CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXIII)

3:12: You see, living by faith is so different than living under Mosaic Law, which says, “If you want to find eternal life through Mosaic Law, you must consistently obey every one of its religious rituals and regulations.”

Again, Paul shows his expertise in Jewish Law by quoting Leviticus 18:5. This was part of a prelude to the Law God gave Moses to share with His people. Paul says it was very clear, very simple, and very emphatic. If you follow Mosaic Law it does not take faith, it takes force. Furthermore, the only way you can succeed is by making your salvation dependent on keeping every one of those laws without fail. Mosaic Law does not allow for nor encourage faith. In fact, Paul told the Romans, if a person works, their pay is not a gift. It is something they earned. However, if a person does not work to be saved but puts their trust in the God who saves people from the punishment of their sins, as a gift that person is made right with God because of their trust in the Anointed One’s work on Calvary. So, God’s promise is given to us because we put our trust in Him. We can be sure of it because of His loving-favor to us.[1]

Obviously, the Gentiles were listening but the Jews were not. So, Paul points to the Gentiles and says, these heathens were not made right with God by the Law. They were made right with God because they put their trust in Him. You Jews tried to be right with God by obeying the Law for centuries, but you never became right with God on your own. Why? Because you did not put your trust in God, only in the Law. You tried to be right with God by working for it. You tripped over the most important Stone – the Anointed One.[2] Didn’t Isaiah, one of your own prophets say, “See! I put a Rock in the path to Jerusalem that people will trip over trying to get by on their way to heaven. It is a Rock that will make them fall. But the person who puts their trust in this Rock to get them there, will not be humiliated?[3]

Don’t you see, says Paul, when a person puts their trust in the Anointed One, they are made right with God. You do not need to ask yourself, “Who will go up to heaven to bring the Anointed One down?” And you do not need to ask, “Who will go below and bring the Anointed One up from the dead?”[4] After all, the Torah tells us, “The Good News is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.[5] This Good News tells about putting your trust in the Anointed One. This is what we preached to you. If you confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved from the punishment of sin.[6]

As mentioned before, Paul only carried scrolls of the Torah, the Prophets, and Wisdom Literature to preach from. But he was also familiar with the oral teachings that became part of the Mishnah and Talmud which contained ancient sayings of the Rabbis on how to interpret the Torah. So, I’m sure he often used that as well with the Jewish converts. For instance, in the Talmud, we read that the Rabbis were once talking and noted that God once said to the Gentiles that if they accept the Torah, all will be good between Him and them. But if they don’t, all they can look forward to is the grave. However, the Holy One, blessed be He, will give them a choice. He said to them through the prophet Isaiah, let the Gentiles gather together, then let them present spokesmen who can reveal what they are claiming really did happened in the past. Let them bring their witnesses to justify their claims so that upon hearing what the spokesmen were saying, “That’s true.”

However, then a challenge will be given to them. They will be told that there were seven commandments they refused to obey. But, someone asked, how will we know they will be telling the truth if they say they did? That’s when one of the Rabbis said that Rabbie Joseph learned from Habakkuk that the Lord, blessed be He, stood and looked over the earth. He then made the mountains break into pieces and the hills to crumble.[7] “And why did He, blessed be He, do this?” they asked.  Because He, blessed be He, saw that the Gentiles did not observe even the seven precepts which the sons of Noah pledged to uphold.[8] Nevertheless, the Lord, blessed be He, stood up and released them from any wrongdoing. Well, said one, according to this it pays to be a sinner!

Then one of the listeners, “Mar, the son of Rabina,” said that although the Gentiles were released from any culpability for not obeying the Laws of Noah, they will still not be rewarded. But why shouldn’t they, someone inquired. Because, as Rabbi Meir used to say that even an idol worshiper who studies the Torah is equal to a High Priest. He took that from what the Torah says, “You are to observe my laws and rulings; if any person does them, they will have life through them; I am Adonai.”[9] Take note, said the speaker, it does not specify this someone needs to be a Priest, Levite, or even Israelite. So, what does this mean to us Jews? That even we can learn from the Gentiles, was the answer.

Here is the key to understanding this, the Gentiles will be greatly rewarded because they did what was right without being told to do so. In other words, they possessed no Torah. Yet, Rabbi HaNina once said that those who are commanded and do what is required of them, stand higher than the one who is not commanded and yet does so.[10] Hebrew scholars tell us that the main idea underlying this principle is the contrast between the free will of mankind and the Will of God. It’s God’s Authority as opposed to Man’s Authority. In other words, good deeds are done only based on emotion and common sense is less important than when God asks us to do it. When we are prompted by the command of God through His Spirit, God is more pleased than when it is done just for attention and merit trying to be a good person.[11]

It’s a good thing Paul did not use the logic of the nine philosophers in Plato’s “Parmenides,” to define perfection as required by Mosaic Law.  Here we have Parmenides talking to Zeno: “Then the one which is not, if it is to maintain itself, must have the being of not-being as the bond of not-being, just as being must have as a bond the not-being of not-being in order to perfect its own being; for the truest assertion of the being of being and of the not-being of not-being is when being partakes of the being of being, and not of the being of not-being – that is, the perfection of being; and when not-being does not partake of the not-being of not-being but of the being of not-being – that is the perfection of not-being.” Did you get that?  Now you know why I experienced so much fun reading The Dialogues of Plato!

Let’s put Parmenides’ tongue-twister of into a word picture. If you’ve ever seen a tight rope act you know that when the person starts walking on the rope, merely hoping they’ll get to the other side won’t count as success.  Saying, “I believe I can make it,” won’t matter to the onlookers. And once you’re out on the rope, if you slip and fall, it’s all over. You don’t pick yourself up off the concrete ten stories below, or off the rocks on Niagara Falls and say, “Oh well, I tried.” Either you make it by staying on the rope the whole way or you don’t. That means you walked the tightrope to perfection. It’s that simple. The same is true when trying to reach heaven by the tightrope of Mosaic Law.

God did not unintentionally mislead His people in laying down the principles by which a person could find life by keeping Mosaic Law. “If you want My approval,” says the LORD, “then you must abide by and fulfill the whole Mosaic Law.”  If you want to take a chance and live by Mosaic Law, you must master it. Trying to do it, intending to do it, and wanting to do it will not count. Only the person who succeeds in keeping them all will stay alive by virtue of perfection. No wonder Paul was tempted to bang his head against a wall when he learned that because of the Judaizers the Galatian Christians were throwing away their free faith in the Anointed One’s work and replacing it with the stringent requirements of man’s own efforts to obtain the same thing, eternal life; something totally unnecessary and impossible.  You talk about backsliding, that’s more like belly-flopping in an empty swimming pool.

Perhaps Paul’s eyes filled with tears knowing that if the Galatians tied themselves to Mosaic Law there was no forgiveness at the end for trying and failing, no participation trophy, it required perfect obedience. The church you go to may be far different now from its early days of the Evangelical and Pentecostal movements. But those old enough can remember when church laws took precedence over God’s grace. Even the slightest error could result in public humiliation. It was almost as though a believer was on probation their whole life. One mistake and back to sin’s jail you go, lost and undone, away from God and hope, a miserable sinner who was given no choice but to start all over again. It pains me deeply, but I wonder sometimes if members of my own family were cast in that light and never enjoyed the spiritual freedom they might have savored if only they were judged by their faith, not by their obedience to church standards and supervision.

Martin Luther opens a window for us to see into his thinking on this twelfth verse. For him, Paul undertakes to explain the difference between the righteousness of the Law and the righteousness of faith. The righteousness of the Law is the fulfillment of the Law according to the passage: “The man that does them will live in them.”[12] The righteousness of faith is to believe the Gospel according to the passage: “The just shall live by faith.”[13] The Law is a statement of debit, the Gospel a statement of credit. By this distinction Paul explains why charity which is the commandment of the Law cannot justify, because the Law contributes nothing to our justification.[14]

[1] Romans 4:4-5, 16

[2] Ibid. 9:30-32

[3] Isaiah 28:16

[4] Deuteronomy 30:11-12

[5] Ibid. 30:14

[6] Cf. Romans 10:10

[7] Habakkuk 3:6

[8] In searching the Torah, Rabbis believe that God helped them establish several rules to live by. There were prohibitions against worshiping idols, cursing God, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, eating flesh torn from a living animal, as well as the obligation to establish courts of justice. See Book of Jubilees 7:20-28

[9] Leviticus 18:5

[10] Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Abodah Zarah, folio 2b-3a

[11] Ibid. Folio 3a, footnote 2

[12] Cf. Leviticus 18:5

[13] See Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Hebrews 10:38

[14] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 73

About drbob76

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