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Galatians 4:1-10

 

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

 

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! (ESV)

What the Law's For

Thursday of Easter 7

5 June 2014

The law cannot get us there. It points out that we have not gotten there. The law is a road map that shows us that we are lost. A Jewish friend of mine recently reminded me that her goal is to perform the 613 separate acts of piety identified by rabbinic tradition in the Torah. I find this all very laudable, and indeed my Jewish friend is one of the most powerfully productive human beings I know. She works tirelessly for the needs of the mentally handicapped in our community, campaigning with politicians and other supporters for the needs of those who cannot support or defend themselves (Pro 31:9). She does an enormous amount of good in the world. Lord knows, the world needs it!

 

Personally, I am exhausted by just considering that there might be 613 separate demands that have been imposed upon me by a God who is alone righteous and holy and who demands righteousness and holiness of me. I have enough to struggle with in the Ten Commandments. They seem a great enough burden to me; without adding another 613 duties on top of them. Now, of course, those 613 duties are just clarifications and expansions of the Decalogue. They make explicit what may be adumbrated in the ten words from Mount Sinai. What that clarifies is that if we expect to become good by doing good we have a mountain of work ahead of us. Beside what is yet to come, we are also burdened on the climb by a crushing weight of past sin. This is why one of my other Jewish friends said, "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Gal 2:15-16). Paul, the apostle knew how great the burden of the law was. He knew that righteousness in the presence of the holy God lay not that way. But there is another righteousness that is important in this world; the righteousness of my Jewish friends has a powerful effect in the world. Sometimes we Christians become despondent about changing the world because we rightly believe that our work is not meritorious in the sight of God. We forget too easily that God also expects us to be righteous and act righteously, not to merit righteousness in His sight, but to gain earthly blessings for those for whom we labor.

 

To make all of this work we must keep the two kinds of righteousness separate from each other; each in its own rightful sphere of influence. Righteousness by the law and piety for the sake of the neighbor must be kept here on earth; where there is need for our service to other. Such righteousness must never ascend to heaven, for there it will meet the prefect the righteousness of the One who neither asks for, nor needs, our righteous acts as a service from us. He is the God who has not demanded service, but offers service to those who, like us, recognize their sins. By making this division between God's righteousness in the gospel and our own righteousness by the law, God has not abandoned the world; leaving it to its own perverse devises. "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (Ps 24:1). The world is the Lord's and He gives it the gift of the law as the means by which earthly life is conducted. The saeculum remains God's. And as laudable as our work in it may be, it merits not the righteousness which comes from God (Rm 1:16), that is the righteousness of Christ, the Lamb. Indeed, that law only kills and brings wrath in God's sight, and in that way leaves us destitute of our own holiness, that our only holiness and righteousness in God's sight might be Christ's. 

 

Martin Luther

 

"The law of Moses produces nothing that goes beyond the things of the world; that is, it merely shows both politically and theologically the evils that there are in the world. With its terrors it merely drives the conscience to thirst and yearn for the promise of God and to look at Christ. But for this the Holy Spirit is necessary, to say to the heart: 'After the law has performed its function in you, it is not the will of God that you merely be terrified and killed, but that you recognize your misery and your lost condition through the law and then do not despair but believe in Christ, who is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified (Rm 10:4).' Clearly there is nothing of the world being granted here; but all the things of the world come to an end here, and so do all the laws, and the divine things begin. So long as we are under the elements of the world, therefore--that is, under the law, which says nothing about Christ but merely discloses and increases sin and works wrath--we are slaves, subject to the law, although we have the promise of future blessing. The law does indeed say (Deut 6:5): 'You shall love the Lord your God,' but it is unable to supply the means by which I do this or acquire Christ."


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.3
 
Prayer
Lord Christ, help us to take Your law seriously, that we might see in it the blueprint for life in this age, over which You rule and reign. When, by the power of Your Spirit, we feel the condemnation of the law, lead us back into the still waters and green pastures of Your Word, through which the gospel will give us life, forgiveness, and the promise of life with You. Amen.

 

For all those who think of their loved ones, who have gone to see Jesus face to face in heaven, that they might look forward to a happy reunion at the resurrection of the flesh

 

For all those who are serving in the medical community, that they might be kept safe and that their ministrations would comfort and heal those who are suffering

 

For all those who are shut in, that the Lord would grant them patience

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)

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