The Gospel in Galatians
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

7 – Law Versus Promise

In our last study, which was Galatians 3:10-14, we looked at Paul’s scriptural argument proving from the Old Testament that God saves sinners through faith in Christ alone and our law-keeping or good works does not contribute one iota towards our salvation.

We will consider Paul’s logical argument in which he proves, using Jewish logic, that we are saved by God’s promise and not the law.  This argument begins with Galatians 3:15-29.  Since this is a rather involved argument which requires an understanding of the Jewish mind, we shall analyze this passage in three stages, verses 15 to 18, dealing with the changeless promise of God.  Then, in verses 19 to 25, Paul tells us the purpose of the law.  Finally, in verses 26 to 29, he discusses sons and daughters and heirs of the kingdom of God.

With this in mind, let us now look at the first section, which is Galatians 3:15-18.  This passage has very important lessons for us today:

Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life.  Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.  The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.  What I mean is this:  The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

What is Paul trying to prove here?  First, he takes the covenant [or “will,” in some translations] that was used in the days of Paul as a method of explaining God’s promise to man.  In verse 15 he says:

Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life.  Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.

According to Greek culture or Greek custom in Paul’s day, once a covenant or will was made and signed, it could not be changed.

Now, taking this as a method or model, Paul tells the Galatians in verse 16, that God made a will or a promise to Abraham.  That promise was that [Genesis 22:18]:

...And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed....

Galatians 3:16a:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed....

The word “seed” in the promise is in the singular.  This may not make sense to our Western way of thinking but, in the Jewish concept, in the Jewish way of understanding, the word “seed” had a corporate significance.  Just like the word “Adam” has a collective significance and includes the whole human race, so, also, Paul is telling the Galatians that the word “seed” here had a corporate significance affecting the whole human race but based on one person.  This one Person is Jesus Christ.  He makes that clear in the last part of verse 16:

Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.

God created all men in one man, so that when Adam sinned, the condemnation of the law or the condemnation of death came upon all men.  Likewise as we see in Romans 5, verses 12 to 21, when Christ obeyed, justification of life came to all men:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned —
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin:  The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So when Christ obeyed, justification of life came to all men.  Why?  Because Jesus, the seed of Abraham, was the second Adam, the second mankind.  He was not one man among many men but the whole human race was gathered up together in Him.  This is why Paul, in Corinthians, calls Him the second, or last, Adam.  1 Corinthians 15:45:

So it is written:  “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.

In verse 17 of chapter 3, Paul tells the Galatians the promise God had made to Abraham is that, in this seed of Abraham, which is Christ, the whole world will be blessed.  In verse 17, he says this promise could not be annulled, could not be changed or done away with, through the law which was given 430 years after God had made the promise to Abraham:

What I mean is this:  The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.

What is Paul saying here?  He says that the law given through Moses did not change the promise in any way.  If we look at salvation through the law and salvation through grace, which is through the promise of God, as shown in our last two studies, there are two opposite systems of salvation.  The two systems can never be mixed together.  The law says, “Thou shall or thou shall not, in order to be saved.”  The promise of God says, “I shall save you in spite of the fact that you are a sinner.”  The law saves us by our performance, by our good deeds which have to be perfect.  The promise of God saves us through God’s work in Christ and we make no contribution to it except to receive it by faith.

Thirdly, salvation through law is a religion that is based on human salvation, human religion.  All non-Christian religions are based on man’s performance.  Unlike this, God’s way of saving mankind, which is through grace, which is through the promise, is entirely a gift to mankind.  Paul is saying that God, giving the law 430 years after He gave the promise to Abraham, could not annul or change the promise because the promise was equivalent to a will that is unchangeable.

In verse 18, Paul tells the Galatians:

For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

The moment we try and add the law as a requirement for salvation, it ceases to be a promise.  But God gave Abraham the promise of salvation as a will which the law, given to the human race 430 years later, could not change or annul.  If mankind is saved entirely by the promise of God made to Abraham, then why did He give the law 430 years later?  Did God come to Moses and say to Moses, “By the way, when I gave the promise of salvation to Abraham, I totally forgot a very important item.  I forgot to give him the law.  So Moses, I am giving the law to you to make up what I failed to give to Abraham.”  Is this what God said to Moses?  No.  God never told Moses that He was adding an extra requirement to His promise for salvation.

The question still remains:  why then, did God give the law through Moses 430 years after He promised by a will that He would save all men through one of Abraham’s seed which of course, is Jesus Christ?  Read the question and answer Paul gives as we turn to the second section of our study, the purpose of the law, Galatians 3:19-25.  We will read this passage first and then we will look at it in detail:

Why, then, was the law given at all?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.  A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?  Absolutely not!  For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.  So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

What is Paul saying in this rather difficult passage.  First, he is asking a question:  What purpose then, does the law serve?  Why did God add the law 430 years after He promised salvation to Abraham as a gift?  The answer is it was added because of transgression.  Notice the word for “sin” that Paul chose here in the Old Testament.  There are actually twelve words but only three basic words:

  1. Sin.  The first word is “sin” which simply means missing the mark, coming short of the glory of God.  Paul brings this out in Romans 3:23:

    ...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....

  2. Iniquity.  The word “iniquity” primarily has to do with our condition, because the word iniquity in Hebrew means to be crooked or bent.  When Isaiah tells us [Isaiah 53:6]:

    We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

    He is talking of a condition.  David, for example, in Psalms 51:5, tells us that he was shapen in iniquity from his mother’s womb:

    Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

    Iniquity is our selfish bent, which is the basis of our sinful nature.

  3. Transgression.  The word “transgression” simply means a deliberate violation of a law.  The prerequisite for transgression is a knowledge of the law.  From Adam to Moses, the human race was sinning.  Paul brings this out in Romans 5:13:

    To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.

    But the moment God gave the law through Moses, sin became a transgression.  Sin became a willful, deliberate violation of the law.

The law or the giving of the law did not solve our sin problem.  It made it worse.  For the law now convinces us that we deserve nothing but death.  Then in verse 20, he says:

A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

This is a difficult statement so we need to understand what Paul is saying here.

The word “covenant” can be used in two ways.  In the Greek, we have two separate words that can be translated by the word “covenant” in English.  What is the difference?  It is between a will and a contract.  A will is made by one person but may affect many.  A contract is made between two persons.  The giving of the law is like a contract.  God gave the law and the Jews said, “All that you have said we will do.”  Exodus 24:3:

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”

But the reason God gave the law, says Paul in Galatians 3:21 onwards, is not to save us, not a new method of salvation but to convince us that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

Look at verses 21 and 22:

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?  Absolutely not!  For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Did God change His mind from a promise to a contract?  Did God change the will that He made to Abraham into a contract when He gave the law to Moses?  The answer is, “Certainly not!”  For if God had intended man to be saved through a law, for if there had been a law given through which we could have life, then there would be no need of a promise.  But the reason God gave the law is to confine all human beings under sin that the promise by faith in Christ might be given to those who believe.  In other words, the giving of the law convinces man that he is a sinner in need of a Savior and, therefore, makes the gospel more desirable.

Sin is not only transgression of the law but sin is a deceiver.  Sin comes to us and tells us that we are not that bad but if we build up our willpower we can do something that can cause us to be saved.  Sin wants us to look at God eye to eye.  “God, You give us the rule; we’ll keep it and then, in turn, You give us life.”  But when we realize what the law demands in human nature, perfect obedience in thought, word, and deed, then we realize that by the works of the law, no one can be justified before God.

God gave the law to convince the human race that they are prisoners to sin and in need of a Savior.  Now we come to this wonderful statement in verse 23:

Before the coming of this faith....

There is a word missing in this statement in some translations that, unfortunately, gives a wrong meaning.  The word “faith” in the original is preceded by the definite article “the” or “this.”  Paul really wrote, “Before the faith came.”  This gives us a completely different meaning of the word “faith.”  Without the definite article, the word “faith” could mean the believer’s faith but Paul is not discussing the believer’s faith here.  He is saying, “Before the faith,” the source or the basis of our faith which is Jesus Christ.  Verse 23 says, that before Christ, the Seed, came, we were kept under God by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed:

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.

When God gave the law to Moses or through Moses, the human race now became guilty of transgression.  Before the law was given, sin was not accountable.  Paul brings this out clearly in Romans 5:13:

To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.

Paul is saying that, where there is no law, God has no right to legally, lawfully accuse us of sin; but the moment God gave the law, we stood inexcusable.  The law condemned the whole human race, kept us in prison, kept us in death row until Christ came and liberated us.

Historically, the whole human race was under condemnation, legally, lawfully, from Moses until Christ came.  Therefore, Paul says in verse 24 that the law was our guardian or, in some translations, tutor.  Galatians 3:24-25:

So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

“Tutor” is not the best translation.  Even schoolmaster is not the best word.  The word Paul used in Greek had a special meaning that we do not use today.  This word referred to a trusted slave the master used to discipline and look after his child.  Because in those days there were no schools, education was based on a private tutor.  The trusted slave would hold the young child’s hand and take him to the home of the tutor.  This child had no way of escaping until the slave brought him to the tutor’s house.  Then and then only was he released.  Paul is saying here that the law acted like our guardian or like the policeman who held us in his grip with no escape until Christ came to the scene so that we might be justified by faith in the promise of God.

From Adam to Christ, salvation was based on a promise.  Abraham was saved by a promise.  So was Noah.  To make the promise more meaningful, God gave the law through Moses.  The law did not save us.  The law simply convinces us that we are sinners.  The law made our sins a legal offense which is what the word transgression means.  Actually, the giving of the law made our situation far worse than it was before God gave the law.

But God had a purpose in this.  The purpose was that the gift of the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ would become more desirable, more meaningful to us.  For example, if you offer a plate of food to somebody who just came from a banquet, that plate of food would become meaningless to this person.  But maybe this person hadn’t eaten for the last three days.  He was starving and you offered him a plate of food.  He would accept it with deep gratitude.  It is the same here.  God gave the law to show us that we are one hundred percent sinners.  We are sinners by nature.  We are sinners by performance.  We are sinners by thought.  Paul told the Galatians in chapter 2, verse 16, that by the works of the law no human being will ever make it to heaven.  The law simply put us in death row.  The law locked us up in prison with no hope of escape until Christ came.  Galatians 2:16:

...Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

When Christ came and perfectly satisfied the demands of the law by His life and His death, when Christ came and perfectly met the demands of the law by His doing and the justice of the law by His dying, He redeemed all mankind.  That is the promise of God; this is salvation by grace.  This salvation is made effective by faith alone and nothing else.

Paul concludes this section in Galatians 3:25:

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

After Christ came historically, the human race is no longer under the law because of the fact that now there is another umbrella, another platform by which man is saved and that is, under grace.  This doesn’t mean that every human being is born under grace automatically.  Here, in this section, Paul is dealing with the objective facts of the gospel.  And the objective fact of the gospel is that God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son.  This is God’s gift to mankind.  But like any other gift, it cannot be enjoyed, it cannot bring us a blessing, until we receive it.  The way we receive the gift of God is not by doing something but by believing, by faith in Jesus Christ.  The moment we believe in Jesus Christ, we have passed from condemnation to justification, from death to life.  This is what Jesus told His hearers in John 5:24:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Paul addresses the Galatian believers who are Christians, who were baptized already in Christ but who were sidetracked from the gospel through the false teaching of the Judaizers.  Paul tells them, after proving that we are saved by grace alone, after showing the Galatians the purpose of the law, in Galatians 3:26-29 with these words:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What a wonderful statement!

Remember, Jesus, in the New Testament, is referred to as the Son of God.  By joining Himself to the corporate human race and rewriting our history, He gave us the privilege of becoming sons and daughters of God by uniting us with Him through faith.  Paul is saying in verse 26 that all believers, by their faith union in Christ, have become sons of God.  John, in his epistle, 1 John 3:1a, says:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!

Faith is not simply a mental assent to truth.  Faith is identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  At the incarnation, God put all men into Christ so that He became the second Adam.  By faith, we identify ourselves with Christ and His holy history.  This is what happens at our baptism.  We read in Galatians 3:27:

...For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Notice, baptism is always into Christ.  Paul brings this out clearly in Romans 6:3-5 where he tells them that our baptism into Christ is not in any vague manner but we are baptized into Christ’s death:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

His death becomes our death.  His burial becomes our burial.  His resurrection becomes our resurrection.  In the New Testament times, in the early Christian church, baptism was always by immersion which beautifully portrays the truth of baptism.  This is our identification with Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected.

Having said this in verse 27, Paul tells us in verse 28, the moment you and I have become Christians, have been baptized into Christ, all distinctions go:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In the Christian church there should be no distinction between Jew or Gentile, between slave or master, between male or female because in Christ we are all one.  There is no distinction of race, no distinction of rank, no distinction of sex because in Christianity, we are one body.  The Head is Jesus Christ; the church is the body.  If we have become one with Christ, we have joined ourselves to the seed of Abraham through whom God promised salvation.  The conclusion in Galatians 3:29 is:

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

It is my prayer that you will accept this only method of salvation, the promise of God made to Abraham, realized in Jesus Christ and made effective in your life through faith alone.  May this be your experience.  May this be the platform on which you stand.


Home
Study Materials
 
Back
 
Next