Galatians 3:19-29

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.

Observation

  • The law was given because of transgressions.
  • The law was given until Christ came.
  • The promise was made to Christ.
  • The law was put in place through angels by an intermediary.
  • God is one.
  • An intermediary implies more than one.
  • The law is not contrary to the promise of God.
  • The law does not give life.
  • If the law could give life, righteousness would come by the law.
  • The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.
  • The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin so the promise might be given to those who believe.
  • The promise is given by faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Faith is the instrument through which the promise is given.
  • Prior to faith, we were captive under the law.
  • We were imprisoned until faith came.
  • The law was our guardian until Christ came.
  • The law was our guardian so we could be justified by faith.
  • Since faith came we no longer are under the guardianship of the law
  • We are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.
  • We are all sons of God in Christ Jesus by faith.
  • As we are baptized into Christ we have put on Christ.
  • In Christ we are all the same.
  • If we are in Christ we are Abraham’s offspring.
  • If we are in Christ we are heirs according to the promise.

Interpretation

Paul so clearly has stated that salvation or justification is through faith and not the law. So the question naturally arises, if the Law was not given for salvation, then what is it purpose? Why would God give us the law if it were not given for righteousness? What is the use of trying to live a good life? What value is there in going to church, giving to the poor, fasting, praying, spending hours studying scripture, if any scoundrel can be made equal with us at any time simply by believing? Even worse they could even be more acceptable than us! We want to scream, “That’s not fair!”

We jump to the conclusion that since the law does not justify, it is therefore good for nothing. Because your house does not justify, is it therefore good for nothing? Because, your car does not justify is it therefore good for nothing? Because the law does not justify does not mean it is useless. We need to identify the proper purpose for the law. The law is good if used properly. But if we try to make the law do something it cannot we pervert both the law and the gospel.

The law was given to expose us what we really are, sinners, worthy of death, and everlasting punishment. The law scares us, as it should. The job of the law is to drive us to despair so we welcome the Gospel of grace with its message of a Savior who gives forgiveness of our sins.

The law operates on us to humble and frighten us by the exposing our sin and then revealing the wrath of God. But praise God, Christ comes with the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness of our sins.

To further demonstrate the superiority of the gospel Paul talks about how the law was given. He says the law was given through angel who used a middleman, Moses. But, the Gospel came from God Himself.

A mediator by definition is a go between of two parties, the offended and the offender. A mediator is separate from the two parties. Christ is our mediator. He stands between us and God and mediates for us. But wait! Christ is God. He said so himself. And God is one. Here is reference to the trinity of God; three persons in one essence.

The purpose of the law is to reveal sin. This raises another question, since the law does no more than reveal sin and constrains evil, is it in opposition to the promise of God? We have the tendency to believe that by restraint and discipline of the law the promises of God would be earned. Paul response throughout the book of Galatians is that belief is a false belief. But just in case you missed it so far Paul says here again, if the law could give life then righteousness could be had by obedience to the law. But the law cannot save.

Not only can the law not save, but according to the Scripture it imprisons everything under its power. “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them,” Deuteronomy 27:26. We are cursed under the law, not only if we sin openly against the law, but also when we sincerely strive to follow the law and fail. The conclusion is inevitable: Faith alone justifies without works. The law cannot justify, much less are we justified by imperfect keeping of the law. The promise of Jesus Christ is given to those who believe. We earn nothing.

When Paul says the law was our guardian, the word, “paidagogos” is used and is best understood as a tutor, guardian and guide of boys. In fact, the NASB translates it tutor, The KJV translates it schoolmaster. In the first century, the paidagogos was not the instructor of the child; he was the disciplinarian. So Paul is saying the law is a disciplinarian. Just as with children disciplinarians are indispensable. Without a disciplinarian, children would grow up without discipline, instruction, and training. So too, we need a disciplinarian for discipline, instruction and training.

Just as the child is under the schoolmaster only until he learns, so too, Paul declares we are free from the law, the schoolmaster once we believe in Christ. Christ fulfilled the law for us. And we receive the grace of God through faith in Christ.

God clothes us with the righteousness of Christ by means of baptism. With this change of clothing we receive a new life. New affections toward God spring up in our heart. New determinations affect our will.

We, who are in Christ, are all the same. Paul goes into a list of what appear to be opposites in the world. Free and slave: no difference. Male and female: no difference. This can go on forever. Preacher and hearer: no difference. Teacher and student: No difference. Rank or status means nothing to God. We are all one in Christ. With this argument Paul puts the death nail in the law. You may keep the law better than I. But we are all one in Christ. Keeping the law will not save either of us.

If we are in Christ then we are Abraham’s offspring and therefore, we are heirs to the promise. Halleluiah!

Application

We have a natural inclination to the law and to think righteousness comes through the law. We believe we are basically good. We are like most people morally. Now we will freely admit that gross sins ought to be identified and punished. People like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin deserve to rot in hell. But most people do their best and should not be sent to hell. They try really hard. But, trying to obtain righteousness through good works is a sin in itself. We do not recognize it as a sin. In fact, we think it should be rewarded. This sin can be classified as being highly religious.

We do not keep the law. Once we have broken any one of the laws, rather intentionally or unintentionally we are a law breaker and the law demand punishment regardless of how well you keep the law the rest of the time.

That is why the law only condemns. The law has a twofold purpose, first, to constrain evil. God give us civil laws for punish crime and to restrain sin. But refraining from murder, theft or other sins does not make one righteous. The law is good if used for the purpose of restraining evil. The second purpose of the law is to reveal our sins to us.

The law is good if for these purposes. Just as a hammer makes a lousy screwdriver so too the law makes a lousy justifier. And just as if the hammer is used drive a screw, will ruin both the screw and the material being screwed, so too the law will ruin us if we use it improperly.

Because we have a natural inclination to the laws instead of embracing the message of grace with its guarantee of the forgiveness of sin, we find more laws to satisfy our conscience. We think if I just try harder, if I go through this ceremony, if I suffer this punishment, then I will be right with God. But the truth is the only way to avoid the wrath of God is through the gift of grace from Christ Jesus.

Paul declares emphatically that the law in and of itself cannot save. Despite Paul’s clarity many fail to grasp it. If they did they would not emphasize free will, or natural strength, etc. They claim Paul is referring only to the Mosaic Law. But Paul includes all laws.

We may not commit the gross sins of murder, adultery, theft, but we are not free from impatience, complaints, hatreds, and blasphemy of God. Carnal lust is strong in a young man; the desire of glory is in a middle aged man; covetousness and impatience are prevalent in an old man.

When the law drives you to the point of despair, let it drive you a little farther, let it drive you straight into the arms of Jesus who says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

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