Last week we focused on the gospel being the key to both justification and sanctification. If we are having difficulty with anger the Christian solution isn’t to try harder to not to be angry it’s to refocus on Jesus Christ Crucified. Just like Christ is the key to our initial salvation, He is also the key to our continued growing. We grow by focusing on what He’s done for us and who we are in Him. We continue to live by faith, trusting in God’s declaration that in his eyes those who trust in Him have the righteous of Jesus credited to their account.
And if you have Jesus’ righteousness credited to your account there isn’t any need to credit more. You have all that is necessary.
The Galatians, although saved by grace, were trying to maintain their salvation by keeping the law. Paul says of this in verse 3 “Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh?” And verse 10… ”For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse…”
Paul’s point is that there is no middle ground. We either live by faith or we live by works. We either trust in the law and our own righteousness or we trust in the righteousness of Jesus. Period.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention, and I assume you have, a natural question arises. But what about the law?
Since salvation is by grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone, does that mean I don’t have to keep the law? Since I’m not saved by my performance but by Christ’s performance what difference does keeping the law make?
More practically, we might ask how am I to treat my wife now that I’m saved. What should I be spending my money on? What about my relationship with others? Does the law have any value regarding how I live now that I’m saved?
Before we get to those answers, though, Paul wants to emphasize what the law cannot do. He does this with “a human illustration”, an example from everyday life.
A human illustration
15 Brothers and sisters, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to a validated human will.
A will is nearly impossible to change once the person who wrote it has died. Once its conditions are set, that’s it.
For example, If 75% is left to a sibling who is poor and only 25% is left to another sibling who is wealthy, once the person who wrote the will dies there is nothing you can do to change the amounts even if the wealthy person goes bankrupt the day after his parent dies. Even if conditions change a will is a will.
So it is with the promises made to Abraham. Promises are promises. Verse 16…
16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.
What does he mean? Verse 17…
17 My point is this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously established by God and thus cancel the promise.
A promise is a promise. Just because the law came along 430 years later doesn’t change the original promise. The law doesn’t change that the promised blessing was based upon grace and not on works.
Which law? All the laws. The sacrificial laws, the moral laws, the holy day laws. Paul’s not nit-picking here. His point is that it doesn’t matter which laws come along, none of them can change the original covenant based upon a promise.
People have divided up the law into the moral, ceremonial, and Judicial categories and studying the law with these divisions may be helpful but it’s important to remember that when the Bible speaks of law it usually means the all of it. So, that’s the way I’m understanding and using the word.
The law refers to everything God told Israel to do. He said them “you will…you will…you will…” With Abraham he kept repeating “I will…I will…I will…” The law, all of the law, has to do with works. It list the things we are to do.
Christianity is the religion of Abraham, not Moses.
When the law came along, God hadn’t changed his mind. He didn’t wake up one day in think salvation by grace was a bad idea and then came up with the law. He didn’t decide that instead of needing a Savior to completely rescue us, a better idea would be to save ourselves through obedience.
If this was true then there would be no need for the original promise. It’s either one or the other. If it’s salvation by works of the law then it not salvation by a promise. “Promise” and “law” are mutually exclusive because if you receive something on the basis of a promise by default it’s not by works. If you receive something on the basis of your effort then it’s not because of a promise.
For example, say your Uncle promises to give you a million dollars just because. No strings attached. The only way you won’t receive it is if you don’t believe him and fail to go to his house to get the money.
But if your Uncle says he’ll give you a million dollars in exchange for coming to his house to take care of him till he dies, then you’ll earn the money on the basis of your works.
In order to receive something you’ve worked for, you must work. In order to receive something based upon a promise, you must believe the promise, that’s all.
18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise; but God has graciously given it to Abraham through the promise.
Salvation by law keeping and salvation by promise are mutually exclusive. If God had added the keeping of the law as a condition then the promise wasn’t real and God didn’t keep His word. But it’s inconceivable God would break his covenant promises and change the rules.
The mistake Christians make is to recognize we are saved by grace but then assume God intends to bless us through our obedience to the law. Paul’s argument is that that isn’t the way it works! Because if God’s promises were made on the basis of His grace, then they cannot be attained on the basis of human effort. A free gift is a free gift and as soon as you make keeping the law a condition, it is no longer free.
The temptation for Christians who started out trusting in Christ alone is to begin trusting in their own efforts. But this way of living will lead to one of two very bad things, either despair or pride.
For some it leads to despair because we can never be good enough. For others it leads to self-righteous pride as we deceive ourselves into thinking all our law-keeping elevates our status with God.
Paul is clear. The law does not set aside the promise. So what’s it for?
The purpose of the law
19 Why then was the law given? It was added for the sake of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. The law was put into effect through angels by means of a mediator.20 Now a mediator is not just for one person alone, but God is one.
The law wasn’t given for salvation. It was given because of sin, “for the sake of transgressions”. It was given to show us that we are sinners. It was given to show that we need a Savior.
Paul makes this even clearer in Romans 7:7…
What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet.
So the stated purpose of the law, according to Scripture, is show our sinfulness.
The second half of verse 19 and 20 are rather cryptic and subject to much speculation so I’m not going to say much about them. The bottom line is that there isn’t much consensus about Paul’s meaning in 19b and 20. But the good news is the flow of Paul’s train of thought really isn’t affected. We’ll pick it up again in verse 21…
21 Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if the law had been granted with the ability to give life, then righteousness would certainly be on the basis of the law.
See, it was never intended for the law to lead to salvation. It doesn’t have the ability to give life. We can’t become righteous through the keeping of the law. This is what Scripture clearly teaches and Paul says it rather dramatically in verse 22…
22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin’s power so that the promise might be given on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe.
The law, even Scripture itself, makes it clear that we cannot save ourselves. The law, as contained in Scripture, makes it perfectly clear we don’t just need a little help, we need a total and complete rescue.
Without faith, we are imprisoned, condemned by the law without any hope.
The law doesn’t have the power to make us righteous. All it can do is show us how unrighteous we are.
So what is the purpose of the law? It shows our need to be saved by grace. The law is like a guard standing watch over us reminding us of our guilt.
23 Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.
The law kept us in prison without any chance of parole or escape until faith. Only living by faith in Christ can set us free. The law is like a guard who tells you when you can exercise, when to eat, when to turn the lights out and, reminds you when you don’t measure up.
Satan would like nothing better for us to use the law justify how good we are. He wants us to use our law keeping as a source of pride but that’s not what it’s for.
Again, which law? All of it. Paul has broadened the issue from one of eating unclean foods with Gentiles to how we are saved. You want to eat kosher? It’s certainly, not sinful, but remember the purpose of those food laws, and all the laws, wasn’t to justify or cleanse in any spiritual sense, but to reveal just how unclean you actually are.
You could also say the law is like a schoolmaster, a tutor or a guardian like the CSB says. Verse 24…
24 The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.
25 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
Children, like prisoners, need guardians, or tutors because they don’t have complete freedom. Children need someone to be continually watching over them, but this tutoring isn’t all negative. Children can benefit when they take to heart the wisdom of their teachers. So, Paul’s point is that the law is meant to be instructive, not just punitive.
What does the law teach? Most importantly, it teaches that we are continually in need of a Savior. It teaches that we need to be a people who have God’s law written on our hearts but that we are incapable of achieving this ourselves. It teaches that we need salvation by grace.
John Stott is worth quoting at some length here:
“After God gave the promise to Abraham, He gave the law to Moses. Why? He had to make things worse before He could make them better. The law exposed sin, provoked sin, condemned sin. The purpose of the law was to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really underneath—sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgment of God and helpless to save himself.
And the law must still be allowed to do its God-given duty today. One of the great faults of the contemporary church is the tendency to soft-pedal sin and judgment … We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel. To do so is to contradict the plan of God in biblical history … No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin and judgment that the gospel shines forth.”
Once we learn the lesson that the law is teaching us, we are then free to trust Christ to be our Savior.
That’s all well and good, but of what use is the law for those who have already learned this lesson? Does this mean the law has no more value? Paul would say absolutely not!
Here’s an analogy. Say you’re raising a child trying to instill your values into the child. You have rules. You have bedtimes. You have chores. And you have to remind them often because they forget.
But then the child matures and no longer needs to be told what to do. They make wise choices on their own. Does that mean they just cast aside everything you taught them? No! Just because the child has internalized the values doesn’t mean the values are of no value.
When we became Christians, no longer under the guardian, what changed is our relationship to the law, not the law itself. We are no longer trying to use the law to save us but we still try to do apply its principles. Once we are saved we have a newfound sense of gratitude and a desire to please our Savior, not that we could make him love us any more. Being filled with grateful joy we can’t help but want to do things His way, not for our glory, but for His.
The law and grace work together in salvation as it is impossible to fully appreciate grace without the law. People want to experience all the joy God has to offer but that won’t happen unless we first admit to the depth of our sinfulness. Once we do, then we can experience just how amazing God’s grace is.
So, the law points us to Christ as our Savior. The law shows us how desperately we need Him. The law shows us how amazing Jesus is for keeping it perfectly and then dying on the cross so that we can receive the blessing He earned.
Praise God for the law which leads us to Christ and eternal salvation.