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Faith vs. Law

(How do they fit together?)



          One of the most difficult subjects to get a grasp of is how faith and law exist together.  Faith and law are both a big part of the scriptures.  Without faith we would not know how to approach God, but without law we would not know what God's standards for our lives are.  There must be a purpose for both, after all, God created and endorsed both.  The purpose of this article is to discuss the relationship between faith and law, but first, we will identify their purpose.


The Law:


          The law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai.  It contains over seven hundred statutes, judgments, and commandments all organized under the ten commandments.  The purpose of the ten commandments and all supporting statutes and judgments are simple, they tell us how to act.  Solomon clearly stated so when he said, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl. 12:13).  It is our duty as men and women created in the image of God to keep His commandments.  The question many ask is, which commandments do we keep?  Are we to keep all of the commandments, or just some?

          The Messiah made this clear when He said, "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19).  The Messiah here emphasizes the importance of following even the "least commandments" and not just the ones we like.  The result of how we practice God's law is simple.  It determines our place in the "kingdom of heaven."  From this verse alone we can determine two things, the law of God is to be kept in its entirety and the law of God was not to bring salvation.  Salvation comes by different means.

          The Apostle Paul tells us more about the law by saying "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24).  This word schoolmaster can cause confusion.  It is the Greek word paidagōgos which means "a boy leader, that is, a servant whose office it was to take the children to school" (Strong's Concordance G3807).  This schoolmaster was not the teacher, but a disciplinarian.  Their job was to make sure the children were on their best behavior while at school and away from home.  This makes sense for just a few verses earlier Paul references the curses of the law (Gal. 3:10).  The purpose of Galatians chapter three is to point out how the Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law.  Just as a schoolmaster would discipline children to act and represent the family correctly, so the law of God disciplines us with curses to act accordingly.  These curses are intended to bring us to the Messiah.

          From the previous paragraphs we can conclude three things; the law was intended for us to follow, we are to follow all of it, and the penalties that come from not following it are to direct us to the Messiah.  This is the purpose of the law.  It defines how we are to act and disciplines us accordingly.  With this understanding of the law, lets look at faith.




          Faith, according to Hebrews 11:1, is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  Faith is our personal conviction or belief that something is true, even though we do not see it.  The Greek word for faith is pistis which means "persuasion, that is, credence; moral conviction" (Strong's Concordance - G4102).  It is related to the word translated believe, pisteuō, which means "to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), by implication to entrust" (Strong's Concordance - G4100).  The scriptures use these two words as synonyms.  The idea is that one's strong personal conviction and belief moves them to action.  You believe something so strong, even though you don't see it, you act upon that belief.

          In relation to the New Testament, faith is the means by how we approach God.  Sinful man cannot approach a sinless God.  Before we can, our sins need to be dealt with.  This means we must be justified and declared righteous.  This is done by faith (Rom. 3:28).  We cannot even approach God without first having faith.  The question to ask then is, faith in what?  As we have already seen, faith is a "moral conviction and persuasion," but what are we convicted and persuaded by?  The Messiah answered this for us when he said, "repent ye, and believe [have faith in] the gospel" (Mark 1:15).  The answer is simple, we are to have faith in the Gospel.  The Apostle Paul defines the Gospel as the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah to pay for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-4).  The faith that allows us to approach the living God is the faith that His Messiah died, was buried, and rose again to pay for our sins.  Having a strong moral conviction about this fact gives us righteousness and justifies us before God.  Now, with this strong moral conviction, we can approach a sinless God. 


The proper place for each:


          Now that we know what the law is and what faith is, how do they fit together?  The answer is more simple than you might think.  Believe it or not, faith is one of the laws of the Torah.  The Apostle Paul tells us plainly in Romans 3:27.  This law is identified by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:6 when he said, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  One of the over seven hundred statutes, judgments, and commandments is a law called faith.  Probably the best way to describe this relationship is to use an example, and the best example I can think of is that of Abraham.

          In Galatians 3:6 the Apostle Paul defines the law of faith.  He quotes Genesis 15:6 as that law.  Here the scriptures state that "[Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6).  This is the point in Abram's life where he received his justification.  Abram put his faith in God and he was declared righteous.  This is the law of faith.  We must place our faith, our trust, our belief and moral conviction in the Messiah before we can have any relationship with God.  Shortly after this God changed Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah (Gen. 17:5).  The difference between these two names is very significant.  God simply added the Hebrew "hey" to the end of their names.  The letter "hey" appears in the name of God twice.  In ancient Hebrew pictographs this letter is represented by a man standing with his hands towards the heavens () and means "behold, look, breath, sigh and reveal or revelation" (Ancient Hebrew.org, Hey, Jeff A. Benner).  This letter gives reference to the rûach (spirit of God).  Note the significance.  At this point in Abraham's life is when he received the rûach (spirit of God), which is demonstrated by their name change.  This law of faith is nothing new.  It was clearly explained with Abraham in the book of Genesis and the New Testament re-explains it more thoroughly.  So the law of faith brings salvation and is evidenced in Abraham's life and throughout the New Testament, but where does the rest of the law fit?

          The answer is a few chapters later in Genesis.  In Genesis 26 God tells Isaac why He blessed his father Abraham.  God tells Isaac to, "Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;  And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 26:3-4).  God gave all these blessing to Abraham and was going to continue to give them to Isaac, but why?  The answer is in the next verse, "Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen. 26:5).  God blessed Abraham because Abraham "obeyed" all of God's "commandments, statutes, and laws."




          This is the relationship between faith and law.  Abraham received his salvation and was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6, but he received the blessings of God by practicing His laws in Genesis 26:4-5.  Abraham is the example that God used to explain this process.  By faith we receive our justification.  It is by faith that we are declared righteous before God.  This is the covenant of Promise that was given to Abraham 430 years before the law (Gal. 3:17).  After this promise God gave His law.  Paul's point in Galatians 3:17 is that the law does not remove the promise of God.  God promised to give us our righteousness based on our faith.  The law does not change this.  However, after we become righteous before God, our duty is to perform on His covenant and follow his "commandments, statutes, and laws."  This is where the law comes in.  The law of God is our sanctification while the promise of God is our justification.  If we want a blessed life here and now, we need to practice the law of God, but first we need to have faith in the Messiah.  It is by faith in the Messiah that we can even approach the living God, but it is by practicing God's law that we will receive God's blessings rather than His curses.  This is the New Covenant.  It is the merging together of the Promise of God (Gen. 15:6) with the Law of God (Ex. 19:7-8, Gal. 3:17).

By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV