“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:13-14
It seems to me based on this passage that Paul has in mind some form of divine legal transaction that occurs between believers and God. God is just and holy, we are sinners deserving of wrath based upon a divine law we’ve all broken. For those in Christ, the record of [infinite] debt that stood against us with its legal demands (i.e. the law) was nailed to the cross of Christ. Am I off base? The New Perspective on Paul would have us think of phrases like “works of the law” (as in Galatians) only as a badge of honor and pride within a first century Jewish culture. In addition, it would have us think in much more temporal terms when Paul goes into his legal analogies of the work of the cross on behalf of sinners. But I cannot reconcile that thinking with what Paul says: “[Christ canceled] the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands … [by] nailing it to the cross.” This is not temporal but eternal. By the cross, Christ, in His perfect work on behalf of His people, set aside that infinite record of debt demanded by the divine law of God. Paul seems to think of the cross in legal terms, and therefore, in Galatians (and elsewhere), I cannot see how Paul is merely addressing cultural pride and exclusion within a cultural community. I mean, of course its that, and yet so much more. Is not legalism a form of heresy? And is that heresy not something Paul addresses in that book, by saying to the Galatians:
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. – Galatians 4:8-11
I’m afraid I may have labored over you in vain? That’s pretty harsh if he’s just addressing a cultural pride and badge of honor. Seems to me so much more was at stake, namely, they were in danger of having trusted in their own “works of the law” to save them versus Christ’s divine legal transaction on the cross, as Paul articulates in Colossians 2:13-14.