If Christ has saved me what is the purpose of the law? Saturday, 27th week in ordinary time – Galatians 3:22-29
Let me begin by saying that this text and a couple to follow can be a strain on the brain; so don’t expect to understand it at first reading. I am also presuming that you have read the previous explanations on Galatians this week.
Let’s tackle the issue. Paul who had been a zealous keeper of the Jewish law and traditions encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. It is now his stated position that he was justified by faith alone and what Jesus did for him the law could not do. In traditional Jewish thinking, you’r standing before God was measured by your obedience to the law. To truly be close to God, to be considered sons of God, you had to be extremely observant of the law, just as the Scribes and Pharisees were (Matthew 23). Paul now down plays the importance of the law as secondary to faith in Christ. The Catholic reader is bound to ask a rather valid question; why do we then observe the ten commandments? What then is the purpose of the law?
For Paul, the law was part of God’s plan as a ‘first response’ to sin. The function of the law was to define man’s legal standing before God. The law protects us by showing us God’s heart. It protects us by showing us the best way to live. It protects us by showing what should be approved and disapproved among men. It protects us by providing a foundation for civil law. However, this is the be all and end all of the power of the law. So, to put in another way, the law serves a purpose to help us evaluate sin before God. However, the law is incapable of justifying us, of making us right before God. The law can tell you what you ought not to do and can evaluate your life but the law cannot transform our relationship before God. The law can only tell us what we have done and what is the penalty for what we have done. What takes us further is faith in Jesus and his grace.
Does the law have a place in salvation history? Yes, says Paul, but for a limited function. The function of the law was to prevent, to impede and hold down sin. The Law of Moses can show us clearly our problem and God’s standard, but it cannot give us the freedom that only Jesus can give. But with the coming of Jesus and when we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive righteousness. Righteousness is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. (verse22) So, with the coming of Christ, the law (Jewish law and traditions) which was secondary, bound by a purpose and inferior; have served its purpose. Now that THE offspring has come, the grace of Christ takes over and we should harken to it.