The Law And The Promise
Key Verse: 3:29
“If you belong to Christ, they you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” “
In the last passage we looked at, Paul warns the Galatian Christians who were influenced by a new teaching that contradicts the gospel of God’s grace. Paul had once preached the gospel to them, and they had accepted it. They had once received God’s blessing by putting their faith in Christ Jesus. What kind of blessing did they receive? They had been forgiven for their sins. In other words they had been justified before God and made righteous. They had also been adopted as God’s children, and included in Abraham’s family of faith. One more thing: they had also received the Holy Spirit whom God gives to everyone whose faith is in Jesus. Verse 14 says, “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” And the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts and began to purify their hearts and mature them in their faith to become like Jesus. This is what they and we received when we put our faith in Jesus. What then were the false teachers teaching these Galatian Christians to turn their hearts away from the gospel? They taught them that after putting their faith in Christ Jesus, they should now begin to obey the laws which God had given to the Jews. In other words, now that they had received the promise of God and become God’s children, they should now work hard to maintain their Christian lives by observing the laws. The argument was so convincing that these Christians were fooled into obeying the law. Paul told them bluntly, if you do that, you are cursed and will come under the curse of the law. In the following passage, what Paul does is to simply explain that the law which was given after the promise does not cancel out the promise.
Look at verse 14 again. “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” All who live by the law and rely on the law live under the curse and they feel it, because they law brings condemnation to every heart that does not obey the entire law. All who do not have the law also live under the curse because the lives of sin they live brings guilt and condemnation to their heart. Jesus, however, removed the curse from our lives. He took upon himself the punishment that was awaiting us, and delivered into God’s blessings. He made us to be blessed, and to receive all that God had promised those who put their faith in Jesus. We used to live under curse, but now we live in God’s blessing. Sometimes, we think that we lose something by becoming God’s children. Sometimes we foolishly think that God wants to “get” something from us by calling us to a life of faith in Christ Jesus. But what Paul is saying here is that God redeemed us in Christ that he might bless us. We already listed the blessings we received. But I cannot emphasize enough the blessing of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. This is the promise of God— that the Holy Spirit God dwells among us and in us. There can be no greater blessing in heaven and on earth for us, than God in our lives. Not only that, but God wants to channel his blessing to the whole world through us. That too is a promise, that God would work in and through us to being his blessing to the whole world.
And that is exactly what God had originally promised Abraham when he called him to trust God completely with his life and his salvation. Abraham seemed to have understood this very well. He understood that God had made a promise of blessing to him, not only for himself, but that God wanted to bless the world through him. Sometimes our perspective as a Christian is very narrow. We think about ourselves and how God blesses us, but we ignore the fact that God called us and blessed us in order to bless the world through us. Abraham seemed to have understood that and widened his vision to see how God would work in and through his life. But it seems that those who corrupted the gospel message did not understand. So Paul explains the nature of the promise to the Galatian Christians and us more clearly so that we might always remember that the blessing comes to us through promise, and the promise must be received by faith, and that the promise is meant to make us a blessing on others.
First of all Paul explains the nature of the promise of God— God’s promises are unchanging— they are basically irrevocable. Look at what verse 15 says: “Brothers, 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.” Paul is explaining the difference between living by law and living by faith. If you make a contract, say a will, giving your possessions to someone, sign in the presence of witnesses, that contract is solid. Later, it cannot be changed by either party unless both parties agree. In this case, God signed a contract with Abraham, giving him life and blessing, based on his faith in God. He said to him, “Because you believed me, I make you righteous Abraham; I consider you justified before me forever. You will live your life in my presence and inherit eternal life and the kingdom of God.”
No one could change the promise God made to Abraham. If a human contract cannot be set aside, surely the covenant God made with Abraham could not be changed at all. This is the nature of a promise or a covenant. Likewise, our relationship with God is founded on a promise— a covenant. Paul tells us (v14) that it is by faith that we receive the promise of the Spirit. God’s promises are at the heart of our faith— we do not believe just anything, or something vague. We believe the promises. They are unchanging. God does not take them back. We can believe them without a shred of doubt. Abraham’s whole life was based on what God promised him. Abraham believed God’s promise. And after many years of this man growing in his faith— understanding God’s character— God made an unchanging covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 22 we see the culmination of his faith. Abraham committed himself and his precious only son Isaac to God— and God swore by himself saying: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore…and through your offspring (seed) all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gee 22:17,18; Heb 6:13-17)
Verse 16 says, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds”. meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.” Paul is telling us here something incredible. God’s promise was first and foremost made to Abraham and his Seed. In other words, the promise of life and blessing was made to Abraham’s Seed— the coming Christ— the Savior. He’s saying that God promised to send the Christ (the Savior) through the line of Abraham to bless the whole world. This was God’s wonderful plan fro the beginning when he made this promise to Abraham. God wanted to redeem all sinful people and save them from death and hell. God wanted through the Seed of Abraham, the Christ, to cancel the curse that devastates people’s lives, and bless them instead. God made no other plan.
In keeping this glorious promise, God raised a nation through Abraham’s descendants and molded them into a godly nation. And through them he wanted to send the Christ to be the Savior of the world. And through them he also wanted to bring his salvation to all people. Here’s what Paul is saying in verse 17— When God gave Abraham’s descendants the law 400 years after Abraham, God never intended to cancel the promise. Verse 17 says, “…The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.” It makes sense. God made a promise to Abraham, and he would keep it. Now he gave them the law 430 years later, that they might live by the law. Why would he do that? And if God did not intend to cancel the promise received because of faith, why then give a whole set of laws to live by, unless he intended to ratify the promise to include the law! After all, the law was given to be obeyed. Isn’t that what the purpose of the law is— to be obeyed in order to guarantee and maintain the blessing that comes from the promise! The argument these false teachers were making is very tricky, and believable. That’s what they were telling the Galatians. You received the promise of the Spirit by faith. Now to maintain and guarantee the blessing you will have to abide by the law. You have to work hard at your Christian lives by obeying the laws, so that you can grow and mature and maintain righteousness before God. Paul had to fight against that false teaching.
He tells us that the coming of the law after 430 years after the promise did nothing to change the promise. Look at verse 18: “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” Do you know what inheritance he is talking about? When God justified Abraham, he promised him two things, eternal life and the kingdom of God. (Ro 8:17,17) He promised him forgiveness and blessing. He promised him a place in God’s family, to make him a son, by which Abraham called God “Abba, Father.” (4:6; 1Pe 1:3,4) It was the pure grace of God that Abraham could even receive this kind of inheritance. Who could receive the inheritance of eternal life and the kingdom by working their way there! That is impossible. No person on earth is able to work his or her way to heaven. Not the good man. Not the religious man. Not the man who obeyed the laws of God. So the inheritance we receive from God comes by faith in Jesus, by his grace, and not by anything else. That much we must be sure of. And after receiving the promise and inheritance we have, we cannot possibly maintain it nor guarantee it by working on it through Christian living. Christian living, comes not because we have to live a Christian life according to the laws and teachings of the Bible— but Christian living comes because the new life God gives us through the Holy Spirit, draws us to live it, to be like Jesus, to imitate his life, to follow him, to do what he did, to serve his purpose, to be holy as he is holy. These things cannot be the product of works— otherwise we revert to curse, and condemnation.
The second thing that Paul teaches us in these verses is the purpose of the law— which is to lead us to Christ. He says, “What then, is the purpose of the law?” (19a) What is the purpose of the law if we receive the inheritance by faith in his God’s promise? We just talked about that. The law is good and righteous, and we follow it out of our new nature which loves God’s laws. But Paul also answers his question in 19b: “It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” The law was put into effect to reveal what sin is. The law was put into effect to control the uncontrollable work of sin in our lives. The law was put into effect so that we might know that we cannot possibly follow it and be made righteous by it. It was given to lead us to Christ, that we might put our faith in him. So the law was put into effect until God’s glorious purpose was accomplished— until the Christ had come.
Look at verse 21. “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, the righteousness would certainly have come by the law.” The law is not contrary to the promises nor does it contradict them. The promise promises righteousness by faith, and the other paves the way to the one in whom we must put our faith. The law was necessary for the Christ to fulfill it in our place. That was part of the promise, that one— The Seed— would come to through whom we would all be blessed. But he would have to fulfill the law. He would have to also take upon himself the punishment of the law that was reserved for us. And when he had done so, he became the Redeemer, the Savior, in whom we could put our faith and be justified in him. Now we can say that we had fulfilled the requirements of law in Christ, if we are in Christ. There is no contradiction here at all between the law and the promise— they serve God’s ultimate purpose. When Abraham received the promise by faith, he saw Jesus’ coming, and that Jesus himself would be his justification. He saw this and believed. He also rejoiced at seeing Jesus’ coming and lived by faith in him from first to last.
Verse 22 continues, “…so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” God promised salvation and heaven and the Holy Spirit— his own indwelling presence in us and with us— to those who believe. All we have to do is acknowledge our need for the Savior, and put our faith in him. Yet the false teachers were actively teaching that we must follow the law now that we have put our faith in Christ. It is like those who tell us that now that we are saved, we must work hard to maintain our salvation: now that we have received God’s grace, we must work hard to fulfill all that the Bible requires of us— that we must live by teachings of the Bible if we are to maintain the blessing. But as I said, this does not mean that we do not live by the teachings of the Bible, but that we live by faith because we are in the image of God, and the Bible teachings is in sync with the Holy Spirit’s wishes for us who believe. There are those who would be free of the Bible teaching, living in their own way, doing their own thing, and confessing their faith in Christ. But if their faith is indeed in Christ, their new nature would hunger and thirst after living by the Bible’s teaching.
Verse 23 says “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” What does that mean? The RSV reads as such: “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed.” The law restrains us. All humanity, including the pious Jews who had the law, are in rebellion against God. And this rebellion is not a matter of outward living but a matter of inward living. The problem is not what we do as much as who we are. At heart human beings are rebels against God. The heart opposed God and his laws. Even if one lives by the law outwardly, he or she is still sick at heart because sin is a soul sickness. The law just restraints and confines the rebellion of men against God. For the gentiles it was an all out rebellion, inward and outward, living openly in sin. For the Jews it was an inward rebellion since their outward behavior was for the most part restricted by the law. The Law controlled the behavior of men, but not their hearts. So the sin problem needed to be solved— sin needed to be eradicated from our hearts to turn our hearts back to God in obedience to him. The law couldn’t do that. But Jesus did. Jesus solved our sin problem, and fulfilled what no law could ever fulfill in us. Jesus purified our hearts by forgiving our sins, and crucifying our old nature to the cross, and by raising us up with him as a new man or woman, full of the Holy Spirit who guides us into God’s truth.
Verse 24 says, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ…” The NKJV says, “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The law teaches us what is right and what is wrong; it teaches us God’s character and his righteous standard. We’ve been talking about that almost in every lesson. We see our sin through the holiness of the law, and leads us to Christ who justifies us through faith in him.
If the purpose of the law is to lead us to Christ, what, then, does this tell us about our relationship to God’s law after we have come to Christ and trusted in him for our righteousness? Read verse 25. “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (“…we are no longer under a tutor.”) The law is a disciplinarian, it disciplines us. it disciplined those who lived by it. Like a school teacher, the law exposed faults. But when Christ came into the Christian’s heart, the law was no longer needed for discipline. We don’t throw the law away. Christians are not lawless people. Rather the law continues to help us know ourselves, and it continues to lead us to Christ every day. Read verses 26 and 27 say, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” There was a time we were slaves of sin and slaves of lawlessness. Those who were Jews were slaves of sin and of the law. Even if they obeyed the law it was out of fear. Some Christians are like that. They follow Christian practice out of fear of not being accepted finally into God’s kingdom. That is slavery. When we follow Christ because we have to, or because we think that his grace will cover all our sins as we continue to sin, we are still slaves. But in Christ we are not slaves any more. We are sons of God. Sons of God have nothing to fear, they are not slaves, that they should fear the retribution of the law or of God.
we are clothed in Christ and in his righteousness. We do not depend on our own righteousness, but we depend on him. And we all are also one in Christ. When we are clothed in Christ, our relationship with God changes. We are his precious children. Our relationship with other believers changes, too. They become our beloved brothers and sisters, heirs with us of life and heaven. Paul tells us that in verses 28-29. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor 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.” It doesn’t matter who we are. We will all inherit the wonderful blessings promised to Abraham as we give ourselves to Christ, redeemed and renewed in the new life he has given us. God help us not to look at ourselves but to look to Jesus. Help us grow in his image as your beloved children. Make us a blessing as you made Abraham a blessing by reflecting and sharing Christ in and through our lives. Thank you for the Holy Spirit who alone makes this possible.