After sharing The Truth of the Gospel in the previous post, I couldn’t move on from the chapter without answering the major question its not truth surfaces. This section of Galatians seeks to answer the question, “If God doesn’t intend for us to live by His law, then why did He give it to us.” This is where the book’s meaning gets clouded for the modern reader, as Paul reaches back into the Old Testament for necessary perspective. An understanding of redemptive history is essential for grasping the answer. You simply cannot have a silo view of redemption and understanding the answer. Fortunately, Paul lays out just such a review of redemptive history.
In Human Terms
Galatians 3:15 (NAS): 15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.
Paul sets the stage for his discussion with a basic principle that his readers would have little trouble identifying with. When men make covenants with one another, once it has been ratified, no one sets it aside, or adds conditions to it. This basic covenantal principle Paul will use to explain the relationship between God’s promise to Abraham, and His law given to Moses.
Applying the principle then, he makes the point that once the promise to Abraham was ratified, the law, which came 430 years later, cannot set aside or add conditions to that promise. This essential truth is worth stating emphatically. The law does not set the promise aside and neither does it add conditions to the promise. This part of his argument is quite simple, but the answer to the obvious question it raises is not.
Paul also makes two important points here that will be key for further understanding. First, he says that the promise was made to Abraham and to his seed. The seed is not a reference to many, but a reference to one, whom Paul himself identifies; Christ. Second, what was promised, Paul calls an inheritance. God promised and inheritance to Abraham and to Christ, Abraham’s seed.
Why The Law Then?
Galatians 3:19 (NAS): 19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
Anticipating the readers question, Paul moves to explain why the law was given. It’s really a question of necessity. If the inheritance is indeed based on a promise, then why was the law necessary. Paul gives not only the reason the law was given but also the condition of its giving. The law was given because of transgressions. And, it was given until the seed would come.
This note is important. The law was not given to stop people from sinning, but because they were sinning. And, from its inception, it had an expiration. It would only be necessary until the seed would come. The purpose of the law would find its completion in the coming of Christ.
Is There Contradiction Here?
Galatians 3:21 (NAS): 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
In explaining the lack of contradiction between the law and the promise, Paul makes a highly important distinction. The law and the promise would be contrary to one another if the the law could do what the promise was given to do. The promise, he says, was given to impart life. The law, however, was not given to do that and neither was it able.
As Paul fills out our modern understanding of salvation and eternal life, he makes clear that because the promise is able to impart life, righteousness is indeed based on the promise. Likewise, righteousness is not based on law because law is not able to impart life.
So Why Is The Law Necessary?
Galatians 3:24 (NAS): 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
It’s not until we get here that the answer to the law’s necessity comes into view. If the laws was added because of transgressions that men were already committing, then what purpose does the serve? The answer is wonderful news for those of us who spent a lifetime in sin.
Using the law and Scripture synonymously, Paul says that the law has shut all of us up in sin, so that the promise of faith might be given to those who believe. How amazing is that grace! We had to be taught just how hopelessly lost in sin we were, and the law was given to teach us that lesson. And anyone who has tried to live by the law knows it’s been a good teacher. The law, which brings us conviction of our enslavement to a life of sin, then becomes our tutor, leading us to Christ.
When the seed would come, we would have been so thoroughly taught, by the law, the truth of our desperate condition, that when the seed came offering the promise of righteousness by faith, we would be ready.
Now faith has come. The seed to whom the promise was made has come. And we are no longer under or in need of our tutor. We have come of age and are now Sons and Daughters of God. We are by faith, descendants of Abraham and heirs of the great promise fulfilled in Christ.