St. Paul is deliberately using a RABBINICAL TERM that hasn’t translated over, and that term is what you’ve described, Works of the Law - Temple Sacrifices, Circumcision, Keeping Kosher, Strict Observance of the Sabbath etc.
Part of the point of the First Council of Jerusalem was establishing the distinction between these Works of the Law, and the keeping of the commandments of God, which are expressed in “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”
If you can understand this, that question will be permanently resolved.
For those who just want a good, integrated Study Bible for this section of Scripture:
The Ignatius Study Bible: Letters of St. Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians
Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch present insights and inspiring commentary on the Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians in this 8th volume of the new Ignatius Study Bible series. Containing Bible study helps and tools, in addition to the Hahn-Mitch notes, they include insights from the Church Fathers, topical essays, word studies and charts, study questions, maps, and a cross-reference section.
Availability: In Stock
Length: 125 pages
Your Price: $9.95
In Christ, Michael
When Paul says that we are not justified by works or by the law, he is referring to any and all kinds of work done by man, not just certain kinds of work. These works include all the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws of the OT as well as any such laws of the age we are now in.
This debate over what “works of the law” actually means goes back at least as far as Jerome and Augustine. Jerome believed that the “works of the law” which will not justify refers only to the ceremonial law. Augustine believed that “works of the law” refers to any ceremonial or moral law.
The Council of Trent seems to me to settle this issue because it does not distinguish between ceremonial or moral law in its decrees on justification. This council makes a firm statement that the works Paul understood as those that do not justify us refers to all and any works, not just particular kinds of works.
For example, in the councils first decree on justification we see:
“If anyone shall say that man can be justifed before God by his own works, which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema” (Session 6, Canon 1). We can see from this declaration that the council made no distinction between works.
I think we all agree that the ceremonial law will not save us so I won’t spend time disputing that but will move on to the moral law.
Let’s take Romans 7:6-8 for example:
**Romans 7:6-8 **
6 But now we are loosed from the law of death wherein we were detained; so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. 7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid! But I do not know sin, but by the law. For I had not known concupiscence, if the law did not say: Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
The law that shows us that coveting is sin is taken from the 9th and 10th commandments, which of coruse are part of the moral law and not the ceremonial law.
If anyone is interested in reading more about this matter I would suggest “Not By Faith Alone” by Sungenis or reading the following link: