You may have noticed that you read verse 5:1 two days in a row. You’re not imagining things. This is one of Paul’s “transition” verses. In some translations, it begins “therefore. In New Living Translation (the one this post links to), it’s “so.” Same idea. What follows in this text is connected in reference to everything that Paul has said in the preceding section. In other words, “in light of what I just said, here’s how to apply it, and why it matters.
“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” This doesn’t give us free rein to do whatever we want, because that would put us back in chains. But it is pulling on Paul’s preceding message of what we should be doing to stay free. To stay free, we must trust in Jesus as the way to salvation.
Paul didn’t want his readers to be in the dark. After all, they hadn’t been brought up their whole lives hearing the stories of the same ancestors Paul had. Because he wanted to figure out what their intentions truly were, he asked, “Tell me, you who want to live under the law, do you know what the law actually says?” I can just picture them looking around at each other with a blank stare. Who was going to speak up? What did they actually know other than what some Jews were spewing at them? Obviously, Paul wasn’t going to let them rely on what might be misinformation, even it if was from another Jew.
They Gentile congregation was starting to believe that circumcision was the way to be saved, not Jesus. We know that Jesus died to set us free from the law and the long list of regulations the Jews had followed for generations. Our freedom is in Christ. Paul goes back to Abraham and tells the story of Abraham’s two sons, one from his slave, Hagar, and one from his wife, Sarah.
Who better to teach on the law than Paul? After all, he was so zealous in upholding it and enforcing it prior to his conversion experience. There is also the promise of God to Abraham we can’t overlook. The promise came first, and the law didn’t abolish it or change it. “For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.” We read yesterday about how that promise of God now extends to us because of Jesus.
Paul asks a question we are probably all asking, “Why, then, was the law given?” We could probably all give our answer to this question, and scholars across the ages have wrestled with it, too. Simply put, God knew we needed it. I love how Paul gives us the picture of the law being our guardian as we waited for Jesus. As a guardian, the law gave us a measuring stick of our sinfulness. It protected us by giving us rules to live by. It also allowed the mediators and judges to have a basis to rule on “legal” matters. God knew his people would need to have these boundaries to keep them safe from their sinful tendencies and from being weak in the face of temptation.
Did you notice that today’s reading is made up of eight quotes from the Old Testament? Paul’s focus today is on how the “law” fits in to the scheme of salvation and the gospel truth we believe in. What does Paul mean by his reference to the “law?” I understand the law as including the law given through Moses, but more broadly, the entire principle of being made right with God by what we do.
While the law is important and given by God, we are never made right with God by following the law. When you think of it, who is Paul’s audience? The Gentiles. They don’t even have the same heritage or knowledge of what the law is. Can you imagine wanting to join a club that had been in existence for many years with lots of rules, both written and just tradition. Then you find out that you’re expected to know and follow every single one before you’d be allowed to join. First of all, it would take forever to feel like you fit in, and chances are pretty good you would eventually give up. If the law was crucial to our salvation, then everyone, including Gentiles, would be subject to it and need to know all about it.
When they say, “Moses gave the law,” it’s true. Here is another fine example of some of the specifics God chose to offer the people. A couple present day examples come to mind. Do you ever notice how the “terms of service” go on and on when you sign up for something? Think of the side effects of a prescription medication or the warnings that come with a new purchase. That’s because the company is covering their tush, or that such things have happened and it’s likely they will happen again. That is especially true with the warning labels on products. Someone has gotten hurt, sued the company, and now the company has to be clear on their packaging to be careful not to be stupid when using the product.
I apologize if I ruffled your feathers here with my bluntness. I suppose after years of being a paralegal I have seen it all. The crazy situations people get themselves into and then want to blame the other person never ceases to amaze me. A good lawyer will look at a situation and assess the negligence in an instant. If a person is wrongfully injured because of the negligence of another, then by all means, justice should be served. Moses is giving more examples of how justice can be served here in the new land.