Summary: In addition to the fact that turning to the Law ruins grace, there is the additional problem that it creates an entirely new obligation: a person is obligated to keep the whole Law.
December 4, 2013
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Chapter IV.A.2: The Law Obligates the Believer (5:3)
We continue with Paul’s argument to stand fast in the liberty and freedom of grace.
3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
In addition to the fact that turning to the Law ruins grace, there is the additional problem that it creates an entirely new obligation: a person is obligated to keep the whole Law. You cannot pick and choose just those parts of the Law that you like. You cannot leave out the penalties and a great deal of the detail. You must take the whole Law or nothing because the Law is a unit. If a person puts himself under any part of it for justification, he is a “debtor” to the entire code with its requirements and its curse (Gal. 3.10[i]; James 2.10[ii]). I am glad that I am not under the Law. I have liberty in Christ! I must admit that I have a problem of always pleasing Him, but He is the One I am trying to please. I am not following some legal system, “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.”
The phrase “every man that is circumcised” is misleading, because Jewish Christians who had been circumcised before they heard the Gospel of Christ were not debtors to the whole Law or any part of it. The word “again” does not refer to what has just been said in verse 2 or to anything else in the present epistle, but probably to warnings which Paul had uttered on some occasion when he was in Galatia (Gal. 1.9[iii]; 4.16[iv]). The sinner’s debt to do the whole Law was so crushing that he could only declare himself bankrupt and trust solely in the mercy of the Great Creditor.
God’s Word teaches that when we were unsaved, we owed God a debt we could not pay. Jesus makes this clear in His parable of the Two Debtors (Lk. 7.36-50). In the parable two men owed money to the same creditor, but one owed ten times as much as the other. But neither man was able to pay, so the creditor “graciously forgave them both.” No matter how much morality a man may have, he still comes short of the glory of God. Even if his sin debt is one-tenth that of others, he stands unable to pay, bankrupt at the judgment bar of God. God in his grace, because of the work of Christ on the cross, is able to forgive sinners, no matter how large their debt may be.
Thus, when we trust Christ, we become spiritually rich. We now share in the richness of God’s grace (Eph. 1.7), the riches of His glory (Eph. 1.18; Phil. 4.19), the riches of His wisdom (Rom. 11.33), and the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3.8). In Christ we have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2.3), and we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2.10). Once a person is in Christ, he has all he needs to live the kind of Christian life God wants him to live.
The Judaizers, however, wants us to believe that we are “missing something,” that we would be more “spiritual” if we practiced the Law with its demands and disciplines. But Paul makes it clear that the Law adds nothing—because nothing can be added! Instead, the Law comes in like a thief and robs the believer of the spiritual riches he has in Christ. It puts him back into bankruptcy and makes him responsible for a debt he cannot pay.
To live by grace means to depend on God’s abundant supply of every need. To live by Law means to depend on my own strength—the flesh—and to be left to get by without God’s abundant supply. Paul warns the Galatians that to submit to circumcision in these circumstances would rob them of all the benefits they have in Jesus Christ (though circumcision itself is an indifferent matter—Gal. 5.6[v]; 6.15[vi]). Furthermore to submit would put them under the obligation to obey the entire Law.
God’s standard is perfection, therefore, when somebody who is depending on keeping the Law as his means of salvation, fails to keep just one part of it he is just as guilty as if he failed to keep all the Law. The bottom line is this: no one was ever saved by keeping the Law because it just CAN’T be done.
[i] For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. [When Paul says that those who are under the works of the law are under the curse, he doesn’t mean that the law is bad or the Word of God is wrong. He simply means that God never intended the law to be the way we find our approval before Him. He knew we could never keep the law, and so God instituted the system of atoning sacrifice along with the law. And the entire sacrificial system looked forward to what Jesus would accomplish on the cross for us.]