“A man is not justified by works of the law but by faith of Jesus Christ” If this statement of the Apostle is true (and it is), then why do we depend so heavily upon the law in our Christian lives. There are various Christian confessions, which take this apostolic statement as their central focus and from it, proclaim their freedom from the rules and traditions of the Church. They claim that there is no need for the external rules which govern our lives as Christians, but that as long as we have “faith” we are saved. Thus they reject the richness of the Tradition of the Church in an attempt to preserve their freedom, citing this same portion of scripture which says, “I, through the law, am dead to the law that I might live unto God”. They seem to put the law in some kind of opposition to God (or at least to faith in God). This is all the result of misinterpretation and a poor understanding of what faith actually is.
We all have faith in many things for faith, as the scripture says, is the hope of things unseen. One unseen thing in which we all have faith is gravity. We have faith that if we jump up, we will eventually come down. We have faith that if I set a pencil on the table, it will stay there and not drift off in the currents of the air. We have faith that water will run downhill and not up, that when we take a step our foot will remain on the ground and not spring us up into the air, that gravity is there and it works and it keeps us settled. Even when we look beyond the gravity well of the earth, we still have faith in gravity. We have faith that the planets of our solar system will continue to be held in their proper orbits by the gravity of the sun, we have faith that when we send a satellite or capsule into space it will be influenced in precise ways by the various gravitational effects of the planets and so follow a certain predetermined course.
Gravity, however is unseen, we can’t really perceive it directly, we can’t measure it except though its effect on other objects, we don’t understand how it works (in fact not all physicists even agree on what gravity is). Even though it is an incomprehensible mystery, we have faith in gravity and we order our lives according to that faith. There are certain rules – laws of gravity – which help us to live according to our faith. We know that “what goes up must come down” and that “water always flows downhill” – these are “laws of gravity” which we obey because of our faith in gravity. There are whole sciences of orbital mechanics that are made up of nothing but rules about gravity. Faith does not oppose law, but rather law arises out of our faith and helps to define our faith. Law does not negate faith, but it allows faith to be exercised consistently.
Thus from this rather mundane example we can see that faith and law are not opposed to one another, but rather work together. The words of the apostle, “A man is not justified by works of the law but by faith of Jesus Christ” therefore, must be understood with that in mind. The apostle is not telling us that faith negates law, but rather that there is a proper relationship between law and faith. He is not telling us to do away with the law, but rather that the law must be understood and followed not for itself apart from faith, but in the proper relationship to our faith. What then is the role of the law in faith; what is this relationship?
When we raise our children, we as parents create many laws for them. We say “do not touch the stove, it is hot”, “do not go into the street”, “brush your teeth every day”, “wash your hands before eating” and so on. Children live by this law that we give them – it is the “law of parents”. They may not understand the reason and purpose behind the law and yet they follow the law out of dependence upon and love for their parents.
We give them these rules to keep them safe from dangers they do not yet understand or to create in them good habits which will enrich their lives and bring them good things as adults.
We communicate our values, our hopes and dreams for our children through the laws that we create for them. Parental law is not an act of dictatorship or hatred or enslavement, but rather it is an act of love and hope for the future. As children grow older they begin to understand the reasons behind some of the laws and begin to make decisions on their own about how they should behave. But this does not negate their love of their parents and their dependence upon the law of the parents to give their developing world a certain form and shape. Children find, as they grow that there are other laws as well – laws of society that communicate the traditions of our culture and of our common life as a community. As they understand the principles behind these laws, they gain a greater grasp on how to order their own lives. When our children become adults they look back on all these laws – the laws of parents, the laws of society, the laws of culture and they create from them their own internal “law”, their own identity, which serves as an anchor and administrator of their adult lives.
Thus we see the nature of God’s law for us. He is our Creator and we are His creatures – or rather He is our Father and we are His children. He has given us His law in order that we might develop in ourselves certain patterns of our behavior that keep us safe in the world and certain habits that will allow us in the future to acquire the good treasures of His grace that He offers to us.
God communicates to us His love, His hope for us, His purpose for our being through His law. He knows that like children we will gradually grow to understand, more and more of the principles of the law and that through the law we might see the purpose of our faith. The law describes for us the way of life that leads to God.
It is not the law that saves us, it is instead grace which we acquire through faith. The law however shows us the way of life that incorporates that faith and the means through which we acquire and use the grace in a way which transforms us and actualizes in us the reality of the image and likeness of God with which we were created. We have faith in Jesus Christ that the law He has given us will guide us correctly. The law no longer is for us, a duty and a strong ruler, but rather it has become part of our being, and we follow it because of our faith, because we believe in God Whom we have not seen, but Who we know through His effect upon us and upon the world around us.
We are not saved or made holy by the law itself. The law merely shows us the path, it paints for us a picture of the kind of person that God created us to become. If we have faith in Jesus Christ, then we will follow the path that He set out for us, that same path that is defined and described for us by the law. When we follow the path of Christ we develop the habits and skills which allow us to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit and it is that grace that transforms us into the likeness of God. It is that grace, which we have acquired through faith by means of the law that saves us. The law is not separated from faith, but rather it is illumined and internalized by faith so that we might become the people that God created us to be, so that we might fulfill the purpose for which God made us.
We have faith in the God/man Jesus Christ and in the path that He revealed for us, even though we do not always understand the purposes and reasons for each step. That faith allows us to follow the rules of the life that He gives us and to internalize them so that our lives are transformed and become not ours, but His, so that we can say with the Apostle: “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
(thank you Fr David)