Galatians 3:15 – To give human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.
Welcome back, readers! In this third chapter of Galatians, Paul is giving us a proof of justification by faith. In case it has been a while since you’ve been in school, let me remind you what a proof is.
Proof: A degree of evidence that convinces the mind of any truth or fact and produces belief; a test by facts or arguments that induce or tend to induce, certainty of judgment or conclusive evidence.
In this case, Paul is digging into the Old Testament and giving Christians conclusive evidence that they cannot be justified in God’s sight by keeping the law. Therefore, there is no need for them to be circumcised. As Paul pointed out earlier, mixing grace with works results in a false religion which places Jesus under the power of sin and negates his ability to make atonement for us. Obviously, this is blasphemy.
In the remainder of this chapter Paul is going to focus on a single proof, which is built upon a fact we discovered last week: Abraham believed God and was justified by faith hundreds of years (approximately 400) BEFORE the Law of Moses was given to Israel.
Genesis 15:6 – And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Human covenants, once ratified, cannot be changed. Once the obligations and conditions of the contract are agreed upon, no one can add or take away from them.
For instance, if you take out a loan to buy a car, you promise to pay a certain amount of money back to the lender each month by a certain day. You can’t suddenly change your mind and pay them less. You can’t change the contract and decide to pay them every other month instead of each month. You must abide by the conditions agreed upon in the contract or you are in default.
Likewise, the loan company must keep their side of the bargain. They cannot simply come and take the vehicle, as long as you are making your payments on time.
In the same way the original promise to Abraham (justification in God’s sight) was based on faith in God and that agreement cannot be altered. Although the law had a specific purpose in the life of Israel, it could not change the original covenant of faith which was already in force at the time the law was given.
That bears repeating, just to make sure we get it: The law had a specific purpose (which we will discuss later), however, it could not change the original covenant of faith which was already in force at the time the law was given.
The promise made to Abraham and his descendants was not made void or replaced by the giving of the law. God had a purpose for the law, but it was not (nor could it ever be) the vehicle by which man could be justified.
The rest of this chapter is the actual proof or argument that shows justification is by faith, not by works.
Galatians 3:16 – Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
Here is the promise that Paul is referring to:
Genesis 22:18 – And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
How many offspring did Abraham have? According to the flesh, there were two: Ishmael and Isaac. The bible makes it very clear that both of these men would become great nations. Ishmael himself begat 12 princes and his descendants became a powerful nation (Genesis 17:20). Likewise, Isaac fathered Jacob who had 12 sons which later became the 12 tribes of Israel. They too, grew into a mighty nation (Genesis 17:21).
But the bible also declares that the promises of God would be limited to only one branch of Abraham’s family line – the descendants of Isaac (Genesis 17:21). Through this line God would appoint a single individual/seed that would be his instrument to bless the entire world. Paul identifies this individual as Jesus the Christ.
So, the blessing of reconciliation to God was already determined to occur through a single person, Jesus the Messiah. The law could not supersede the promise already made by God. Therefore, reconciliation between man and God could not come through the law.
Galatians 3:17-18 – This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Let’s state it another way: The law was given after the solemn promise of a redeemer had been made and confirmed. Therefore, the law could not make that promise void. The promise of a redeemer who would one day reconcile man to God would still be binding, according to the original agreement between God and Abraham. Therefore, we can conclude that the law must have been given for some purpose entirely different from that of the promise.
When reading this passage, we can’t help but notice that Paul makes it indisputably clear that God keeps his promises. Period. No exceptions.
What promises has God made to you? Even though it may seem to be taking forever, we can be sure that God will bring those things about. He will keep the promises he made to us, just as surely as he kept the promises made to Abraham. In order to receive them, we need to do what Abraham did – have faith in God and never doubt!
Galatians 3:19 – 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.
Anyone listening to the proof of Paul would be led to ask an obvious question – If the observance of the law did not justify man in the sight of God, then was good was it?
Why was it given in the first place? Why were there so many injunctions to obey it? Why so many commendations of it in scripture? Why was it accompanied by exhibitions of divine power? Was it given in vain? What was its purpose?
One of the advantages or purposes of the law was that it defined transgression/sin and revealed the penalties associated with it. By showing us where we have failed in our duty to God, the law also brings about conviction. It was readily apparent that mankind could never live in perfect obedience to the law.
The law was added or introduced by God at a later date (that is, after the promise to Abraham) in order to secure important advantages to mankind until the superior arrangement under the Messiah came to pass.
Since that was the case, something else would be needed to reconcile them to God. Thus, the law points out the need for a redeemer. It refers men back to the original promise made by God to Abraham that in the fullness of time, Messiah would come to make atonement for the sin that was revealed by the law.
In the meantime, the law acted as a deterrent to sin; by understanding the penalties for sin, it helped to curb our sinful actions.
Galatians 3:20 – Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
The prior verse ends by mentioning that the law was put in place through angels by an intermediary. An intermediary is a person who is the ‘go between’ for two parties. The mediator facilitates communication between the two parties and/or works to reconcile them. Another word for mediator is intercessor.
The bible gives us an example of a human mediator – Moses. He acted as a mediator between God and the Israelites in the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.
If you re-read Exodus chapter 19, you will find that God did not deal directly with the Israelites at the giving of the law. They were called to sanctify themselves and come to the foot of Mount Sinai, but they could not touch the mountain, or they would die.
They remained at the foot of the mountain while Moses went up to speak to God and receive the law. In this way, Moses was a mediator between God and Israel. And this was not the only instance of Moses acting as a mediator. We find him occupying this role the entire time he was leading the children of Israel.
In his role as mediator, Moses was a reflection of Jesus as our mediator in the new covenant:
1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Now, ever since God called Abraham to be the father of the Jewish race, people have been divided into two basic groups: Jews and Gentiles. So, while “God is one”, there is “more than one” group of people that need a mediator/intercessor.
Regardless of whether we are Jewish sinners or Gentile sinners, we had no way to come into the presence of God; if we did our sin would cause us to die. But Jesus became our mediator, standing between us and God. He paid the full price of our redemption; thus forgiveness and reconciliation with God is by grace alone, not works of the law. Furthermore, Jesus has certainly purchased redemption not just for the Jews, but for all men of every tribe, tongue and nation.
Galatians 3:21 – 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.
There might be some who would argue that the law was contrary or in opposition to the promise God made to Abraham of a redeemer.
But as we have already noted, that is certainly not the case. The law is subservient to the promise. The law defines sin and proves that no one can be perfectly obedient to its requirements. Because no one can keep the totality of the law, the law cannot impute righteousness to any man. In other words, the law cannot give life. It does just the opposite – it pronounces judgment and condemnation on all people because of their sin.
The good news is that the law also points to the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The law encourages men to renounce any confidence they have in themselves, and have faith in the mediator, Christ Jesus.
By this proof, Paul has just silenced his adversaries, who are preaching a doctrine of works to the Galatians. By claiming that the Galatians need to keep the law, they are actually accusing God of contradicting himself, and breaking his promise to Abraham. They blaspheme God by suggesting that the law can justify men before God.
Clearly, the Galatians cannot save themselves with a mixed religion of grace and works. They have been bamboozled by some false teachers!
Galatians 3:22-23 – 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.
What comes to mind when you read these verses? Do you picture a convicted felon, held captive in a cell with no way of escape? Do you picture a man or woman devoid of hope, with no chance of pardon?
Essentially, that is the true picture painted by Paul. The Old Testament scriptures (both the law and the prophets) pronounced mankind guilty of violating the law. Thus, we were imprisoned under the condemnation of the law, without any hope of pardon or escape. All that awaited us was eternal punishment and death.
Galatians 3:24-26 – 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.
What does Paul mean when he describes the law as a guardian?
The law revealed the mind and will of God towards man, which was a wonderful thing. But at the same time, it pronounced a curse upon anyone who could not live by its regulations. Man was actually imprisoned by the law. The end result of this was that the law prepared people to embrace a better way – the way of faith.
The law was able to convince men that their own attempts at righteousness were weak and insufficient in reconciling them to God. Just like a prisoner, there was no hope for pardon under the law. Once people came to this realization, they were ready to embrace a way of escape from the law – the way of faith.
The law also obligated the Jews to observe sacrifices and rituals that could not produce freedom from sin. However, these rites pointed towards the Messiah, revealing the way of faith.
So we see that the law had a definite purpose: It directed men to the savior Christ Jesus, so that they might be justified by faith in him. In this way, the law is a guardian or schoolmaster.
But after the gospel dispensation began, there was no longer a need for this kind of guidance or instruction. The truth of justification by faith had been revealed. It was available to everyone who believed.
Those who believe the gospel message are sons and daughters of God by faith in Christ. We are no longer treated as servants, but we are welcomed into the family of God. We have the privilege of a close, intimate relationship with our Father and we can enjoy all the benefits of that relationship.
Galatians 3:27 – For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
In the time of the apostles, people were saved, filled with Holy Spirit and baptized in water in rapid succession. In the case of the first Gentile converts (Acts 10), all three events occurred in a single day.
Baptism is the outward sign of what has occurred in your inward man. It is a testimony to the world that you have been cleansed from sin by faith in Christ. Once a person becomes publicly baptized, they are said to have ‘put on Christ’. The idea is that they have committed themselves to becoming disciples of Christ, following in his footsteps and being made over into his image or character.
Galatians 3:28 – 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.
The law was very good at creating division. It separated the Jews from the Gentiles (Greeks). It also made differences between servants and masters as well as men and women.
But this is no longer the case under grace. Anyone and everyone may be forgiven of sin and reconciled unto God; we are all one united family of God!
Galatians 3:29 – And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Those who have been justified by faith in the shed blood of Christ are the true spiritual children of Abraham. If we are Abraham’s children, then we are heirs to the promises made to him – promises of an abundant life here on earth and also a heavenly inheritance!
Let me offer you some encouragement and strength:
We have so many wonderful benefits that were given to us when we trusted in Christ. Here are just a few: The opportunity to be in God’s presence, the ability to hear God speaking to us, and the power of Holy Spirit in our lives. What benefits are most dear to you? What benefits have you not utilized yet?
If you are feeling a bit discouraged by what you see around you, don’t despair. Instead, begin to immerse yourself in the wonderful benefits Jesus has given to you. Before you know it, you will be encouraged and strengthened!
Let me offer you some relief:
You and I may not be able to give deep, spiritual proofs of our faith, like Paul does here. But that’s okay.
Having a simple, down-to-earth testimony about what God has done in our lives is all we really need. Sharing our own personal testimony of what God has done for us will likely win more people to Christ than deep, academic proofs!