As the Psalmist, apostle Paul affirms how the commandments should be viewed.
"Therefore, the law is indeed holy, and the commandment holy and righteous and good . . . For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man;" (Romans 7:12, 22)
The apostle strongly denounces the idea that Christians, through faith, abolish or get rid of the law. In fact, it is the entirety of scripture that not only teach us but make it possible to serve mankind.
"Are we, then, abolishing law through faith? MAY IT NEVER BE! Rather, we are establishing law." (Romans 3:31)
"All Scripture (including the Old Testament) is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; So that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16)
The law is God's moral and ethical standard, the means through which His good and perfect will is revealed. Meditation upon the law and obedience to its commandments result in wisdom, knowledge, insight, and understanding. It teaches us how to live an abundance life - both now and forever!
The roles of God's law
The law has two roles:
It is our instructor (the educative role), revealing to us God's way of life - the path He desires that we follow. It expresses the good and perfect will of God, not only explicitly through its many commandments, statutes, and judgments, but implicitly through the creation and historical narratives.
The law acts as our custodian (the judicial role), but only until we come to conversion through faith in Christ. By identifying us as sinners and demanding punishment for our sins, the law holds us in custody. Knowledge of the law's high standards increases our moral awareness and personal responsibility, thus eliminating ignorance as an excuse. Now, sin becomes exceedingly sinful.
But when we come to conversion through faith in Christ, the law's role as custodian is abolished. No longer can the law demand our death, for God has declared us "Not guilty!" No longer can the law declare us transgressors, for the record of our sins has been blotted out. The curse of the law has been removed (Galatians 3:13).
Knowledge of the two roles of the law sheds significant light on the seemingly contradictory passages of Paul's epistles. We should now be able to see how Paul can insist upon meeting the requirements of the law (as in Galatians 5:13-21), while, without contradiction, speaking of the law's transitory role (Galatians 3:19, 24-25).
Book of Galatians
In the book of Galatians, Paul admonishes his readers to permit themselves to be instructed from the law. He writes,
"Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law?" (Galatians 4:21).
Paul goes on to derive an important truth from a narrative taken from the Torah (verses 22-31). By calling upon the Galatians to listen to the law (or Torah), and by showing them how the law supports his teaching, Paul is acknowledging the perennial nature of the educative role of the law.
Paul further upholds this role of the law in his warnings against engaging in the "works of the flesh" (Galatians 5:19-21), all of which are condemned - either directly or in principle - by the law. To Paul, the works of the flesh violate the summation commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," which accords with "walking by the Spirit" (verses 14-18). If the standards of behavior set forth in the law were no longer valid, why does Paul cite a commandment directly from the law? Obviously, the apostle recognizes the perpetual nature of the educative role of the so-called "Old Testament" law.
But he also recognizes the judicial role of the law. After pointing out that the inheritance given to Abraham (and to Abraham's "offspring") is based on promise, not law, Paul writes,
"Why then the law? It was placed alongside the promises for the purpose of defining transgressions, until the Seed should come to whom the promise was made . . ." (Galatians 3:19)
The law was "added" in the sense that it was given in codified form at Sinai in the time of Moses. Of course, this does not mean that the principles set forth in the law were previously unknown, or that murder, adultery, theft, lying, coveting, dishonoring parents, and so forth, were not sins before the law was received at Sinai.
The law was added to identify transgressions. The knowledge of sin has the effect of increasing awareness of one's own sinful nature, and results in greater personal responsibility. Without the excuse of ignorance, sin becomes exceedingly sinful; transgressions are increased; a person becomes fully aware of his sinfulness and of his need for a Savior. When he repents of his transgressions, and turns to God through faith in Christ (the "offspring") for forgiveness, his transgressions - not the law! - are blotted out. In this way, the law acts as our custodian until we come to Christ through faith.
Christians and God's law
Now, how does the justification of a sinner affect his relationship to the law? Paul continues,
"Now before faith came, we were guarded under law, having been shut up unto the faith that was yet to be revealed. In this way, the law was our tutor to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But since faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:23-25).
Paul is speaking of the second function of the law - the judicial role. While we were sinners, without Christ in the world, the law acted as our custodian. It declared us sinners, and demanded that we pay the penalty for sin. Sin, working through the law, became utterly sinful. We were made aware of our hopeless condition, and of our need of a Savior, a Redeemer, who could deliver us from the power of the law. This is how the law acts as a custodian to bring us to Christ. But once we arrive, the law can no longer identify and condemn us as transgressors. Its purpose is no longer to lead us to Christ, for we have already arrived. Therefore, for us, the law is no longer a custodian. That's what Paul means when he says "But since faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."
However, it is extremely important to understand that the abolishment of the law's role as tutor / custodian for those who come to Christ does not result in the abolishment of the educative role of the law. Even after we come to Christ, we continue to derive understanding and wisdom from the law, and we continue to obey its commandments, now relying upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our weakness.
Are we DEAD to the law?
Paul uses an interesting analogy to describe the judicial role of the law. He explains that just as a woman whose husband has died "she is released from the law that bound her to the husband" and is now free to marry another man,
"In the same way, my brethren, you also were made dead to the marriage law of the Old Covenant ("dead to the law" in the KJV Bible) by the body of Christ in order for you to be married to another, Who was raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God." (Romans 7:4)
Paul did not say that the law died; he said that we died to the law, meaning that the judicial demands of the law, which identified us as sinners and demanded the death penalty, were fulfilled through the substitutionary death of Christ. Once we are "in Christ," we are
"But now we have been released from the law because we have died to that in which we were held so that we might serve in newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:6)
The "oldness of the letter" refers to the judicial role of the law. For us - provided we are in Christ - the law can no longer identify and punish us as sinners, for our record of past sins has been blotted out. It is now our responsibility to serve "in newness of the spirit."
In Romans 6 and 7, Paul refers to both the educative and judicial roles of the law. The judicial role called for our death, which was fulfilled in Christ's substitutionary death; the educative role calls for our obedience, which is fulfilled through the new life in the Spirit. In Christ, we are no longer under the law's power to identify and punish us as sinners, for God has provided a means whereby we have been set free from the law's judicial demands. That is what Paul means when he says,
"For sin shall not rule over you because you are not under law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14)
Perhaps now we can understand why Paul associated the Ten Commandments with the "ministry of death" (2Corinthians 3:7). Until our record of sins was abolished through faith in Christ, the commandments identified us as sinners, and the law demanded our death. But now, being set free from sin, we walk in newness of life, obeying God's law from the heart. Now that the law's role as custodian has been abolished - now that we have been set free from the curse of the law - we can fully appreciate the law as God's glorious standard for living; as a wellspring of knowledge, wisdom, understanding. Only now, having been set free from the bondage of sin, is the full glory of God's holy law revealed to us.
What is the law added due to TRANSGRESSIONS?
Many believe that the law "placed alongside the promises for the purpose of defining transgressions" (Galatians 3:19) was the ceremonial or sacrificial law, which involved a tabernacle, or temple, an officiating priesthood, special rituals and ceremonies, and animal sacrifices. According to this view, the term added ("placed alongside") strictly means "came into existence." This automatically rules out the Ten Commandments as part of the "added law" because the Ten Commandments were in force before the children of Israel came to Sinai.
Paul tells us that this law was added to define transgression. It has been said that the existence of transgressions indicates that another law - the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments - must have been in existence before the law of Galatians 3:19 was added.
It has also been argued that the word until in "until the Seed should come" indicates that the added law exhausted its purpose and was abolished when the "the Seed" (Christ) came. The added law could not be the Ten Commandments, this view asserts, because the New Testament affirms that the Ten Commandments remain in force for Christians.
While this view seems plausible, it has its problems. One problem is that "the law" in Paul's epistles usually refers to the law in general. The apostle's repeated references to "the law" in Galatians casts serious doubt upon the above "added law" theory.
In Galatians, Paul speaks of different roles of the law, not different parts of the law. The entire law was in fact "added" at Sinai. While one can easily prove that specific laws - laws against murder, idolatry, adultery, blasphemy, and so forth - were in force before the time of Moses, it is nevertheless true that the law that was given at Sinai had not previously existed in precisely that form. It was therefore "added" - came to be - at Mount Sinai in the time of Moses.
Paul is telling his readers that the promise of inheritance given to Abraham preceded the giving of the law (Galatians 3:16,17). The promise came first; the law was added later. Paul's point is that the inheritance is based on the promise, not on a law that came later.
In other passages, Paul speaks of the law in similar terms, and he is clearly not speaking of the ceremonial/sacrificial aspects of the law only. In the book of Romans, he speaks of a time when the "Law entered . . . " (5:20). The context shows that the law "entered" at some point between the time of Adam and the time of Christ. The law that "entered" was the entire body of terms set forth in the covenant given at Sinai.
The phrase "until the Seed should come" does not refer to the temporary nature of the ceremonial law. It also does not mean that the law as God's standard of behavior, or code of ethics and morality, would be rendered invalid once Christ had come. It simply means that the law's role as a custodian ends where faith in Christ begins. The transgressions are abolished - not the law!
The ceremonial / sacrificial law was a part of the Law of Moses from the beginning. It was not added later. However, it should be noted that the sacrificial system did function as a disciplinary device. Therefore, when the law's role as custodian ceases for those who have come to Christ, the disciplinary measures are no longer required.
Jeremiah 7 does not mean that the sacrificial law was later added to the terms of the covenant as a result of Israel's sins, as some have thought. The passage reads:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat flesh. . For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, so that it may be well with you.'' " (Jeremiah 7:21-23)
God did give the Israelites commands concerning sacrifices - even before they departed Egypt. What He means here is that He never commanded sacrifices without moral responsibility. God is not pleased with mere sacrifices. He is not like the pagan gods, who were thought to be appeased with a certain number of sacrificial offerings. To God, sacrifices without a heart of obedience are worthless (see Psalm 51:16-19). That's why He tells Israel to treat both types of offerings (burnt offerings and sacrifices) the same: They are worthless to Him because those who offer do not have the heart of obedience that truly pleases God.
Ultimately, the perfect law of God is a wonderful blessing - not a curse! Sin is the curse! Obedience to the laws and commandments results in numerous blessings both now and forever.