A gracEmail reader asks, “Since no one is justified by the law” (Gal. 3:11), how can Paul say that he was “blameless” according to the law? (Phil. 3:6)”
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All God’s commandments are “holy, just and good” (Rom. 7:12), but God never intended law to be a means of forgiveness or the means for obtaining divine approval. When he gave the Law to Israel at Sinai, after rescuing them from Egyptian slavery, God called Israel to love him with all their hearts, in response to his gracious acts of salvation, and to keep his Law, graciously-given as the Creator- Redeemer’s loving guide and protection, within a personal relationship of love and trust (Deut. 4:1-9, 17-25; Psalm 19:7-14; Psalm 119). Within that faith relationship, God viewed believing Israelites as having “righteousness” (Deut. 6:25; cf. Rom. 4:3, 6). The believing Israelite knew that he or she was forgiven and accepted by God, who is gracious, long-suffering and forgiving, and who does not deal with humans as they truly deserve (Psalm 103:10-14). We might call this a “Grace-Faith Righteousness.”
Unfortunately, as humans always tend to do, many in Israel forgot or ignored God’s glorious purpose for Law and began to use it improperly — as a means of proving they were better than others, whether those outside Israel or even the “sinners” among the Jews. To do this, they had to reinterpret the demands of the Law in a way that eliminated the heart requirements and which reduced the external requirements to a manageable and attainable selective list. Then they argued that they were “righteous” because they had kept the law, and considered themselves morally superior to others who had not. We may call this a “Rationalized Righteousness.” It is what Jesus opposes in Matthew 5-6, and what Paul fights in Galatians and in Romans
When Paul viewed his pre-Christian self — the Saul of Tarsus who blasphemed Jesus, assisting in Stephen’s execution and “made havoc” of the church — as “blameless” (Phil. 3:6), I think he was speaking in terms of Rationalized Righteousness. But coming to know Christ destroyed and reversed that mindset. Everything in which Paul formerly trusted was suddenly eclipsed by this Savior who alone truly pleased God in every thought, word and deed. All the religious achievements which previously made him proud became dim, dull and even “dung” as he viewed and contemplated this Savior who lived his earthly life perfectly attuned to the Creator, always acting in loving, trusting, obedient, harmonious relationship with the heavenly Father (Phil. 3:8-11). In the bright light of Jesus Christ, the deficiency of Rationalized Righteousness becomes painfully apparent.