How the Gospel Keeps Us Free from the Law
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Today, a new blog series begins entitled Gospel Freedom! Galatians 5:1 makes it clear that freedom is the goal of the Gospel. It was not an afterthought but the entire purpose that Christ came into the world: to set human beings free.
In other words, freedom is its own reward. In these blogs, we will examine the various ways the Gospel sets humanity free from every form of slavery.
Our discussion centers on how the Gospel frees us from the Law in general. In the First Century, many Jewish believers were teaching that Gentiles were under obligation to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved (“But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” Acts 15:1). They couldn’t imagine people being saved without adherence to the Law. After Paul and Barnabas had much debate, they, along with several others, were sent to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to deal with this issue. Eventually, Paul’s gospel was fully vindicated and the Gentiles were freed from Torah observance as the means of obtaining justification.
This was the essence of Paul’s letter written to the believers in Galatia. It demonstrated that men and women are free from the Law as a means of being justified. To believe and teach otherwise is to depart from “him who called you in the grace of Christ turn to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). This is no small matter but amounts to a wholesale departure from God Himself. In other words, anything other than justification ‘by grace through faith alone’ is a rejection of God Himself.
Paul fought long and hard against those who insisted that Torah observance was necessary for one to be justified. In my book, Shadows and Substance: the Truth About Jewish Roots and Christian Believers, I address certain Jewish Roots teachers who deny that Paul taught that justification is by grace through faith alone. They dismiss Paul’s argument in the Galatian epistle by suggesting that the phrase “by works of the law” in the epistle (Galatians 2:16) is not a reference to the Law of Moses, but to various Jewish traditions (they do so by referring to some Dead Sea scroll manuscripts which use the phrase to refer to the Oral Law rather than the Law itself). But the issue which the Jerusalem Council took up was not only that of circumcision but that Gentiles should “keep the law of Moses” as well (see Acts 15:5).
Why was it so difficult for many First Century Jewish believers (as well as many modern Gentile Hebrew Roots teachers) to agree with the apostle Paul’s teaching that people are justified by grace through faith and not by observance of the Law? For one, the Jew had grown up with the Law of Moses, viewing it as a hedge of protection against the defilements of the world. But the more important reason these teachers insisted on Torah observance has to do with the pride of their hearts; the fact that they believed that they could actually keep the Law and thus gain justification.
Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in our Lord’s parable commonly known as the Parable of the Pharisee, Publican, and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). It’s important to pay close attention to Luke’s introductory statement as to why the Lord spoke this parable: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9).
This parable was spoken directly to Pharisees, many of whom thought that themselves righteous under the Law and therefore better than others. This is evident in the Pharisee’s prayer which revealed his contempt for others. There was very little awareness of God in his prayer; only boasting about his righteousness compared to others. But the tax collector, unable to lift his eyes to heaven, beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ This one (rather than the Pharisee), went out justified. That’s because “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
The real reason people have a difficult time believing that justification comes by ‘grace through faith alone’ is they fail to recognize (like the Pharisee) how deeply flawed they are. The tax collector understood and therefore received the mercy of God. This alone is the only way that true justification is received.