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Daily Devotional • January 27

Elizabeth Baumann
Law and Order
A Reading from Galatians 3:15-22

15 Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many, but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. 17 My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise, but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made, and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20 Now a mediator involves more than one party, but God is one.

21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Recently my husband began reading the First Epistle of Clement. He summarized the first three sections like this: “You’re all really great; you’re so great and good at everything; you’re all jerks.” I laughed because that’s just how Paul writes, too; here, to the Galatians, about the law. He doesn’t even take the time in this epistle for his usual introduction filled with compliments. He just launches right into how they are betraying the gospel and how wrong it is to try and depend on the law when they’ve been given grace. Then all of a sudden we get to today’s lesson where the law isn’t “opposed to the promises of God.”

And indeed, however little we may read them, all the laws given by God through Moses are present in our Scriptures. Jesus says right out that he came not to abolish the law. Over the course of the New Testament most of the particular cultural regulations get shed (shrimp cocktail, anyone?), and yet we have this tension throughout: grace is supreme, but the law is still there, un-abolished, still good.

We all juggle this tension. Laws are helpful. God’s law is, in fact, his wisdom. Moral situations can be complex, and emotions get quite involved, and we need clear standards. Confession and repentance, which are so necessary to us, can’t happen if we can’t name our sins, for which we need law. What Paul is so riled up about is that we need to make sure we don’t let the law overreach its helpfulness and try to replace the heights of grace with the pseudo-safety of rule-following. When crossing t’s becomes more important than listening to the Holy Spirit, we become just like the Pharisees that Jesus himself was so angry with.

Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Iowa
The Diocese of Paraná (Curitiba) – Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil
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