The apostle Paul and God's law

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Are Christians required to keep God's law and the commandments? Is the Law a curse and unnecessary for salvation? Were ALL Old Testament laws abolished by being nailed to Jesus' cross? What should be a Christian's attitude toward the laws and commandments of God? What is the CORRECT explanation of what Paul is teaching about the law?

Peter recognized that the writings of Paul could be hard to comprehend. He defines for us the primary problem with understanding some of apostle Paul's teachings.

"And bear in mind that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation, exactly as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has also written to you; As he has also in all his epistles, speaking in them concerning these things; in which are some things that are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable are twisting and distorting, as they also twist and distort the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2Peter 3:15-16, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV) throughout unless stated)

This article will explain what some of Paul's statements regarding God's law REALLY mean.

FOR or AGAINST the law?

Paul, in no uncertain terms, tells us what he thinks of God's law.

"Therefore, the law is indeed holy, and the commandment holy and righteous and good . . . For I delight in the law of God" (Romans 7:12, 22)

The idea that believers who have faith abolish or no longer need God's law was a foreign concept to the apostle.

"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)

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The roles of God's law

The law has a dual role.

  1. To instruct or educate us concerning how God wants us to live our life.
  2. To convict us of sin (the judicial role) and lead us to conversion through faith in Christ. Once converted this role of the law is no longer needed.

In Galatians Paul tells the church to allow God's law to teach them.

21 Let me ask those of you who want to be subject to the Law: do you not hear what the Law says? (Galatians 4)

By telling the church to pay attention to God's law, the apostle is upholding its role to teach. Paul, however, also recognizes the law's judicial role. After stating Abraham's inheritance was given based on God's promise, Paul says,

19 What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added in order to show what wrongdoing is . . . (Galatians 3:19, TEV)

The law of God was "added," meaning that at Mt. Sinai it was given in a codified form, in order to identify sin.

Is the law dead to us?

In the book of Romans Paul uses another analogy to discuss the law's judicial role.

"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)

We, according to Paul, died to the law, meaning that its ability to identify us as sinners and demand our life in payment for our sins was fulfilled through the sacrifice of Jesus.

"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)

For those of us who are truly converted and have God spirit, the law can no longer identify and punish us as sinners. That said, the educative role of God's law calls for our obedience, which is fulfilled through the new life in the Spirit. That is what Paul means when he wrote in Romans 6,

"For sin shall not rule over you because you are not under law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14)
The added law

Some think that the law that was added due to sin (Galatians 3:19) concerned strictly the sacrificial system given to ancient Israel and not the Ten Commandments. While this line of reasoning seems plausible it is nonetheless not true. In Paul's writings he usually refers to "the law" in general. His constant reference to "the law" in his epistle greatly weakens the idea of an 'added law.'

Paul is, in fact, teaching that all of God's laws were "added" at Sinai. Although certain proscriptions against adultery, murder and so forth existed before Moses, what was given at Mt. Sinai had not existed in the form God gave it. In other Biblical verses the apostle speaks of the law in its entirety, and not just the sacrifical piece of it (see Romans 5). The temple ceremonies and the sacrifices were a part of the Law of Moses from the start.

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.

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