Posted in theology

I died … to the law

By Elizabeth Prata

Such is the confidence we have toward God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

In this 2 Corinthians verse, Paul is explaining that following the ‘letter’ of the law is a shallow, external conformity to the commands of the Law and not an internal faith and belief. Think: Pharisees. The Pharisees were rebuked for swallowing a camel but straining out a gnat. It means they were hyper-vigilant over little things (going after a gnat), but ignored the big need- forgiveness from sin. They tithed cumin but their sacrifices to God were empty. They observed rites and ceremonies to the letter but missed the spiritual significance of its intent- to demonstrate their need for a Savior.

They adhered to the letter of the Law but entirely missed its intent: which was to make a person recognize his sinfulness and total inability to reach the Law’s required perfection. Anyone who relied on the Law for salvation would die (i.e the Law/letter kills). Paul admitted his own inability to reach perfection after salvation, seeing in hindsight that his adherence to the Law was only shallow works that meant nothing to God, it was all rubbish.

Paul explains further in Galatians. He is re-teaching the Galatians that justification is by faith alone, apart from the works of the Law of Moses. Legalistic Jews had insisted that Christians must keep the Mosaic Law and their stance had confused the Galatians. Galatians 2:19 says –

For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live for God.

Barnes’ Notes says of that verse’s meaning:

that by contemplating the true character of the Law of Moses itself; by considering its nature and design; by understanding the extent of its requisitions, he had become dead to it; that is, he had laid aside all expectations of being justified by it.”

Or, if you’re Italian like me, “the Law is dead to me!” It’s all of grace!

Knowles in The Bible Guide says,

The key question is this: did they receive the Holy Spirit by following the law or by receiving the gospel? And if keeping the law can achieve salvation, why did Jesus go to the cross? The answer is, of course, that they have come to spiritual life only through the death of Jesus and faith in the gospel.

I’m reminded of the Dagon incident of 1 Samuel 5. Dagon was a false deity in the form of a half-man, half-fish. He was supposedly the father of Baal. The Philistines were feeling joyful because they had captured the Ark of the Covenant and put it in their temple next to Dagon. When they got up the next morning, the Dagon statue was on its face. They set it right. The next morning, the Dagon statue’s trunk was in its place, but the head and hands had been cut off and were on the threshold. Gulp! They were so spooked, “This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.” (1 Samuel 5:5). Whether a false god is a fish or any other image, it is empty. Clinging to the Law as a work for salvation is just as empty as the mere block of wood that Dagon was.

People have been trying since Cain to approach God in the way they want to, not in the way He demands. The Gentiles think they will be heard for their many words repeated in prayers. The modern version of this is Contemplative prayer, or for Catholics, penance (repeating the same prayer a certain number of times, or doing a work, or making an offering). The Judaizers thought that works like circumcision were the pathway to God. The modern version of this is Oprah’s good works and generosity religion being one pathway to God – among many. (Oprah’s words- “There are many paths to what you call God. Her path might be something else, and when she gets there she might call it the Light, but her loving and her kindness and her generosity, if it brings her to the same place it brings you, it doesn’t matter whether she calls it God or not.”) Mystics think that pursuing wisdom and higher knowledge will get them to God, as satan said to Eve in the Garden, ‘you will be wise’.

Satan is the originator of all the paths to God that aren’t Jesus, and he recycles them over and over. Why? Because they are successful on the unwary. There are two religions. Jesus as the way to God, and all the others which are satan’s. In those ways, satan has twisted even the New Testament’s Gospel into a killing letter. Matthew Henry said:

But even the New Testament will be a killing letter, if shown as a mere system or form, and without dependence on God the Holy Spirit, to give it a quickening power. (2 Timothy 3:5).

Faith is through grace alone. Beware of twisting even the good and great Gospel into mere rites and ceremonies and form letters. The power of the Spirit quickens us, enlivens us, gives power and might to live according to all that is holy and right. “Such is the confidence we have toward God through Christ.

Letter of the Law

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Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.