The Law and the Promise

Galatians chapter 3, verses 15 to 29.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

INTRODUCTION

Paul continues his argument that the true way of salvation is that of faith in Jesus Christ and not by keeping the law. He tries to show that the Promise (which for all practical purposes is synonymous with the gospel) or the way of salvation through believing in the promised Messiah is superior to the way of law-keeping.

1. WHAT IS THE PROMISE AND WHY IS IT SUPERIOR TO THE LAW?

The promise is actually the gospel. The promise is about God freely blessing people who put their faith in God’s grace. Just like Abraham (Genesis 15:4-6). Moreover, the promise is actually the blessing to the nations that will come through the promised seed, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16; Acts 3:25).

(A) THE PROMISE CAME FIRST (verse 17).

Why was Abraham saved? He was saved by simply believing in God’s promise (Gal. 3:6-8). When did that happen? 430 years BEFORE the law was given to Moses!

Paul now gives a human illustration taken from the field of law involving last will and testaments. Here in the Philippines, once a valid last will and testament is made and the testator dies, the will can’t be changed anymore.

Paul is saying something similar. This way of salvation – of receiving the blessing of righteousness by simply believing in God’s promise – was established first. The law which came much later can’t annul it.

(B) THE PROMISE IS ABOUT CHRIST (verse 16).

Paul points out that this promise of divine blessing was made to Christ, the seed of Abraham, through whom all the nations will be blessed (Genesis 12, verses 1 to 3, and 7). So the promise is really about Christ. And Abraham’s believing the promise about Christ through whom all nations will be blessed is why Abraham was counted righteous. The blessing becomes ours not because of what we do or have done, but because of what Christ did for us. The promise is about salvation by grace through faith in Christ and not by the works of the law (see Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 to 9). This way of blessing and righteousness is superior to that of law keeping.

John 1:17. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Romans 8:3. “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.”

2. WHY WAS THE LAW ADDED?

So if the law was not given to make us righteous, why was it given in the first place? Paul says it was added because of transgressions. What does that mean?

(A) TO SHOW US OUR SIN (verse 19)

In 1 Timothy 1, verses 8 to 9, Paul says, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners.” I think what Paul means here is that the law was given to restrain sinners, as well as to make it clear to them when and how they’re sinning against God.

Paul says in Romans 3:20, “BY THE LAW IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN.” And in Romans 4:15, he says, “WHERE THERE IS NO LAW, THERE IS NO TRANSGRESSION.” So, God gave the law to make people realize that what they are doing is wrong, lest they be unaware of it, and that they should expect to be punished for their disobedience. (THE LAW BRINGS WRATH.) The law isn’t soap and water that washes away your sins; it’s a mirror that shows you your sins.

Does that mean that the law and the gospel (the promise) are at odds? No. At bottom they both want the same thing: salvation for the sinner. But they go about it in different ways. The law shows you your sin to make you realize your need of Christ. As a result, you turn to the promise and find salvation in Christ.

There is a sense in which the law can make you righteous in God’s sight – if you can keep it! The problem is you can’t (James 2:10; Romans 3:23). We’re all sinners; we’re all under the condemnation of sin. No one keeps the law. That’s why we’ll never be righteous before God by keeping the law (Romans 3:20). On the contrary, the law only serves to make us realize how far we’ve fallen short of God’s perfect standard.

(B) TO LEAD US TO CHRIST (verse 24)

Ironically, the law has a very important role to play in the salvation of sinners. By showing people how much they’ve failed to keep God’s law and how impossible it is for them to save themselves and how condemned they actually are (Romans 6:23), the law drives them to despair of themselves. As a result, they look outside themselves for help and they turn to the only one who can save them, Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul means when he says that the law is our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

CONCLUSION: (verses 26 to 29)

There’s only one way of salvation and that is through faith in Christ. All of those who are saved are one in this sense. It doesn’t matter what their race, economic status or gender. If they believe in Christ, they’re saved! (Romans 10:13) As long as you’ve been baptized into Christ (baptism is a symbol and manifestation of our faith), we’ve put on Christ. We’re the true children of Abraham and to us belongs the inheritance – the blessing of righteousness, salvation, and eternal life – because we believed the Promise, Jesus Christ.

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