Living by the Law or Living by Faith (Sat. Dec. 18)

The word of the day is “faith.”  In our reading of Galatians 3:8-12, St. Paul maintains that those whom God counts as righteous do not live by doing works of the Mosaic Law.  But, the apostle declares, “The just will live by faith” (vs. 12).

Paul’s argument that it is not works but faith that gives life is two-fold.  First, the apostle notes that before God gave the Law to Moses, the Almighty gave a universal promise to Abraham.  The Almighty pledged that He would bless all the peoples of the world “in Abraham” (vs 8).  Thus, the apostle taught that already before Moses, David, or the prophets, inspired scripture foresaw that the Gentiles would receive the fulfillment of the divine promise to Abraham.  That is, God would keep the promise of His “gospel” (vs. 8) and “justify all nations” by faith” (vs. 8).

This understanding of the priority of faith over works meant that the Almighty would count the Gentiles as righteous even though they were not bound to the Law of Moses.  Therefore, according to Paul’s logic, the Gentiles who have faith are now children of Abraham.  They are members of God’s Chosen People not because they obey the Law, but because, like Abraham, they believed the Word of God’s promise.

The Law Cannot Give Life

Second, Paul says that the Law cannot give life.  The apostle quotes the Book of Leviticus. “You shall therefore keep all My ordinances and my judgments and do these, which if a man does, he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5 OSB).  The premise of this teaching is that human beings can observe everything that is commanded in the Law of Moses.  But what if they cannot?  Then, they cannot “live by them” because they are cursed according to the word of scripture (vs. 10).

Paul’s defense of the Gospel of faith without works is summed up in a quotation from the prophet Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 1:5).  This verse is so central that the Apostle repeats it in Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38.  The word “just” comes from the Greek (dike) meaning “properly right in use,” “convention,” and “judgment” (Strong’s #1349, 70). “The just” are those who meet the requirements of a divine standard.  That is, they are “righteous” (Strong’s #1342, 69).

But Paul has already claimed that we cannot achieve this standing before God by the Law.  St. John Chrysostom says, “The Law being too weak to lead man to righteousness; an effectual remedy was provided in faith, which is the means of rendering that possible which was impossible by the Law” (NfPf1:13, 27).

Considered Righteous

But how does faith do what the Law cannot?  Paul says , “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness“ (3:6 OSB).  The root of the word “accounted” is  logos. Here it has a sense of thought or reason.  Therefore, the word can be translated as “to reach a  reasonable conclusion” (Strong’s #3049, 152).   Thus, we can say that God in His mercy “considers” faith as sufficient for righteousness.

And what does it mean to live “by faith”?  The word “life” in Greek refers to animated human existence that God the “Author of Life” gives, sustains, revives, and restores (Psalm 79: 19; Isaiah 57:15).  It is the opposite of death, the extinction of life, a condition where there is no praise of God but absolute silence (Psalm 115:17).

To “live” is more than to be alive physically.  The prideful who try to earn the approval of God for their righteousness cannot truly live.  Since they are condemned, they are spiritually dead (vs. 10).  On the other hand, the Lord promised in the Gospel of John: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Christ was speaking of the eternal life that He gives to believers by faith (John 3:16) (Strong’s #2198, 108-09).  It is “abundant “ or “overflowing” in the grace, goodness, and energies of Christ (Strong’s #4053, 199-200).  Living by faith means we “abide in Him” (John 15:4).  As He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), when we remain in Him, we share His everlasting life.

“The Wisdom of Solomon”

“Living by works” produces nothing but condemnation.  But the reading for today’s Vespers from the  Deuterocanonical book, The Wisdom of Solomon, sums up the benefits of living by faith.”  The teacher of wisdom says, “Those who trust in Him [God] will understand the truth, and the faithful will abide with Him in love because grace and mercy are upon His holy ones, and He watches over His elect” (Oxford Annotated Bible: Wisdom of Solomon 3:9).

The word “trust” in the Septuagint refers to confidence.  It is the faithful conviction of one who is persuaded of the truth of what is believed (Strong’s #4006, 197).  Those with such firm faith gain the knowledge of the truth, that is, the perception and comprehension of God and His wisdom (Strong’s #4920, 242).

Furthermore, the word for “abide” refers to remaining in a place or with a person.  Thus, we can say that those who are faithful “cling to” God (Strong’s #4357, 215).  In return for their faithfulness, God gives grace and mercy to his “saints,” the believers who accept God’s will  (Strong’s #3743, 182).  And the Almighty “watches over” His elect, that is, He “oversees” and “cares for” (Strong’s #1983, 99) persons whom He has chosen out of the rest of humanity (Strong’s #1588, 81).

In summary, in this passage, we learn that “living by faith” is living in a trusting relationship with God.  We put our confidence in God, and He reveals Himself and His ways to us.  We are loyal to Him, and He gives us His blessings.  We commit ourselves and our lives to Him, and He watches over us as His own.

For Reflection

As fish live in the sea, so we live in the ocean of God’s grace.  The ebbs and flow of the Almighty’s lovingkindness carry us where His goodness would have us go.  If we fight against the currents of God’s will, we soon sink with exhaustion.  And if we think we must earn whatever goodness we can, we choose to live and die outside the waters of God’s mercy.

Galatians 3:12, Just Live By Faith, All Nations be Blessed, The Promise to Abraham, Considered Righteous, Living by Faith, Wisdom of Solomon 3:9, Septuagint, Faith as Confidence, Faith as a Relationship,


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