Galatians 3:6-29, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
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.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” 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”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.
And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not!
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
As we noted last Sunday in these verses Paul is building a legal argument using O.T. Scripture to substantiate two points he makes in the first five verses of Galatians 3.
Note: Instead of tackling the text line by line we’re taking a more thematic approach.
Paul’s substantiating arguments for these two points are as follows:
In seeking to set up his second point from the first the legal mind of Paul feels compelled to first explain to his readers how the Mosaic Law would not immediately nullify the previous covenant of a promised Savior God had made with Abraham. He provides two reasons:
1. Covenants are binding! Verses 15, 17-18, “Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it… And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later (after God’s promise of a Savior to Abraham), cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”
Paul is pointing out that when mortal men sign a contract it’s a bond… A covenant is a done deal. In the Greek and Roman world signed documents carried incredible weight. If the contract was confirmed “no one annuls” or takes away from it nor can they “add to it.”
His point is that if this is true about human beings, how much more true is it concerning a promise made and sealed by God? Because God made a promise to Abraham it would be impossible for the Mosaic Law to either added to it or in some way take away from it!
2. The Law came through a mediator. Verse 19, “And it (the law) was appointed (prescribed) through angels by the hand of a mediator (one who intervenes to ratify a covenant). Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.”
David Guzik observes, “According to ancient traditions - true traditions, according to Paul - the Law was delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai by the hands of angels. Angels were the "go-between" or mediator for Moses when he received the Law from God.”
Here’s Paul’s point… What makes the Law given to Moses different from the promise given to Abraham was that while the law was an agreement between man and God, the promise given to Abraham was instituted unilaterally (reference Genesis 15).
The reality is that the covenant of the law was a lesser covenant because of the involvement of angels and humans, whereas the covenant God made with Abraham was permanent as it was only dependent upon God making good on His promises.
With this legal argument out of the way Paul gets to his second point… The Law was only given to accentuate humanities need for this Savior. To make this point Paul is going to explain first why the law was given before then explaining what the law accomplishes.
First… Why the law was given! If faith in a Savior had always been central to God’s plan for human righteousness (as illustrated in the fact “Abraham believed and it was accounted to him for righteousness”), then it’s only logical to ask why the law was given at all?
To this point Paul provides the answer in Galatians 3:19, “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added (to the promise) because of transgressions.” This idea is interesting… Consider that in most instances a “transgression” occurs when someone breaks the law (the word itself literally means “breaking” or “to cross aside”); and yet, this can’t be the type of transgression Paul is referencing since there was no actual “law” to break. What it seems Paul is instead referring to was the simple reality the law was originally given because God’s people had quickly lost sight of their need for a Savior.
Note: You can imagine how easily this perspective would have developed among a generation of Hebrews who’d just experienced a miraculous deliverance from Egyptian captivity. However, while Moses may have been a deliverer he was not the promised Savior!
Understand… The law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai to help the Hebrew people come to the realization their deliverance from Egypt was not to be seen as an indication they were somehow right with God! As this holy standard perfectly illustrated, the law was given to remind them how undeserving of God’s favor they actually were.
To this point Paul builds upon this notion by explaining that God had given the law to be a constant reminder to the people of their need for salvation “till the Seed should come to whom the promise (given to Abraham) was made.”
It’s as though Paul is wanting his audience to realize obeying the law was never the aim of the law, but rather the people’s failure to obey was the core intention.
It’s why the sacrificial system existed in the first place. The Jews would try to obey, fail, then come and place their faith in a sacrificial atoner. Note: Problems didn’t arise for the Hebrew people when they failed to obey, but rather when they refused to repent.
Which leads to Paul’s second point… What the law accomplishes! The law was designed to accomplish a singular aim… Accentuate humanities need for a Savior!
How did the law do this? Paul says in verse 22, “But the Scripture (the Law of Moses) has confined all under sin…” The idea behind this word “confined” is “to shut up together.” The word was used to describe fish being swept up in a net. The law declares that every human being is a sinner (“confined all”) who’s “fallen short of the glory of God!”
And in case you think you’re somehow good enough to escape this fate… In verses 10 & 12 Paul was clear, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written (Deuteronomy 27:26), ‘Cursed (guilty) is everyone who does not continue in (completely abide by) all things which are written in the book of the law (613 commandments), to do them (perform perfectly)’… Yet the law is not of faith, but (Leviticus 18:15) ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’”
Understand (and it’s this way in our legal system)… The law makes no concession for partial obedience. The law demands complete adherence. James 2:10, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” How many people do you have to murder to be classified as a murderer?
And yet, the law does more than simply condemn a man a sinner… Paul continues in verse 23, “Before faith comes, we are kept under guard by the law.” This phrase “kept under guard” literally means the law serves to keep us in this state of condemnation. The word presents the idea of keeping the inhabitants of a besieged city from being able to escape.
Why does the law keep us in bondage? For judgment? For destruction? No! The law keeps our fallenness ever in the forefront of our minds so that we’ll be ready for a Liberator! Paul says we were “kept for the faith which would afterwards be revealed.”
This is why in verse 21 Paul asks, “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” The law was never designed to possess the power to save from the bondage of sin, but rather to accentuate humanities need for a Savior from sin.
Paul’s point is that the law was not given in place of grace, but to work in concert with grace. The law was designed to strip a man of his self-righteousness (I’m not ok the way I am), declare him to be a sinner (I’m broken and messed up), enslave that man to this reality (bondage and condemnation), so that he’ll choose a Savior when the opportunity avails itself.
Once again look at verse 22, “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, (for what fundamental purpose?) that the promise (salvation from sin) by faith in Jesus Christ might be given (not earned) to those who believe (those who place their full weight upon Him).”
All of this leads to another question… How was it that Jesus saves us from the bondage of sin brought about through the law? Look at verses 13-14, “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’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law…” This word “redeemed” had a particular connotation in this culture. It signified the purchasing of a slave for the specific purpose of setting them free. Note: Redemption is more than being rescued. It means being liberated!
And yet, redemption requires a price. “Christ has redeemed us… having become a curse for us (for it is written (Deuteronomy 21:23), ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” In this culture the one thing worse than dying was having your body placed on display for mockery.
Understand… Because of the public and humiliating work of Jesus on the cross we’re no longer subject to the curse of sin (separation from God) because Jesus became cursed “for us.” This means He took our sins upon Himself as well as the wrath of God in our place. It explains why in Matthew 27:46, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”
Never forget while God’s grace may be free it should never be seen as cheep! While I deserved it, He took it! Grace might be free for me, but it cost Jesus everything!
Notice… According to Paul salvation is not simply a work whereby Jesus took our curse upon Himself, but it’s also the adding of a specific blessing. He says, “Having become a curse for us… That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles.” And what is this “blessing” that “comes upon” those “in Christ Jesus?” It’s the “promise of the Spirit!”
Now that we understand why the law was given and what it was designed to accomplish… Thirdly… Once you accept the Savior there is no longer a need for the law.
Look at verses 24-25, “Therefore (as a result of all of these things) the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” The word “tutor” is confusing as there isn’t a parallel to our culture.
In the Greek a “paidagôgos” was not so much of a teacher at all, but rather a “child-leader.” In Paul’s culture it was normal for a particular slave to be a mixture of a nurse, footman, chaperon, and tutor in the lives of the masters children till they came of age.
Since it’s true the law strips us of self-righteousness, declares us a sinner, and binds us in condemnation in order that we might be ready to accept Jesus as our promised Savior, once we’ve been redeemed and set free the law no longer has a functional role in our lives.
Erwin W. Lutzer, “When the mask of self-righteousness has been torn from us and we stand stripped of all our accustomed defenses (this is the work the law accomplishes in our lives), we are candidates for God's generous grace.” Why would we ever return to the law?
This explains why Paul originally sets up his entire theological disposition with this glorious declaration… Verse 11, “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for (Habakkuk 2:4) ‘the just shall live by faith.’” Faith in Jesus is more than the mechanism for a person’s justification it’s the driver of our sanctification as well!
Concerning this passage Martin Luther remarked, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open… Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God… Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God. It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith!”
As we’ve noted there were two fundamental questions behind Paul’s entire argument of “Grace.”… “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” And… “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”
Now that he’s used the O.T. Scriptures to substantiate his argument by pointing out that faith in a Savior has always been central to God’s plan for human righteousness, the Law of Moses was only given to accentuate humanities need for this Savior, and once you accept the Savior there is no longer a need for the law he now provides the glorious implications.
Since the mechanism of Abraham’s righteousness was faith in a Savior and not works of law, Paul says in verse 7, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” and that (verse 9) “those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham!”
Understand… The implications of what Paul is saying here present an explosive concept. The Jewish people believed they were God’s chosen people and therefore the recipients of all the promises God had made to Abraham because they were blood descendants.
And yet, Paul challenges this entire notion by saying ones inclusion into the lineage of Abraham’s family had nothing to do with physical heritage, but instead faith in the Savior!
Verses 26-29, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Because of your “faith in Christ Jesus” you have been made not only a “son of Abraham” but a “son of God” meaning you are now a legal heir. This phrase “sons” speaks to your position in heaven and your identity in Christ in that you’ve been given all the rights of Jesus!
Additionally, Paul says because of your “faith in Christ Jesus” you’ve also “put on Christ” as you’ve been “baptized into Christ!” This speaks of a complete emersion into the person of Jesus! You’ve been clothed with Christ which gives you an impressive standing. You not only share the same rights as “sons,” but you have the same access that Jesus does!
Finally, Paul says, “You are all one in Christ Jesus!” Because your position and standing before God is a matter of faith and grace and not works or achievement there is no room for any type of moral hierarchy or superiority within the family of God. Grace is the strand that binds us all as one! No doubt an inditement to the mindset behind this Jewish legalism!
Understand, positionally before God we are all the same “in Christ Jesus.” Jews cannot claim to be better than the Greek. The free man has no superiority in the eyes of God over the slave. The ground at the foot of the cross is level for both male and female alike.
David Guzik, conceptualizing this oneness provided by Jesus, sees this in three dimensions: Hight - We’re connected to God, Breathe - We’re connected to each other, and Length - We’re connected to the long line of God’s people who’ve lived throughout the ages.
So many people struggle with two fundamental questions that speak to the heart of life… “Who am I?” (identity) and “What is my place in this world?” (purpose). Interestingly enough, there is a third question that answers the previous two… “To whom do I belong?”
If it’s yourself I hope you understand you’re not actually free! The law will never allow you to find satisfaction is self-sufficiency and it will only serve to constantly remind you of your own frailty. The law will remind you that you’re never good enough and it will shackle you in a prison of self-condemnation. No matter what you do to feel better about yourself (religion) or what you seek to provide satisfaction (world) you’re life will feel vain and meaningless.
Friend, the remedy is first to accept that Jesus loves you and deeply desires to free you from these trappings. According to His own mission statement provided in Luke 4:18, Jesus came to “preach the gospel to the poor; to heal the brokenhearted, to free those held captive, provide recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Paul says that if “you are Christs” (belonging) you have a new identity as a “son of God” and you are provided a lasting purpose… Since you’ve “put on Christ” you’re life is no longer your own. Romans 6:13-14, “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
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