“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.” (James 2:22, NASB)
Does Paul bad-mouth the law when he says, “The law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12)? “May it never be.” Law and faith are different in character. Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges. The law is a standard; faith is a disposition or an attitude. Paul was saying, “Don’t ask the law to do only what faith can do.” But that doesn’t do away with the law. They fit together beautifully in God’s design for the Christian life.
Faith is the only way to respond to grace. When God speaks to me in grace, he does not say “do for me,” but rather, “I have done for you.” I cannot earn grace. This is faith. The whole Christian life is characterized by faith.
“Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Faith is taking what God gives—but taking it on God’s terms. God does not ask me simply to agree with him that his grace is true, effective, and glorious. He commands me to live in the light of its radical implications. He calls me to be converted, exchanging my commitment to sin and self for commitment to God through Christ. Merely claiming to have faith is easy but ineffectual. Commitment to God through Christ in faith, however, is life itself. True faith, biblical faith, works (James 2:17-18). It is a persevering faith that does not pick and choose when to follow the Lord (a de facto denial that Christ is the Lord). Biblical faith presupposes obedient discipleship.
Before Paul said, “The law does not rest on faith” (Galatians 3:12), he said, “No man is justified before God by the law” (3:11). Old Testament and New Testament speak with one voice, “The just shall live by faith” (see Habakkuk 2:4). The law is a standard that, by itself, pronounces a curse. A law is given to be obeyed, not merely to be acknowledged (i.e., “believed”). We had broken the law and were guilty. No amount of belief in the law’s perfection or accuracy of its evaluation could remove its curse. Likewise, no amount of obedience could alter previous disobedience. Here is where God’s grace in Christ intervened. Paul continued, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (3:13). He perfectly obeyed the law so that he could be condemned by the law in my place. God gave Christ to us so that the law would not condemn us legally, not so that the law need not characterize us behaviorally. For Paul continued in the next verse to give the purpose for redeeming us from the law’s curse—”that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (3:14).
The Spirit is present in the life of the believer by faith, but to what end? We walk by the Spirit or are led by the Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 18, 22-23). The Spirit’s fruit, a cluster of nine godly character traits, is perfectly satisfying to God and us. Why? Paul said, “against such there is no law” (5:23). Paul did not say there is no law. He did not say that the law no longer functions. Paul’s statement here would be meaningless unless the category of law was still applicable to the Christian. Paul was saying that the Spirit-led Christian fulfills the law as the goal of redemption in his or her new, Spirit-indwelt status. God masterfully neutralized the law’s curse through Christ’s sacrifice and now enables me to fulfill the demands of the law through the Spirit’s indwelling.
So, though the law is not of faith (laws are to be observed and grace is to be believed), the believer believes (as believers should) what God has said about the law (that we are free from its curse to fulfill it in the Spirit). The Christian is thereby free in faith to obey the law. Obedience is a dimension of genuine biblical faith. Faith and the law are not opposed unless one is using the law legalistically. When converted, Abraham (Genesis 15:6), the father of the faithful, offered Isaac in obedience to God’s command. Scripture says, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected” (James 2:22, NASB). Why not pray today that you are free in faith to obey the law and that you live in the radical implications of grace?