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.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul stated in clear fashion salvation is through faith and not the law. So the question arises, if the Law was not given for salvation, then what is its 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, and spending hours studying scripture, if God can make any scoundrel equal with us at any time? Even worse they could even be more acceptable than us! We want to scream, “That’s not fair!”

We jump to the conclusion since the law does not justify, it is good for nothing. Because your house does not justify, is it good for nothing? Your car does not justify, is it good for nothing? Just because the law does not justify does not mean it is useless. We need to identify the proper purpose of 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’s purpose shows us what we are, sinners. As sinners, we are worthy of death, and everlasting punishment. The law scares us. And 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. It exposes our sin and then reveals the wrath of God. But praise God, Christ comes with the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness of our sins.

To further prove the superiority of the gospel Paul talks about how the law was given. The law was given through angels 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 a reference to the trinity of God; three persons in one essence.

The purpose of the law is to reveal sin. 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’s response throughout the book of Galatians is that belief is a false belief. In case you missed it to this point 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 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. The law condemns us if we sin openly against the law, and even when we strive to follow the law and fail. The conclusion is inevitable: Faith alone justifies without works. The law cannot justify. So we are not justified by the 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 he uses is “paidagogos.” It is best understood as a tutor, guardian, and guide of boys. In fact, the NASB translates it to tutor. The KJV translates it schoolmaster. In the first century, the paidagogos was a disciplinarian. He was not an instructor the way we think of an instructor. So Paul is saying the law is a disciplinarian. Children need disciplinarians. Without a disciplinarian, children grow up without discipline, instruction, and training. So too, we need a disciplinarian for discipline, instruction, and training.

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 hearts. 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!

We have a natural inclination to the law. We have a tendency 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 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 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 feel God should reward it. We can classify this sin as being highly religious.

We do not keep the law. Once we break any part of the laws, intentionally or unintentionally, we are lawbreakers. The law demands punishment. It does not matter how well you kept 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 gave us civil laws to 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 to restrain 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. If we use a hammer to drive the screw it ruins both the screw and the wood. So too the law will ruin us if we use it improperly.

Because we have a natural inclination to the law. we find more laws to satisfy our conscience. We pass more and more laws. We could embrace the message of grace with its guarantee of the forgiveness of sin. But we condemn ourselves further with more and more laws. 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 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. 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, or theft. But we are not free from impatience, complaints, hatred, and blasphemy of God. Carnal lust is strong in a young man. The desire for glory is in a middle-aged man; covetousness and impatience are prevalent in an old man.

Let the law drive you to the point of despair. Let it drive you even 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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *