Sets and Subsets
First, lets look a look at commandments as "sets" and "subsets."
Set: all household furniture in the world
Subset: my furniture: chair, table, mattress (no frame), towel, place setting of dishes, one kettle, bureau, framed picture of me
Law of God
Set: Overarching principles governing all of reality, Love, Physics, Mathematics, Forgiveness and Justice, Grace and Changed hearts
Subset: No other gods, No graven images, Don't take Name in vain, Remember Sabbath, Honor parents, Don't kill, No adultery, Don't steal, No false witness, Don't covet
The ten are part of the original set; they are not opposed in principle. They are merely incomplete-a shadow of the real law. In science and math, a law is not a set of rules we keep. A law is a statement of immutable fact that tells how things ARE. Example: the speed of light is constant. God's law is a law that states reality.
The ten are a subset of the law. They state how a righteous person will look and what he would do. They do not cover all of life's situations. They do not cover how hearts are changed. They do not cover grace. They do not explain God's sovereign choice to become our sin and to die. They do not explain how his death mended the tear in the universe that separated God from this part of his creation.
Adam and Eve were under the set: God's law. They had unbroken love and communion with God. God's law required death for disobedience. (If you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will die.)
Famous Adventist proof text: "Sin is the transgression of the law."
That was true from the beginning--transgression of the Law of God results in sin. Transgression of the ten also meant death. Since they are a subset of God's Law, the consequences are the same for dishonoring them as for dishonoring principles not stated in the ten.
If someone steals the chair from the subset of my household furnishings, he or she breaks the subset as well as the complete set of my household furnishings.
The Ten were temporary, given to bring definable order to a world that had run amok with sin. The ten were more than a civil attempt bring people under control. The ten taught that God required them to be good. It wasn't just a pragmatic law; it was a law from God, and he required obedience. The ten, however, did not solve the problem of sin. The ten could not bring righteousness. It simply made God-worshipers aware of their transgression. The ten held them in check until Jesus, the real rest in #4, came and settled the problem.
When Jesus came and fulfilled the law by embracing its requirement of death, he mended that tear in universe that separated God from our part of creation. After his resurrection, the ten were obsolete. Jesus restored our communion with God. Sin no longer stood between us. Now we are once again under the overarching Law of God. And even more, Jesus has sent those who believe in him the Holy Spirit. The actual God, the embodiment of the eternal law, lives in us. That is what God meant when he promised that he would write the law on our hearts. The eternal Law of God actually is the character of God. And that resides in us.
Understanding that the Ten are an incomplete revelation of the Law of God helps to explain the principles Paul is explaining to the Galatians. When we were under the Old Covenant and its commands, he says, we were like slaves or children. Even though the Ten Commandments were in place, the promise to Abraham still stood: his Seed would come and all nations would be blessed through him.
We were slaves to the requirements of the Old Covenant as long as it was in place, but even then we were heirs of a promise-the promise of freedom and blessing and rest. But we couldn't have that inheritance yet because the Seed hadn't come. All creation waited in slavery, and those who had faith that the promise would be fulfilled were counted righteous.
"When the time had fully come," Jesus was born. He was born as a human, born under the law. Verses 5 & 6 remind us of Gal 3:13. Jesus was God, but he was born in human flesh. Since humans were made in God's image, since they chose to sin and broke the connection between God and man, the curse of the law rested on them. Jesus had to become human in order to become a curse for us. He had to personally take on the blackness and separation from God that was our death sentence. Only he, our God and creator, could do this unspeakable act, and he could only do it as one of the accursed race.
The other half of the miracle of our salvation is that after his resurrection, Jesus, our creator and also a resurrected human living in a restored relationship with God, granted us the full rights of sons of God. We're not only heirs with Jesus now; he actually lives in our hearts through his Spirit. His Spirit in us assures us that we are redeemed sons of God, and we know we can call God our Father.
In verses 8-11 Paul makes an astonishing connection. He's reminding the Galatians that before they knew God they were slaves to "those who by nature are not gods." The Galatians were pagans; they worshiped idols. They were, he reminds them, slaves to those idols and to the relentless, life-draining ceremonies they had to go through as the forms of their pagan worship. Further, many of those pagan gods were associated with evil spirits, and the Galatians' pagan worship involved honoring not only pieces of wood and stone that represented those spirits but the spirits themselves.
When Paul says they were slaves "to those who by nature are not gods," he meant that in a literal, spiritual sense. They were enslaved to ceremonies, fears, and literally evil spirits masquerading as gods. And then Paul makes a casual but astonishing statement. "But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?"
But the fact is that the Galatians were not turning back to paganism, they were turning back to Jewish ceremonies. The context of the first three chapters of Galatians makes that fact clear. Paul even underscores it by saying, "You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!" Yet the Galatians had not been Jews. They had been pagans. What does Paul mean by saying, "You are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?"
Here is one of Paul's most amazing comparisons. He is saying in effect, "Going back to the empty forms of Jewish tradition is no different from going back to the empty forms of paganism. Those rituals and ceremonies cannot help you. They do not make you good, and they do not save you. In fact, they draw you away from God." Furthermore, once you have known God-once you have been known by God-if you walk away from that life of freedom and grace and try again to do things to increase your holiness, you are actually walking back into slavery. You cannot go back to fulfilling requirements to be right with God. If you do, you leave behind your freedom and you walk from grace into bondage. According to this passage, it doesn't matter what religious legal system you embrace; if you walk from grace back to law, you lose your freedom . You become a slave.
From the time God gave Moses the Ten Commandments until the moment Jesus died on the cross, the Old Covenant was God's appointed way to for humanity to find him. It gave the Israelites a system of government, and it defined them as God's chosen people. God honored the Ten Commandments and the entire Old Covenant by placing his glory in the most holy place of the tabernacle/temple. The temple was the center of the Old Covenant, and God dwelled in it. The Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments was in the Most Holy Place, and God's presence resided there. All of Israel knew that God was in the temple, and they knew that the Sinai covenant was their worship system through which they could honor and find God. All Israel knew that the Ten Commandments was their law.
But when Jesus died the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple tore. All Israel could look into that formerly sacred compartment. The glory of God was gone from it. Forty days later, at Pentecost, Jesus revealed the temple of the New Covenant. The Holy Spirit came to the believers. Now we, the Christ-followers who are the body of Christ and also his church, are the temples of God. No longer does he live in a tabernacle or man-made building. He lives in us.
The Old Covenant is obsolete. God has removed his presence from it. His presence in us is the mark of the New Covenant. The temple and its ceremonies mean nothing anymore. Our Sacrificial Lamb has already come and died. Our Messiah has already rescued us! The Ten Commandments, of course, still exist because they are simply incomplete subsets of God's eternal law. But they no longer have any authority or power. Jesus now reigns as the victorious king, and we are his people.
The Old Covenant with its requirements is now an "empty house." If we go back to it instead of living in the grace of Jesus and the presence of his Spirit, we go to something as empty and meaningless as the rituals of paganism. Jesus has instituted a new way for us to find him. If we go back to the old way which is now obsolete, we will miss Jesus.
If we go back to the Old Covenant and call its requirements binding, we deceive ourselves and also those we convince to keep its law. Deception is not from our Lord. Deception is a characteristic of Satan. By stubbornly insisting that the Old Covenant law is still binding, we cannot experience Jesus's grace, and we open ourselves to more of Satan's deceit. And just as Paul said to the Galatians, we literally become "slaves to those who by nature are not gods."
II Corinthians 3:14 & 16 says, "But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (NIV)
Jesus calls us to be free. He calls us to the freedom of living in his grace and with his Spirit. He calls us to live in personal relationship with him. He calls us to live under his Eternal Law, the law of reality, the law that is the incomprehensible power and love of God. He wants us to leave behind the temporary requirements of the Ten Commandments and to embrace his Spirit which is the Law in our hearts.
He wants to change us and to be intimate with us. He wants us to embrace the reality of being joint heirs with him. He wants us to live with the authority of being the sons of God.
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