I’m a big football fan. I was reading an article about a young NFL quarterback who had recently been traded and he was beginning to get acclimated to his new team, the coaches and the playbook. As you can imagine, he has quite a task ahead of him. But one of the things that struck the new coaches was the propensity of the young quarterback to ask the question “why”. Now, the interesting thing about that is prior to the trade, as the team was researching the young quarterback, one of the criticisms they heard was his tendency to question the coaches. What they found out was that yes, he did question the coaches. However, his questioning was not to buck authority, but was to understand the purpose of everything that was happening on the field during the play.
As we come to our passage today, I’m sure Paul was beginning to feel the tension building around this question of “why”, “if the Law is unable to be fully obeyed, but yet was given by God for His people to follow and obey, why then was it given?” Some of your Bibles may have a heading for this particular section of Scripture. If it does, it probably has mention of the Law. Let’s look at our passage for today…
Galatians 3:15-18 (NASB) – Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.
Last week, we looked at how not following the law fully places us under a curse which leads to death. Additionally, if just one of the laws were broken, it was the same as breaking all of them. Thankfully, it didn’t end there. There was good news. We saw how Christ came and made a way of redemption through paying the penalty of sin, which that penalty is death.
When we come to today’s passage, Paul begins to address the relationship between faith and the law. Paul starts out by helping us understand…
1. The personal connection
Paul opens this section with a reminder for us. Paul tells them, I am speaking in terms of human relations or we would say, let me give you an example that you can relate to. So why is this important? A relationship with Christ is personal. It’s not something between a group of people. It’s not collaborative. It’s not a club. You don’t fill out an application. It’s a one-to-one relationship, between you and Christ. Between you and the Savior of the world. Between you and the creator of everything. Between you and the great I AM! And because of that, Paul wants to make sure that the Galatians understand not only what is at stake, but also what is available. When Christ comes into a person’s life, he meets them where they are, not where He wishes they were. Similar to how Christ taught, Paul uses an example to help the people understand a spiritual truth. He is making that personal connection with them so that they can gain a deeper understanding.
In v. 15, Paul starts out with this example. He says, when man makes a covenant, once it has been finalized, it can neither be annulled or amended. Paul’s example doesn’t hit home with us very well. Mainly because in our culture, we don’t necessarily have a full context with which to put this idea of covenant. For them though, a covenant was lifelong. It was permanent. The closest thing in our culture would be around marriage. In Jewish culture, a covenant was an incredibly serious matter. So Paul, uses an analogy that they could relate to and could understand.
Paul is explaining even for a covenant made by man, it cannot be cancelled or changed by adding to it. How much more so is one made by God? We’ve seen, especially in Chapter 3, how Paul has used Scripture to help disciple the Galatians in their walk and bringing them back to Christ. Two weeks ago, we spent a lot of time in Genesis looking at the promises God had made to Abraham. He continues this process by staying in Genesis 12 and talking about this idea of “seed” when the covenant was made with Abraham. Singular not plural. One not many. We live in a society and a time period where we like options. You pull up directions on a GPS and there are different routes you can take. When we look at proposals, we like to see different options. When we go out and eat, we want to know what places are close by. We like to see options. But when it comes to salvation and redemption, hear me, we must understand that….
a. There’s only one way
Dust off that section of your memory from back in Genesis 16 & Genesis 21 for Abraham. Abraham was married to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were unable to have a child, so Sarah gave her servant, Hagar to Abraham in order for Abraham to have a son. Through that arrangement Ishmael was born. So while a son of Abraham, Hagar, not Sarah was his mother. Keeping in mind that this was not God’s way for Abraham to have a son. When both Abraham and Sarah were long past the childbearing years God intervened and Sarah did conceive and Isaac was born. Isaac, also had Abraham as his father, but had Sarah as his mother. Abraham now had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, multiple offspring. We go back into that portion of Scripture for this purpose. The promised seed (singular), would only come through one of those seeds (either Ishmael or Isaac), not both of those seeds. Earlier in this series we saw this in Matthew 1:1…
Matthew 1:1 (NASB) – The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
We saw how Christ was coming through the lineage of Abraham. Let’s continue as we look at verse 2:
Matthew 1:2 (NASB) – To Abraham was born Isaac, and to Isaac, Jacob; and to Jacob, Judah and his brothers;
Notice that it does not say the promise would come through “either” Isaac or Ishmael, nor does it say the promise would come through both Ishmael and Isaac. The promise, Christ, would only came through one of them, Isaac, and that’s what Matthew 1:2 shows us. There is only ONE way unto salvation and that way is through faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Paul, in verse 16, has brought to the front that the seed spoken of is Jesus Christ. Because of this truth, it’s imperative that we hear this…
b. Don’t be deceived
Earlier in this chapter we saw that the only true sons of Abraham are those that had the faith of Abraham, a faith in God. Paul has been saying, I know what they’re telling you, but you must understand the role the law played. You are being deceived. We had talked earlier about this idea of deception and the role it plays. Deception is a powerful tool. Most of the time we are not deceived by things that are blatantly in error or that we know to be wrong, but instead by things that have the appearance of some shred of truth to them. Satan is very good at deception, after all, he’s been doing it for a long time. Paul has been saying throughout this letter, don’t be deceived by the path they’re trying to lead you down. In order to not be deceived, we must remain firm in the TRUTH of Christ and His Word and we must recognize when something is counter to that truth.
Now, throughout this entire series, I think we could all agree, that Paul’s been very hard on the law. As we’ve watched Paul disciple the Galatians, we’ve seen him steer them from this idea of works according to Jewish traditions and customs toward faith in Christ. He has gone to great lengths to do that, and for good reason. Paul has been working to help them understand what the law actually did and what the law was about so that they no longer would be deceived in their walk with Christ. Paul is reminding them that they need to keep things in….
2. Proper perspective
One thing that Paul has not said throughout this letter is that the law is useless or the law has no purpose. That’s not what he has said at all. What he did say was that it’s important to understand the proper perspective of the law. And what is the proper perspective? That would be through the lens of Christ. I know what you’re saying. This sounds like Paul is getting into one of those circular arguments with himself again. But not at all. When we come to verse 17, we find Paul establishing that relationship between obedience to the law and faith in Christ.
Going back to the “human example” that Paul started out with in verse 15, he brings that back up in verse 17. The Judaizers in the audience were probably not expecting this type of conversation around faith and works of the law. From their perspective, this faith was a new concept that only came about when Christ came to earth. But Paul actually goes back to Abraham and reminded not only the Galatians, but also the Judaizers that this idea of faith has been around a really long time, all the way back to Abraham. It’s not new at all. Paul says listen, Abraham was counted righteous, not because of any works he did, but because of who he believed in. The law was given 430 years after Abraham was counted righteous. That does not nullify the covenant and promises God made with Abraham. Not at all. Just as a covenant made by man, is not nullified or amended after the fact, the law does not invalidate the previous covenant given to Abraham.
Was God saying that through the law, faith was no longer required since it was given after Abraham? Was He saying instead, here’s what you have to do? No, of course not! Just because time has passed, it does not alter the covenant with Abraham. You can almost hear the Judaizers begin to gasp and argue that of course Abraham had faith. After all, the law had not come yet. Now that the law was present, faith is not needed.
John MacArthur said this in regards to the Judaizers’ argument, “After Moses, the basis of salvation became law in place of faith or at least as a necessary supplement of faith. The covenant with Moses annulled and supplanted the covenant with Abraham, a temporary measure God provided until He gave Moses the more perfect and complete covenant of law. Abraham and others were saved by faith only because they did not have the law. Why else would God have given the Mosaic covenant of law?”
Now, that’s a lot. In essence, from the Judaizers perspective, Abraham had no other options, right? God later provided the law for His people. The law was provided for salvation for the people. And Paul is pointing out that that is not the correct interpretation of the purpose of the law. The question then that is hanging out there is “Why then was the law given?”
The first part of verse 19 asks this very question. “Why the law then?” Listen to Galatians 3:21-22:
Galatians 3:21-22 (NLT) – Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:19-20 (NLT) – Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
From these 2 passages we see that the law was given to show and point out the sinfulness of man and that man is unable to be made right, justified, by doing the work of the law. Instead, it is because of our sin, which the law in fact exposes, that leads to our condemnation and destruction.
But watch this…
Romans 5:20-21 (NLT) – God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The law, exposing how wretched we are, only increases our sin, because we cannot keep all of it’s commands. But through Christ, grace abounds even more. While sin reigns in death, grace reigns through righteousness into eternal life.
Then we have the words of Christ in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount…
Matthew 5:17 (NASB) – Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
So there is in fact, a relationship between the law and faith, but it’s not what the Judaizers thought. In fact, it’s because of the law that speaks to the promise given to us through our faith in Christ.
3. Our inheritance
Now the word inheritance conjures up memories for all of us. We think of it as something that we will receive at a moment in time, usually in the future and usually after someone has died.
Paul, using this word, is saying, yes, there is an inheritance. But this inheritance will exist not only for a temporary period of time, but for eternity. As Paul uses this word, he is certainly striking a chord with all of those in the hearing. They were fully aware of the idea of inheritance and especially that which came through Abraham. Paul is flipping this notion of inheritance for them and letting them know that this inheritance is based on God’s promise. Listen to verse 18 from the NLT.
Galatians 3:18 (NLT) – For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.
We saw several weeks ago in verse 7 of chapter 3 that those who put their faith in God as Lord and Savior are the true sons of Abraham and therefore receiving the inheritance. And that is continues to be true today.
Going back to John McArther, he continues his thought from earlier by saying this. “The law centers on man’s duty, man’s work, man’s responsibility, man’s behavior, man’s obedience. The promise centers on God’s plan, God’s grace, God’s initiative, God’s sovereignty, and God’s blessings. The law, being grounded in works, demands perfect obedience. The promise, being grounded in grace, requires only sincere faith.”
So, where are you? Are you carrying the weight of trying to earn God’s favor or approval through doing good things? Or maybe, you’re trying to do good things in the hopes of receiving blessings from God. Let me encourage you that it’s an exercise in futility. If there’s one thing that we have seen throughout our time together is the truth of Ephesians 2 and that is our salvation can only come in faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
It’s only through the finished work of Christ that salvation and redemption is possible and available through repentance of your sins. No other way.
I close with this quote from Charles Spurgeon. “Every sin has to be slaughtered. Not a single sin is to be tolerated. There can be no peace between you and Christ while there is peace between you and sin.”