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Gal. 3:15-29: Standing on the Promise Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 May 2006

In the book of Galatians, Paul paints us a glorious picture of our justification.  Beginning at (and even before) he is arguing that a person is justified by faith in Christ.  As we begin this morning, we should revisit how he has argued this up to this point in chapter 3.  Let me offer a summary. 

First, in 3:1-5, Paul argues for justification by faith based on the experience of the Galatian readers.  They received the Spirit and were converted by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law.  Second, in 3:6-14, Paul argues for justification by faith based on Scripture.  He uses two examples: Abraham was justified by faith (3:6-9) and the curse of the Law, which Christ has redeemed us from (-14).  Thus, in what we have covered thus far, we have seen Paul argue for justification by faith from experience and Scripture.

In our passage this morning, Paul adds two final pieces to his picture.  First, he argues based on the timing of the Law and when it was given in verses 15-18.  Second, he argues based on the very purpose of the Law in verses 19-25.  In the final verses of chapter 3, Paul gives us a conclusion to what he has argued up to this point.  Letís look at these final two pieces together.

First, the promise of justification by faith preceded the Law (v. 15-18).

Paul begins here by using a human example.  Look at verse 15.  Paul argues that even a human covenant cannot be added to or annulled once it has been ratified.  It might be helpful for us to think about someoneís will.  Once a person dies and the will has been Ďratified,í then it cannot be changed.  Thus, a human will does not change once it has been ratified.  It is the same way with Godís covenant with Abraham.  Once the covenant was ratified by God in Genesis 15, it could not be added to or annulled.  When the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch (representing God) passed between the torn pieces of the animals the covenant was ratified.  Thus, nothing could add to it or change it.

The Law did not come for many years after Godís covenant with Abraham.  The promise to Abraham had been sealed with a covenant and then hundreds of years passed before the Law of Moses came.  Thus, Paul argues that the Law did not annul or add to the promise given to Abraham.  Look at verses 16-18.  Apparently the Judaizers were teaching that in order to inherit the promise of salvation to Abraham one had to keep the Law.  Yet, Paul does not agree.  The covenant with Abraham was based on Godís promise and not on keeping the Law.  To claim that salvation could be earned by keeping the Law is to rob God of his free grace.  If justification is by keeping the Law, then the gift of Godís promise is null and void.

Thus, Paul is arguing that one cannot be justified by keeping the Law.  Paul knows that everyone who has ever been justified before God has been justified by faith.  It is the free grace of God that gave Abraham the promise that his offspring would be a blessing to all nations (on Paulís recognition of Christ as Abrahamís offspring in these verses, see below).  Abraham did not earn it, Israel did not earn it, and we did not earn it.  If we stand justified this morning through faith in Christ, then we do so because of Godís free grace, his free and fulfilled promise.  Just as Abraham received the promise by faith, so the Galatians received the promise by faith, so we receive the promise by faith. 

Second, the purpose of the Law was, and is, to point us to justification by faith (v. 19-25).

If the Law did not add anything to or take anything away from the promise to Abraham, then why was it necessary?  I mean what was the purpose of the Law?  This is the very question that Paul asks and answers next.  Look at verse 19a.  So, how does he answer?  He answers with a purpose statement and three points of explanation.

The purpose of the Law was to make sin painfully obvious to men (and specifically Godís people at the time, or Israel).  Look at the rest of verses 19-20.  From the time of Abraham, or even Adam, to the time of Moses, Godís law was written on the hearts of men, even as it is today (Romans -16).  Due to their conscience they had some idea of right and wrong.  Yet, with the Law of Moses, God gave specific commands to Israel for them to keep.  It seems like an obvious solution.  No longer would men have to guess about what is right and wrong before God, now they knew.  All they had to do was to be faithful in keeping it.  Of course, this is where the problem came.  The Law of Moses simply made Israelís sin obvious to them.  They could no longer get around or explain away their disobedience.  No, due to the law, they saw very clearly that they were sinners in need of Godís forgiveness.  Paul gives us three points of explanation.

First, he tells us that no law could free us from our sin.  In verse 21, Paul asks a logical question: Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?  In other words, if the promise came to Abraham and the Law came later to Moses, does that mean that they have nothing to do with one another?  Or you could ask it this way: does the God of Moses contradict the God of Abraham?  Paul answers emphatically: Certainly not!  Then he goes on to explain that there was no way that the Law could lead us to being righteous before God.  No Law could do that because men are by nature law breakers.  Look at verses 21-22a.  God was not trying to make Israel righteous by giving them the Law for that was impossible

Rather, and this is our second explanation note, the Law was given to guard Israel by making them aware of their need for forgiveness until Christ came.  Look at verses 22b-24.  Paul says that the Law was to guard Israel for the time of Christ.  This word, guardian, is translated in many ways like Ďteacherí or Ďschoolmasterí or Ďtutor,í but the idea is of a particular person who simply guarded children in Paulís culture until they were mature.  They did not officially teach the children, but simply protected them from evil and corrected them when they stepped out of line.  This was the purpose of the Law for Israel.  It guarded them and protected them until the time of Christ, which leads to our last note of explanation.

Third, now that Christ has come, the people of God are free from the Law to believe and follow Christ.  Look at verse 25.  So, the Law guarded the people of Israel until Christ came and now that He has come, they are free from the guardian to trust in Christ and be justified by their faith in Him (see verse 24).  Israel no longer needs the guardian because Christ has come.  Of course, they do not have to give up their cultural values or identity as a people, but they do have to have faith in the person and work of Christ in order to be justified.  In fact, the Law should lead them, as it does all of us, to the conclusion that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

Of course, you may be wondering: how does all of this apply to me as a Gentile believer in Christ?  In other words: what purpose does the Law serve for us as Christians?  Let me give you at least two purposes.  First, the Law should be a constant reminder to us of our need for a Savior.  As we contemplate the holiness of God, pictured so clearly in the Law, we should be driven to humility before our God and His work.  Even as the Law pointed Israel to her need for a Savior, so should it keep this truth ever before us as well. 

Second, the Law should aid us in convincing others of their need for a Savior.  On Sunday nights we have been talking about sharing the gospel with others.  We have talked about the importance of helping lost people see their need for a Savior.  If people are not sinners, then why do they need Christ?  If people have not broken the commands of God, then why do they need forgiveness?  But if they are sinners and if they have broken Godís commands, then they must repent of their sins and place their faith in the finished work of Christ.  The Law of Moses can aid us making people painfully aware of their sin.  Listen to the words of John Stott:

Not until the law has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds.  Not until the law has arrested us and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free.  Not until the law has condemned and killed us will we call upon Christ for justification and life.  Not until the law has driven us to despair of ourselves will we ever believe in Jesus.  Not until the law has humbled us even to hell will we turn to the gospel to raise us to heaven.1

We must let people know that they have broken the commands of God and are therefore in dire needs of a Savior.  And we must tell them that His name is Jesus.

Paul brings his whole argument for justification by faith to an end in verses 26-29.  Look at those verses with me.  Through faith in Christ, we are all sons of God.  There is no barrier between Jew and Gentile or rich man and poor man or man and woman.  Those things which are constantly dividing our world do not divide the Body of Christ.  No, in Christ, we have all been freely justified by faith.  Our Father is none other than God Himself.  Our brothers and sisters are none other than all the saints, including those that sit here with us and those who have gathered underground in China.  We are all heirs according to promise.  We are the children of Abraham by being united with Christ (which explains Paulís argument that the promise to Abrahamís offspring came to Christ in verse 16).  Yes, all this as a gift, received through faith.  Thus, put all despair behind you, all of your trying to earn Godís favor with works, and simply stand on the promise of your redemption through faith in Christ.  Amen.

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968), 93.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 14 May 2006 )

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