(guest post by my husband, Tim Davis)
I helped all four of our children learn how to ride a bike. The training wheels they used were the old metal branched kind that screwed onto the hub. That way they could be passed on to the next bike as needed.
Yes, those training wheels prevent a lot of scrapes and spills for kids in their crucial learning days.
But we don’t have them anymore.
Some say that once you’ve learned how to ride a bike, you’ll never forget it. At some point, the necessary skill—maintaining balance on two moving wheels—is internalized.
Then the rider is set free to ride through the neighborhood on his own, unencumbered.
The training wheels fulfilled their purpose of aiding in learning to ride a bike, and they are no longer needed.
An undue love for training wheels
Wouldn’t it be strange then, if the neighborhood decided it to be “anti-training wheels” to lay aside the training wheels after a child has internalized the necessary tools for riding? If discontinuing their use is accused of showing disrespect for their purpose?
Maybe some even proposing a policy to insist those training wheels stay on—permanently. What might be the result?
Such a long-term reliance on training wheels could perhaps cause riders to relapse into unlearning their skill, leaning heavily on the extra wheels to keep their balance, forever enslaved to that inherent restraint from the freedom of movement the bicycle was designed for. Maybe the poor kid would even give up on biking altogether.
It seems to defeat the purpose of the training wheels, doesn’t it?
How Paul wrote about those training wheels
Galatia was just such a legalistic neighborhood. After they had received the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, who was fully capable of internalizing the life of Christ in the believer, they returned to the Old Testament Law.
It was the Law that had led the people of God, historically, to Jesus, to the life of the Spirit. And there is no question what Paul thought about their not-so-brilliant idea of returning to spiritual training wheels.
When they returned to the application of the Old Testament Law after they’d received the Spirit of Christ within them, Paul didn’t just rebuke them. He derided them.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
After all, through the Spirit of Christ, in the New Covenant, they had the inner tools to live in freedom.
Yet they were willing to put the “training wheels” of the Law back on, thinking that trying to keep the Old Testament Law would help them stay straight.
Paul called them “foolish.” They were foolish to return to relying upon the “flesh” once they had the “Spirit.” Do you hear that? Paul compared trying to keep the Law to relying on the flesh. All of the New Testament speaks against this.
In fact, Paul told them in Galatians 5:14 that the Law is fulfilled in love. That is, when the purpose of the Law is internalized into love through the Holy Spirit, the Old Testament Law itself is no longer needed.
The fulfillment of the training wheels
For some strange reason, in spite of Paul’s clear words in Galatians, many today still teach that the best way to fulfill the love that Paul talks about in Galatians is to continue to rely on the Law for guidance.
But such a directive undermines Paul’s entire argument in his letter to the Galatians.
We need to understand the meaning of the word “fulfilled” here.
When the Biblical teachers talked about the fulfillment of prophecy, they did not expect to continue waiting for the events to take place. Rather, they would insist that the former anticipation of the events prophesied was completed.
Now, we can enjoy their fulfillment. The fulfillment of the prophecies resulted in a completely new paradigm.
This is the same way in which Paul declared the Law fulfilled in love.
In this way Paul echoed the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. Jesus did not come to “destroy the Law or the Prophets” but instead “fulfill” them.
Interesting that he includes both here—the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus came to fulfill prophecy: the completion of His work and ministry on earth is recorded in the gospels.
He also said He came to fulfill the Law. That is, He brought the Old Testament Law to its completion. This was done through His sinless life, keeping all the Law for us, and through His sacrifice on our behalf, enacting our purification for us.
The entire purpose of the Law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Where is our help?
So where should believers look for guidance to live a life pleasing to God?
To the Law, the training wheels, whose purpose was to point to Jesus Christ?
Or to Christ himself, manifesting in love through the Spirit?
Who should have the last word?
This is Paul’s primary thesis to the Galatians. The Law served its place in history, to show the holiness of God and to lead God’s people to Jesus Christ. Now, Paul wanted them to stand in the faith they initially learned—living and walking in the Spirit. He wanted them to know how to live as believers.
The same is true for us. That same ability is within all believers through the indwelling presence of Christ. Once we’ve learned of Him, why would we return to those things that merely pointed to Him?
The training wheels have served their purpose. There is no more need to lean on the Law.
This is a really helpful article in how it explains the relationship between the law and Christians under the new covenant.thanks so much
So thankful it’s helpful to you, Carmen.
Hmmm. The Law AND the Prophets. That is interesting indeed. And perfectly correlates with what I’ve been reading about whether or not we should give the same authority to every passage in the Bible. We no longer should look to the Law and the Prophets (almost all of the OT) for understanding who God is. Jesus is the perfect representation of God to us. I’ll be munching on this the rest of the day….
Yes, good observation, Amy. The OT leads us to the NT—then fades in importance by comparison.
How does the Holy Spirit teach us to live in love in relationship to the laws we see in the Bible?
Galatians draws those distinctions pretty clearly—particularly Gal. 5:13 onward.. The law cannot do what the Spirit can do. The law’s primary purpose was condemnation, the Sprit instead gives life, discernment and the power to do what pleases Christ.
This is an excellent article that is very needed in the Church today. Thank you!
Thank you so much! What a great analogy. It is very helpful. What you said about Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets makes me think of His conversation on the road to Emmaus…
“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)
Yes, great reference for this subject!
About your mention of writing on suffering–sounds good, such a book is needed. Suffering gracefully/ escaping suffering are not mutually exclusive.
Yes, that wasn’t the topic of this post, but it is something I plan to put in the next Untwisting Scriptures book.
Love the analogy but is it a good one in it’s comparison and conclusions? Mankind in the Old Testament definitely needed training wheels! But to say that the Prophets and the Law are no longer relevant, or needed is I think not only taking off the training wheels, but ALL the wheels and leaving us unable to move forward in what the New Testament teaches, and the fullness of God’s grace in it all. Before you dismiss me as saying that God’s grace is a bike without wheels, hear me out fully. 🙂
The New Testament in all it’s writings doesn’t tell us to do dismiss the laws or Old Testament writings, nor does Paul ever say that we should in what he was talking about in the instruction to the churches. Most of what Jesus taught was based on and in the Old Testament guidances, but He taught these same values and guides in the fullness of the time of His coming, and revealed to us what had remained hidden in it’s full meaning for generations. He taught that God’s GRACE saves us (absolutely!), but nowhere does it state that the laws and prophets are not there to guide us or that they are not necessary or outdated. Without the Old Testament and Prophets, the New Testament teaching is without meaning or roots. But saved from what, and for what? THAT is what the Old Testament defines, and gives us the path forward in using it in a new way that God has blessed us with knowledge of. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites laws to live by,which taught them what sin was, how to obey and trust in Him in all parts of our lives, and rules to become a nation of His priests that would be a blessing to all nations and people.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” Matt 5:17-18 Everything has not been accomplished, obviously since Jesus has not returned to fulfill the remaining prophesies spoken of Him in the Old Testament (20+ prophecies as I remember). The Sermon on the Mount is based on God’s word in the Old Testament. Jesus quoted Old Testament scriptures almost every time He spoke, the Apostles also quoted scripture from the Torah and Prophets and writings continually. Paul followed the laws as God gave them, not in those man had added along the way to oppress others, and celebrated the holidays of the Old Testament. What Jesus gave us to follow, was God’s core and meanings for them in the Old Testament laws, Matt 23:36 “..Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus answered him, “Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, an with every thought that is within you. This is the great and supreme commandment. And the second is like it in importance: You must love your friend in the same way you love yourself. Contained within these commandment is to love you will find all the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.”
You stated “The entire purpose fo the Law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” Yes, it is, but not YET completed. Until Jesus returns and fulfills that part of the Bible, New and Old Testament prophesies that both speak of it, the law is still here but in a new and actually deeper way. Jesus took away the condemnation from the law through His death and resurrection for our sins, but the law remains as a guide for us to follow God’s path to Him. The Holy Spirit is our guide in understanding how to get there, and our helper. We are SAVED by God’s amazing Grace, but we are not left without law to follow, though now if we break the law in our keeping our eyes on God and following Him, we remain forgiven because of His Grace freely given to us thru Jesus Christ. THAT takes care of the training wheels. The sacrifices required by the law and the condemnation of the law were the training wheels, NOT the basic premises of the law God gave us. The premise was spoken by Jesus in Matt 23:27 and still stands.
In your analogy, in removing the guidance of the Old Testament and Prophets, and saying they have served their purpose and are no longer useful is taking off ALL four wheels and ends up with a faith that has no direction or ability to take us back to God. We can sit and bask in God’s Grace until He comes again, but are we really following His teachings or that of the Apostles if we do that only? Absolutely not! Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). What are works if the law foundation, and writings based on the prophets are thrown out? Salvation is by Grace alone, the fruit of our salvation is in obeying Him to show our love in following and honoring Him in our lives. YES, if we keep the training wheels on too long (i.e.- rigid focus on the law alone), we begin to depend on it only (error pointed our repeatedly in the Old Testament by God through the Prophets) and not focus on the inner love and balance God instilled in each of us through the Holy Spirit.
There is beauty in the Old Testament, AND guidance that is VITAL to us in understanding ALL of God’s word; you just have to take the time to dig below the murky surface man puts on it, to find the treasure beneath and the path God sets for us there. KEEP the wheels that drive the bike, but God will remove the training wheels as we start to follow and learn through knowing and following all of the Bible with God’s love (Old and New). The whole Bible is a book about Jesus. Those are the two wheels we need to keep on our bikes so we move forward in this world with the Holy Spirit back to God.
I’m learning to love the Old Testament as I’ve started to study it through the lenses of the teachings in the New Testament and wisdom of those who know Hebrew and the depth of the culture surrounding the Old Testament and Hebrew people. It’s worth the study when you invite God to guide you through it all and show you Jesus in it from the beginning. The new covenant doesn’t replace or destroy the old covenant of Moses, it just makes it make more sense and shows us where the final lap of the journey for all of us, Jew and Gentile is to be found.
Thanks for your patience!
Thanks for your comment, Linda. I value the discussion, and your friendship. I’m going to let the author of the post be the one to respond to you here. 🙂
My first response is that we’re not just referring to God’s grace, but his Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. By living in the Spirit rather than in the flesh (our own determination), we have not only wheels, but a spiritual engine to turn them in the path God desires for us.
Regarding the Law, no, it is not dismissed, it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. All we read in the Old Testament ultimately points to Christ—as he said himself on the road to Emmaus. This is a study I’ve undertaken myself, and found it amazingly true—even more than I’d initially imagined! Yes, the OT foreshadows the NT. In that way it provides a context to give meaning to the spiritual realities we find in Jesus’ life, teaching, and the formation of a people who believe in him by saving faith. But when Jesus came, it represented a radical departure from the former OT figures to spiritual realities. The Law was given to Israel. The people of God under the Law were a physical nation, largely unregenerate, as seen by their consistent departure from his worship. Jesus made it clear that once he came as the Messiah, bloodlines were no longer important—his people were now those who trusted in him by faith, Jew or Gentile. Historically, the Law was (past tense) a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, it was a teacher, yet we are no longer under its authority (Gal. 3:21-25). We are directly under Christ’s authority.
Jesus’ statement, “Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you. This is the great and supreme commandment. And the second is like it in importance: You must love your friend in the same way you love yourself. Contained within these commandment is to love you will find all the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.” illustrates the Law’s fulfillment. He states that its very substance centers on love for God and mankind. Beyond that core, the OT Law was largely a hedge to restrain sin among a mostly unregenerate people. But as illustrated throughout the OT, it was insufficient. It only served to point out their failure. The missing element was not determination (as the rich ruler seemed to have), but rather he was missing the ability to obey the Law’s command to love. That could come only by the power of God’s Spirit through trust in Christ—whom he was looking at, and walked away.
The OT Law condemned the Israelites of their sin, while its sacrificial aspects pointed them toward ultimate redemption in Christ. Hebrews chapter 9 makes it clear that these OT figures would have meant nothing without their fulfillment in him. Theologians tend to split the Law into various pieces, moral, civil, ceremonial—yet the Bible doesn’t do that. It presents the Law as a unit. As Paul says, a Jew (by practice of circumcision) was a debtor to the whole law (Gal. 5:3). He goes on to explain that we as believers are freed from its obligations. But we are freed in order to walk in the Spirit. This is our direction, along with our power to obey Christ.
The Law and Prophets were used to bring us to Christ. Now he is our Savior, our teacher, our guide. Paul chastised the Galatians for turning back to the Law for their sanctification, rather than walking in the Spirit. This does not mean we toss out the OT, never study it, etc. But it was a testament, a covenant given to Israel. We are not under its authority. We are under a greater authority— the one the Law pointed to—Christ and his indwelling spirit. Paul addresses the change of covenants very clearly in 2 Corinthians chapter 3. He says that as glorious as the old testament was (specifically the Ten Commandments)—so glorious Moses’ face glowed–that it has been “done away” and far surpassed by the glory of the new covenant “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” Hebrews 12:18-29 continues this thought at length, explaining that we are NOT come to Mount Sinai—to the giving of the commandments of the Law, but to Mount Zion—to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. But Hebrews 8: 6-13 probably states this most clearly saying “He [Jesus] is the mediator of a better covenant, based on better promises.” again, contrasting this with the Law’s covenant. After explaining the spiritual, inward nature of this new agreement, he ends with this: “In that he says, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away.” What is vanishing away in the time of Hebrews? The covenant—the agreement—the authority of the Law has been supplanted by the New covenant, as Jesus declared was confirmed in his blood.
So I’m with you in studying the Old Testament in all its beauty. But when I read it, I recognize I’m looking over the shoulders of those under the Old Covenant. It was their agreement. Ours is so much better—more glorious! In a way, I’ve felt a connection to Paul’s time of wandering in the wilderness, being taught of the Lord. Paul knew the Old Testament scriptures, but arrived at conclusions short of their full meaning. I grew up in church, a preacher’s kid well versed in Bible stories and lessons throughout the scriptures. But it wasn’t until I spent time meditating in my own wilderness (5 years in southern Indiana) that I began to understand the richness of it all—especially the connections between what we read in the Old and New Testaments. It all points to Christ—just as he said himself. Often in surprisingly beautiful ways.
That’s an interesting rendering of the Matthew 22 passage. What version is it?
Tim was quoting Linda there, who it looks like was using the Passion translation/paraphrase.
This is a fabulous article,Tim. Thank you! Galatians is challenging to follow and Linda (above) makes some good points that I would love to hear your response on.
All to say I sure hope you’re writing a book! I’d buy it
Thank you, Jeanette. My response is posted above. Don’t hold your breath for that book 😉
Very helpful analogy, Tim — thanks for the great article.