St. Paul and the Law

    Richard Quist
There are many who seriously misconstrue St. Paul's teaching regarding the law of God and salvation. This misinterpretation
leads to what is essentially a destruction of the Law, as opposed to Paul's intent which was to explain what is meant by the
concept that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law.
In his writings Paul distinguishes between Mosaic law, natural law, and Christ's law.  He explains that Mosaic and natural law
make you conscious of sin, but do not empower you to resist temptation.  Being conscious of sin is necessary before you can
resist temptation, and this is why Paul says Mosaic law and natural law are important, though they don't empower. This lack of
empowerment of the Law itself is the point Paul is making.  He then explains that the law prepares you for empowerment in
Christ, empowerment to not sin, for it is belief in Christ and adherence to his law that empower you to not sin.
Paul says that before there is awareness of law there is no death, because death is the result of guilt caused by awareness of
one's sin.  Once one becomes aware of sin and experiences guilt, one becomes aware of being in the state of death and the
need to be saved from death.  Thus, Mosaic law prepares one for salvation by making one aware of their state, which is death,
and need for God to overcome this state.
Paul explains that the Law is for those who are still carnal, meaning rooted in the concerns of the body, and not the spirit, for the
spirit is weak.  It is only in Christ that one can truly live in the spirit and gain the strength to resist the temptations of the body.  He
uses himself as an example (Rms., chs. 7 and 8)
Prescriptions of the Law, such as those concerning diet, are meant to make a person conscious of the struggle against the
temptations of the body, including the temptation to believe that man lives on bread alone, and not on the Word of God.  Laws
regarding atonement exist because of the inevitability that one will sin.  However, once you acquire the spirit of Christ, you are
forgiven for your sins because with baptism you are atoned through Christ, and when living in the Holy Spirit you have the power
to resist the temptation to sin, and thus don't need to offer sacrifices for sin as prescribed by the Law.  This is why you become
dead in the body, and the Law becomes dead, but you are alive in the spirit.  Paul also says though that you reveal whom you
serve in your actions, thus if you sin you do not serve Christ.  Also according to Paul, if one knowingly sins after living in grace,
one has no option but to live in dread of fear of the coming judgment (Hebrews 10, line 26).  These passages clearly refute any
notion, proposed by some, that belief in Christ immunes you from judgment even when you continue to sin.  One also must
remember though that Paul is speaking from the perspective of someone fully developed in the spirit.   Thus, in regards to
sinning after living in grace, Paul is commonly understood to mean a person whom, being well developed in faith. has
completely turned away from faith, not someone who is weak in faith  and whom has simply in a weak moment succumbed to
temptation. One should never take parts of scripture out of the context of all scripture.  After all, Jesus does empower his
disciples to forgive, and to not forgive, sins (John ch. 20, line 23).
How then is a Christian whom has sinned reconciled with God.  When Christ empowers His disciples to forgive sins, He
obviously means that God will forgive sins through them, since only God can forgive sins.  This idea of God forgiving sins
through man is also present in Mosaic Law, as one must present sin offerings to God through a Levitical priest.  According to
Paul, for a Christian, offering a sacrifice of a slaughtered animal is no longer appropriate, for Christ is now our sacrificial offering
to God (Heb.).  What the Church as a whole understood though is that in order for a Christian who has sinned to be forgiven by
God he must still make a sin offering to God through a priest, but this sin offering is now Christ himself.  One acquires Christ for
this sin offering by confessing one's sin, as is also required by Mosaic law, and recommitting oneself to obedience to Christ.
That Christ empowers his disciples to forgive sins shows that God still offers His forgiveness through His priesthood, but now a
priesthood that has it's authority through it's unity with Christ.  Here we see clearly how Mosaic law foreshadows Christian law,
and is not destroyed by Christ but instead transfigured and transformed.
Some might object to this interpretation and say that in Hebrews Paul states that the sin offering of Christ is made once and only
once.  However by this Paul means that Christ dies only once to become the only sin offering acceptable to God (Heb. Ch. 9
lines 25, 26).  When one breaks faith with Christ by sinning, one must repent and recommit to Christ in order regain possession
of this only acceptable sin offering, which then must be presented to God through a priest by the individual who has sinned.
Another objection some might make is that Paul says that there is only one priest, Christ.  Paul, though, also repeats the theme
many times that Christians are of one body in Christ, thus there is only one body, Christ's.  Priests, as members of Christ's
body, are given the task by Christ to exercise His priestly duties.
To see more clearly why this interpretation of scripture is true one need only to more closely examine God's purpose in
ordaining Mosaic law as He did.  God wants us to understand that a relationship with Him requires some effort and sacrifice on
our part, and He wants us to know that sin will cost us.  Thus, through Mosaic law God insists that those in covenant with Him
give up something of value to them, this in the form of livestock.  In Christianity, Christ becomes the sacrifice instead of the body
nourishing livestock.  He thus pays God's required price for us.  Our cost is allegiance to Christ.  When we sin our cost is also
sorrow, as we recognize that our sin inflicts pain upon Christ, this pain made painfully clear as we contemplate Christ on the
cross.  Our pain turns to joy though when we consider that despite our infliction of pain upon God He is willing to forgive us.  
This then is God's way of offering forgiveness to us while assuring that we don't lose sight of the fact that sin is costly.
Consequently, Christian law maintains the spirit of Mosaic law while transforming it.  Evidence that St. Paul saw it this way is
revealed when one considers his writings as a whole and not just in parts.  In his dispute with James over dietary restrictions
and circumcision, it seems he might be condemning all restrictions on eating.  What he is actually disputing though is the belief
that following restrictions on eating sanctifies you.  Paul eventually explains that those who feel they need to refrain from eating
meat should refrain. This seems to be a concession by Paul to those who want to maintain Mosaic law, but it is not because
what Paul had meant all along in regards to the Law was that in itself following the Law will not bring sanctification, but only
preparation for sanctification by the Holy Spirit , and this principle of preparation for sanctification is maintained by Christian law.
Paul says to need to fast reveals a weakness in faith. This should be understood as Paul understanding that if a person reveals
a susceptibility to a temptation, such as allowing the desire for tasty food to have an inordinate influence upon ones actions to
the detriment of ones spiritual growth, then one should address the problem through willful self denial.  After all, Paul
understands faith as the way to live in the spirit and not in the body, and thus to obtain mastery over the inordinate desires of the
body. He also understands that there are those who are weak in faith (1 Cor. 3), and that the principle of self denial is the
traditional method of struggling against temptation.  For a Christian, when you join the battle against temptation in this way faith
brings the Spirit to assist and eventually conquer these inordinate carnal desires.  Here again we see that the spirit and intent of
Mosaic law are not destroyed, while it is transfigured and transformed by Christ and the Holy Spirit.
That the Church as a whole saw salvation in Christ in this way is supported when one looks more closely at the conflict between
Paul and James (Acts 15).  First, it should be kept in mind that the early leaders of the Church are not learning all the truths of
Christian faith from scripture because new testament scripture has not yet been written. They are learning about them from the
Holy Spirit, who is working on the Church as a whole, inspiring each member to share the knowledge that they have gained from
their experiences and the Spirit with each other so that they all come to have a complete and common vision, and to live by this
vision.  Thus, we should see scripture as reflecting their living Faith, and not that which determined it.  Living Faith is always
more than just that which is written.  That which is written reflects that which is known and lived, and is meant as a guide to
future keepers of the Faith.  Second, it should be remembered that most of the leaders of the early Church had previously been
practicing Jews, and this, as Paul repeats many times, had prepared them for Christianity.  From scripture we see clearly that
about fifteen years after Paul was initially given the go ahead to preach to Gentiles as he saw fit, meaning he did not require
circumcision and dietary restrictions as prescribed by Mosaic law, he learns that James and others are beginning to dispute his
teachings.  This shows that James is having difficulty with what he perceives as a destruction of the Law.  Once the Spirit
though, working also through Paul and Peter, makes it clear to James that Paul's teachings do not mean a destruction of the
Law but instead a transformation, as was always intended, James fully accepts Paul's teaching.
The explanations that I've presented of Paul's teachings clearly reveal the continuity between Mosaic law and Christian law, a
continuity that James and the other Church leaders would have seen as self evident once they came to properly understand
Paul's teachings.  This transformed and transfigured version of Mosaic law is still followed by the Orthodox and Roman Catholic
Churches today.
Another example of this transfiguration and transformation of the Law is in regards to circumcision.  St. Paul says that Christians
do not need to be circumcised in order to partake in our Covenant with God, as did Jews, because we are "circumcised in our
hearts" through our baptism.  This concept can be taken one step further.  We also become circumcised in our bodies when we
receive the Eucharist because we receive Jesus' circumcision as our own when we receive His body through Holy Communion.  
In this way the first Covenant that God made with His chosen people is not in any way abandoned, but is expanded, through the
Eucharist.  Here we see that the two Covenants are in fact one.
On the previous pages I believe that I've demonstrated that a proper interpretation of Paul's writings on the Law and salvation
must retain the spirit of Mosaic law, and any interpretation that doesn't is erroneous.  This would be a serious error because it
undermines God's plan of salvation, a plan that is intended to bring us to a state of mind and soul where we can freely choose
to act according to God's will.