by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Reformer Martin Luther has a lot to say about these two verses which won’t allow me to enter it all here. However, he points out the difference between the established church in his day and the new reform movement that he was leading. He points to the fact that the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church was similar to that of the false apostles in Paul’s day. They teach, “If you want to live for God, you must live according to the Law, for it is written, do this and you will live.” Paul, on the other hand, teaches, “We cannot live for God unless we are dead to the Law.” If we are dead to the Law, the Law exercises no power over us. We are now free to concentrate on Jesus as we live our sanctified life.

Luther goes on to say that to be dead to the Law means to be free from the Law’s power to condemn. What right, then, does the Law need to accuse us, or to hold anything against us? When we see a person wrestling in the clutches of the Law, we should say to them: My friend, let’s get things straight. You are letting the Law dictate to your conscience. Wake up and turn your eyes upon Jesus, the Conqueror of the Law and sin. Faith in the Anointed One will lift you high above the Law into the heaven of grace. Though the Law still remains, it no longer possesses any authority over you, because you are dead as far as the Law is concerned.

Luther then imagines this conversation between a believer and the Law: Believer:I confess that I sinned.” Law:Then I will ask God to punish you.” Believer: “No, He will not do that.” Law: “Why not? Isn’t that what He gave me to Moses to do?” Believer: “Yes, but I want nothing to do with you anymore.” Law:Why is that?” Believer: “Because I now live according to another Law.” Law:What law is that?” Believer:It’s called the Law of Liberty.” Law:What is liberty?” Believer: “The liberty I received from the Anointed One, the one who let you nail yourself to the cross with Him.” Law: “I don’t know what to say.”[1]

On the subject of dying to the Law, John Calvin says that it either means that we renounce it, and are delivered from its dominion so that we put no confidence in it, or, that it does not hold us captive under the yoke of slavery, or, it may mean that since the Law put us on the road to everlasting destruction, through the Anointed One we were placed on the path that leads to a timeless life with God. Calvin says that this last is the one he prefers. Calvin also believes that Paul is saying that it is not because of the Anointed One that the Law became more hurtful than beneficial. Rather, the Law carries within itself the curse of death to all who disobey it. Therefore, it follows, that the death which is brought on by the Law is truly final. However, the kind of death we experience with the Anointed One results in a life-giving fellowship with Him. Since we were crucified together with the Anointed One, we were made alive to live for God, not the Law.[2]

Calvin also writes in another work that if the Law is now a dead thing to us, and we are not trusting in the Law, therefore, if it makes us dead to the Law where else do we turn to find righteousness and deliverance so that we might be made alive and receive the promise of salvation? And why was all this necessary if God needed only to love us? The answer is, God cannot allow us to stand as innocent before Him until sin was not gotten rid of. We must be redeemed, called, and cleansed before that could happen. And the only one who could make that happen was Jesus the Anointed One. That’s where all God’s blessings lie and will lead to our sitting in heavenly places with Him. This should be no surprise since He chose us to be His before the foundation of the world.[3]

But that is not all. The question still remained as to how, by abolishing sin, the Anointed One removed the hostility between God and us, and purchased righteousness which made Him favorable and kind to us. For Calvin, it may be answered primarily by noting that the Anointed One accomplished this through His total obedience to the Father’s will. Paul provides this in his words, “Through Adam’s sin, death and hell came to all men. But another Man, the Anointed One, His right act makes men free and gives them life.”[4] And, indeed, elsewhere he adds the grounds for the pardon which exempts us from the curse of the law to the whole life of the Anointed One, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”[5]

As Calvin sees it, all of this allowed for the grafting of the wild olive branches into the holy olive tree of Abraham’s descendants. This was not just for show, but so that they might bear fruit. Everything that we were and did and accomplished before mirrored Adam’s influence. But now, all that we are and will do will mirror the likeness of the Anointed One. That’s why everything leftover from our sinful nature and wicked tendencies must be rendered powerless and treated as though they are dead. In Calvin’s mind, this is the whole point Paul is trying to make here in verse nineteen.[6]

Jakob Arminius wrote on what is meant by “a regenerate person?” He begins by pointing out that there are some important things that exist in the regenerate person that does not exist in the unregenerate person and vice versâ. For instance, the Holy Spirit dwells in the regenerate person but not in the unregenerate individual.[7] Furthermore, the regenerate person escaped worldly influence by getting to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The unregenerate individual is still bound and polluted. The regenerate person’s Law was written in their heart. The unregenerate individual scoffs at the Law.[8] Nor was the unregenerate individual able to prophesy in the Name of the Lord,[9] nor has the faith to move mountains.[10]

Arminius goes on to say that oddly enough, the regenerate person admitted to being a sinner, grieves because of what sin did to their life with godly sorrow, and grew tired of carrying the heavy burden of sin.[11] They are the ones the Anointed One came to redeem, call, regenerate, sanctify, and fill with His Spirit.[12] The regenerate person learned that no one achieves a right standing with God through any good deeds of their own. So, when the Holy Spirit called them to come to the Anointed One, they immediately fled to his cross where He could make them right with God.[13]

Roman Catholic scholar Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637) disagrees vehemently with Luther and Calvin’s positions on where the line is drawn with the Law for Christians saved by grace. He basis his opposition on the fact that he sees the Law as a forerunner of the Anointed One. When He appeared, the Ceremonial Law died for sure, but the Moral Law was mortally wounded only so far as it was a tutor and a judge of sin. Therefore, we are justified by the Anointed One and not by the Law. This caused the Anointed One to ask the Jews why they were so opposed to Him since it was the Law itself that sent Him. In other words, Jesus was only teaching what was already in the Law. But, says Lapide, it doesn’t mean that the binding force of the Ten Commandments ceased when the Anointed One came, for the Law in this respect was not Mosaic but natural and immutable. Apparently, Lapide did not think that when Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord God will all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second is to love one’s fellowman as they love themselves, included the Ten Commandments. By following the teachings of Jesus is to not only follow the Law but to fulfill the Law through obedience to Him.

Lapide goes on to say that through baptism a person is crucified with the Anointed One and they thereby become dead to the Law as it relates to salvation. The problem is, the Law did not offer salvation. The Law only condemned those who did not keep it perfectly in its entirely. Lapide says that baptism also signified being cut off like a branch from a wild olive tree and grafted into the holy olive tree of the Cross of the Anointed One, from which new life is drawn. That new life, not the Law, is what drives a believer into action. the Anointed One’s grace is now, as it were, the believer’s soul and the cause of all virtuous living and fountain of humility, strength, wisdom, joy, peace, and all the virtues of the Spirit. It is hard to argue with Lapide on this point. But to say that keeping the Ten Commandments and all other moral laws is a must for any Christian does water his argument down quite a bit.[14]

Reform theologian John Owen has much to say about what Paul is writing here in verse twenty. Since the just are to live by their faith in the Anointed One and His work on the cross, and everyone is to believe for themselves – justification is not done as a group, and strive to be used of God according to the gifts given them by measure of their faith – they thereby affirmed God’s pardon of their sins and are now heirs of timeless life, are doing so in line with what Paul himself experienced. In that he died on the cross with the Anointed One, he now lives with the Anointed One in him. He reports a new outlook on life because of his trust in the Son of God. He would still be lost in sin if the Anointed One didn’t love him and died to set him free.

What Paul was also doing here was proving that the Anointed One was the only sure way to God and God to us. This is not something anyone attributed to being nice, or doing charitable works, or living an external holy life as they interpreted holiness. This was something given to us because the Anointed One who, of His own accord, voluntarily undertook the task of securing justification for us. We did nothing to impress Him to do so, nor did we plead for Him to take those steps. The only reason the Anointed One died for us is the same reason we’d die for Him – the love of God. No wonder Paul stood in such amazement that he could tell the Galatians; He was the One Who loved me and gave Himself for me. So, what did Paul feel that he owed the Anointed One? He owed him his abilities and talents, his love and his life. We cannot owe our Lord anything less.[15]

[1] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 57

[2] John Calvin: Bible Cabinet, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 51-55

[3] Ephesians 1:3, 4

[4] Romans 5:19

[5] Galatians 4:4-5

[6] John Calvin: Institutes, op. cit., Vol. 3, Ch. 16, pp. 535-536

[7] Hebrews 4:4, 5

[8] Romans 2:13-18

[9] Matthew 7:22

[10] 1 Corinthians 13:2

[11] Matthew 11:28

[12] See Romans 8:30

[13] Jakob Arminius: op. cit., Vol. 2, pp. 229-230

[14] Cornelius à Lapide: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 250-257

[15] John Owen: op. cit., Vol 1, p. 139. See also pp. 223, 269

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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