We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet 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.[Galatians 2:15-16]
One of the most common and consequential assumptions in the modern Christian church revolves around the principle purpose of God’s law — or Torah. Whenever a christian becomes spiritually convicted and convinced that the Torah is still relevant and applicable, he is almost always castigated by the “church,” either as a legalist or a heretic.
Traditionally, a New Testament christian who keeps the law of Moses is a walking contradiction — a religious oxymoron. We have been conditioned to label all “law-keepers” as legalists because of the false assumption that all Torah observers are attempting somehow to merit their own salvation by keeping the works of the law and therefore nullifying God’s grace. While such a sentiment has become ingrained within orthodox Christianity, it is both unfortunate and unnecessary because fundamentally it is a simple misunderstanding that easily can be resolved.
When voices of reason are allowed to be heard, it becomes apparent that there is no contradiction at all. Clearly the Scriptures teach that a sinner is saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and that no man can be justified — or declared righteous — by the works of the law. There is no disputing or debating this essential doctrine. Our justification is not the matter in question.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s own words in the opening Scripture above [Galatians 2:15-16]. Contrary to popular opinion, Paul says that even the Jews understood that they could never be justified (saved) by keeping the law. The message of salvation is consistent in Scripture from beginning to end.
The real question, however, is that once we are saved, what is next? What does God require of us AFTER we have trusted in Christ and received the free gift of eternal life? In other words, what role does God’s law serve in the life of a believer once he is saved by God’s grace? If the law is not God’s means of salvation, then what purpose does it serve?
Do we just throw out the law altogether and follow Jesus? But what path did Jesus walk?
Are we set free from the law and now follow a new set of values? But whose values? What values?
Do we simply walk by the Spirit in obedience to new commandments? But whose commandments? Which ones?
As you can see, the confusion about the principle purpose of the law has never been about the justification of sinners. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. The principle purpose of the law, however, has always been about our sanctification — being set apart unto God and conformed into the image and likeness of His Son.
While the law never was intended for our justification, it was given to us by the Father as a means of sanctification. Once we understand this simple distinction, we can understand both the principle and practical purpose of the Torah, as it still pertains to our lives today.
THE MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION
Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. 8Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.[Leviticus 20:7-8]
When the LORD our God chose Israel from among all the nations on the earth, He set them apart as holy and called them to be a peculiar people, different from their pagan neighbors. God’s law was the means by which Israel was to be sanctified. As the children of Israel lived according to Torah — God’s eternal value system — the distinction between Israel and the heathen nations would become evident to all. Israel was set apart to be a light to the Gentiles by reflecting God’s goodness and glory and dispelling the darkness of idolatry and immorality [see Deuteronomy 4:6-8].
Interestingly enough, the Christian doctrine of sanctification is precisely the same. God’s people are saved and set apart to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus in order to be a light in the midst of a perverse and rebellious culture. As Paul writes to the Ephesians …
For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.[Ephesians 5:8-11]
So if God’s law was the standard of righteousness that sanctified Israel and distinguished them from the rest of the pagan world, then would it not stand to reason that God’s law serves the same purpose today? If God’s commandments and statutes and instructions were good for His people back then, then why would Torah not also be good for His people today? Does God change? Do His values change? Does His word change? Does the definition of sin change?
Of course not!
The truth is that the law of God is just as relevant today as it has ever been, and anyone who desires to practice righteousness would do well to heed and obey God’s commandments. God’s Torah has always been the means for our sanctification in Messiah, and if our goal is to grow and mature in spiritual conformity to our Lord and Savior Yeshua, then we must return to His way of life. We must return to Torah.
THE END OF SANCTIFICATION
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.[1 Thessalonians 4:3-5]
Once it is clearly established that the law was not given by God for our justification but rather our sanctification, all the apparent contradictions in Scripture are quickly resolved.
Obedience to the law is not the means of salvation, but it is the fruit of salvation. It is not the cause of salvation but the effect. We don’t obey Torah because we have to but because we want to. True, living faith in Messiah is a faith that results in works of righteousness.
Under the New Covenant in Christ, believers experience a spiritual union with Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is our Helper, Teacher, Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter, but first and foremost the Spirit is “Holy,” which means His indwelling presence sanctifies us and empowers us to pursue righteousness in a life pleasing to the Father. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that sets us apart and writes God’s law on our hearts and in our minds so that we are able to keep His commandments and walk in obedience to Torah. The Spirit gives us the power to overcome the dominion of sin in our lives.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.[Galatians 5:22-23]
As I have said before, the Bible defines sin as transgression of the law [1 John 3:4]. When we break God’s law, we are “under the law,” meaning we are subject to the curse and penalty of the law. It is only when we are living in obedience to God’s law that we are free. That is precisely why Paul says in Galatians 5:22-23 that there is no law against the fruit of the Spirit because as long as we are walking in righteousness we are free. There is no law against righteousness. Keeping the Torah is freedom. Breaking the Torah is bondage.
God uses the law in our life to guide us and keep us on the right path. God’s Torah is grace in our life because it reminds us of the Father’s will and keeps us close to the Father’s heart. We know that Yeshua kept God’s law and walked in perfect righteousness according to the Torah. He is our pattern of life — our example. As His disciples we should strive to live as He lived. That is the very definition of sanctification.
If our being conformed to the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ is the definition of sanctification and if Jesus walked in perfect obedience to God’s law, then the Torah is the necessary means of our sanctification, as we walk in the Spirit of Christ.
In closing, consider Paul’s words in Romans 6, once again contrasting “lawlessness” with righteousness by affirming the principle purpose of the law, as it leads us to our ultimate sanctification.
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.[Romans 6:17-19]