There is a law, of course, but it does not apply to those who bear these fruits of the Spirit. The Law is not given for the righteous man. A true Christian conducts himself in such a way that he does not need any law to warn or to restrain him. He obeys the Law without compulsion. The Law does not concern him. As far as he is concerned there would not have to be any Law.Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 5:23
True believers are not under the Law. The Law cannot condemn them although they feel sin and confess it. Great then is the power of the Spirit. Led by the Spirit, the Law cannot condemn the believer though he commits real sin. For Christ in whom we believe is our righteousness. He is without sin, and the Law cannot accuse Him. As long as we cling to Him we are led by the Spirit and are free from the Law. Even as he teaches good works, the Apostle does not lose sight of the doctrine of justification, but shows at every turn that it is impossible for us to be justified by works.
The words, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law,” are replete with comfort. It happens at times that anger, hatred, impatience, carnal desire, fear, sorrow, or some other lust of the flesh so overwhelms a man that he cannot shake them off, though he try ever so hard. What should he do? Should he despair? God forbid. Let him say to himself: “My flesh seems to be on a warpath against the Spirit again. Go to it, flesh, and rage all you want to. But you are not going to have your way. I follow the leading of the Spirit.”
When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh.Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 5:18
It is not an easy matter to teach faith without works, and still to require works. Unless the ministers of Christ are wise in handling the mysteries of God and rightly divide the word, faith and good works may easily be confused. Both the doctrine of faith and the doctrine of good works must be diligently taught, and yet in such a way that both the doctrines stay within their God-given sphere. If we only teach works, as our opponents do, we shall lose the faith. If we only teach faith people will come to think that good works are superfluous.Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians 5:15
The Scriptures present Christ in a twofold aspect. First, as a gift. “He of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.” Hence my many and grievous sins are nullified if I believe in Him. Secondly, the Scriptures present Christ for our example. As an exemplar He is to be placed before me only at certain times. In times of joy and gladness that I may have Him as a mirror to reflect upon my shortcomings. But in the day of trouble I will have Christ only as a gift. I will not listen to anything else, except that Christ died for my sins.
To those that are cast down on account of their sins Christ must be introduced as a Savior and Gift, and not as an example. But to sinners who live in a false assurance, Christ must be introduced as an example. The hard sayings of Scripture and the awful judgments of God upon sin must be impressed upon them. Defy Satan in times of despair. Say: “O cursed Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working when you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to you. I will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save sinners. This is the true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of examples for a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they cannot forgive my sins. They cannot save me. They cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will not have you for my teacher, O Satan.”Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 5:8
Can anything worse be said against the Law? If you think Christ and the Law can dwell together in your heart, you may be sure that Christ dwells not in your heart. For if Christ is in your heart He neither condemns you, nor does He ever bid you to trust in your own good works. If you know Christ at all, you know that good works do not serve unto righteousness, nor evil works unto condemnation. I do not want to withhold from good works their due praise, nor do I wish to encourage evil works. But when it comes to justification, I say, we must concentrate upon Christ alone, or else we make Him non-effective. You must choose between Christ and the righteousness of the Law. If you choose Christ you are righteous before God. If you stick to the Law, Christ is of no use to you.Martin Luther, Galatians Commentary (Gal 5:3-4)
The scholastics think that the judicial and ceremonial laws of Moses were abolished by the coming of Christ, but not the moral law. They are blind. When Paul declares that we are delivered from the curse of the Law he means the whole Law, particularly the moral law which more than the other laws accuses, curses, and condemns the conscience. The Ten Commandments have no right to condemn that conscience in which Jesus dwells, for Jesus has taken from the Ten Commandments the right and power to curse us. Not as if the conscience is now insensitive to the terrors of the Law, but the Law cannot drive the conscience to despair.
You will complain: “But I am not doing anything.” That is right. You cannot do a thing to be delivered from the tyranny of the Law. But listen to the glad tidings which the Holy Ghost brings to you in the words of the prophet: “Rejoice, thou barren.” As Christ is greater than the Law, so much more excellent is the righteousness of Christ than the righteousness of the Law.
In one more respect the Law has been abolished. The civil laws of Moses do not concern us, and should not be put back in force. That does not mean that we are exempt from obedience to the civil laws under which we live. On the contrary, the Gospel commands Christians to obey government “not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”
Because life cannot go on without some ordinances, the Gospel permits regulations to be made in the Church in regard to special days, times, places, etc., in order that the people may know upon what day, at what hour, and in what place to assemble for the Word of God. Such directions are desirable that “all things be done decently and in order.” These directions may be changed or omitted altogether, as long as no offense is given to the weak. Paul, however, refers particularly to the abolition of the moral law. If faith alone in Christ justifies, then the whole Law is abolished without exception. And this the Apostle proves by the testimony of Isaiah, who bids the barren to rejoice because she will have many children, whereas she that has a husband and many children will be forsaken. Isaiah calls the Church barren because her children are born without effort by the Word of faith through the Spirit of God. It is a matter of birth, not of exertion. The believer too works, but not in an effort to become a son and an heir of God. He is that before he goes to work. He is born a son and an heir. He works for the glory of God and the welfare of his fellowmen.Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 4:27
Without the doctrine of justification there can be only ignorance of God. Those who refuse to be justified by Christ are idolaters. They remain under the Law, sin, death, and the power of the devil. Everything they do is wrong. Nowadays there are many such idolaters who want to be counted among the true confessors of the Gospel. They may even teach that men are delivered from their sins by the death of Christ. But because they attach more importance to charity than to faith in Christ they dishonor Him and pervert His Word. They do not serve the true God, but an idol of their own invention.
The true God has never yet smiled upon a person for his charity or virtues, but only for the sake of Christ’s merits. The objection is frequently raised that the Bible commands that we should love God with all our heart. True enough. But because God commands it, it does not follow that we do it. If we could love God with all our heart we should undoubtedly be justified by our obedience, for it is written, “Which if a man do, he shall live in them.” But now comes the Gospel and says: “Because you do not do these things, you cannot live in them.” The words, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God,” require perfect obedience, perfect fear, perfect trust, and perfect love. But where are the people who can render perfection? Hence, this commandment, instead of justifying men, only accuses and condemns them. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth”Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 4:8,9
By the Law, God demands our obedience…through the Gospel, He imputes Christ’s righteousness.
It is Finished.
The other day, a refrigerator magnet outlining meticulous rules for healthy eating reminded me that all my subjective misery is traceable to the confusion of Law and Gospel in the midst of everyday life. A major source of frustration for me used to be working diligently to make sure our kids ate ‘right‘. So at times, this provoked tension tension between my wife and me as we differed on how often to eat at McDonalds, how frequently the kids should get their veggies, what kind of cereals were acceptable to buy, etc.
Any ‘Law‘ per se for how to live…even mundane things pertaining to kids’ snacks will end in hypocrisy and eventual death. If we eat right and follow the “ABC’s of a healthy diet”, we can tend to despise those who don’t. However, if we ignore the rules and indiscriminately devour whatever our voracious appetites dictate, we will likely develop severe health issues and hasten inevitable death.
The first humans caused discord over the issue of…eating. The Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) brought restoration by giving us His flesh as our eternally nourishing banquet. By eating Him in passive reception of His grace, we will inherit perfect health…namely, the hope of incorruptible bodies. In the gospel of John, Jesus informed his disciples that His food was to do the will of God…and to finish it…which He did! He even finished the work of justifying us before God and crediting us with the record that says we have fulfilled the injunction, “whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God“. Through faith, you have done all to the glory of God…you have died on the cross with Christ where “the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him“.
It is Finished.
Christ’s purpose in coming was the abolition of the Law, not with the intention of laying down new laws, but “to redeem them that were under the law.” Christ himself declared: “I judge no man.” Again, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” In other words: “I came not to bring more laws, or to judge men according to the existing Law. I have a higher and better office. I came to judge and to condemn the Law, so that it may no more judge and condemn the world.”
How did Christ manage to redeem us? “He was made under the law.” When Christ came He found us all in prison. What did He do about it? Although He was the Lord of the Law, He voluntarily placed Himself under the Law and permitted it to exercise dominion over Him, indeed to accuse and to condemn Him. When the Law takes us into judgment it has a perfect right to do so. “For we are by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Christ, however, “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” Hence the Law had no jurisdiction over Him. Yet the Law treated this innocent, just, and blessed Lamb of God as cruelly as it treated us. It accused Him of blasphemy and treason. It made Him guilty of the sins of the whole world. It overwhelmed him with such anguish of soul that His sweat was as blood. The Law condemned Him to the shameful death on the Cross.
It is truly amazing that the Law had the effrontery to turn upon its divine Author, and that without a show of right. For its insolence the Law in turn was arraigned before the judgment seat of God and condemned. Christ might have overcome the Law by an exercise of His omnipotent authority over the Law. Instead, He humbled Himself under the Law for and together with them that were under the Law. He gave the Law license to accuse and condemn Him. His present mastery over the Law was obtained by virtue of His Sonship and His substitutionary victory.
Thus Christ banished the Law from the conscience. It dare no longer banish us from God. For that matter,—the Law continues to reveal sin. It still raises its voice in condemnation. But the conscience finds quick relief in the words of the Apostle: “Christ has redeemed us from the law.” The conscience can now hold its head high and say to the Law: “You are not so holy yourself. You crucified the Son of God. That was an awful thing for you to do. You have lost your influence forever.”
The words, “Christ was made under the law,” are worth all the attention we can bestow on them. They declare that the Son of God did not only fulfill one or two easy requirements of the Law, but that He endured all the tortures of the Law. The Law brought all its fright to bear upon Christ until He experienced anguish and terror such as nobody else ever experienced. His bloody sweat. His need of angelic comfort, His tremulous prayer in the garden, His lamentation on the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” bear eloquent witness to the sting of the Law. He suffered “to redeem them that were under the law.”
The Roman conception of Christ as a mere lawgiver more stringent than Moses, is quite contrary to Paul’s teaching. Christ, according to Paul, was not an agent of the Law but a patient of the Law. He was not a law-giver, but a law-taker.
True enough, Christ also taught and expounded the Law. But it was incidental. It was a sideline with Him. He did not come into the world for the purpose of teaching the Law, as little as it was the purpose of His coming to perform miracles. Teaching the Law and performing miracles did not constitute His unique mission to the world. The prophets also taught the Law and performed miracles. In fact, according to the promise of Christ, the apostles performed greater miracles than Christ Himself. The true purpose of Christ’s coming was the abolition of the Law, of sin, and of death.
If we think of Christ as Paul here depicts Him, we shall never go wrong. We shall never be in danger of misconstruing the meaning of the Law. We shall understand that the Law does not justify. We shall understand why a Christian observes laws: For the peace of the world, out of gratitude to God, and for a good example that others may be attracted to the Gospel.Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 4:4-5