What do works of the law mean?

I always assumed that Paul refers to works of the Mosaic Law like circumcision, or dietary restrictions, but a recent thread has challenged my understanding. Clarification is needed.

What specifically challenges your understanding?

I’ve always thought what Saint Paul wrote about was on the Mosaic Law and living it out like the Pharisees as he once did. I think that’s the whole crux of his theology in Romans.

Live out the Spirit of the Law; not the letter of the Law.

Probably Romans 4:6-8.

Okay. I just finished going over the verses.

I’m thinking that these verses could mean that it’s the spirit in which the works were done is perhaps what matters. That one’s sins are overlooked for the faithful’s obedience to the spirit of love. :thinking: I’m unsure about my interpretation. Perhaps I’ll ask Father tomorrow after Mass.

I’m sorry, I’m trying to be helpful.

It’s any works of the Law. Removing a little flap of skin cannot make one holy, but neither does mere external obedience of the moral law, including the ten commandments. Read Phil 3. Also Rom 3 & 7 speak of the moral law being insufficient to justify us; Rom 13 tells us that only love can fulfill the Law, citing some of the decalogue. And this is because authentic obedience comes only by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), “on the basis of faith”, (Phil 3:9). This is to be “under grace”, where we obey by the Spirit, with He indwelling us. To be “under the Law” is to attempt obedience by our own efforts, apart from God. But, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5. We have no righteousness apart from Him.

And so the whole purpose of the New Covenant is to put us into intimate communion with God. We don’t obey first of all so that we can unite with God, rather we must unite with God first of all so that we can obey. This is the essence and first step in man’s becoming just. The New Covenant prophecy of Jer 31:33-34:

“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”


Thank you, fhansen. You’ve put it beautifully.

Even if we confine ourselves to the Pentateuch, we have the holiness code in Leviticus with things like:

17 "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him.
18 You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The Mosaic law is not just circumcision, food laws, sabbath observances, and the like. It teaches mercy and love, with say, laws like not gathering all the leftovers in a field, so that your needy neighbor may pick some of it up to eat.

But from a Catholic perspective, there is an order to things. Grace first. All of our works are God’s gifts. Perhaps CCC 2009 and 2010 would be helpful. They address grace and merit and works and justification. (maybe read that whole merit section)

Thanks, Michael-I was just expanding on yours. :smile: There’s always a lot more to say on it tho.

Yeah, so true. When I post here; I’m often thinking of more to add. Then, frequently I edit my posts. :rofl::joy::rofl::sweat_smile:

For me, that’s a reference to the Sacrament of Confession.

Romans 4:6 So also David declares the blessedness of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven
and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record.”

In my opinion, King David is here referring to the forgiveness he received when he repented and confessed his sin not directly to God, but to God through the Prophet Nathan.

And the Prophet Nathan pronounced God’s absolution upon him.

2 Samuel 12:13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan answered David: “For his part, the Lord has removed your sin. You shall not die,

I hope I’m not the only one that sees a direct prefiguring of the Sacrament of Reconciliation there.

To me, all of Romans 4 is about the Sacraments. When St. Paul refers to:

Now we assert that “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.”

That is what happens every time we present ourselves to God in every Sacrament. It is a pre-judgment event. God sees our faith and if it is true, He credits it to us as righteousness and in addition, we receive a gift of the Holy Spirit, a free washing of our souls in sanctifying grace.

That’s my two cents.

I think the whole crux of St. Paul’s theology, the reason why he seems to be misunderstood (2 Pet 3:15-17). Is because he focuses on Sacramental Teaching. The much maligned idea of “justification by faith apart from the law” or “apart from works”, which is frequently interpreted as “faith alone”, describes precisely what happens in the Sacraments. In the Sacraments, those who have done the will of God through faith, are justified of their sins, not by their works, but by the mercy of God which He only pours out on those who do His will.

Exodus 20:6 but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,[a] but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Titus 3:5 not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the holy Spirit,

This Titus 3:5 is truly a stumbling block for Protestants. They don’t read, “not because of the righteous deeds we have done”. They read, “you don’t have to do any righteous deeds, its an absolutely free gift with no conditions whatsoever.”


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