Paul's Vehemence Against the Law
By Art Katz
This paper was transcribed and edited from a talk given at Ben Israel, February 19, 2006.
Paul, who said that the Law is holy and good, was vehement when speaking to the Galatians upon observing that they were beginning to flirt with the Law and think that some aspect of the Law was a supplement to faith in Jesus. I never understood why he was that vehement, but this book, Of God or Man? Light from Galatians, by John Metcalfe, published by the John Metcalfe Publishing Trust, has helped me to see it more clearly than ever before. It has to do with recognizing that Jesus condemned in the flesh everything that is of the flesh, and that the Law (any attempt by man in his own effort, by moral or other means, to bring righteousness to his life, or use such a means to obtain salvation), is a contradiction to what Jesus died for. The death of Jesus is a statement against flesh, and anything man does in the flesh by his own effort. In Judaism, observation of the Law is one of the prominent means by which one tries to obtain righteousness. To this very day, self-righteousness through ones own conduct - ritual observance and various other practises - by people who have animosity toward Jesus and the faith, is the last gasp contest between self-righteousness and divine righteousness: a fight to the death. It is an utter paradox that men would employ murder in order to maintain the system by which they hope to establish their righteousness. The death of Jesus and the persecution of the early church is an example of that.
So, why is Paul that vehement? It has everything to do with his personal history, with the way in which the revelation of the Lord apprehended him on the road to Damascus. This writer, John Metcalfe, says here:
He saw that all that was obnoxious to the wrath of God in his life, nature and flesh had been condemned vicariously in the death of Jesus on the cross . . . and in the eye and judgment of God he, Saul, had died when Christ died. (page 42)
Just to paraphrase this, Paul had a glimpse of the death of Jesus in a way that comprehended his own flesh; he died in Christ. What was he in the flesh but an exemplary Jew, perfect, according to the Law? However, he comes into the death of Jesus, which condemns the flesh. He saw that what he had honored and celebrated was vile and deserved the death to which it had been brought at the expense of the death of Gods own Son. So I am saying all that to say this: until we see, in some measure, the death of Jesus as a statement of judgment and condemnation on all flesh, we will be like the Galatians, tempted to augment our faith in Christ by performing acts which issue out of ourselves by means of deeds, by meritorious service, and by other things of that nature. We will try them as complements or supplements to the salvation that is uniquely and exclusively in Him.
Paul was vehement about this because of his personal experience of the revelation that came to him in the appearance of the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. This encounter was not an accident, but it was needful for the great apostle because he would be laying the foundations of the faith for the Church and for all subsequent generations of it. He had to nip in the bud every perverse thing that was already rising in his own time and generation, as for example, when Peter came to Antioch and ate with the Gentile believers until some Jewish believers came up from Jerusalem, sent by James, to spy on them. When he immediately changed his tactic and would not eat with the Gentiles, he went back to the Law, and Paul confronted Peter to his face in that moment. Paul would not let the moment pass, because the issue of the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel were at stake.
We need to appreciate the fact that his vehemence and jealousy for the Gospel rested in the death and resurrection of Jesus, or else he would not have been so insistent upon taking to task any condescension to the Law as a complement or a supplement to the salvation that is exclusively in Christ. These were great issues in the commencement of Pauls apostolic ministry, and they are great issues now. Paul recognized the threat of the Law, which could be holy in itself, but when it is a means for self-righteousness, let alone the attainment any kind of salvation through works, it is a statement against the death of Jesus. I did not understand that before. I just looked upon his Damascus experience as simply the way that God met him. But here is the thing: when God said through Isaiah in chapter six, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, something happened to Isaiah. He said, Woe is me, I am undone, I am a man . . . What Isaiah saw is, in essence if not exactly, what Paul saw on the road to Damascus, namely, the revelation of Christ and Him crucified. We see this as only a formula, a doctrinal requirement; we have not had the vivid exposure or revelation or procreation as it came to these men. One was the chief prophet; the other was the chief apostle, and that is why they must, of necessity, have the revelation of Christ and Him crucified in the most vivid and powerful terms, because it would affect every subsequent consideration. The Church that does not follow them in that degree of revelation and seeing loses the apostolic and prophetic quality of the faith until the crucifixion itself becomes almost trite.
There is the death, but also the resurrection that makes the death effectual as justification.
The . . . resurrection showed that death had propitiated the wrath of God and quenched the fire of eternal vengeance.
Who talks like this now?
It revealed everlasting righteousness already achieved to perfection and put to account . . . all those for whom Christ died (page 42)
The Resurrection is the stamp of the Fathers approval on the death of His Son. The fact that He did pay the price, that He satisfied every righteous requirement by which sin had to be met in righteousness by the blood of an innocent victim, and that He was resurrected, is the statement of the acceptance and vindication of that death. Paul met Jesus as the resurrected Christ. He had the revelation of the death, he had the vindication of the resurrection in the very first confrontation on the road to Damascus, and it was so powerful that it blinded him.
Because he died with Christ, he saw his own death in Christs death. He then also believed that he lived with Him. Who else is there that has this profound conviction, that if I die with Christ, I now also live with him? That death and resurrection makes my union with Him not only with His death but also His life? Thats why it is the same Paul who says, For me, to live is Christ. Again and again, Paul makes it very clear that all that issues from him issues out of union with the life of the Son of God, because he is also in union with the death of the Son of God, a death that he deserved as a notorious sinner when he sought in his own flesh to establish his own righteousness and became thereby, a persecutor of God Himself.
Henceforth therefore Saul of Tarsus would live in that union, and live by faith in that death. . . . He would live in that union [of] the power and life . . . which he felt from his [Pauline] calling, reckoning his natural life in the flesh . . . as having been crucified with Christ at Calvary. For crucified it was, and, mortifying it, he would live by the faith of the Son of God, dwelling in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, being brought into the everlasting love of the Father. (page 42)
By a mystical and divinely created union the Son had received the sinner into Himself, and that in all Sauls corruption, so transferring it to the sinless, the substitutionary, the sacrificial and the atoning Son of Man. Thus was all judged and borne away in death. To this Christs faith was addressed, and resurrection shows was justified and triumphant in the event . . . nevertheless the union still stands. In resurrection it stands. All the glory of the Son of God is made over to and actually united with Paul from the hand of the Majesty on high. (page 43)
This shows Pauls sonship and the authority that issued from it. It shows the remarkable revelation and knowledge that he had, and the authority that he expressed when he rebuked the apostle Peter earlier, and that to his face before the hearing of others. It all issued out of the sonship that was Pauls by virtue of union with the Son, both in death and in life. I do not know that we have sufficiently appreciated that now. Thats one thing, and like unto it is that,
. . . Calvary was the faith of the Son of God to be made a sacrifice for men who could not work, helpless sinners who could do nothing, those cursed by the law. So that in their place, made as them, as their real substitutionary sacrifice, both the justice of the law and the everlasting righteousness of God might be poured out, and poured out, and poured out in vengeance and judgment till the last drop, to the uttermost drain, till all was totally exhausted and seen to be exhausted, in the drooping head and dripping blood of the slain and dead sacrifice. (page 44)
I am happy for this description because this is the way Paul saw the atonement of Jesus: dripping to the last drop unto death - a statement of Gods provision for failed sinners, for those attempting by law and self-righteousness to attain to some kind of righteousness in a failed way. It is a statement that the only thing that could meet them was the substitutionary atonement of His blood to the last drop, unto death. So this is not a polite little Jesus on the cross looking like a ballet dancer heaving a last breath and giving His spirit to the Father. This is seeing the sacrifice richly and deeply, and seeing that it covers the entire multitude of the failings of men and their sin. Whether they are Law seeking, or Law rejecting, they are equally sinners, but the blood and the life given up to the last drop covers the multitude of all that transgression. This is the foundation of Pauls apostolic life, the revelation of the Cross, the suffering and the death to the last drop, and the union that comes in that death, with the life that issues from it in resurrection.
All requirement of justice, legal and divine, is forever satisfied, world without end. The sinner is justified in Christ for time and eternity beyond all further question.
Yet if men go back to the Law, any part of it, sign of it, or all of it, they are saying, It was not so. And that Paul calls, Frustrating the grace of God, or Christ dying in vain. (page 44)
If men go back to the Law after this, it frustrates the grace of God and makes the sacrificial death of none account. It is Christ dying in vain. Can you see why Paul was so vehement with the Galatians? What has deceived you so much that you can think that adopting Jewish Law will complement your salvation in Christ? Why, embracing as little as one figment of the Law, you make the death and the shedding of that blood null and void. You make the grace of God vain. That is why he was so insistent, because he esteemed every last drop of that blood that was required for the effecting of salvation. Nothing less or other than that would do, because all flesh is inherently sinful and evil and no good thing can come of it, and Christ in the flesh suffered death for the flesh. To go back to the flesh and any form of righteousness through law is to make that sacrifice null and void, and to make the grace of God vain. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. (Galatians 5:2) If righteousness comes by the Law, Christ is dead in vain. It is one thing for us to say this, but it is another thing for one who so highly esteems that death to say it.
His death was vain? That the Son of God came down from heaven and became flesh and man, and suffered that excruciating death to the last drop that was vain? That was needless as though the Law could have been perfected, and it would have sufficed? See what I mean? Paul embraced the atoning death of Jesus and the revelation of his own sinful nature that came to him on the road to Damascus. The effect of hearing, Why do you persecute Me - you so-called self-righteous zealot? was devastating, and it had to be, if this man was to become the foundational apostle of the Church.
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So what is the point for us? The point is, we need the same appropriation of the atonement and sacrifice of Jesus. We need to see the same condemnation of flesh and self-effort that Paul saw in the vivid revelation that came to him, affecting all his subsequent days and making him the vehement opponent in Galatia to those Jewish believers who were seducing Christians. They thought that they needed to embrace some aspect of the Law to fulfill their faith and come into the full Jewish inheritance, which is where we are today.
This is a struggle now. Though it may not be Jewish Law that tempts you, any act of self-righteousness is a return to the flesh and makes the sacrifice of Jesus vain. This is Pauls total and exclusive concentration, which is the foundation of the faith that God made in him. It is not only the embrace of the death of Jesus that brings his own flesh to death, but he is joined with Him in newness of life as well. He becomes a son of God; he can say Abba Father. The new life has come in as the old life has gone out. He is another man - another authority, another reality - because the two go together. There is no appropriation of the life of God that results in sonship and service without first, the embrace of the death that results in the complete annihilation of any hope in the flesh for righteousness. That is why there are so few sons to be found in Christendom today. They do not embrace the death maybe as a doctrinal condescension, but not in the depth of Pauls appropriation. It has to come as it did also for Isaiah, through revelation. We would be wise to ask for some measure of that revelation, or our faith will dissipate into something shallow and inadequate, and we will have made the grace of God of none effect.
So what a return to the Law means here is more than just circumcision and the various acts in themselves; it represents bringing back in a whole administration of human works righteousness, that which stands in the power of the first Adam to do and perform. For all of its righteous appearance, it does not attain to the glory of God, and it cannot bring about transforming salvation.
For Isaiah and Paul, the key word is saw I saw. In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Paul saw the crucified and resurrected Christ. There is a seeing that is the key, and God has to grant that grace; we need to request it; we need to ask for it.
So Lord, we have fallen short of the apostolic truths, of insistence on the salvation that has come exclusively through Your blood. We have settled for something doctrinal, something merely verbal that we think that we have because we can articulate it. But we have not the vivid sense that Paul had, for if we did, we would be enemies of the flesh and of the Law, and of any attempt to establish our righteousness by what issues from the flesh, which You condemned in Your suffering unto death.
So Lord, I am asking for the Church of the Last Days that Pauls great struggle would not be in vain, that the Church would not lapse again into the temptations of the hour that came to the Galatians under the seducers that wanted to Judaize and bring to them the attractive aspects of the Law, any aspect of which would have made null and void the sacrifice of Christ.
Lord, make this dear to us, we are pleading with You. We are asking for revelation; it is the heart of the faith. You gave it to these great men who are apostles and prophets, and to whatever degree we have a destiny in which those words are incorporate, we ask for a comparable revelation. May it come in Your time we pray, and we would strike our chest and say, Woe is me, I am undone, for I am a man. . .
We thank you Lord for Paul, for the purity and depth of his faith, for his unwillingness for one moment to allow the faith in any way to be compromised in condescension to men, and for his insistence on the truth of the Gospel, confronting the chief apostle Peter to his face in that very moment, in the hearing of others. Thank You for that jealousy that is the statement of his sonship and the statement that issues out of his union with You. That was not just human verve, that was itself the life of God being expressed with the same indignation that Jesus would have expressed it, had He been there in that situation - and was there in the resurrection that is the life of Paul.
Come, my God and bring us to that reality, for that is the only reality, and we ask it in Yeshuas holy name, for Your names sake. Amen
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The greatest lie of Satan is that man can be improved. That there is any hope for man to improve himself and better himself is the greatest lie that society is under. It is no accident that Paul cites his every attribute and distinction as a righteous man Hebrew of the Hebrews, according to zeal, according to the law, perfect, and yet he sees himself as justly condemned in the crucifixion of Christ, that he deserved to be apprehended in that death, that flesh. So there is no room for any self-justification, for any celebration of man, or the lie that man can improve himself.
We need to see Pauls experience not just as an unusual event in history, but rather see that the depth of it, the magnitude of it, the way it took place, was calculated by God to reverberate through all of Pauls subsequent apostolic career, which affects us to this hour. So I just appreciate what God wrought in that man, and I understand now, better than ever, why he was so vehement against the Law which he said is holy and good, but not when men will employ it as a means of salvation or to effect their righteousness. He announces his apostolic credentials not as a vain boast, but because everything rests in believing and receiving what issues from him as coming from God. He said:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11 KJV).
If he had not been this vehement in his speech to the Galatians, it is a moot question whether the faith would have survived to this day or would rather have been corrupted and lost in early Church heresies, but his vehement opposition nipped something in the bud and stands as an instruction to this day for our consideration. The premium is on revelation God apprehended Paul, and in that, Paul apprehended God.
. . .the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ . . .
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mothers womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus (Gal. 1:11-12, 15-17 KJV).
He was a man besieged, not only by the unbelieving Christ rejecting Jewish community, but also
by the Jewish believers who still had a propensity toward the Law, and wanted Gentiles to embrace some aspect of the Law in order that they should become Christians, as they saw Christianity.
The first thing about revelation is that it affects both death and resurrection. All of Pauls reality after his conversion was based upon the miracle of resurrection, whichwas based upon a revelation that put to death everything of man that he trusted. It destroyed confidence in the flesh and opened wide the veil so he could see Christ as his all. To go back from that to the Law is a complete reversal that Paul would not tolerate, thank God.
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Where is boasting then? The upright Jew and the Gentile idolater are under the same condemnation. In Galatians Paul says, Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count, but a new creation. Just like the believer is born from above, the only works that a believer can perform that count are also born from above, and they are the doing not of the believer, but Christ in the believer. The commandments of God are being fulfilled, yet, they are not being fulfilled by man, but through man. They are not of man but dependent on another life, the life of the resurrection. Also, we are reminded of how the priest was not permitted to sweat. The Lord will not allow any taint of human effort or labor to come into His righteousness. If it did, it would pollute it; it would leaven the whole. He is jealous to ensure that everything of value for eternity must come out of this life, and this life is a life that is born.
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One of the great issues in Pauls time was, What is the ethic of the faith? What are the rules and regulations - what is moral, how does one live? Before we had the Law, now youre saying that the Law is done. Pauls answer is that righteousness issues out of the Life. The Life itself will give the right ethical and moral decision in any situation. If one is living out of that Life, he is making a radical supposition that rests everything again upon the death and resurrection of Jesus. So this is the most remarkable innovation - Paul was on the hotseat because they were wanting rules and regulations. How shall we conduct ourselves? Now that you have condemned the Law, how do we determine righteous conduct? Pauls answer is, In Christ, in the new creation, by those who are in it consistently, which is far more difficult than following rules and regulations. Moreover, there are people who prefer rules and regulations to having to obtain the Life and live consistently by it, as he did.
Pauls great maxim was that every tree brings forth fruit after its own kind, and the seed is what determines the fruit. Therefore, he is saying what Jesus said to the Pharisees, If you were Abrahams children, you would do the works of Abraham. The presence of the Abrahamic life, which is the life of Christ, assures and guarantees works and fruit after its own kind. The absence of fruit is an indictment against the profession of one who claims to be of either Abraham or Christ. But bearing fruit is not something that a person is doing to supplement or augment his salvation. So when one is being circumcised, it does not matter if it is circumcision or any other law, because Paul said, had there been any law, not just the Law, but had there been a law that could have given righteousness, then surely, righteousness should have come by that law. But God has said, No, righteousness has come from heaven above; you must be Gods very own righteousness, perfected in one place only, in the Redeemer, so you must access into this grace.
From Oswald Chambers we have a statement that sums up the pre-Damascus Road Paul. One of the most cunning travesties is to represent Satan as the instigator of external sin. The satanically managed man is moral, upright, proud and individual; he is absolutely self-governed and has no need of God that is Paul before the Damascus road. That is the very essence of sin independence.
The verse, We dare not trust the sweetest frame. . ., brings to mind that, if the most fetching and inviting work, ever so correct and right, is looked to as a means of advancing or attaining righteousness, it becomes an absolute snare because it shows that you have not yet despaired of the old nature and of all that is under the flesh. All of it, even the best of it, is under condemnation.
It is an astonishing thing that the Lord came into the very heart of Pharisaical self-righteousness in a religious system that had been growing for centuries. He came into that with a radical alternative that completely blows away that to which Jews have subscribed for generations, and established a wholly new basis of righteousness through believing in Him. How can such an enterprise succeed, except it be in God? And little wonder that it was so contended against. As I said, men will kill merely to preserve the right to be self-righteous.
* * * *
So now, what do we think of modern evangelism that predicates the whole issue of salvation on men making a decision for Christ, according to their will and at the moment of their choosing? Is that a valid salvation? Or is that a condescending again to the flesh by which an act of man determines his status - because this is the modern mode of evangelism you make a decision, you decide for Christ you. It is not the mystery of God in the moment of His choosing and the supernatural birth that comes down from above, but you determine now that you will accept Christ. This may be one of the greatest travesties in the history of modern Christianity.
It is an ultimate presumption and optimism about man, that he can just secure for himself what he naturally has access to and what he so wills. But the context of the scripture, Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, has to do with the revelation that comes when, in the Day of the Lord, they will look upon Him whom they pierced, and in that day, they will call upon the Lord. There is a revelation here.
So when people are told that just saying a prayer is a true calling on the name of the Lord, it is not the truth, because that calling must come out of a revelation that has put to death every natural confidence, and God Himself must initiate that. It is through the anointed preached word that invokes desperation in a person. When there is a despair of everything natural, and a hope that this one answer, this one provision of God, will avail anything, it brings about a calling on the name of the Lord that results in a true transaction with God. But if we tell people, Just say this prayer after me, we are putting all the onus on human initiative and human response without revelation. True preaching is an intervention of true revelation that casts down every carnal confidence, leaving us nowhere to go but to Christ. The truth is given to cause us to despair of any other alternative but to go to Christ.
So when it is back to man, man determining himself, this is the ultimate, quintessential original sin. It is self-determination, and it breeds a whole generation of shallow backsliding Christians whose lives are of little account to God; they bear no fruit.
Lord, we begin by asking that we would tremble, but not a trembling that we would like, if there were anything in which we are trusting other than You alone for that appointed moment when it would please God to reveal His Son in us. We ask that something corporate would come to Ben Israel: an appointed season, an appointed time of refreshing. We pray, Lord, that Your very Son would be revealed in a new way by which we are much more apprehended than ever before.
We know that everything reveals to us that we are short of this depth of revelation. Because we believe that this depth of revelation brings a depth of destruction to every carnal confidence, and we dont see ourselves in that place as yet, we invite, implore even, that You would find it in your heart to visit Ben Israel, corporately Lord, and sweep through the camp. As we look upon You afresh and anew, we pray that every presumption would be utterly, utterly blasted, and wither by Your Spirit, in a death that we have never seen before, that it would have no place of standing. We pray that in that humility and brokenness, Lord, a true apostolic ministry could go forth out of here, and that others would be raised up that could carry this torch into many nations. Lord, I pray that we would produce fruit after our own kind because we would be the seed, we would be the thing in itself, we are asking Lord to be that, and we know it takes Your absolute initiative if peradventure, You would reveal Christ in us.
You alone know what You gave Paul on the road to Damascus that blinded him, and he had three days of neither eating nor drinking to brood over that revelation and review his whole Judaistic life in the light of it. What an investment for all the future. How great of You to have done what You have done to set the Church on its right foundation when there were so many perils and temptations and seductions crowding Pauls time - even from leaders of the Church like Peter and James.
So we thank You Lord - and if You took the pains to make such an investment in an apostle at the foundation of the Church, what about the Church in its last days? What will you do, my God, to assure again that the foundations are secure, and that there would be men of apostolic and prophetic authority that will speak in the same way as Paul, and see to what is needful. So we are asking my Lord, to reveal, to grant, to be jealous over Your Church, to be jealous over this little aspect of it that we ourselves are, because You are doing something in us and with us when You started with Isaiah 6 and now adding this. It is all one monumental theme that has to do with revelation of Yourself crucified, dead, and risen. So, we bless You Lord. Thank You, my God, for Your patience. Do a work in us we pray; it is Your work, Lord. We thank you, as we ask it in Yeshuas name.
Of God or Man? Light from Galatians by John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe Publishing Trust, Penn, Buckinghamshire