A Catholic question about Galatians 3

The email began:

Maybe you could help me out here. I am a Catholic trying to better understand the Protestant position on justification. One part of Scripture that has been really interesting me is the second half of Galatians 3 (3:15-29) because I think that is where the real issue rests.

I think 3:21 hits on the point the best —

“Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.”

(I see basically the same thing taught in Gal 2:21 —

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

In Galatians 3:21, Paul says “if” the Law was intended to give life then salvation would have come by the Law, meaning that the Law never was intended to save.  From what I have heard from Protestants, man is not justified by the Law because nobody can keep the Law perfectly.  Yet I’m wondering how that fits with Gal 3:21?  If the Law was never intended to save, then keeping it perfectly still wouldn’t save.

Response:

Thanks for taking the time to write.  I don’t know how much you know about my approach to Scripture, but I am convinced that in order to understand any verse we must understand the surrounding context. The primary question that Paul was dealing with in the third chapter of Galatians is whether the inclusion of Gentiles into the covenant of salvation through faith in Christ’s finished work undermined the historic promises God had made to national Israel — the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. More specifically, since Christ did away with the requirements of the law of Moses for everyone who believes, then what was the point of the law in the first place? And, tied to that question: did the introduction and removal of the law effect the other promises made to the descendants of Abraham?

Gal 3:16-25 — Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

This passage, in context, helps us answer your questions. You questioned whether or not the law was ever intended to save. Paul tells us it was added “because of transgressions.” In other words, the law made sin more obviously sinful (see also: Romans 3:20, 5:20).  Neither did the law abrogate the promises God made Israel nor did it invalidate the Abrahamic Covenant.  Its purpose was to act as a tutor (the KJV says “schoolmaster”), or custodian, to lead God’s people to Christ.  Now that faith in Christ has come, there is no longer any need for the tutor.  Together that tells us that the law was never intended to save.

Specifically then, verse 21 does not say that perfect obedience to the law would lead to salvation, it says that if a law had ever been given to mankind that actually was able to impart life to sinners, then indeed someone may have received eternal life in exchange for the righteousness they had obtained through keeping the law.  But, the problem was not merely man’s incapability, it was the inability of the law itself to offer such life to people who were born into Adam’s sinful estate.  The purpose of the law was always to “shut everyone under sin so that the promise of faith in  Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”  It was always God’s intention to glorify His Son.  And the law served that explicit purpose.

Now we can get at the root of your real question.  The reason Protestants say that real righteousness was offered via the law, provided a man perfectly kept it, was that Christ did indeed stand faultless before the law and no one could accuse Him of sin.  So, if we say universally that no one can ever keep the law and therefore no one can ever achieve perfect obedience, then we eliminate what Christ accomplished on our behalf.  As our substitute, He did what no sinful man could do.  He established His own righteousness through perfect obedience to God and the law.  While we agree that no man — no sinful human — can be justified by the works of the law, we need to careful not to undermine what Christ did accomplish through His perfect work.

Emailer:

Also, I have been told that since we cannot keep the Law perfectly that Jesus had to keep it perfectly for us (something I cannot find in the Bible), but does not the same issue remain?

Response:

Well, let’s take that question in parts.  First, did Christ keep the Law perfectly?  He said,

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mat. 5:17)

All Christians agree that Christ was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God.  Yet, according the apostle Paul —

So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:3-6)

So, Jesus was “born under the Law,” yet is regarded by all Scripture as perfect and sinless.  Since the purpose of the law is to expose sin and hold all men guilty, Christ must have perfectly kept the dictates of the law in order to be guiltless and sinless.  As He Himself said,

“And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29)

And Paul’s stated reason why Jesus was born “under the Law” was in order to redeem those who were under the Law. I don’t know how to follow Paul’s logic — that Jesus was born under the law to save those who were under the law, resulting in their adoption as sons — without seeing a form of substitution.  Jesus did something on the behalf of others that resulted in the law, which would have condemned them, being removed, the guilt expunged, and eternal life resulting.  And, according to Paul, what He did was a direct result of the fact that He was “born under the law.”  So, Christ’s relationship to the law had a positive result for those who were under its condemnation.  That’s substitution.

Thanks for taking the time to write.  I always enjoy theological exchanges.  I hope that I’ve understood you aright and have answered appropriately.

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.

 

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The lengths some folk will go …

The subject of freewill and its relative importance in salvation is a topic that comes up frequently in my email correspondence.  But, this particular defense was new to me.

The email read:

Hello Brother Jim.

I have another silly question about freewill.  I am debating a fellow, who calls himself Moderate Calvinist, which in reality is Arminian. LOL.  Anyway, he stresses that faith precedes regeneration.  And that a spiritually dead man can believe prior to regeneration.  So he uses this verse in 2Chronicles 17:16: “And next to him was Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the Lord;”

Now, I did tell him that the verse does not say he was a man of  God, or even how he came to do that.  But I can’t think of anything better to say.  I know you will give much better exegesis of the text than I.  So what are your thoughts?  Thanks again.  Yours in Christ, K —

Response:

Well, I must admit that this is an argument I have never heard.  It’s amazing the lengths to which people will go in order to defend the “free” will of humans.  So, let’s walk through this logically.

First off, if you’re going to discuss the nature of faith in salvation, it’s necessary that your text-of-choice is actually addressing that subject.   2Chron. 17:16 is a list of “mighty men”  who served under King Jehoshaphat.  The subject has nothing to do with salvation or faith.

The only place where the term “freewill” appears in Scripture is in reference to a type of voluntary offering that Israelites could bring to the priests of God after they had satisfied all of the required first fruits, tithes, offerings and sacrifices.  Never — and this is important — never is the will of man (any less the “free” will of man) brought up in any passage that has to do with salvation.  And it’s glaring in its absence.  In the passages that are actually addressing the subject of salvation, you’ll find the language of predestination, election, foreordination, foreknowledge, etc.  But never once does any Biblical author say that eternal salvation is the direct result of any person’s choice, determination, or willingness.

Okay, back to 2 Chron. 17:16.  In the list of men who served the king, we read of Amasiah, who gave himself into service.  He opted to serve God by serving the king God had ordained to rule Israel. There were a variety of ways to end up in the Israelite army: you could simply be of age, you could be in debt, or you could willingly volunteer, as Amasiah did.  In fact, the NASB renders this verse — “and next to him Amasiah the son of Zichri, who volunteered for the LORD, and with him 200,000 valiant warriors.”  And that is the sum total of everything we know about this man.  He is not mentioned again.

If we stay within the bounds of what the text actually tells us, the only thing we can deduce is that Amasiah believed in God and joined the army as a means of serving Him.  This passage says nothing about where that faith or belief came from.  It only says that he willingly joined the army for God’s sake.

Now, let’s get the largest context.  Israel, as a nation, was chosen by God.  He refers to them as His elect people —

“O seed of Israel His servant, Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!” (1Chron. 16:13)

“For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession.” (Psa. 135:4)

“But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Israel, whom I have chosen:”  (Isa. 44:1)

“For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me.” (Isa. 45:4)

Amasiah is an Israelite — already a member of God’s chosen nation.  In other words, his willingness to serve God was not tantamount to a depraved sinner coming to faith in Christ.  There’s no one-for-one comparison here.  Amasiah was a member of elect Israel.  His willingness to serve God was demonstrated by volunteering to join the armed forces of the God-ordained king of elect Israel.  The context has nothing whatsoever to say about a “spiritually dead man” choosing to believe in Christ prior to regeneration.  That’s simply not in this text.

To be honest, if this is the length your Moderate Calvinist friend has to go to in order to find something in the Bible that appears to support his theology, I would say that our side is on pretty firm ground.  Challenge him to find a text that is actually dealing with salvation and demonstrate from that text how the will of man is the source of faith leading to salvation.

Then wait … (crickets) …

I hope that helps.

Grace and peace,

Jim Mc.

 

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I’ll Never Grow Up

It must be age … or time … or mileage.  But these days I find myself entertaining memories of days gone by and looking back over the events of my youth.

It was 1966. I was in sixth grade at Walnut Bend Elementary School in Houston, TX. Mention was made that the Houston Music Theater in Sharpstown was going to hold open auditions for “lost boys” for their upcoming production of Peter Pan.  That night I told my parents that I wanted to audition.  I remember my mom saying that I’d have to sing.  No problem, I replied.  To which my dad inquired, rather incredulously, “Do you sing?”

But my folks were always encouraging and mom dutifully drove me to the audition.  It was a tad daunting, but when my turn came, I took center stage and sang “My Favorite Things.” Now, the truth is that the only real reason I got cast was that I vaguely resembled another boy who sang beautifully and the casting director was desperate to find “twins” to fit the script.  So, next thing I knew, I was a kid actor.

You can click through the thumbnail photos to see them in full resolution.  The live stage photos were taken during dress rehearsal.  Then there’s a two-page program given to everyone who attended.  And then scans of the for-purchase program.  The pages have yellowed with age. But, I really enjoyed flipping through it, not only because of the photos and memories, but it’s entertaining to see the advertisements, graphics, and fashions from 1966.

Oh — you’ll notice that some of the autographs and notes refer to me as Wally Cox.  John Myhers was friends with Wally and he began referring to me by that nickname because of my glasses. Pretty soon, that was my name among the cast and crew.

So, click away.  As for me, I gotta’ crow.  And I absolutely refuse to grow up.

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I cannot “Tweet”

Lately, Twitter has been all the rage. And many of my friends and preaching brethren have made reasonable use of that service. But, let’s be honest – anyone who has known me for any period of time knows that I cannot say anything in 140 characters. Even my children and the deacons at GCA are conspiring to carve the words “This was all introduction” on my gravestone.

Wait… Come to think of it, that phrase is less than 140 characters. So it turns out that I could “tweet” my final words. But in the meantime, I think I will stick to blogging.

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Goodbye Blogger

salvationbygrace

It took a while to come to the realization that not only was I underusing my blog, I really didn’t like it very much.  So, I’m starting anew, utilizing a new blog provider, and I’m determined to utilize it more fully — not that I am short of avenues through which to communicate.  The old blog will remain intact for a while (or until I can figure out how to transfer the pertinent stuff here).  You can see the original blog here:  http://blog.salvationbygrace.org/

Image

It took a while to come to the realization that not only was I underusing my blog, I really didn’t like it very much.  So, I’m starting anew, utilizing a new blog provider, and I’m determined to utilize it more fully — not that I am short of avenues through which to communicate.  The old blog will remain intact for a while, but I’ve moved most of the stuff that is worth keeping over to this blog site.

I’m just in the process of setting things up, so new info will be added here soon. And you may see an odd photo or weird behavior here or there.  It’s a process. Check back and see what develops.

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