Incompatibility of Faith and Works of the Law

ByQuits Sabio

Incompatibility of Faith and Works of the Law

In my profession as a programmer, when a program or an app breaks because of an update on operating system, one of our first diagnosis is compatibility issue. The old code must be rewritten in order to accommodate the new updates. And sometimes we need to write the code from scratch all over again if much of the code rely on the old system. That’s a lot of old codes that took me months to program, only to be scrapped later on. But being sentimental about my old codes will not help me contribute in the advancement of technology.

Same is true with faith and reliance on works of the law. They are incompatible. You can’t force the two together. The Mosaic law, being part of the Old Covenant is already outdated and therefore incompatible with the operating system of the New Covenant, namely the Law of faith. We can’t grow in faith if we’re still from time to time rely on works of the law for our sanctification and worst for our assurances and right standing before God. In Galatians 3:9-14 Paul will argue that the only way to be justified before God is by faith. Not works of the law, nor some works plus faith but by a continuing faith alone.

Faith brings blessing, Law brings Curse(vv. 9-12)

The main point of verses 6-9 is that those of faith (εκ πιστεως) are the children and heirs of Abraham. That is, the people characterized by faith bears the trait of Abraham regardless of physical descent and that they are the ones who will receive the blessing. Now the conjunction “for”(γαρ) connects verse 10 to verse 9. Verse 10 functions as support or grounds of the main point from verses 6-9.

But what is being supported by verse 10 in verses 6-9?

Now you might say to me; “You’ve just said not a second ago that it’s verse 6-9.”

Let’s put on our thinking caps for a moment. I raised the question because there seems to be a gap in the logic of the argument. Verses 6-9 look as though it doesn’t follow necessarily from verse 10. You’ll see what I mean if we convert the main points of verses 6-9 and verse 10 into a syllogism. The syllogism goes something like this:

A will receive C because B will receive D.

Here’s an illustration:

Group 1(A) will receive a gift(C) because Group 2(B) will receive a punishment(D).

In Paul’s case:

“those of faith”(A) will inherit the blessing(C) because “those who are of works of the law”(B) will receive a curse(D)

Notice that there’s nothing in the main clause that would require support from the ground clause. Or to put it another way, the fact that someone will receive one thing doesn’t necessarily mean that others will receive another thing. Unless of course there’s an unstated premise that you can’t be A and B at the same time and that you can’t have both C and D at the same time. Meaning, they are mutually exclusive.

Therefore to make sense of the logic, one must supply the missing premises and change the form of the syllogism into this:

Since you can’t be A and B at the same time and in the same relationship, therefore A and not B will receive C because B will receive D.

In similar manner, Paul expects his audience to supply the right assumption and the implied denial from verse 9:

Since you can’t be both “those of faith”(A) and be “those who are of works of the law”(B) at the same time and in the same relationship, therefore “those of faith”(A) and not “those who are of works of the law”(B) will inherit the Abrahamic blessing(C) because “those who are of works of the law”(B) are under a curse(D).

So the answer to our question “what’s being supported by verse 10?” is the implied denial from verse 9. That is, those who rely on works of the law will not inherit the blessing, because, instead of favor they will receive God’s curse.

The Mosaic law, being part of the Old Covenant is already outdated and therefore incompatible with the operating system of the New Covenant, namely the Law of faith.

But is it even right to make such assumptions in the text?

Yes it’s justifiable. First, because these are not mere assumptions drawn out of thin air. The implied answer to the rhetorical questions in verses 2-5 is “by faith and not by works of the law” that we received the promised Spirit. Paul clearly posed the questions in such a manner in order to contrast and pit faith and works of the law against each other. So to postulate that Paul expects the audience to supply the negative counter part of verse 9 is not really that far fetched. Those who are of works of the law will not receive the blessing. Even the grammar of the text makes the contrast more evident. In verse 9 Paul used the prepositional phrase “of faith” εκ πιστεως, then in verse 10 he used the same construction “of works of the law” εξ εργων νομου.

Second, the assumption about the mutual exclusivity of faith and works of the law is clearly supported by verse 12; “the Law is not of Faith.” For Paul, faith and law are separate categories. You can’t mixed that which is of faith with that of the law. Remember that the issue in Galatia is not that they’re without faith but that they’re adding works of the law to faith. So I think the assumptions are warranted.

Justification before God is not by a one time faith in God only, but that one must live a life of faith from beginning to end. In other words the faith that justifies is a continuing faith.

However, the validity of the first part of verse 10(all who rely on works of the law are under a curse) is still yet to be proven. That’s why in the second part of the verse, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 to support his point; “because it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the Law.”

In turn this will introduce another concern. Namely, that the quotation at first glance seems to prove the very opposite of what Paul is saying. The quotation is as if encouraging us to continue in doing the works of the law in order to avoid the curse.

So to address this issue, two things must be said in response to it.

First, according to Douglas Moo; “Recognize that Paul refers not to people who are doing the law but to people who are ἐξ ἔργων νόμου. As the parallel with οἱ ἐκ πίστεως in verse 9 (and cf. vv. 7, 8, 11, 12) suggests, the phrase refers not to those who “do the law” but to those who are somehow identified with the law…This identification with the law has usually been taken to refer to people who, as Thomas Aquinas puts it, “trust in the works of the Law and believe that they are made just by them.”

Second, we should take note again that there’s an unspoken premise that Paul expects his readers to supply: “No one can abide by everything written in the book of the law.”

Consider this syllogism:

A Cursed is everyone who does not abide by everything written in the book of the Law, to perform them.

B No one can abide by everything written in the book of the Law.

C Therefore those who are of works of the Law are under a curse.

Premise B is the missing proposition that must be supplied in order to make proper sense of Paul’s argumentation. But are we justified in supplying such?

Yes, because in Galatians 5:3 Paul, in saying that if you accept circumcision then you’ll be obligated to obey the whole law, seems to imply that no one can in fact obey the whole law. Otherwise the warning won’t have any weight to it if we can obey the whole law. Outside of Galatians, Paul already charged that no one abide to the law perfectly. In Romans 3:10 Paul says; “No one is righteous no not one.” Or in Romans 3:23; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The issue is not the doing but the relying on the doing and yet not able to keep on doing.

So I think we are on the right track in supplying those assumed propositions. Therefore in verse 11 Paul can say that “Now it is evident that by the Law no one is justified before God.”

Then he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 as the first half of his grounds; “the righteous one by faith shall live.” There are many issues with this quotation but I will only deal with one:

What is being modified by the prepositional phrase “by/from faith” “εκ πιστεως”? Is it the substantival adjective “righteous” or the verb “shall live”?

First thing to consider is that we already saw from verses 2-5 that justification before God is not by a one time faith in God only, but that one must live a life of faith from beginning to end. In other words the faith that justifies is a continuing faith.

Second, the alternative of faith given in verse 12, which is a quotation from Leviticus 18:5, is not just a one time obedience, but a life of obedience to the law in order to be justified by the law.

So both the more remote context of verses 2-5 and the immediate context of verse 12 can be used as arguments to support that the verb “shall live” is the one being modified by the prepositional phrase “by faith”. Therefore the traditional rendering is right; “the righteous one shall live by faith.”

To sum it up, Paul is simply telling us that you can’t use faith and works of the law at the same time in order to be justified before God. It’s either faith from beginning to end or works of the law from beginning to end in order to be justified. It can’t be both. If you try to add even just a little bit of law-keeping to faith, according to Galatian 5:2; “Christ will be of no advantage to you.”

Christ redeemed us from the curse(vv. 13)

Now verse 13 doesn’t have any conjunction that would connect it to the previous verses. But I think verse 13 functions as the conclusion of this section. Because verse 10 and verse 13 is actually an inclusio. Think of inclusio as book endings. Verse 10 raise the issue of the curse of the Law and verse 13 is the solution to that curse. So Paul then concludes that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

Afterwards Paul gave an explanation as to why is it that becoming a curse is the means by which Christ redeemed us from the curse. He said; “because it is written; ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'” This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 21:23 and by looking at the context of the quotation, it is clear that the person who deserves a curse from God is someone who committed a sin punishable by death. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says; “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God.” But I want you to notice what Paul says and what he didn’t say about how Christ redeemed us. He didn’t say that Christ becomes a sinner and as a result He was cursed by God. Rather what’s being said is that Christ becomes a curse for us. That is, Christ who knew no sin becomes sin for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God(2 Corinthians 5:21). The point of the quotation from Deuteronomy is not the who but the what of being hanged on a tree. Hanging the guilty on a tree exposes them to the curse of God. So when Christ was crucified on the cross, He literally exposed himself to the curse of God not because He is guilty but because He assumed the position of the guilty.

The Result and Purpose of Redemption(vv. 14)

Now Paul gave us the result and purpose of Christ in redeeming us the way He did.

First he gave the result in verse 14a; “so that to the Gentiles the blessing of Abraham would come through Christ Jesus. The result of redemption through the One who becomes a curse for us is the fulfilment of the promised blessing for the Gentiles in verse 8-9. Ephesians 2:14-22 says almost the same thing about how the death of Christ secures a blessing for the Gentiles and what’s the role or non-role of the Law in it; “For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of Godʼs household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

Then lastly, Paul gave the purpose of extending the blessing to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus and that is so that we too could receive the promised Spirit by means of faith.

Are we in the Faith?

We as individuals can easily point our fingers to outsiders when it comes to reliance on works of the law, because we forget that this epistle was written for the believers. They were professing Christian. They may even be present always in all the corporate meetings, always reading the bible and unceasing in prayer and worship. But these are just external performance in order for them to be accepted by other people and God. Everyone therefore must take heed of the warning of Galatians 5:2. The issue presented to us in Galatians by Paul is not about who are the church and non-church people, nor is it about those who profess the Lordship of Christ and those who don’t. This is not even about who holds to orthodoxy. What separates God’s people from other people is this: they were crucified with Christ and therefore died to all self-reliance and live only by ever increasing reliance on the power of God by the Holy Spirit through faith. However, the other group, they were never united in Christ’s death and they extol the self by relying on the power of their will and the flesh. Examine therefore if you belong to “those of faith” or do you belong to “those who are of the works of the law.” Ask ourselves daily, do we live by way of faith or by way of the works of the law?

Study Guide

Study Questions

  1. What’s being supported by verse 10 in verses 6-9?
  2. Restate the logic of verses 6-9 and verse 10 in a form of syllogism?
  3. Do you find the syllogism seems illogical? Why or why not?
  4. What are the missing premises in order to make the logic of verses 6-9 and verse 10 valid?
  5. Based on the new syllogism, what then is being supported by verse 10 in verses 6-9?
  6. Does the quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26 seems to support the opposite of what Paul is arguing for?

Going Deeper

  1. Why is it important to learn the logic of a biblical text?
  2. How did Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law?
  3. Why is works of the law incompatible with faith?

About the author

Quits Sabio administrator

Serving as an Elder and Board Member at SMEC. Founder and President of Reformed Exegetes Society. Quits is currently working as a Senior Lead Game Developer at Funguystudio(A Game Development studio at Makati Philippines). A husband to Malou and a father to Amara.

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