The Promise Is Superior to the Law (Galatians Sermon 9 of 26)
January 12, 2014 | Andy Davis
Salvation by Promise, Covenants, The Law of God
Pastor Andy Davis preaches on Galatians 3:15-22 and explains why the promises of God are superior to the Law of Moses.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
So, we come this morning to Galatians 3:15-22. We come to what I'm going to call a 'black diamond' passage. So what do I mean by that? Well, you skiers will know what that means, alright? I learned to ski in the center of Massachusetts on a place called Ward Hill in Shrewsbury, it's 220 feet high. That's where I learned how to ski. I learned how to turn, and stop, and start, and all that kind of thing. And a couple years later, I went up to Sugarloaf, Maine, which has the second highest vertical drop east of the Mississippi, 3,000 foot vertical drop. And being a young man, and being ambitious, and thinking nothing could ever harm me, nothing could ever hurt me, I thought, "Never been injured before, why would I be injured now?" I went right to the summit, I'll never forget that. And at the summit, there are all these trails going off, and they were black diamond trails, expert trails. I was like, "No problem. Alright."
Vast overestimation of my skiing ability. And so, I chose one trail called Head Wall. It didn't mean much to me at the time. And as I skied it, I started it, I said, "Man, this is easy," forgetting I had 3,000 feet to get down, and I wasn't getting down many of those feet yet. And I came around the bend, and there were a bunch of skiers with their equipment off, and they were stretching out, and they were talking to one another about their strategies, I guess, on how to ski the cliff that was in front of them.
What was I doing there? I have no idea. I'm not even sure this is a good illustration, but we'll finish it. I had two choices, at that point. I could take off my equipment, and climb back up to the summit, and in shame, defeat, ride the chair back down to the intermediate level...Or I could just go, and being 19 or 20 years old, I just went. And I basically fell down the mountain. I did not ski it! I was being yelled at by others, who couldn't care less what happened to me, but they were concerned about the snow and what I was doing to the snow…And somehow, I got to the bottom. I spent rest of the day in wise defeat, on the bottom half of the mountain, skiing green circle trails. Those are the intermediate trails.
So, what do we do when we come to a complex text in Scripture? What do we do? Do we walk back up to the top of the mountain, take the chair lift down? Or do we, (that's why I said it's not a good illustration), fall down and have no idea what just happened?
Can we just set the illustration aside, and then just say, "There are complicated passages of Scripture?" And this is one of them, this is a black diamond passage. The difficulty does not lie in, generally, big picture, what Paul is saying. Generally, what big picture, Paul is saying, "We are saved from our sins by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. We are saved on the basis of a promise from God, not on the basis of the law from God. We are saved by grace through faith and the promise of Christ." That's what he says. We get that. That's simple, it's straightforward, but Paul says more than that. And that's the issue here, if we're going to go beyond the milk down to the meat, the meat is in the details of what Paul says, and how he argues, and trying to follow in detail, and honor God by speaking this Scripture to us, to try to wrestle with it. That's the challenge. This is a hard passage.
For example, how do we understand Paul's seed versus seeds argument here? I'm going to explain why that's actually a really hard... It's hard to see how that's compelling at all, frankly. But if you look even further, which Paul intends to do, it's really very glorious. But it's not obvious, right away, how a collective noun like seed,' we should understand it in the singular, not the plural. That's a challenge. Or secondly, how do we understand the 430-year chronology? Actually, scholars tell us, "It was 645 years from Abraham until the giving of the law," so what's with the 430? What is he saying there? Did Paul make a mistake? Of course not. But how do we understand that?
A third, what in the world does Verse 20 mean? You heard it read, Kyle read it, but maybe your minds were flying already, right across it, we don't need to worry about that, but I kinda do. So, Verse 20, it says, "A mediator, however, does not represent just one party, but God is one." And then he goes onto the next verse. What in the world does that mean? How does it add anything to Paul's argument? FF Bruce, a scholar, says, "There are over 300 different interpretations of that verse," which means no one knows what it means. Those are three different... This is a very challenging passage, but what I want to do here, just before we even get into it, is to exhort you to glorify God by thinking deeply about Scripture.
Don't be lazy when you come to the Bible. I mean that, seven days a week, just when you have your quiet times as you're reading. Don't shrink back from difficult questions. There is milk in the Word of God, it's true. And it's sweet, and it's nourishing, but there's also meat, and it's strengthening, and it's invigorating, and we need to chew on it, and we need to try to understand it. Why should we make the effort? Why take the journey we're about to take? Why not just say, "God saves by grace and that's all you need to know?" Well, because I think we need to honor the nature of Scripture. Second Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture's God-breathed, and it's useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." So we want to embrace that, we want to go into it, we want to listen carefully and seriously to all Scripture, to understand, "What is God saying to me here? How can I be taught? How can I be rebuked? How can I be corrected? How can I be trained in righteousness?"
Oh, God, make me thoroughly equipped for every good work. I want to honor you, oh, Lord. You gave us this Scripture, help me to understand it. And so, we should listen to all Scripture like children listening to a loving Father who's speaking words to us. He's sitting us down and he's speaking earnestly to us. And we need to listen to what he says. So I commend you, Proverbs 2:1-6, listen to those words, "My son, if you accept my words, and if you store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom, and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight, and if you cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver, and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and you will find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding." I want you to pant after truth. I want you to search for it as for hidden silver.
So, this morning, shifting the image, we're going to go into the silver mine of God's truth in Galatians 3:15-22. We're going to put on our helmets with the headlamps on, and we're going to get our picks, and our shovels, and we're going to bring some five-hour Energy drinks, I guess, or some energy bars and we're going... We're not going to be here for five hours. Don't worry about that... But we're going to bring towels to wipe the sweat off our face. We're going to work at Scripture. We're going to try to understand it. And I don't know that all of you will get all of what you can out of this text, but you'll get more than you had when you walked in here, and whatever you get, praise God for it. But let's learn to work. Let's honor God, so that we can know him, and love him, and serve him better, and not shrink back from challenging mental strain on Scripture.
I. Paul’s Overall Argument: Salvation Covenant Based on Promise Not Law
So let's dig in and let's begin by looking, as I've already said, at what I could consider the milk aspect here, Paul's overall argument. This is something anybody can get, and that is Paul is asserting, as he has been doing in Galatians, "We sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, based on the promise of salvation through faith in Christ alone. That's how we sinners are made right with God." Now, the context of Galatians is that Paul had planted churches in Asia Minor in Galatia, many churches there. And he and Barnabas appointed elders in every church with prayer, and fasting, and then left. Because he was a circuit-riding, kind of trailblazing, church planting apostle, and he wasn't going to stay there. He entrusted those churches to the elders.
But sometime after that, some Jewish so-called believers in Christ came along. They're called by scholars 'the Judaizers.' They're not called that in the Bible, but they're the Judaizers, and they were trying to mix together the achievement of Christ on the cross with the law of Moses. Trying to put it together in a toxic brew of salvation, recipe in which faith in Christ alone is not enough. You must add to it, obedience to the law, and it begins with circumcision, and then it follows along the tracks of the Jewish Law, the dietary regulations, and all of those things. And that if you hold these two things together, you'll be saved from your sins. So, Paul writes Galatians, because he is deeply alarmed at what's happening in these churches he planted. And he says, "That is no Gospel at all. And let anyone who preaches anything other than the Gospel we commended to you, let him be eternally condemned." Very serious about that.
And so, he's very plain in Galatians 2:16, as to what saves us. What is our salvation? And he says it, "We know that a person is not justified by observing 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 observing the law, because by observing the law, no one will be justified." That's very plain. So that's Galatians 2:16. He says it very, very clearly, "We are justified, we are made right with God. We sinners, made right with God, simply by faith, not by obeying the law."
Now, in Chapter Three, he's trying to prove that to them and he begins in verses 1-5 by citing their own example. What happened with them? "Do you remember how it was when I came to Galatia and preached? Do you remember how you received the Spirit, how I preached the Gospel, you heard, you believed, and the Spirit descended, and you received the gift of the Holy Spirit? Do you remember how that was?" Look at verses 2-3 in Galatians 3, "I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the Law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish, having begun by the Spirit, are you now perfected by the flesh?" No.
So from their experience, what they experienced in the receiving of the Spirit, he then goes even deeper to Old Testament Scriptures, to prove that saints in the Old Testament have always been justified by faith, and not by the Law. He goes right to the first Jew, the father of the Jewish nation, Abraham. And in verse 6, he cites Genesis 15:6 "Consider Abraham, he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." That is how we are declared righteous by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. We believe in Jesus and we are declared by the judge of all the Earth to be righteous. Praise God for that. That's the Gospel and that's what Abraham experienced too. And Abraham is not just an example of faith, but he's actually the paradigm example of how sinners are made right with God, but he is also the channel by which the seed, the Savior, comes into the world. So we'll talk about that in a minute, but he is the paradigm example.
So we all get saved the same way Abraham did, and we also get saved through Abraham, because of Jesus. And so, in verse 8, it says, "All nations will be blessed through you," Quoting Genesis 12:3. And so he is how all nations get saved. We all get saved the same way and through him. Paul also shows the two different ways to live. You can live by law or you can live by grace. Trusting in your own fleshly exertions in the law or by faith in the promise. So in verses 10-12, he says, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, ' Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law," Deuteronomy 27:26. So very plainly, if you're trying to be justified by law, you're under a curse already. You're just under a curse, why? Because you have to do all the law, all the time, or you're cursed. And then he goes beyond, in verse 11, "Clearly, no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith," Habakkuk 2:4.
The context of Habakkuk 2 is of God's judgment on sinners. If you want to survive that judgment on sinners, you must live by faith. And then verse 12, "The law is not based on faith," it's an entirely different principle. "On the contrary, the man who does these things will live by them," Leviticus 18:5. So these are just two different ways to approach salvation, by faith or by law. That's what he's getting at, and then he resolves all of this so beautifully, as we saw last time in verses 13-14, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. As it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree 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." Oh, that's so sweet and beautiful. So that brings us up to speed. That brings us right to Verse 15, what's happening now. Well, the Judaizers, Paul senses, very much, that he's in a debate with these enemies of the Gospel, these Judaizers. And he's anticipating what they're going to say back. And he does this incredibly, he does this a lot in Romans, "Now, one of you will say to me, such and such." He's always thinking what someone will say, "What's going to be the reaction?"
That's just good teaching. That's good preaching. So Paul is thinking about his enemies in the debate, the Judaizers. And he's saying, "Look, they're going to say, ' Look, alright, fine, we can see too, that Abraham was justified by faith apart from law, because there wasn't a law yet. We concede that to you, okay, but God gave the law through Moses. What are you going to do with that? God did that. So clearly, God intended the law to be part of how it is that sinners are made righteous with him. The law has to be part of the salvation package. So we concede what you're saying about Abraham, but it's not relevant to us, except that we are going to combine Abraham by faith in the promise, and then Moses, in the law, and that's what we [The Judiazers] are saying.'" So Paul is anticipating this. He's thinking, "This is what the Judaizers will say."
II. The Superiority of the Promise to the Law (verses 15-18)
And so Paul is going to assert that salvation based on a promise is superior to salvation based on the law. And that's what we're looking at in verses 15-18, superior. Why is it superior? I'll tell you quickly why, because God gets the glory, not us, and because we get the security, and the guarantee, and we actually get saved. That's why it's superior. If salvation had been by the law, zero people would have been saved, and that's why it's superior. But let's look at what he says in verses 15-18. And he begins by taking an example from everyday life, and he's going to zero in on this idea of a covenant set up based on the promise. Abraham was the basis of the covenant, was a promise, or really, you could say, an array of promises made to Abraham. It's based on a promise. Look at verse 16, "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed." And again, verse 18, "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." So there, it's established. The covenant with Abraham was set up on the basis of a promise. Now, that's already been established in verse 6, as we already said, "Consider Abraham, he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." What did he believe? He believed the promise spoken by God.
"Salvation based on a promise is superior to salvation based on the law. … Because God gets the glory, not us, and because we get the security, and the guarantee."
Now, the background, of course, are an array of promises spoken by God. You remember how God called Abraham (at that time named Abram), out of Ur of the Chaldees? He said "Leave your country and your people, go to a land I'll show you." And then he says this, listen to all these promises, it's just a river of promises, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing, and I will bless those who bless you. And whoever curses you, I will curse, and all peoples on Earth will be blessed through you." Promise after promise, a river of good things that God's promising to do for Abram. And then, in Genesis 15:1, He says, "Do not fear, Abram, I am your shield and I am your very great reward." He promises him, himself, "I am your reward." And then he goes beyond that, to give him some details of promise. He says, "Come out and look at the starry night sky. Come out of your tent, and look up, and look at all those stars, and count them if you can." Then he speaks this incredible promise, "So shall your offspring be. You're going to have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky." Abram believed the Lord and it was credited him as righteousness.
And then he goes beyond that, in Genesis 15:7, he says, "I'm going to give to you and to your offspring, this land forever." And so, that those are promises. The promise came first, not the law. Sequencing is going to be huge. And also, we know that the promise was based on a unilateral action by God, it's just something God is doing. He said, "I'm going to do this for you." He said, "I'm going to pour out blessing on you, Abraham." And so I like how one pastor put it, or one scholar, he said, "The promises, are of God, saying, 'I will, I will, I will,' The law is God saying, ' Thou shalt, thou shalt, thou shalt,' or, ' Thou shalt not.'" You see the difference? It's like night and day. And so God, unilaterally, is promising to bless Abraham and to give him all of these good things, just out of his grace. Law came later, circumcision came later, all of that. Now, this is a covenant. Now, the argument he's making in Verse 15, is a covenant, once ratified, cannot be changed. So how is this a covenant? Well, you remember in Genesis 15, we've been over it before, I consider Genesis 15 one of the great significant chapters in all the Bible, one of the key moments in redemptive history.
Abram, at that point, Abram asks God, "How do I know that I'm going to get all this? How can I know?" So it's an assurance question, "I need some assurance." So God has him sacrifice some animals and make a path, a bloody path with pieces from the sacrificed animals left and right, okay? And then, Abraham waits... he's there for a while, and then a deep sleep, a kind of a eerie thing comes over him, and then God appears in the form of a fire pot. This fire pot symbolizes the presence of God. Now, in a covenant cutting ceremony, and by the way, that's the verb used in Hebrew, you 'cut' a covenant. What do you cut? Well, I think you cut these animals. You cut them up and you make a path. And then, the two of you, you two that are making a covenant, you walk through the bloody path of those pieces. And you are saying to your covenant partner, "So may this happen to me, if I don't keep this covenant," that's what you're saying. But what's so fascinating about Genesis 15, is that God, in the symbolic form of the fire pot, moves through the pieces alone. Two things he's saying by that, first, "This is a unilateral covenant I am making. I'm making it with myself, on your behalf, but it's my covenant."
And this is awesome, "May I cease to exist, if I don't keep this covenant." I mean I don't know what more security you could ever have than that. "I will do this. I'm swearing to you that I will do this." Now, listen, God is not going to cease to exist. He's going to keep his covenant promise. Well, that's the covenant that was ratified, it was cut. What Paul's saying is, "You can't change it later." You can't change it. Look at verse 15, "Let me take an example from everyday life, just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that's been duly established, so it is in this case, you can't add to it, you can't take from it." So this is an everyday life example. Alright, someone makes a last will and testament, and they get it ratified, and legally, it's a legal document. It's there, it's a will. Imagine, after a person's death, they have the time of the reading of the will, and the executor of the will is a member of the family, and he's crossed out everyone else's name, and wrote his name on every line. Would you be okay with that? Are you alright with that? I'm thinking that's why probate court exists, when that kind of thing happens. And that's going to get thrown out. It got changed after the fact, and this executor wrote his own name in, so he gets the house, and he gets the cars, and he gets the money, or whatever there is.
So what Paul's saying is, "We know you can't change a last will and testament later, you can't add to it or take away from it, it's a sealed document, it's done. So it is in this case, only infinitely more significant. You can't add something. So the law that came later doesn't change the covenant of promise. It doesn't change it." Alright, well, let me take another example from everyday life. What would you think of a father who says to his kids, "I'm going to take you, this upcoming week and next week," he says on Monday, "I'm going to take you guys, we're going to go to the beach, no matter what. You haven't been to the beach in a year. We are going together to the beach, so get excited, because we're going to the beach." And then, on Wednesday, he says, "By the way, we're only going to the beach, if you keep these 10 rules right here, okay? You got to do this, you got to do that, you got do that." I think that's unjust. Now, some of you parents may be being convicted right now, so don't do that. When you make an unconditional promise, keep it unconditionally. You'll be damaging your kid's ability to understand the Gospel. How weighty is that? So keep your promises.
Actually, this week, I asked three of my kids, I said basically, "Do I owe you anything? Have I made any promises to you I haven't kept?" I wanted to know and none of them could come up with anything, so that's good. But just whatever you promise, keep. Do you not see how the law coming later would nullify the promise? You say, "No, it's still there. I'm still promising to take you to the beach, but you have to keep these... " Well, the thing is, you don't need the promise, at that point, you see. Then it's just a simple condition of blessings and curses, "Keep the law. This is the blessing you get." It's just straight law, at that point. The promise has been invalidated, it's gone. And that's what happened with the Judaizers.
Do you now see it? For them, trying to combine promise with law, it just doesn't work. Basically, promise goes away and all you have, at that point, is law. So we have the immutability of the promise of God and that's awesome. God has promised us heaven, Amen. He has made a promise, "I will receive you. You will sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And nothing can stop that, so just be happy, rejoice, sorrowful maybe, but always rejoicing." Why? Because of this, because God's made us a promise in Christ and he will keep that promise. Secondly, he says the covenant with Abraham was made ultimately with Christ. Ultimately, God made his covenant with Christ. When he says, "Seed," God was thinking about Jesus. And this is pretty difficult here, this is rough sledding, but let's try it. Verse 16, "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scriptures do not say "And to seeds," meaning many people, but, "And to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ." So simply put, let me just tell you what I'm going to say about this. All of God's promises through Abraham or whatever promises there are to the people of God, are in Christ, all of them. They are, "Yes," and, "Amen," in Jesus. We get everything through Christ. That's the simple straightforward teaching. But how does he prove it? Now, that's where we go black diamond, suddenly. It's difficult to follow his logic here. How he's handling the Scripture. He's saying, fundamentally, "The salvation promise was made in light of the work of Christ on the cross and the empty tomb." The problem comes with something known as a collective noun. Okay, a collective noun. A collective noun is a noun that could be either singular or plural. 'Seed' or offspring is such a noun, sometimes it can be plural, sometimes it can be single, and then we have to try find out from context which it is.
Another good example would be hair. Hair is a collective noun. Suppose I said to you, "I want you to cut off your hair and give it to me." And for some reason, you decided to do that, and you came back bald as a bowling ball, and you handed me all your hair in a bag. And I said, "No, no, no, I didn't say 'hairs,' meaning many. I said 'hair,' meaning one." Wouldn't you feel a little... I mean, that's strange now, that wasn't clear. And that's how this whole argument is based, on that kind of logic. And it's the same in the Hebrew, as it is in the Greek, as it in the English, it's a collective noun. So does Paul have the right to do this? Sometimes you get the feeling with apostles, that they're like ambulance drivers on the rules of the road, and they can just run red lights, and they're fine, because they got the flashing light. Is that what's going on here? Can he do whatever he wants with the Scripture? No, it isn't. What he's doing, is he's just looking deeper than we do. He's looking beyond, to what's actually happening as God's making a promise to Abraham.
He understands more about the inter-Trinitarian relationship and what God's actually doing when he makes promises to us. He's going deeper. So first and foremost, the word seed' can, often does, mean something plural. As it says in Genesis 22:17, God says to Abraham, "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring, or seed, multiply it as the stars of Heaven, and as the sand on the sea shore." That's definitely plural, no doubt about it. If I were a Judiazer, I'd go right to that verse and say, "Wait a minute, it's plural there, no doubt about it." But seed' can mean singular. Like in Genesis 4:25, the word 'seed' (same Hebrew word), just refers to Seth and to Seth alone. In Genesis 21:13, the word 'seed' can refer to Ishmael and to Ishmael alone. It does refer to Ishmael, so it could be singular. So what is Paul saying here? Well, all of God's promises focus on one of Abraham's descendants, not on them all. God is in the habit of taking Abraham's descendants, and choosing one out, and saying, "This one, not that one." And he does that with Isaac and Ishmael, you remember that? He had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. And he makes it very plain, that though both of them are biologically sons of Abraham, when he says, "Seed," he's meaning Isaac, not Ishmael.
He makes it very plain. And he says in Genesis 21:12, "Through Isaac, shall your offspring be named or reckoned." It's a decision God makes, it's election, he's choosing Isaac out, not Ishmael. After Sarah died, Abraham married another woman, Keturah. She had... Abraham had by her, multiple sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, Shuah, all these sons. God's saying, "They're all sons of Abraham, but it's through Isaac that the seed of Abraham is reckoned." He's choosing the one right. So he says, a verse later, in Genesis 25:3, "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac." So that's a symbol of one chosen out of the many. There's just this one seed of Abraham, He's focusing on. Later, in Galatians, we'll see in Galatians Four, he had two sons: The sons of the slave woman, the sons of the free woman. So that's exactly how he's thinking here. God chooses one of Abraham's seed and works through that one, that one, not all the others. So God thinks singular, not plural in these salvation promises. It's the same thing that we see earlier in Genesis 3:15. You remember how Adam and Eve fell at the garden of Eden, and how then, the judgment comes, and then God speaks his Word of judgment to the serpent who represents Satan? And he says in Genesis 3:15, "I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed, " or offspring.
Again, collective, but he goes then, singular, "He will strike your head and you will bruise his heel." One seed, now, the woman, she... Adam said, "She would become the mother of all living." So all of us come from the woman, from Eve, but God had one seed in mind, and that seed was who? It was definitely Jesus. Jesus was the serpent crusher and he paid for it with his life, but he crushed the serpent, Amen? And that was that one seed, and so Paul isn't wrong here, he's just saying, When God is thinking seed,' he's not thinking seeds,' meaning many. He's thinking one, and it isn't Isaac, and it isn't Jacob. It's Jesus, ultimately. See, Isaac and Jacob, they're just sinners. They're symbolic. The physical lineage goes through them, that's important, but salvation comes through Jesus. Jesus is the seed. We are a Christ-centered people, Amen? Everything comes to us through Jesus. Just stop and worship Jesus right now. Just, in your hearts, say, "Thank you, Jesus, for all the inheritance you're giving me. Everything I have comes through you. You are the owner of the world." In Revelation 5, he gets the title deed with the Seven Seals of the world, and it's given to Jesus, and he can give it to anyone he wants to. He is the seed. "In Christ," 2 Corinthians 1:20, "All the promises that God have made are, 'Yes,' and, 'Amen.' "
And so, in Ephesians 1:3-4 it says, "Praise be to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the Heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Do you hear that? "For He chose us in Him, before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight." So we are chosen, we are elected, we are saved in Jesus. He is the seed. The promise comes through Jesus Christ. Next, he argues chronology, he says, "Now, which comes first, the promise or the law?" Clearly, promise first, then a law. And the law, verse 17, "Introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God, and thus, do away with the promise." It's the sequencing, this then that. If you have to be justified by law, then where was the law when Abraham was justified? The law came 430 years later, a long, long time later. And it doesn't nullify the earlier promise. It cannot. It cannot set it aside. Now, he's going to make the same argument, specifically on circumcision, in Romans 4.
By the way, the best commentary I have ever read on Galatians is the Book of Romans. Amen? Amen. That's the best commentary. Somebody asked, "What's the best commentary on Galatians?" – Romans. It just is. It's almost like to some degree, some of these themes are pencil sketches in Galatians and they're full oil portraits in Romans. He just goes into great detail. And so he does the same thing on sequencing with circumcision, Abraham, it was spoken. Abraham believed God, it was credited him as righteousness. In what condition was he when he was declared righteous? Was he circumcised or uncircumcised? Well, he was uncircumcised. He was like a Gentile. And circumcision came later, and it doesn't nullify the promise already made to him. It's just for a different reason. Okay? Centuries later, now, what's with this 430 years? Scholars tell us that, Jacob entered Egypt 215 years after this promise had been made. And then, the Exodus happened another 430 years after that." So that means the law was given 645 years after the promise was initially spoken to Abraham. Did Paul make a mistake with the whole 430? No. What he's saying is, that this promise was repeated from father to son, from Abraham to Isaac, and it's stated in Genesis 26, the same promise made to Isaac. And then, again, it's stated to Jacob. That's the last statement of the promise you have in the Book of Genesis. Then, 430 years later, the law comes.
So we're following promise. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, then a gap of 430 years, then comes the law. God had already ratified that covenant and does not nullify it at all. So in verse 18, The inheritance is either based on promise or a law. It can't be both. Do you see they're mutually exclusive on this? It's either going to be, unilaterally, "God will save us," or, "You have to earn it yourself, you have to save yourself." You can't mix them. It's either/or. And so verse 18, "If the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise." Do you see that? It's either/or. It's either law or promise, it can't be both. So so much for the Judaizers, who were trying to combine them, you can't. It's law or promise. But God in his grace, gave it to a promise. So basically, what Paul's saying, he's saying, "Judaizers, God is against you. God intends to grace us with salvation." Amen? Just give it to us freely.
And by the way, isn't that the essence of an inheritance? Who could ever say, "I deserve to be in your will?" I mean try that sometime with a wealthy relative, alright? "I deserve to be in your will," try that. Look, it just doesn't work that way. Wills... Last will and test... That's always grace, it's a gift. And so God graces us, in verse 18, with salvation. God graces us with an inheritance, "I am your inheritance." And God himself is the inheritance. He's what we get. We get heaven with God. We get to look at the Glory of God. We get to be with God. How can we ever say, "I deserve that. Give it to me. As a matter of law, you owe it to me?" No, it's always going to be by grace. And so, summary, God promised to Abraham, and to his seed, Jesus Christ, an eternal Kingdom with himself as the central blessing, and through faith in the promise of Christ, we become heirs with Abraham. The covenant of salvation depends totally on God, because it is based on a promise. The law could not be added to this ratified covenant. The inheritance does not come from law.
"The covenant of salvation depends totally on God, because it is based on a promise. The law could not be added to this ratified covenant. The inheritance does not come from law."
III. So Why Was the Law Given at All? (verses 19-22)
Then why was the law given? Isn't that what they're going to say? It's like the next thing. Alright "Well, if it's not for salvation, then what was it given for? Why was the law given at all?" Look at verses 19-22, "What then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator." Scratch your head on that one. I didn't even list that as part of the black diamond list. "A mediator, however, does not represent just one party, but God is one. [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, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law, but the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe."
Alright, so the question's asked here, "Why then, was the law given, if not for salvation?" Verse 19 says it directly, "What then, was the purpose of the law?" God descended in fire, in Genesis 15, and made a covenant with Abraham. He came down in fire, in the fire pot. But then later, he came down in fire to the top of Mount Sinai. I don't understand that. God and fire makes a promise covenant. God descends in fire and gives the law, what is he doing then? It is God, right, that gave the law? How do we understand his actions? What is he doing in giving us the law? What is the point of it? The Ten Commandments, we're told in Exodus 32, were the engraving of God's own finger. It's not like God didn't know that this was happening. Moses didn't write this. God wrote the Ten Commandments directly. What was God doing in all that? What was the purpose? Well, the answer Paul gives right here in this verse is, "The law was added because of transgressions, until the seed, the promised seed should come."
What does that mean? Well, first, I need to tell you, this is not a complete answer to the purpose of the law. The law actually has multiple purposes in our lives. But we're going to the center of the issue of salvation, on the issue of sinners being made right with God. What is the purpose there? The purpose was, "It was given because of transgressions." Now, that phrase is not incredibly clear. So I think when you're reading a difficult passage and you're trying to understand, "What does this mean, the law was given because of transgressions." Well, what I like to do, is go to a good commentary. I think that's good, don't you agree? Have you guys heard of any good commentaries on the Book of Galatians? Have you heard any? I mean is there one that we can buy? Actually, they're really inexpensive. You can get a whole bunch of commentaries, a whole commentary set for about six or seven bucks. Frankly, most churches will give them to you. As a matter of fact, I'll tell you, on behalf of the elders, if you don't have a Bible, lean forward and there's one, take it home, we'll replace it. The best commentary on Galatians is Romans. Alright?
So what does it say in Romans? Well, this is what's going on here. The purpose of the law was to increase the transgression of Adam. That's a head scratcher. You're like, "Wait a minute, I thought God was against sin?" Well, God's more against sin than you can possibly imagine. He hates it with a passion. But the law was not given to reduce the number of sins. It was actually to draw it out and multiply it. Alright, what do I mean by that? Well, in Romans chapter 5, we have the Doctrine of original sin. Adam sinned at the garden and we all sinned in him. Positionally, we are born as human beings, sinners. And that's why infants die, because they're children of Adam, and they're under the same judgment, even though they didn't commit a volitional sin like Adam did. But once we get older, and we understand the laws, and all that, when things start to happen, then we commit our own volitional sins. And that's exactly why it was given. It says, "The law... " This is Romans 5:20, note this, "The law was added, so that the trespass might increase." It's counter-intuitive. We think, "Oh, laws are given, so we sin less." That's not what's going on. It was given to draw it out, so here's the image I have.
Imagine a jar, crystal clear jar, filled with river water, and you just sit it there, and don't move it for a while, and everything just settles to the bottom. It's all at the bottom, and so you look at it like this, and it looks clear as crystal. Let's say that the jar has lid on it, and you pick it up, and you shake it, and then put it back down. Now, it's all cloudy, nasty. I wouldn't drink that, alright. That's the human heart. And the law shakes up the hidden evils of the human heart, and makes them obvious to us. It shows us, like on the cover of the bulletin, our chains. We're in chains. The whole world is in chains to sin, and we can't break out, and the law makes it plain. And it doesn't matter what statements of the law you look at. You could take the Ten Commandments, right? "Well, I'm just going to focus... I'm just going to try to keep the Ten Commandments." You can't. Because you have heard that it was said, "You shall not murder, but if you're even angry with your brother, you're in danger of the fire of hell."
"Well, I'm going to try to... I'm not going to commit adultery. I've never commit... " But if you lust after a woman, you commit adultery in your heart. You say, "Wait a minute, that's not fair. You're looking at my heart." Well, read the Tenth Commandment, "You shall not covet." What part of your body do you use to covet? He's looking in the mind and the heart. And Jesus told us, he says, "That's how I'm looking at the Ten Commandments. I'm looking at your heart, not just, did you not murder? But, 'have you ever been murderously angry at anyone?', not just, 'Did you commit adultery?', but 'Have you ever done so in your heart?' Coveting, 'Have you ever yearned for something that didn't belong to you?'" You can't keep it, and so it shakes you up, and shows you that. Or you could look at, how about 613 Commandments? You can't keep 10, how about keeping 600 of them? Can't keep that one. Alright, Jesus made it simple, he just organized them all into two: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind," and second is like it, "Love your neighbor as yourself." You can't keep that either.
All that happens is the law shakes up, and shows you the vileness of your heart, and it brings you to the point, in Romans 7, where you say, "What a wretched person I am, who will rescue me? Who will rescue me from sin?" Law does that, it shows you your need for sin and we're going to get there in Galatians next. It brings you, like a schoolmaster, right to Christ. It brings you to the foot of the cross. It shows you your chains. That's the purpose of the law. The law itself, nothing wrong with it, holy, and righteous, and good. That's why it does what it... You look at the commandment and say, "This is a good commandment. I just can't keep it." And so it brings us right to the cross. Look at verse 24, though it's not in our text, it says, "The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Law itself brings wrath, Romans 4:15, It brings death, Romans 7:5. We can't keep it, because it's weakened by the flesh, Romans 8:3. And so that's why the law was added. It was added, so that the trespass might increase. Now, the law is inferior to the promise, because of its mediators, verses 19-20. I know you're tired. I told you you'd need a towel, wipe the sweat off your face. This is the time for the five-hour energy drink, so go ahead and knock it back, we're almost done.
But what in the world is verse 19-20? The law is inferior, because of the mediators. "It was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party, but God is one." Alright basically, in a mediated covenant, you have two parties, two individuals, and a deal is being made between the two of them, you have a mediator going between the two, etcetera. What he's saying here, is that the old covenant law mediated by angels and by Moses is inferior, because of the two parties, okay? God and man. Both of them have to keep the deal. Blessings and curses, that's the nature of the law. But the promise is not so. Remember, who was it that walked through the pieces of the animal? God alone. And so God is one. He's the only one with whom he made the covenant. It's an inter-Trinitarian covenant, and so there's no need, in this sense, for a mediator. God made it with himself. God is one. That's what he's saying. Now, I'm not denying Christ is our mediator, it's a different teaching and different moment. But that's the best I can make. Now, there are 301 possible interpretations for verse 20. I don't know if it's right, but what it's saying is, it's superior, because God made the deal with himself, not with us, in which case it would have been weakened.
And say, what in the world is the angels? What do the angels have to do? I'm not going to tell you, except that there's some verses here that talk about it. Hebrews 2:2 and Acts 7:53 both mentioned that angels were involved in giving Moses the law. I think they just carried it down to him. You see the same thing in Revelation 1:1, the revelation was given to God the Father, given by God the Father to Jesus, he gave it to an angel, who gave it to John, who gave it to us. That's what it says in Revelation 1:1. But the law is not contrary to the promises of God. 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, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law." What is going on with this? If they were both trying to save you, they would be in competition. But that's not what the law's trying to do. The law is not trying to save you from sin, it's trying to show you that you're a sinner. By the way, that's the whole problem with legalists. Okay? Basically, God gave the law to show us that we are sinful. Legalists use the law to show God that we are righteous. Do you see how perverted that is? The legalist takes the law and says, "Look how righteous I am." That was not the point. It was to show you that you need a Savior.
"God gave the law to show us that we are sinful. Legalists use the law to show God that we are righteous."
And so we've already learned this last week in Galatians 2:21, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained by the law, then Christ died for nothing." So, no, the law is not opposed to the promise of God, frankly, the law really helps the promise of God. It brings you to the one who can make the promise and keep it. It brings you to Jesus, the promise maker, the promise keeper. That's what the law does. They're not in competition. They're actually working together, ultimately. So righteousness cannot come by the law. Verse 22, "The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe." So on the cover of your bulletin, there's some shackles there, empty now, praise God. My chains have fallen off. I'm set free now. I'm free from the guilt and condemnation of my sins. I'm free from the authority and power of sins. Sin has no right to command me, and now, as a child of God, I am free to tell every temptation that ever comes to me, "Be gone from me. I am no longer a slave to sin." There's no single temptation that ever comes to me with authority to command me. I have the authority to tell it, "No." I can crush every temptation. Now, I'm free, and so are you, if you're a Christian. But, apart from Christ, the whole world's in chains, and the law is given to shed light on those chains, and show them to them. That's all. They don't set them free.
IV. Application: Delighting in the Promise, Understanding the Law
So what application can we take from this? Well, come to Christ. Believe in him. Trust in him. Trust in Jesus. Let him free you from sin. Let him free you from the condemnation. He is the promise maker, he is the promise keeper. Look to Christ and to Christ alone. Salvation is a free gift of God and I'm begging you, don't leave this place unregenerate, don't leave it under the wrath of God, trust in Jesus. You don't need to move a muscle, you don't need to do anything, that's salvation by law, just believe. Repent and believe, turn away from your sins, and say, "I need a Savior," and believe.
Second of all, see the value of hard work in Scripture. Don't be lazy and don't expect your pastors to be lazy. Don't settle for milk, if there's meat in the passage. Demand that nicely of your elders. Okay? If the Lord tarries sometime, I'll be gone, but there'll be other people here, if this is still a healthy church, you folks will want to hear meat from the Word, and not get lazy. And do the hard work yourself in your quiet times. Dig into the word of God, and learn deeply, and be mature, don't be like a child. Thirdly, embrace the promise of eternal life in Christ, delight in it. I love Romans 4:16, "The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring." You are guaranteed of heaven, think about that. I just say to you, again, that should make you happier than you are right now. And some of you are looking very happy right now, and that's great. Be even happier, you're guaranteed, because it's promise, not law. He's promised you heaven and he will keep it.
And then, finally, understand how to be sanctified by promise, not by law. This is tricky and we'll talk more about it, but I just want to give you a first whiff at it. If you have a sin problem in your life, sanctification by law says, "I'm on my own. I'm on my own. I got to... I've got to face this problem myself." Sanctified by trust in the promise says, "Every command of God is actually promise for me, someday I'm going to be holy." So I'm going to take that like Joshua facing the walled city of Jericho, I'm going to say, "God's promised us this whole land. I can take this city by the power of God." And then, you do the things He tells you to do, walk around the wall seven times, and give out a shout. He's going to win the victory and you're going to do some things. You will take some stands and you're going to do some things, but that sanctification by faith, not by law. So whatever sin you're struggling with, take the blood of Christ, and the death of Christ, and resurrection of Christ, and apply it to that, as part of the promised land of your holiness, and say, "I can be holy. God, do it in me."
Close in prayer now, please. Father, we thank you for this challenging passage, for all the things we have learned. Thank you for the patience of the people of God here, listening carefully to these many verses. Oh, God, take these truths and press them deep into our hearts for your Glory, we pray in Jesus name, Amen.