Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Penalty of the Law

Today I would like to focus on the oft-repeated argument from Herbert Armstrong that "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law." I was reading a fine post by J from Shadows titled "In Paul's Words." I wish more people would understand what J is saying. But it got me thinking again about the phrase "penalty of the law."

Here is the reasoning from Armstrongism (and indeed all Adventism, and what's more all Sabbatarianism, and still more all legalism as well):
Upon being justified, a Christian is, "not to repeat the crimes that brought him to the prison in the first place [in Armstrongism's case this means breaking the Old Covenant law]! His previous crimes have been paid for, and he is set free. While he is set free, it doesn’t give him licence to go back and repeat his previous crimes again."
It is likened to a man in a boat. The boat is the law. By violating the Old Covenant law, the man falls out of the boat. Nothing he did could get him back into the boat. Jesus came and died to pay the penalty and now the man is back in the boat. He must not repeat his mistake and fall once again out of the boat.

On the surface this is a fine-sounding bit of reasoning. Certainly, Jesus did not die to give us license to sin. But there is more than meets the eye here. Let's take this line of reasoning, think it through to its logical conclusions, and look at what we get.


Paul's pleading with Peter in Galatians 2 hearkens all the way back to Acts 10 and 11 and centers around the separation of Jew and Gentile, which wall of separation was broken down at Christ's death, and which wall of separation Peter was attempting to build back again. In Acts 10 Peter admits this wall existed and that it was broken down by God Himself.
The Torah law separated Jew from Gentile in many ways: geographically, maritally, by circumcision, according to diet, according to religious practice, etc. This is the law. Every one of these partitions were broken down by Jesus on the cross.
With that in mind, let's quickly review the Armstrongist definition of sin - lawbreaking.
With that definition we can conclude that if "sin" is "transgressing the [Old Covenant] law," and that very law separated Jew from Gentile, then bringing Jew and Gentile together is a sin. If Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, and now expects us by our own effort to keep the law better than ever, then Jew and Gentile are separated more firmly than ever.
Jew must strive not to break the law by mingling with Gentile. Gentile must not mix with Jew and cause him to sin. This is the law, and this is the true nature of that which the legalists demand be kept without flaw. Certain Armstrongists perpetuate this idea with their own twist by declaring it a punishable offense to mingle with non-Armstrongists, or Armstrongists of a different corporate organization, even if they are your own flesh and blood!

This idea contradicts the Gospel!
The Jewish converts at first thought the separation between Jew and Gentile was in force. Acts 11: 19 shows us that the Gospel only went out to the Jews. It wasn't until God made it plain to Peter that the wall of separation was demolished that the Holy Spirit came to the Gentiles.
Can't we see that if Armstrong was right, the Gospel would never have gone out to the Gentiles!
At best, if it were true as HWA taught, then the Gentiles would by absolute necessity have been required to be circumcised and keep the law. But this is precisely what the enemies of the Gospel were saying, not the Apostles.

The very idea makes Jesus a minister of sin since He tore down the wall of separation in clear violation of the law, and taught both Peter and Paul to act in violation of the law. This is precisely what Paul was saying to Peter in Galatians 2!
Peter had fallen for the legalist arguments without thinking it all the way through. "Keep the law" sounds great, until we see what the ramifications of that actually are. (Please read the Plain Truth About Peter's Hypocrisy for more detail on that.)

I would love for you to read Ephesians 2: 11-22, but for the sake of time and space I will focus on verses 14-16:

(EPH. 2: 14-16) 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

Can't we see that if the law is in force, and Jesus died to remove the death penalty only, then we tear to bits the body of Christ Himself! So it cannot be right. It cannot be what Jesus wants.

For emphasis, let's see another example of where the idea leads.

(COL. 2: 14) having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

In order to make sense of this verse according to our doctrine, we were taught that the "handwriting of requirements" meant "penalty of the law," because what was required was our death. The consequence of that is the rest of the chapter needs to be reinterpreted to the point that it loses its meaning. Verse 17 now becomes meaningless and worthless. The shadow is embraced and the reality is left out in the cold. We loved the Sabbath shadow, and we misunderstood the justification Christ died to bring us.
Can't we see that we made a god of the law, in violation of the law we idolized!


Let us take that idea one step farther and ask where do we get this phrase "penalty of the law" anyhow?

It is nowhere to be found in the Bible.
Even the word "penalty" alone, apart from the phrase, is to be found zero times if we check the KJV. "Penalty" appears seven times in the NKJV, but every instance in the Old Testament is either in the introduction notes or italicized to indicate that it was added for readability. The word translated "penalty" in the NKJV New Testament is from the Greek word "antimisthia." "Antimisthia" appears only twice in the Greek New Testament, once in Romans 1: 27 and once in II Corinthians 6: 13. Neither place carries even the idea of "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law." It's not there. So the idea had to have been gotten from somewhere - that somewhere just isn't the direct words of the Bible.

Why would I bother researching this? Simple. Because I have often heard arguments like "the word 'Trinity' isn't in the Bible," so the argument "the phrase 'penalty of the law' is not in the Bible," admittedly sophomoric as that may be, is fair since this is a classic Herbert Armstrong-style argument.

Again and again the New Testament shows that we are not under the law (ROM. 6: 14-15; 7: 6; 9: 31-32; GAL. 2: 19; 5: 18). Not once does it say we are "not under the penalty of the law." No. That is nowhere to be found. It says we are not under the law. Period.
So the argument is an addition to the Bible, adding to, and it brings it's own heavy penalty.


The argument, as best as I can tell, came from a misreading of Galatians 3: 13, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law...". That's "curse," not "penalty." HUGE difference there.
Let's look at the context and we'll get a better view of what we're dealing with.

(GAL. 3: 10-14) 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Does that sound like a bit of text that upholds legalism? It sure doesn't sound like it to me!
Putting it into my own words, it says that anyone who sets out to keep the law is cursed, because keeping the law means keeping it perfectly and without the slightest interruption in that perfection. No human [but One] can or has done that. Since we are cursed by the law due to our inability to keep the law, Jesus took that curse upon Himself so that we may now receive the promises made to Abraham. Now, everything is by faith rather than by law.

What was the main failure of the Old Covenant people? Why didn't they obtain what they sought? Because they did everything as if it were a requirement of law, and not by faith (ROM. 9: 32). And this agrees with Paul's statement in Romans 14: 23 "...for whatever is not from faith is sin." Which brings us back to Galatians 3: 12 which says, "Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.'"
I am not trying to say that the law is sin or commands us to sin (ROM. 7: 7), I am trying to say that righteousness by law is not what God wants from us (ROM. 10: 4; GAL. 2: 21; PHP. 3: 9), however if that's what you insist upon, you must keep the law on its terms (GAL. 5: 3; JAS. 2: 10).

So, if you're going to teach the law, it is imperative that you also keep the law perfectly. Not in fits and starts. No stumbling. No gaps. No interruptions in perfection. That is the law. There is no room in the law for messing up. You know you can't do it. You've tried and you've tried, but you always eventually fail. You know you need forgiveness, but forgiveness is not of the law. That's when we all turn to grace, hoping Jesus really does forgive us - the whole time wondering if we've sinned "willfully" this time -- wondering if we'll be in God's Kingdom or not. But if you're going to go about saying that Jesus only forgave your past sins, then you really have nowhere to turn. As soon as you are in the boat, you inevitably leap right back out again, but this time there's no one to save you. Regardless, this whole process made Christ of no effect!
Can't we see that this has destroyed our trust in Christ!


Paul made the point several times that those who teach law keeping aren't keeping the law (ROM. 2: 23, 25; GAL. 6: 13). That should end this debate right there!

Truth is, there is not one Armstrongist that I have ever, ever met (including myself when I was part of that organization) who doesn't firmly believe they are keeping the law. We thought of ourselves as "God's elect" and we were elect because we kept the law. The bitter pill is, that is entirely and demonstrably not true!

Not only did every last one of us mess up and break the law from time to time, thus becoming guilty by our own standard, but never, not for even a moment, did Herbert Armstrong teach the whole law. Not a single soul in the history of Armstrongism (and I would wager the whole history of Sabbatarianism since the 1500's) even began to keep the whole law. I am not even referring to keeping all 613 Torah laws either, I am referring to the laws that HWA taught - Sabbath, Holy Days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, etc - the whole law regarding these issues was never taught and therefore never kept. There is a whole section in the FAQ about this, I highly recommend you take a moment and read it.
The damage this demonstrable fact does is that it makes the claim "While he is set free, it doesn’t give him licence to go back and repeat his previous crimes again" and aims it squarely at the one who is making the claim. A finer example of "self-defeating" you would be hard-pressed to find.

Paul's point was that if you go around claiming that the law must be kept, then you are indebted to perfectly keep the whole law - as written. Yet the law Armstrong taught is not the law as written. It's a partial, cherry-picked version of the law, which satisfies neither Covenant.


Just look at the very meaning of the phrase "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law." If Jesus indeed freed us from the penalty of the law then there is no penalty in the law. If the law has no penalty, then it is as if there is no law.

(I COR. 15: 56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.

Take away the penalty and the law is toothless! So violating the law has no penalty; breaking it brings the same result as keeping it. What is the functional difference between saying "there is no penalty" and saying "there is no law"? How then can anyone claim a toothless and empty law is so very much required of us? It is senseless to make this claim!
The only way this claim can mean anything at all is if we say, "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law one time only, if you break the Old Covenant law again after that then there is no more sacrifice for your sin." And this adulteration of Hebrews 10: 26 is precisely what is being claimed by many people. Is it any wonder Paul exclaimed:

(GAL. 5: 2-4)  2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Ask yourself, when did Christ pay for our sin and pronounce "It is finished" (JON. 19: 30)? Was it not nearly 2,000 years before you were born? He paid that penalty and exclaimed "it is finished" before your ancient ancestors sinned their first sin. It was "finished" before you started. All you have to do is trust in that!
How, then, can anyone say "if you break the Old Covenant law again after that then there is no more sacrifice for your sin"? The first time any of us violated the law, it was "after that." So that would mean we are born without sacrifice!
Perhaps someone could argue that what I just said takes it too far. They might say that, "A person has to come to faith first for the sacrifice of Christ to apply, only violations of the Old Covenant law after that have no sacrifice. Only the previous crimes are paid for. His previous crimes have been paid for, and he is set free." Fair enough. But then we have to look at the second half of the argument, which is, "While he is set free, it doesn’t give him licence to go back and repeat his previous crimes again," and then we have to revisit the idea once more that there is not one legalist on Earth who keeps the law.


Legalists like to have it both ways - to demand the law while they do not keep the law. But that's par for the course.
I remind you, dear reader, of that which you already know - every Armstrongist worth their salt will use Matthew 5 to claim that the law is inviolate and unchanging until the destruction of the Earth.

(MAT. 5: 17-18) 17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

A Sabbatarian legalist will concentrate on the first part of verse 18 and claim not one jot or tittle will pass from the law. The word "commandments" in verse 19 is interpreted as referring to the 10 Commandments. Thus they build a case for Sabbath-keeping.
Armstrong, as we show over and over again on AsBereansDid, does not teach all of the Sabbath law. The Sabbath law included restrictions against cooking, but we regularly had pot-lucks. The Sabbath law included restrictions on having anyone work for you, but we regularly went out to eat. The Sabbath law includes no regulation commanding people to "go to church," but we made that almost the sole issue in Sabbath-keeping. It was about when we "go to church." Thus we removed what was there, and added what was not there. If the law is so very inviolable and unalterable until the Earth passes away, how, then, were we anything besides the very law-breakers we spoke against?

Remember earlier when we reviewed how the law separated Jew from Gentile? The law also separated man from God. Not such a nice idea, eh?
The law clearly showed that man was separated from God. The High Priest alone went once each year on the Day of Atonement into the Holy of Holies to represent Israel before the throne of God. At Jesus' death, the veil that blocked the way to the Holy of Holies was torn in two and we are now free to "come boldly to the throne of grace" (HEB. 4: 16). This is a violation of the law so egregious that should that ever happen in the Old Covenant it would certainly mean death. It is said the priests would tie a rope to the High Priest's leg in case he performed his duties incorrectly and they had to pull his corpse out again.
The Armstrongist, who very much requires we observe (some form of) the Day of Atonement, will say, "Well, the Levitical Priesthood was removed and that law was changed."
So which is it? Inviolate, or changed? We can't have both!
But do they think the Levitical Priesthood is gone? The Armstrongist ministry, when they wanted to collect tithes but knew tithes could only be collected by Levitical Priests according to the law, claimed to be "the modern Levites."
So, which is it? Gone or remains? We can't have both!
And as we can plainly see, we now have access to God by Jesus' death and resurrection. That's a whole lot more than just being freed from the penalty of the law.
So, which is it? Penalty only, or more than just the penalty? We can't have both!

Rightly they say the law was changed, because if it weren't changed then Jesus is not our High Priest and we are still dead in our sins (HEB. 7: 12). So the argument that "one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law" must be seen as it was intended, because the idea continues, "...till all is fulfilled." And Jesus fulfilled all.


The purpose of the law was to reveal to us the hopeless depth of our sin:

(ROM. 3: 20) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. ...
(ROM. 5: 20a) Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound...
(GAL. 3: 19a) What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions...
(GAL. 3: 22a) But the Scripture has confined all under sin...
(COL. 2: 16) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths...

In doing so, the law showed us our desperate need for a savior:

(ROM. 3: 21) ... But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets
(ROM. 5: 20b-21) ...But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(GAL. 3: 19b) ...till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made
(GAL. 3: 22b) ... that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(COL. 2: 17) ...which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

The law leads us to Christ.
In each of these examples where Paul describes the law, here the Armstrongists stop to build their doctrine of the law - but Paul does not stop. In each of these examples where Paul describes the law, he finishes off with Christ. Paul's conclusion is clear - once we have Christ, we are no longer under the tutelage of the law.
The law leads us to Christ.

(GAL. 3: 24-25) 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

The purpose of the law is now come. The law reminded us constantly of our sin (HEB. 10: 3) but the gift of God is not like the law, and no longer keeps a record of our sins (HEB. 8: 12). There is no fear in God's love (I JON. 4: 18). To say that the law no longer shows us the desperation of our sin is a deeply fundamental change to the law. I thought that not one jot or tittle was changed!
It is the curse and the tutelage of the law that Jesus Christ removed, not the penalty. Christ bore the full penalty Himself.
If the penalty of the law only were removed, and the need for law remains, then Paul had no reason to write Galatians or to warn about falling from grace. It really is that simple.

Loved by God and treasured, you who labor under this heavy, burdensome teaching, listen... Do you feel like you chase and chase and chase after Jesus, but the moment you feel He is close, your sins weigh you down and He races ahead again? You can be free from the penalty of the law AND obtain the righteousness that comes by faith. Simply step into the New Covenant! You will never have to chase after Him again.


xHWA said...

I didn't touch on the idea that Herbert Armstrong correctly taught that no one is justified by the law. He got that right, and I give him credit for that.
It was what he did immediately after that which destroyed the point.

In effect, what HWA taught was, "We are not initially justified by observing the law, we just STAY justified by observing the law."

Note that this idea is nowhere to be found in the entire Bible. What is to be found? That no one is justified by the law. Period. We are justified by faith alone. Justification and law have nothing to do with each other at all.

That means no one is initially justified by observing the law, and that no one stays justified by observing the law. We are initially justified by faith, and we stay justified by faith.

By faith in what? In what we do? Again, nowhere to be found in the Bible. It is faith alone in Christ alone. Period.

Bill said...

What I hear all the time from legalists is that they do not keep the law in order to be justified! Oh no, they keep the law in order to be "obedient" to God; justification has nothing to do with it! They are saved by/through faith/grace!

So then I ask the question I have never gotten an answer to: What happens to your salvation should you quit keeping the law, or quit keeping the sabbath?

xHWA said...

Which is an excellent question, Bill.
Because the truth is that they're demanding the Old Covenant law must be kept in order to retain salvation (but they don't keep it).

They have started with justification by faith, which is spiritual, then they believe they are perfected by a lifetime of law-keeping, which is physical. Paul deals directly with the very idea...

(GAL. 3: 3) Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?

...and he calls it foolish!

Anonymous said...


If you want to stick your head in the sand and say NO Christians are anti-Semitic, that's your prerogative. But nowhere in my comment did I say anyone on THIS blog was anti-Semitic; I've been having trouble with the form recovery add-on in Firefox, so I can't even repeat verbatim what originally said; but I distinctly remembering saying some Christians were anti-Semitic (and you can't deny that --- after all, we were anti-Semitic, and we called ourselves Christians -- regardless of the fact that we were absolutely nothing like professing Christianity to begin with). You absolutely cannot deny that there are Christian organizations in this world that are anti-Semitic, and White Supremacist. To deny that, really is denying reality. Please don't do that. And don't think, every time I mention those arguments, I'm tarring every Christian with them. I'm not. I did say some after all, but you've deleted my comment, so of course no one here is going to believe me....

If anything, because of my past, I find myself more eager to disavow the anti-Semitism that lurks in professing Christianity, which may not be healthy, either. But it's my opinion. And it's not a non-sequitur, when you bring up Bible verses that may be twisted or abused, by those who don't know any better, to say the Jews are "a ministry of death" or other slurs.

I do remember what I said in my comment, though, that the Jews HAVEN'T been abandoned by their god, as that Bible verse insists. Is that why you deleted the comment? Because I provided evidence that the Bible verse you quoted was wrong? If so, so be it, but anyone with a mind open enough to research the vibrant and widespread presence of Judaism in this world, can see plainly for themselves, that verse doesn't apply to Judaism today. Perhaps it did, three thousand years ago. But we're not living in Biblical times, anymore.

Or maybe you just need more time. I keep forgetting you're still pretty fresh to all this, and I'm trying to remember that, I really am.

Birdie said...

Here's a thought from scripture...Jer 31:31-33 depicts the new covenant that was promised to come (the same new covenant we claim to receive through Messiah Yeshua). As spoken through Jeremiah, G-d says that He will write His TORAH/Law in our hearts (v33 strongs #8451 - law- Torah).

To say the law is abolished and not needed is to deny the new covenant entirely. You cannot have the Torah/the Law written in your heart and say it it abolished. That is contrary to scripture.

Second thought...apart from the Law, there is no sin.

Third thought...the need for a sacrifice to cleanse from sin comes directly from the Law of G-d. Apart from that there is no need for a sacrifice or a redeeming Messiah.

Certain aspects of the Law have changed becasue of the New Covenant, yet G-d's character has not and will not change. You can see Shabbat, G-d's moedim or feast days, New moons & dietary laws still firmly in place after His return in Zechariah 14 & Isaiah 66. He will rule the earth for a thousand years with a iron rod (see Rev). he will rule according to His Law (see Zech 14 & Is 66).

this is upheld by Paul despite mistranslation and out of context use of some of his writings.
You can find his belief in and obedience to the Law in the following verses:

Romans 8:6-7 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against G-d; for it is not subject to the Law of G-d, nor indeed can be.

Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the Law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

Romans 7:22 For I delight in the Law of Yahweh according to the inward man.

Romans 2:12-15-NKJV
12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

Acts 24:14 "But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the G-d of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.

Acts 25:8 while he answered for himself, "Neither against the Law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all."

Acts 18:21 ... but took leave of them, saying, "I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, G-d willing." And he sailed from Ephesus.

Romans 7:25 I thank G-d--through Y'shua the Messiah our Master! So then, with the mind I myself serve the Law of G-d, but with the flesh the Law of sin.

abother related verse confirming Jeremiah 31:31-33-
1Johh 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the Law: for sin is the transgression of the Law.

Matthew 24:12 And the love of the great body of people will grow cold because of the multiplied lawlessness and iniquity,

Once again, we cannot separate ourselves from Torah and be a art of the New Covenant. We must recognize that the Law remains, though some of the terms of the covenants have changed - hence "New" covenant.
If Torah/Law is written in your heart you cannot seperate yourself from it and be a part of the New Covenant.


xHWA said...


I most certainly do not want to be the one who says "You HAVE TO agree with me." You're free to believe whatever you believe. And you're free to comment here (within reasonable limits of course.) So, I welcome you here. But you had to know that I would disagree with you.

I am going to make a leap of faith here and say that the regular readers of this blog have no need for me to refute you at all. They already have every tool that they need to spot the errors in your statements and respond to them.

I would direct your attention to the FAQ and the Categories Page if you wish to learn more about what I believe -and- what you believe. Perhaps you will see things from an angle you may not have considered. And I pray the Holy Spirit, who comes by faith in Jesus Christ, goes with you.