“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 all men under sin, 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, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:21-29, NASB.
The law, according to the writings of Paul, has its purpose, but it isn’t the purpose we may think. I have grappled with all kinds of metaphors to illustrate this, such as forest for the trees, clanging cymbal in a symphony, carburetor in an engine, anything that shows that too close a focus on one thing alone out of context makes understanding it impossible.
The law very much has its place, it is just that the place isn’t a personal resolve to obey. The law is a flashlight that shows the skeletons in the closet, but a flashlight cannot lift a single mote of dust with its light beam. Does that make the flashlight bad or wrong? Of course not. God doesn’t just point the law at us and say, “aren’t you foul!” He points to say, “you might need some help there.”
So we have this spelled out in Galatians. Look at v. 24 and 25, read it close. The law has become our “tutor” – what does he mean? It leads us to Christ, because it sets up a moral standard that we have trouble fulfilling, pointing us to the need for something better, something beyond that. He is quite clear in this passage that we are no longer under this tutor, now that faith has come, we are NO LONGER UNDER A TUTOR!
Which law is he talking about? By what standard are we to pick and choose which laws are obscure and no longer to be applied to Christians and which laws are still in force? We’re probably still under the ones that make sense to us now, right? Just the real important ones. All those weird old-fashioned ones are the ones he is talking about here, we’re not under those weird ones. On what basis do we distinguish? If you think back to all of your teaching and learning as a Christian person over the years, this point has always been a little fuzzy hasn’t it? It is fuzzy because PAUL DOESN”T DISTINGUISH. The ENTIRE LAW is our tutor, the ENTIRE LAW is the thing we are no longer under because of faith. He doesn’t just mean, you no longer have to get circumcised and you no longer have to observe the feast of booths. He means you no longer HAVE to observe ANY of it.
See why this question arises over and over in Paul’s writings – “Is the Law bad then? You mean, we don’t have to do the law? You mean we can simply do anything we want? Should we sin more so grace can increase?” If you are grokking this correctly, those are precisely the right questions. The answer is not, “Oh, I didn’t mean that, of course you have to do the big important laws. Only certain laws are the ones you are no longer under, and you’ll have to figure which ones out since Paul is so ambiguous about what he means.” He isn’t ambiguous – he says “the Law”, and he means the WHOLE LAW. So the answer is, no, you don’t have to be under the law, any of it. It simply doesn’t work that way any more, if you are under faith/grace/Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean you look at your skeleton laden closet and say, wow, I just love skeletons! It means, I won’t be condemned for them, and I can be certain of help cleaning them up.
Doesn’t this passage, and all the rest of Paul’s writings, start to make sense now? When Jesus nails us all for even having an idle angry thought as being murderers, he is pressing the law as a tutor to lead us to the place of the tax-gatherer who couldn’t lift his head when he prayed, and said “have mercy on me, a sinner!” This is how Jesus had such exact harsh moral teachings and yet just as clearly pressed teaching about mercy and grace and had sinners throwing parties for Him. Jesus isn’t schizophrenic, He just happens to think exactly along the same lines as Paul does. Why is that weird? The law takes us to that place that says, “I really do need help, I don’t want to do this any more.” And it is this tax-gatherer/sinner, not the self-righteous pharisee, who went away justified. When he tells them, go and learn this, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, He means it in a most personal and profound way. He wants us to let the law corral us to the place of grace.
So, Robert Krause :), we are no longer under the law, it is spelled out here and in many places in the writings of Paul. Grace puts the law in perspective, but we find that the law does not really attempt to put grace in perspective. That would be the wrong way around.
In the end, we are deliriously, deliciously free. Free indeed. When our motorcycle falls down, grace helps us back up. Despite our glaring and horrible faults, God remains our Father who welcomes us back, who always loves us, who quickly restores our dignity, who celebrates us. We are ever His pearl, His precious obsession. The law only serves to lead us to this place, this great romance. The gospel, this real gospel, the gospel which is according to the whole message of scripture, is really really great happy stuff. It makes me genuinely glad to be a believer, I have something real and beautiful and substantial to believe, something true.