If we can keep th Law in the New covenant, why does Paul tell us not to put ourselves in a situation where we have to?

Hi brothers and sisters,

I am a revert to the Catholic Church. I have a question concerning justification. I’ve been working through a book called “Not by faith alone: The biblical evidence for the Catholic doctrine of justification” by Robert Sungenis.

He notes in the book that when Paul says “we are justified by faith apart from works of the Law”, that “works of the Law” include both moral works and outward Jewish works. Basically any kind of works that can put God in debt to repay man with heaven.

And this would make sense, for it is mankind’s imprisonment “under sin” (Rom 3:9) that disables him/her from being justified by the works of the Law (Rom 3:19-20).

But if as Christians we are set free from sin and are enabled to keep the righteous requirements of the Law, then why is it such a horrible thing to do what Paul said not to do:

I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

It would seem if we could keep the whole Law no problem in the New Covenant, why is Paul telling the Galatians not to put themselves under the obligation to keep the whole law?

It’s not that that law is wrong; it’s simply that its incapable of justifying us-as if mere outward obedience-which can be nothing more then a pretense of righteousness-is all there is to it; God wants our hearts changed first of all. And this is why Jesus considered many of the Pharisees to be whited-washed tombs: clean on the outside while filthy on the inside. So Paul tells us in Rom 7 that the law is spiritual: “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good”, but that we’re not spiritual-we must become spiritual in order to become authentically just. This is the New Covenant. Paul still knows that we must obey, but out of love, molded into us by grace: God’s work, not ours except to the extent that we cooperate with Him in it.

**Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. **Rom 13:8-10

The law was a teacher, one that taught us that we’re sinners, unable to consistently obey it as we should: in spirit and truth-while we’re still apart from-out of communion with-God. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” Jesus tells us in John 15:5. Anyway, there are many ways to explain the differences between the Old and New Covenants but the Catechism teaches it best:

**1963 According to Christian tradition, the Law is holy, spiritual, and good,14 yet still imperfect. Like a tutor15 it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it. Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage. According to St. Paul, its special function is to denounce and disclose sin, which constitutes a “law of concupiscence” in the human heart.16 However, the Law remains the first stage on the way to the kingdom. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior God. It provides a teaching which endures for ever, like the Word of God.

1965 The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him it becomes the interior law of charity: "I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my laws into their hands, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."19

1966 The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful through faith in Christ. It works through charity; it uses the Sermon on the Mount to teach us what must be done and makes use of the sacraments to give us the grace to do it:

If anyone should meditate with devotion and perspicacity on the sermon our Lord gave on the mount, as we read in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, he will doubtless find there . . . the perfect way of the Christian life. . . . This sermon contains . . . all the precepts needed to shape one’s life.20

1967 The Law of the Gospel “fulfills,” refines, surpasses, and leads the Old Law to its perfection.21 In the Beatitudes, the New Law fulfills the divine promises by elevating and orienting them toward the “kingdom of heaven.” It is addressed to those open to accepting this new hope with faith - the poor, the humble, the afflicted, the pure of heart, those persecuted on account of Christ and so marks out the surprising ways of the Kingdom.

1968 The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure,22 where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity.23

1970 The Law of the Gospel requires us to make the decisive choice between “the two ways” and to put into practice the words of the Lord.26 It is summed up in the Golden Rule, "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; this is the law and the prophets."27

The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the “new commandment” of Jesus, to love one another as he has loved us.28

1972 The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom, because it sets us free from the ritual and juridical observances of the Old Law, inclines us to act spontaneously by the prompting of charity and, finally, lets us pass from the condition of a servant who “does not know what his master is doing” to that of a friend of Christ - “For all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” - or even to the status of son and heir.31**

Continued next post:

Then take note of this paragraph, #2068:

2068 The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them; the Second Vatican Council confirms: "The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments."

St Paul was battling legalism with the Galatians, and wanted to dissuade them from putting themselves back under the law as a means to righteousness, which it simply cannot accomplish; only God, via our communion with Him, can accomplish that.

Bolding above mine.

I am not so sure that we actually can do this. In Acts 15 at the council of Jerusalem, Peter speaks out firmly against imposing on the Gentiles the very laws that they, as Jews, were unable to keep.
Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? - (Acts 15:10)

Why would Peter, leader of the Apostles say this, if we ARE able to keep the Law? :shrug:
In truth, we are called to a higher law, one that is both more flexible but harder to keep. The Law of Love - the very heart of all the other Law.

I think that what Paul was doing was warning his readers against getting diverted from this higher law by embracing the Mosaic Law. His concern was that, if they chose to embrace the Jewish law, become circumcised - they could not pick and choose; they could not adapt; they could not enjoy the same freedom as the Gentiles who came to faith without circumcision.

By the act of circumcision, they would be required, before God, to uphold all of the Law - - Something that Peter and Paul both speak out against.

The Law itself too often becomes an end instead of a means. The attitude creeps in that says, “I am righteous because I keep the (Mosaic) law”, and not, “I keep the (higher) law because I am righteous”.
Do you see the distinction?

Not sure I’ve explained this well, but I hope it helps.


Yes, and Aquinas actually broke the law down into three categories, with only the “moral law” being eternally binding, being based on the “natural law” which precedes and is summed up by the Ten Commandments, which, in turn, we’re further summed up by Jesus with the Greatest Commandments.

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