“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:15-18 NIV)
Under the Old Testament Law, God established a system of ceremonial cleanliness and sacrifice as a means through which man could approach Him. The system itself was never intended to be the focus. It was always about faith and a desire to be in relationship with God. Yet, man, corrupted in his thinking, found a way to turn the system into a test of righteousness.
People tend to demonize the Law as if it was something horrible. How can this be if God gave it? No, the Law was beautiful, and although it was fulfilled by Jesus and is therefore no longer a part of our covenant relationship with God, there was nothing in it that was inherently bad.
There was, however, a problem people faced when living under the Law. Actually, there were two problems. There was the problem of what man had made of it…i.e. turning it from a means of knowing God into a burdensome system of self-justification…and there was its lack of fulfillment. The Law convicted men of sin, and gave them a means to express repentance through sacrifice, but it did not justify them. They had no way of cleansing their hearts completely. This doesn’t mean the Law was an inferior model that God tossed out until He could roll out something better (the cross). We will discover later it was a “schoolmaster” preparing the world for Jesus, and it is my opinion those who followed God by faith in the Old Testament were also covered by the blood that would one day flow from Calvary.
This is where Jesus, the cross, and the new covenant with God come in. Jesus fulfilled the Law by keeping it perfectly and paying the penalty for those areas in which we did not keep it. When we put our faith in Him, our sins are washed away by His blood, and we are made just.
But here is Paul’s dilemma in today’s passage: If, as we look at the cross, we are convicted of our sins, how is this different from living under the Law? Has Jesus merely replaced the Law as the one who condemns us for our failures?
No! Absolutely not! He is not like the Law. He is not like the Law as God gave it, and certainly not like the monster some men created out of the Law. He is the fulfillment of the Law. Yes, we recognize we are sinners in light of His glory, but instead of killing ourselves in a futile attempt to live just lives, we throw ourselves on His mercy and live in His grace. This doesn’t mean we don’t care about how we live. In fact, it means we try all the harder to live a just life. The difference is, we are not trying to justify ourselves. Instead, we are living to please the One who justified us.
I think had I ever lived under the Law I would have a greater appreciation for grace. But it means enough to me as it is. I really don’t want to live my life trying to justify my actions.
Dear God, thank You for grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.