished – not through abiding by the law. The following reference (5:4) by implication makes the same point about justification, which is of course akin to righteousness.

Gal 5:4  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justifiedq by the law; you have fallen away from grace. ▤ 

q Or counted righteous

  • It is God who justifies:

Rom 8:30, 33  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. ▤ 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. ▤ 

People are saved by God’s grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ . . .

See also:

Titus 2:11  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, … ▤ 

Eph 1:7-8  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight … ▤ 

Jesus Christ appears to be in view in the first part of v. 7, but “his grace, 8which he lavished upon us” may well be speaking of God and God’s grace (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT).

Eph 2:4-8  Butr God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, … ▤ 

r Or And

In v. 7, “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” has largely in view the consummate salvation of “the coming ages” (v. 7a) and all the blessings associated with it.

2Tim 1:9  … [God] who saved us and called us tos a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,t … ▤ 

s Or with

t Greek before times eternal

1Pet 1:3, 10  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, ▤ 10Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, … ▤ 

In v. 10, “the grace that was to be yours” refers to “this salvation” – which has been provided by God’s grace. Aspects of this salvation are described in v. 3, where it is likewise spoken of as the product of his “great mercy”.

Rom 4:16  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, … ▤ 

In regard to “the promise” – which is associated with salvation and comes by grace – see the earlier comment on Romans 4:11-24 in By faith Abraham was declared righteous and received the promise – and so will all who emulate him.

2Cor 6:2  For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. ▤ 

This “favorable time” concerns the expression of God’s favor. His favor corresponds to his grace (cf. v. 1 ) by which he has provided the present opportunity of salvation, through Jesus Christ (cf. 2Cor 5:21 ).

Luke 1:76-79  And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit usu from on high 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. ▤ 

u Or when the sunrise shall dawn upon us; some manuscripts since the sunrise has visited us

Because of “the tender mercy of our God” (v. 78a), God has provided people with “salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (v. 77) – by the coming of Jesus Christ, “the sunrise” (v. 78b). Verse 79 speaks of aspects of this salvation. The clause “those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” probably primarily refers to the Gentiles, but may denote both Jews and Gentiles living in the darkness of their sins. Peace with God is paramount in the final phrase.

. . . People are saved by God’s grace and mercy rather than by works and the law

Eph 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ▤ 

Note that the “gift of God” (v. 8) may be referring either to faith in particular or to the whole process of being saved.

2Tim 1:9a  … who saved us and called us tov a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace … ▤ 

v Or with

Titus 3:4-5  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, … ▤ 

Acts 15:10-11  Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. ▤ 

In v. 10 Peter is arguing against trying to put the Gentile disciples under the yoke of the law, a yoke that the Jews had never been able to carry – i.e. live up to. Verse 1 refers to the grace of Jesus Christ, which is at one in purpose with and in many ways synonymous with the grace of God.

  • It was by God’s grace that Jesus died for everyone:

Heb 2:9  But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. ▤ 

Eternal life is a gift from God, through Jesus Christ

See also:

The fact that eternal life is indeed a gift from God – through the gift of his Son – is illustrative of salvation being of God’s grace.

Rom 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ▤ 

1Jn 5:11  And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. ▤ 

John 4:10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” ▤ 

The “gift of God” probably refers to eternal life, although some think it refers to Jesus as the one through whom eternal life comes. Jesus gives spiritual “living water” – which results in eternal life. Note that in Jesus’ use here of “water”, some commentators see a possible allusion to the Holy Spirit (cf. John 7:38-39).

Rev 22:17  The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. ▤ 

The term “water of life” appears to reflect Jesus’ use of “living water” (cf. John 4:10 ) in alluding to eternal life. It is “without price”, indicative of it being a gift.

  • God’s free gift of righteousness, by grace, that brings life:

Rom 5:15-17  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. ▤ 

Note that similarly Romans 3:24 speaks of how people “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Note: Jesus Christ’s grace and mercy are integral to salvation

See also:

Acts 15:11  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. ▤ 

2Cor 8:9  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. ▤ 

Gal 1:6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— ▤ 

For comment, see the comment on Gal 1:6 – under God chooses and calls people by his grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ – not because of works.

1Tim 1:12-16  I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. ▤ 

Paul typically uses “Lord” (cf. 2Tim 1:18 ) in reference to Jesus Christ rather than to God. This fact coupled with the context suggests that the “grace of our Lord” (v. 14) is speaking of Jesus Christ’s grace. Of course God’s grace (and mercy) and Jesus Christ’s grace (and mercy) are intertwined, and so a number of commentators refer to God’s grace when discussing v. 14.

2Tim 1:18  … may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. ▤ 

Jude 1:21  … keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. ▤ 

Acts 2:46-47  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. ▤ 

The reference to God earlier in the verse suggests that “the Lord” (v. 47) may well be speaking of Jesus Christ. His grace and mercy is apparent in Luke saying that he “added” believers to the church, indicating that the new members were saved on Christ’s initiative rather than their own.

Pray for persecuted Christians

Release from the Law through Jesus Christ

See also:

This section looks at how Jesus Christ has fully realized the key objectives of the Mosaic Law, and how as a result God’s people have been released from the law.

The most notable implication of this release is that God’s people have been freed from bondage to the law as the means of obtaining righteousness and being made holy. Additionally, other major aspects of the law are no longer applicable to God’s people. There is also a change of focus in their lives, with them living their lives primarily by faith and in step with the Holy Spirit (cf. Living Free of the Law and Sin – by the Spirit) – rather than being preoccupied with the requirements of the law. (See also Instead of being under the law, believers are under grace and Jesus Christ’s law, later in this section.)

Note that the law’s commands that are applicable to the believer’s new spiritual relationship with God or to their relationships with other people, are still very much relevant in that they give guidance in how to please God (cf. The Relevance of the Law).

Jesus Christ fully realized what the law had worked towards

See also:

Jesus Christ fully realized what the law had worked towards, primarily the removal of sin and making God’s people holy. In conjunction with this, he realized the corresponding goal of salvation.

Heb 10:1, 10-14  For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. ▤ 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christw had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. ▤ 

w Greek this one

The law’s work toward making God’s people holy merely foreshadowed the “realities” (v. 1) that would be realized through Jesus Christ. The law’s sacrifices for sin were not sufficient to comprehensively deal with sin and make people perfect (vv. 1, 11). But by the sacrifice of himself Jesus Christ fulfilled the primary goal that the law with its sin offerings pointed towards – the consummate removal of sins (v. 12), sanctifying God’s people (vv. 10, 14).

Heb 7:18-19, 25-27  For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. ▤ 25Consequently, he [Christ] is able to save to the uttermostx those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. ▤ 

x That is, completely; or at all times

The law with its priesthood had worked towards making God’s people perfect (vv. 18-19; cf. v. 11) and to remove sin (v. 27) – though it could not effectively do so. Verses 25-27 point to the fact that this goal has been realized by Jesus Christ, in sacrificing for sins once for all (v. 27) and achieving the corresponding goal of completely saving God’s people (v. 25; cf. Heb 9:12 ). Note that “a former commandment” (v. 18) may refer in particular to priests of the Levitical priesthood becoming priests “on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent” (v. 16). In any case it was an aspect of the law which “made nothing perfect” (v. 19).

Heb 9:6-14  These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9(which is symbolic for the present age).y According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. 11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,z then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifya for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourb conscience from dead works to serve the living God. ▤ 

y Or which is symbolic for the age then present

z Some manuscripts good things to come

a Or For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies

b Some manuscripts your

Jesus Christ fully realized the efforts made under the law’s regulations to remove sin and secure holiness for God’s people – to the extent that they may now enter God’s presence. Under the law the high priest alone entered the earthly Most Holy Place – the second inner room of the sanctuary – with the blood of sacrifices made for sin (v. 7). This indicated that the sacrifices ultimately were not able to clear the people’s consciences, for them themselves to be able to enter God’s presence (vv. 8-9). But by his own blood Jesus Christ entered God’s very presence in heaven to obtain eternal redemption (v. 12) and realize true inner cleansing for God’s people (vv. 13-14). As such they may serve God (v. 14b), having been made holy – with the implication that Jesus Christ’s work has opened the way into God’s presence (v. 8) for all God’s people. Note that in vv. 9-10 two contrasting eras are referred to – “the present age” (v. 9) and “the time of reformation” (v. 10). These appear to refer respectively to: the old order under the Levitical priesthood (cf. text note) and the new order inaugurated by what Christ has done.

Col 2:11  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, … ▤ 

Circumcision was a key aspect of the Mosaic Law, signifying adherence to the law as a whole. Arguably the suggestion here is that circumcision symbolizes the removal of sin, with faultless obedience to the law meaning that sin has been removed from one’s life. However such complete obedience to the law is impossible. But in Jesus Christ God’s people have had the controlling power of the sinful nature cut off, through what Christ has done – “the circumcision of Christ” (v. 11) – making them holy. As such, Jesus Christ realized what circumcision symbolizes.

John 1:17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. ▤ 

God’s grace and a fuller revelation of truth came through Jesus Christ. The verse may allude to the fact that with this “grace and truth” Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law’s objectives of effecting holiness and salvation.

  • Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets:

Matt 5:17-18  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. ▤ 

There are differing views as to what Jesus meant by saying he had come “to fulfill” (v. 17) the Law and the Prophets. It involves the fact that they pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and that he would do or “bring about” (NCV™) that of which they spoke. This includes him fully realizing the holiness and righteousness before God that the law had worked towards but could not accomplish, as well as fulfilling other prophecies related to the Messiah and his work. Other things that some commentators suggest that “to fulfill” the law entails are: expounding God’s laws so as to “give them their full meaning” (CEV; cf. vv. 21-22a, 27-28, 31-35, 38-39, 43-44); and fulfilling the law’s requirements by perfectly obeying all of it.

The expression “until all is accomplished” (v. 18) refers to Jesus fulfilling “everything” of which the law and the prophets spoke – presumably including the consummation of his work at the end of the age.

So through Jesus Christ believers have been released from the law

See also:

Rom 7:1, 4-6  Or do you not know, brothersc—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? ▤ 4Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.d ▤ 

c Or brothers and sisters; also verse 4

d Greek of the letter

This refers to the concept of believers being in or united with Jesus Christ, in a spiritual sense. As such, through Jesus Christ’s death and because of its implications, believers have themselves “died as far as the law is concerned” (NIrV®, v. 4; cf. Gal 2:19 ). In v. 6, “that which held us captive” is a reference to the law (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NLT).

Rom 10:4  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.e ▤ 

e Or end of the law, that everyone who believes may be justified

The assertion that Christ is the “end” of the law may mean that he was the “goal” of the law, that it would have its fulfillment in him. But it could well instead mean that he “ended the law” (NCV™, cf. CEV, GNT), instituting righteousness by belief (and the new way of living by the Holy Spirit). The two interpretations are actually compatible: as the “goal” or focal point of the law, Jesus Christ has come and fulfilled it, and so has completed its work – thus ending it.

Gal 2:19  For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. ▤ 

Believers have died to the law so as to live for God, freer to serve him more effectively. In saying that “through the law” he died to the law, Paul may be meaning that in accordance with the law and the penalty of death that it demands for sin, he has died – in being crucified with Christ (v. 20) – and by dying he has been released from the realm of the law. Alternatively Paul may have in view the law’s role in leading one to Christ, in whom one has died to the law.

Gal 3:19, 23-25  Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring [Jesus] should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. ▤ 23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, … ▤ 

The law was only ever to be the authority over God’s people until Jesus Christ came, when faith would supersede it as the way for God’s people to be justified.

Gal 4:1-5  I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave,f though he is the owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principlesg of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. ▤ 

f Greek bondservant; also verse 7

g Or elemental spirits; also verse 9

One direct result of Christ coming “to redeem those who were under the law” (v. 5), is that we are now no longer under the law. Regarding v. 3, there is debate over the meaning of the “elementary principles” of the world. The immediate context suggests that v. 3 is speaking of people being in slavery to the “rules” (NCV™) of this world – primarily the Mosaic Law (cf. AMP.), from which Christ has redeemed or set them free (vv. 4-5). However the Greek can also be translated as “elemental spirits” (cf. text note). This correlates well with v. 8 (“you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods”), although v. 8 is speaking more specifically of the Galatians’ own prior predicament, which does not appear to be the case with v. 3.

Gal 4:21-26, 30-31; 5:1  Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;h she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. ▤ 30But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. ▤  5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ▤ 

h Some manuscripts For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia

In contrast to those under the old covenant, under the new covenant God’s people are free from being enslaved to the law – the “yoke of slavery” (5:1). “Cast out the slave woman and her son” (v. 30) is a call for Paul’s readers to rid themselves of legalistic adherence to the law and of those who propagate this.

1Cor 9:20  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. ▤ 

Gal 2:4  Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery ▤ 

The “false brothers” – unenlightened as to the freedom from the law which Paul and his companions had in Christ – wanted to make them slaves again to the law. Thus this verse supports the assertion that through Christ believers have been released from the law.

  • The Law was in force only until John’s ministry:

Luke 16:16  The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.i ▤ 

i Or everyone is forcefully urged into it

The Law was in force until John the Baptist’s ministry, proclaimed along with the teaching of the Prophets. John’s ministry was preparatory to that of Jesus, who began the proclamation of the kingdom of God, superseding the Law and the Prophets in prominence.

With Jesus Christ’s once and for all sacrifice, there is no longer any need to sacrifice for sin

Note that this and the following two subsections speak of aspects of the law from which believers have been released.

Heb 7:27  He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. ▤ 

Heb 9:6-14  These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9(which is symbolic for the present age).j According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. 11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,k then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyl for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourm conscience from dead works to serve the living God. ▤ 

j Or which is symbolic for the age then present

k Some manuscripts good things to come

l Or For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies

m Some manuscripts your

The offerings for sin and uncleanness (vv. 7, 9) were “imposed until the time of reformation” (v. 10). They no longer apply under “the new order” (v. 10, NIV), due to what Jesus Christ’s sacrifice has accomplished (vv. 12, 14). For as v. 12 indicates, Jesus Christ sacrificed himself before God, for our sins – once and for all – thus “securing eternal redemption”. Note that “dead works” (v. 14) appears to be inclusive of – or even primarily speaking of – the offering of sacrifices, further implying that they are no longer needed.

Heb 9:26b-28  But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. ▤ 

Verse 26b implies that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for sin once and for all did away with sin, and the need to sacrifice for it. The first part of v. 28 also suggests this and what follows further alludes to it, speaking of Jesus Christ coming again but “not to deal with sin”.

Heb 10:3-18  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5Consequently, when Christn came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” 8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christo had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. ▤ 

n Greek he

o Greek this one

The OT sacrifices were ineffective in dealing with sin (vv. 3-4, 11). As such they ultimately were not desired by God or pleasing to him (vv. 5-6, 8), a standing which anticipates their redundancy. Later in accordance with God’s will, Jesus Christ set aside the first covenant with its sacrifices for sin (v. 9), through the once and for all sacrifice of himself for sin (vv. 10, 12, 14). This means that God’s people are now sanctified (vv. 10, 14) and forgiven (vv. 17-18a), and so “there is no longer any offering for sin” (v. 18b).

The regulations and rituals of the law are no longer applicable . . .

See also:

Acts 10:28  And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. ▤ 

Aspects of the law that distinguished Jews from other peoples – such as food regulations and other Jewish customs (cf. Gal 2:14 ) – meant that Jews had to largely be separate from Gentiles (cf. Gal 2:12-13 ). But God had shown Peter that such regulations and corresponding differentiations between Jews and Gentiles were no longer applicable (cf. Acts 10:9-16 ).

Rom 14:5  One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. ▤ 

Paul is primarily referring to the special days set aside by the law for special observances. The verse indicates that keeping such days for special observances is not mandatory for Christians.

Gal 4:9-10  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years! ▤ 

In v. 10 Paul may well be referring to the Galatians wrongly observing regulations of the law as mirroring their past pagan observances (cf. v. 8) – hence the inclusion of these verses here. Alternatively Paul may have the actual pagan observances themselves in view.

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. ▤ 

Similarly 6:15 says, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”

Eph 2:14-15  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, … ▤ 

The law with its various regulations and rituals (v. 15a) given to the Jews, distinguished and separated the Jews from the Gentiles. By abolishing it (or its former role) through his death, Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier and associated hostility between Jews and Gentiles (v. 14).

Col 2:13-14, 16-17  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. ▤ 16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. ▤ 

In v. 14, “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” appears to portray a record of our sins with the corresponding “legal demands” of the law which we have broken. Paul may be implying that Christ cancelled not only our sins but also the “legal demands” of the law. Verses 16-17 are saying that the various aspects of the old covenant mentioned (v. 16) merely foreshadowed what was to come with Christ (v. 17). So there is now no longer any binding requirement to observe such regulations – in accordance with what God has done through Christ (vv. 13-14).

Heb 7:15-19  This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 18For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. ▤ 

The former commandment that is set aside (v. 18) is most likely that requiring the priests to be descendants of Aaron, the legal requirement referred to in v. 16. The Aaronic priesthood and its functions ultimately proved to be weak and useless (v. 18), for in conjunction with them the law could not bring perfection (v. 19). So the Aaronic priesthood is no longer applicable to God’s people, who now have a priest from a different order with a permanent priesthood (v. 17).

Gal 2:11-14  But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” ▤ 

By their action (vv. 12-13) Peter and other Jews were adhering to Jewish ways based on the law, pandering to the views of “the circumcision party” (v. 12). As such, their action wrongly implied that the Gentiles should likewise follow Jewish customs (v. 14b) based on the law. The implication is that such Jewish customs based on the law are not applicable to Christians.

. . . Believers are released from the food regulations of the law

See also:

The distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals existed since Noah’s time (cf. Gen 7:2). Animals that were designated “clean” could be eaten and were used in sacrifices, in contrast to “unclean” animals. The restrictions on not eating “unclean” animals were included in the OT law (as per the subsection cross-referenced above). Note that in regard to believers being permitted to eat food previously sacrificed to idols, see . . . Do not do anything that will cause another to “stumble”.

Mark 7:14-19  And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”p 17And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”q (Thus he declared all foods clean.) ▤ 

p Some manuscripts add verse 16: If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear

q Greek goes out into the latrine

Acts 10:9-16  The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hourr to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. ▤ 

r That is, noon

Note that the vision had a deeper meaning than just illustrating that believers are free of restrictions concerning “unclean” foods. In terms of God’s people, one was no longer to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles (cf. v. 28 ) – nor adhere to the accompanying differential practices of the law, of which food restrictions was one of the most prominent.

Rom 14:3, 14, 20  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. ▤ 14I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. ▤ 20Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. ▤ 

Note that here Paul makes allowance for those with weak consciences to abstain from eating certain foods. Food previously sacrificed to idols may have been the background to the discussion, rather than simply the law’s food regulations.

Heb 13:9-10  Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. ▤ 

Like the other verses in this subsection, this concerns regulations regarding particular foods. However, rather than forbidding certain foods, the false teaching in question here advocated eating certain “ceremonial foods” (v. 9). In light of the reference in v. 10 to priests, the “teachings” and the “ceremonial foods” (NIV®) may primarily be referring to teachings propagating certain food regulations of the law. However, rules regarding foods were also common in other religions and cults, and the “diverse and strange teachings” may have instead concerned such things.

The “altar” (v. 10) seems to refer to Christ’s sacrifice – or the cross, being the “altar” on which he was sacrificed. The phrase “no right to eat” (v. 10) most likely somewhat ironically alludes to the regulations regarding eating and food under the law. Thus v. 10 would appear to teach – in addition to believers not needing to follow the law’s food regulations (v. 9) – that those who do legalistically adhere to the law, with its regulations, have no share in Christ’s sacrifice and the blessings it brings.

Matt 15:1-2, 20  Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” ▤  … [Jesus:] 20These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” ▤ 

Here it is not actually food regulations of the law that are being spoken of as unnecessary, but rather the related practice of washing hands before eating. This did not actually come directly from the law, but apparently had been derived from it by Jewish religious leaders and so had become a religious tradition.

  • All food is created by God and so is good – and to be received with thanksgiving:

1Tim 4:1-5  Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. ▤ 

Ascetic teaching rather than the law is in question here – but the principles outlined are applicable to this subsection. In v. 5 “prayer” may well refer to giving thanks for food before meals, and possibly “the word of God” may then denote Scripture used in giving thanks. Alternatively, the “word of God” could be referring to teaching in Scripture regarding all food being acceptable – notably the above references.

Instead of being under the law, believers are under grace and Jesus Christ’s law

See also:

Believers are not under the law but “under grace”. By grace righteousness and salvation are not only gained (cf. Titus 2:11 ), as discussed earlier, but are also maintained. For in his grace God enables believers to live godly lives (cf. Titus 2:12 ) and continues to provide for forgiveness when they do sin (cf. comment on Acts 13:43 ). Accordingly, believers are to rely on God’s grace both in striving to please God and for forgiveness.

Rom 6:14-15  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! ▤ 

Titus 2:11-12  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, … ▤ 

God’s people are to comply with training/teaching that has come through or resulted from God’s grace.

Acts 13:43  And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. ▤ 

Continuing in the realm of God’s grace involves continuing to be faithful to him, thus remaining under God’s grace for our righteous status before him.

1Pet 5:12  By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. ▤ 

The teaching contained in Peter’s letter was – or at least reflected and was based on – “the true grace of God”, in which Peter encouraged his readers to stand firm.

Rom 11:22  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. ▤ 

Many commentators see Paul here as talking specifically of the Gentiles as a whole, rather than individual believers. But the concept of the need to continue in God’s “gracious kindness” (AMP) – so as not to be “cut off” – is obviously also applicable to individuals.

1Cor 9:20-21  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. ▤ 

In the bracketed section of v. 21, Paul indicates that he was not “without law toward God” (NKJV); rather he was under God’s authority through being “under the law of Christ” (cf. Gal 6:2 ). The “law of Christ” presumably primarily denotes Jesus’ teaching and apostolic teaching based on it. As such it would encompass the law’s spiritual and moral commands, as interpreted by Jesus and other NT teaching (cf. James 1:25 ).

Gal 6:2  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ▤ 

James 1:25  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ▤ 

God’s people are to obey “the perfect law that sets people free” (GNT; cf. CEV, NCV, NLT). Similar to “Christ’s law” (1Cor 9:21 ; cf. Gal 6:2 ), “the law of liberty” (cf. 2:12) refers to God’s word (cf. vv. 22-24) – seemingly including the law’s moral commands as interpreted by Jesus Christ and the NT writers. This “law” that Christians are under gives freedom from both rigorous regulations and sin. As such, note that Christians are freer to please God and so judgment by this law will in fact demand a higher standard of speech and actions, as alluded to in 2:12 – “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.”

  • The significance of the old covenant is understood only through Christ:

2Cor 3:14  But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. ▤ 

When listening to the old covenant being read, the people’s minds and hearts were in a sense covered so that they could not see the significance of the old covenant, with its transitory nature probably being what Paul had foremost in mind. Only through Christ is this “veil” taken away.

Pray for persecuted Christians

The Relevance of the Law

The spiritual and moral commands of the law are largely in view this section. These commands are those pertaining to the believer’s spiritual relationship with God and their relationships with other people.

The law is not nullified . . .

See also:

Matt 5:17-18  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. ▤ 

In regard to the phrase “to fulfill them” (v. 17), see the earlier comment in Jesus Christ fully realized what the law had worked towards.

Rom 3:31  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. ▤ 

In saying that by faith “we uphold the law”, Paul is probably meaning that the way of faith validates the law. As such, Paul is probably speaking of either: faith showing the law to play a key role in God’s plan of salvation, such as in regard to awareness of sin; or faith providing the way of fulfilling the law’s demands (cf. NCV, NLT) thus showing the law’s demands to be legitimate.

Acts 24:14  But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, … ▤ 

Rom 2:18, 20  … and [you Jews] know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; ▤ 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth ▤ 

These verses illustrate that the law is still relevant, as by the law we know God’s will and what is best (v. 18), having in the law “the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (v. 20b).

1Tim 1:9-11  … understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers,s liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to soundt doctrine, 11in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. ▤ 

s That is, those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery

t Or healthy

The law is important for governing and/or condemning the ungodly.

. . . The law is still good

See also:

1Tim 1:8  Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, … ▤ 

Note that the subsequent verses showing how one should use the law “lawfully” or properly (vv. 9-11) have been included in the previous subsection. The following subsections speak further of proper use of the law.

Rom 7:12-16  So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. ▤ 

In v. 13b Paul is saying that sin produces death in us through the good law, so through the law sin is shown for what it is, i.e. unequivocally and “utterly sinful” (NASB, NIV). By saying that he hates the things he does that violate the law (v. 15b) and that he does not want to do such things (v. 16a), Paul shows that he agrees that the law is good (v. 16b) – “my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good” (NLT).

Rom 8:3b-4  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,u he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. ▤ 

u Or and as a sin offering

As well as indicating that the law is righteous (v. 4a) and thus good, this further shows that it has not simply been dismissed (as per the theme of the previous subsection). For this speaks of the law’s righteous requirements being fully met by believers, who live by the Spirit (v. 4b). As such, this implies that it is important that the law’s requirements be met – which in turn implies that the law is good.

Ps 119:39  Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. ▤ 

Isa 42:21  The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious. ▤ 

In conjunction with and in addition to being good, God’s law is in fact exalted and glorious.

  • The law is not opposed to the promises of God:

Gal 3:21  Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. ▤ 

The law is not opposed to the promises of God, in particular the promise of righteousness through faith. For they are not in practice two opposing ways of gaining righteousness and thus life, as righteousness cannot be gained through the law. The two have different purposes, working in conjunction with each other – as Paul expounds elsewhere in Galatians 3.

The primary purpose of the law is to make people aware of sin

See also:

Rom 3:19-20  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human beingv will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. ▤ 

v Greek flesh

Note that v. 19 speaks of another purpose of the law, which follows on from that of making people aware of sin (v. 20). It teaches that the law leaves people without excuse and accountable to God, under his judgment.

Rom 7:7  What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” ▤ 

Gal 3:19  Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. ▤ 

The phrase “because of transgressions” may mean that the law was given to restrain sin, but more likely it is indicating that the law’s purpose was to show or define what transgressions are (cf. Rom 4:15 ; NBC)

Rom 4:15  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. ▤ 

Where there is no law there is no “violation” (NASB, NRSV) of clearly defined boundaries or rules – i.e. the law defines what God requires and what sin is.

Rom 5:20  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, … ▤ 

A literal reading of the phrase “to increase the trespass” indicates that the law was added to augment sin (cf. GNT). Although this is quite possibly the meaning, a more common explanation is that it means that the law magnified sin, showing clearly what sin is and how wrong it is (cf. CEV, NLT). Another related interpretation, an expansion of this one, is that it means that the law magnified the seriousness of sin, for by showing what sin is, it has made those who sin more accountable as they are breaking clearly defined rules (cf. Rom 3:19 ).

Prov 29:18  Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,w but blessed is he who keeps the law. ▤ 

w Or the people are discouraged

The reference to “the law” at the end of the verse suggests that the earlier mentioned prophetic revelations would, in part at least, have pointed to the law and the need to obey it. As such this verse reflects that an absence of consciousness of the law leads to unchecked sin, with one being unaware of what sin is and what God requires.

Isa 51:7  Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. ▤ 

In conjunction with making one aware of what sin is, God’s law enables one to “know righteousness”, and so to know what is right and therefore what is not right – i.e. wrong and sinful.

Heb 10:3  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. ▤ 

Complimentary to making people aware of sin, the law’s stipulated sacrifices on its annual Day of Atonement reminded people of sin.

  • Prior to Christ’s coming and the advent of faith, the law played a supervisory role:

Gal 3:23-25  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, … ▤ 

Verse 23 may be presenting a negative aspect of the law, but it is often interpreted in a positive sense in the light of vv. 24-25. As such it is understood to mean that the law guarded God’s people, keeping them in “protective custody” (NLT).

The spiritual and moral commands of the law are still to be obeyed

See also:

Matt 5:19  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. ▤ 

Most likely Jesus had the moral commands of the law primarily in view, with a number of them being the subject of his subsequent teaching (cf. vv. 21-48).

Luke 4:8, 12  And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” ▤ 12And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” ▤ 

The quotations of commands from the law here and in a number of the following passages, indicate that such laws are to be obeyed.

Luke 10:25-28  And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” ▤ 

Jesus shows that these key commands of the spiritual and moral realms of the law are significant for eternal life.

Rom 2:12-16  For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. ▤ 

How one’s actions measure up against God’s law will be a key factor on judgment day (vv. 12-13, 16) – in conjunction with one’s knowledge of the law (v. 12), including one’s innate awareness of the law’s requirements (vv. 14-15). Thus this illustrates that the law is still to be obeyed. Note that in regard to v. 13, Paul subsequently argues (cf. ch. 3) that no one is able to keep the whole law so as to be declared righteous through obedience to it.

1Tim 1:9-11  … understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers,x liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to soundy doctrine, 11in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. ▤ 

x That is, those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery

y Or healthy

Breaking the moral commands of the law – as such ungodly people freely do – is acting contrary to gospel doctrine (vv. 10b-11).

Eph 6:1-2  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), … ▤ 

1Pet 1:15-16  … but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” ▤ 

Heb 8:10  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. ▤ 

This quotation from Jeremiah 31:33 refers to the new covenant instituted by Jesus Christ, in which God’s people are more inclined and able to obey his commands – indicative of the fact that the spiritual and moral commands of the law are still to be obeyed.

James 2:8-11  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. ▤ 

Here James clearly supports keeping the law and disapproves of breaking it. Note the thought behind v. 10 probably is that whoever breaks one command of the law, has broken the law as a whole.

1Jn 5:2-3  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. ▤ 

Ezek 11:19-20  And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. ▤ 

This looks forward to God bestowing his Holy Spirit on his people, enabling and moving them to follow his laws. Now having his Holy Spirit, believers are in fact more accountable than God’s people previously were for keeping his commands.

The law’s principles – such as love, justice and mercy – are of central importance, above its rules

See also:

Note that assertions such as that made in this subheading have been used to justify the breaking of some of God’s moral laws. As a general guideline at least, if a fundamental principle of the law is used to justify the breaking of a particular moral command of God, then it is being misapplied. This is in part because the moral commands largely reflect the law’s basic principles.

Matt 22:35-40  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ▤ 

Mark 12:33  And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. ▤ 

Rom 13:8-10  Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. ▤ 

Gal 5:13-14  For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ▤ 

Note that in v. 13 Paul is speaking of being free from bondage to the law, primarily its numerous ceremonial rules and regulations.

Matt 23:23-24  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! ▤ 

The Jewish leaders had become preoccupied with lesser matters of the law, to the detriment of the more important matters (cf. Luke 1:42a ).

Luke 11:42a  “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. ▤ 

Mic 6:6-8  “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the Lord be pleased withz thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,a and to walk humbly with your God? ▤ 

z Or Will the Lord accept

a Or steadfast love

Believers should still give offerings (though not ones for sin) but doing so is of secondary importance to upholding the central principles of the law (v. 8). Note that the term rendered as “kindness” has also been rendered as “mercy” (cf. ESV text note, NIV, NKJV, NLT). This is also the case with “steadfast love” below in Hosea 6:6.

Hos 6:6  For I desire steadfast loveb and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. ▤ 

b Septuagint mercy

Matt 12:1-13  At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” 9He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. ▤ 

Matters relating to mercy (v. 7) and doing good (v. 12) are more important than the law’s regulations. For comment on vv. 1-8, see the comment on the parallel passage Mark 2:23-28 – under It is permissible to do good and necessary things on the Sabbath.

Pray for persecuted Christians