1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1–3, NKJV).
Israel was lost. Only the gospel of Christ, not the Law of Moses, would save them (Rom. 1:16; Acts 4:12). Therefore Paul, himself a Jew who previously persecuted Christians, earnestly desired and prayed for their salvation. He was convinced their zeal for God did not save them. Misguided by their allegiance to the Law, they refused to submit to God’s plan of salvation. Even now, many religious people who are zealous for God contradict the gospel in their zeal (Matt. 7:21-23). We should not confuse passion for God with God’s approval. Scripture says God wants sinners to be saved and “to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God will not save us from our sins when we are ignorant of the truth of Christ (John 8:24). The example of Israel warns us not to establish our own way of salvation like they did (“their own righteousness,” Rom. 10:3). They believed their salvation was through the Law of Moses and rejected “the righteousness of faith” revealed in the gospel (Rom. 10:4-8). We must be careful not to make a similar error. We must submit to God’s righteousness by faith in Christ and obedience to His gospel (Rom. 10:3, 9-13; 6:17-18). Then we can be confident of our salvation, regardless of whether we are a Jew or a Gentile (Rom. 8:1-2; Gal. 3:26-29).
1 You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. 2 You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. 3 You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute (Exodus 23:1–3, NKJV).
We are not under the Law of Moses since God took it “out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). Still, our hope is strengthened by learning patience and comfort from what was written to Israel (Rom. 15:4). So it is with today’s passage. God said to Israel, “You shall be holy men to Me” (Exod. 22:31). Therefore, God commanded Israel to (1) Be honest (Exod. 23:1). Do not circulate a false report against your neighbor. Do not join the wicked in bearing unrighteous testimony against others. Spreading falsehoods by gossip, backbiting, or other forms of slander is not holy conduct (Eph. 4:24-25). (2) Be just (Exod. 23:2). Stand firmly against the peer pressure of the mob that twists justice and calls evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20). Treat everyone with fairness. Holiness leads us to treat others as we wish to be treated (Matt. 7:12). (3) Be impartial (Exod. 23:3). Settling disputes requires impartiality. Like Israel, we should not let circumstances (poor, rich, etc.) sway our decisions about right and wrong or how we treat others (James 2:1-4). Impartiality is a mark of holiness made possible by being honest and just. This triplet, honesty, justice, and impartiality would serve Israel well in loving their neighbors as themselves. Even so, may we be honest, just, and impartial, patiently securing our hope by being holy in all our conduct (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (Romans 3:29–31, NKJV).
Law cannot save the one who violates it (Gal. 2:21; 3:21). Law identifies the transgression (sin) and applies just punishment (Rom. 3:19-20; 3:23; 6:23; Gal. 3:10-11). By definition, a system of law is not a system of grace. While the Law of Moses was “holy and just and good,” it did not contain a means of “eternal redemption” (Rom. 7:12; Heb. 9:12; 10:1-4). Therefore, it is essential to acknowledge (the) law’s nature, purposes, and limitations. In the context of today’s passage, Paul laid out what law does (identifies sin and holds the sinner guilty) and what it cannot do (justify the guilty, Rom. 3:19-20). Sinners are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). Christ’s death appeases divine wrath “through faith,” saving Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Jesus by grace (Rom. 3:25-26; Eph. 2:8-9). The gospel is God’s power to save Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 1:16-17). Therefore, (1) God justifies Jews by faith (v. 30). Faith is the means of justification for Jews, not the Law of Moses (Acts 15:11; Rom. 10:3-4), and (2) God justifies Gentiles through faith (v. 30). The salvation of Gentiles is completed or finished through faith without adding anything to it (Acts 15:9-10). The “law of faith” does not discount obedient faith but rewards it with salvation (Rom. 3:27; 6:17-18). So, we uphold (establish) God’s law as we understand its nature, purposes, and limitations (Rom. 3:31).
18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:18–19, NKJV).
In explaining the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over the Levitical priests of the Law of Moses (Heb. 7:11), the inspired writer emphasizes our ability to “draw near to God” through Jesus Christ, our High Priest “according to the order (likeness, JRP) of Melchizedek” (Heb. 7:15-17). The law that sanctioned the Levitical priesthood could not redeem sinners through the animal sacrifices offered by its priests, the sons of Aaron (Heb. 7:11; 10:1-4). Therefore, God annulled (set aside, abolished) the “former commandment” that installed the Levitical priesthood because its service was impotent, unable to redeem sinners (Heb. 7:16, 18). By contrast, through the priesthood of Christ, we have a better hope (Heb. 7:19). His presence in heaven at the right hand of God assures access to God’s merciful grace (Heb. 7:24-8:2). Serving as High Priest, Jesus offered Himself – his lifeblood – as an offering for the sins of the world (Heb. 7:27). Christ’s offering of Himself appeases God’s wrath against sin (Isa. 53:11-12; Rom. 3:24-25; 1 John 2:1-2). Now, we can draw near to God in faith and be forgiven (Gal. 3:26-29; Heb. 10:11-18). Praise God for His great plan of redemption. Thank God Jesus Christ is our “great High Priest who has passed through the heavens,” enabling us to “hold fast our confession” by “coming boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).
9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain (Galatians 4:9–11, NKJV).
The Law of Moses defined and identified sin but could not redeem sinners from sin’s bondage and death (Gal. 3:10-14, 21; Rom. 3:20). The gospel of Christ is the good news that Christ redeems sinners from the curse of the law (that is, the law condemned the sinner but could not save the sinner, Gal. 3:10-11. It was “weak and beggarly” to justify sinners, Gal. 4:9). For Christians to return to the Law of Moses would be a return to sin’s bondage and its curse of death. The Law of Moses contained the observance of “days and months and seasons and years,” but these observances were never an end in themselves. Through Hosea, God told Israel, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Here are two crucial lessons from today’s passage. (1) Do not add man-made rites and rituals to God’s revealed will. Religious ceremonies that God’ has not commanded dishonor men and God by violating God’s truth (Lev. 10:1-3; Matt. 15:9). (2) Do not ritualize what God has commanded. To turn God’s worship and service into mere ceremonies removes the heart from one’s service to God (Luke 18:12; Ps. 51:16-17). Binding the Law of Moses as a means of salvation makes void God’s grace in Christ (Gal. 1:6-7; 2:21). Making man-made holy days and observances Christ has not commanded do the same thing (Matt. 28:20; Gal. 1:8-10).
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16–18, NKJV)
What we crave determines what we follow, where we walk, where we live. The apostle Paul has contrasted the Spirit’s gospel with the law of Moses throughout his epistle to the Galatians (2:16-21; 3:1-3, 19-25); 4:21-31; 5:1-5). Disciples of Christ crave (lust) the Spirit’s direction and influence in their lives. Thus, they live by the gospel of Christ that the Holy Spirit revealed, inspired, and confirmed (Gal. 1:6-12). Paul makes a compelling argument that being led by the law of Moses places confidence in the flesh (v. 18; Gal. 3:3). The question we must ask ourselves is whether we yearn to be led by the Spirit of God through the gospel of Jesus, or do we lust after the flesh. We cannot crave and follow them both. Paul’s warning against craving the flesh and its works is clear: “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). His counterpoint is equally evident: those who have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24). We live (have spiritual life) “in the Spirit,” therefore, we must also “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). And, lest we miss the point, “obeying the truth” is how we walk in and are led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:6-7; 3:1-2).
17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17–18, NKJV)
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, not to invalidate them. He did exactly that as He fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law (He never sinned against it). Thus, Scripture says Jesus Christ is “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’” (Romans 10:4-5). Jesus was the aim or outcome of the Law to believers. Jesus is the Messiah who fulfilled the Law and the prophets, becoming the perfect and adequate sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 5:8; 10:5-10). Therefore, Jesus was fulfilling the Law and the prophets as He was preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 5:2; Luke 4:16-21). To conclude Jesus was preaching the Law to Jews to teach them how to be faithful Jews misses this fundamental point. Jesus came teaching His gospel, which contains the righteousness of faith (Romans 10:6; 1:16-17). We must hear Jesus because, as God’s Son, He fulfilled the Law and the prophets (Matthew 17:5; Hebrews 1:1-2).
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14, NKJV)
Christ gives spiritual life to the sinner when one is “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). This spiritual life (salvation) could not be obtained by the “handwriting of requirements,” that is, the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19; 10:1). Its offerings and sacrifices could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). Christ’s death on the cross accomplished what the Law could not, and so, by His death, Jesus took the Law of Moses out of the way. We do not go to Mt. Sinai for redemption; we go to Calvary. The Law of Moses identified sin, but it is by the gospel of Christ that we are forgiven of them (Romans 1:16-17). We are children of God through faith, not through the works of the law (Galatians 3:24-29). And, our eternal inheritance is dispensed according to the new covenant of Christ, not by the old covenant that has passed away (Hebrews 9:16-22; 8:7-13).
3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:3–4, NKJV)
Binding any portion of the Old Testament Law of Moses upon Christians is totally incompatible with the gospel of Christ. The Law of Moses was only given to the nation of Israel; it was never a universal law given to all nations (Deut. 5:1-3). Paul was addresses a false doctrine being advanced by some Jewish Christians, which compelled Gentiles to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15:1ff). This teaching perverted the gospel being preached by the apostles (Gal. 1:6-9). The result of believing and advancing this false doctrine was that Christians were severed from Christ; they were “fallen from grace.” This clear statement by the apostle Paul shows that it is possible for Christians to lose their salvation. This happens, not because Christ does not have the power to save the Christian, but because the Christian chooses to believe and follow error instead of truth. Sin will not be rewarded with heaven. The belief that Christians cannot fall away and be lost is a false, deceptive doctrine.