Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Covenants: Part VII - The Intent of the Law

Galatians Chapter 3 – The Intent of the Law

In Part VI we saw that going back to the law is spiritual adultery.  We are to die to the law so we can live for Christ by the Spirit.  So what was the purpose of the law?  Paul expounds upon the purpose of the law in Galatians chapter 3.

Galatians 3:1-5 (NASB)
1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
The believers in Galatia had been bewitched by false teachers who were telling them that they were obligated to keep parts of the Old Covenant, including holy days (see Gal. 4:8-11).  Paul tells them that everything they have gone through for the faith is in vain if they now turn back to the law instead of continuing in the Spirit.  In fact, he calls them foolish for turning back to the law.  He now turns to Abraham, who lived under a covenant of faith not works, as an example.
Galatians 3:6-9 (NASB)   
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU."
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Gentile Christians, like those in Galatia, had something in common with Abraham; they were never under the Old Covenant.  They were never required to observe holy days or any other part of the Old Covenant.  Paul makes the point that those who are of faith are the true heirs of the Abrahamic promise, not those who are living by law.  We are all justified in the same way as Abraham, through faith. We do not receive the blessings of God through the law, but by faith.  Paul goes on to give a dire warning to those who want to be under the law.
Galatians 3:10-14 (NASB)
10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM."
11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."
12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM."
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"—
14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Unless a person is able to keep the entire law perfectly, every bit of it from day one till death, they are cursed and are under the wrath of God.  So obviously no one is going to be able to stand righteous before God through law-keeping.  In fact, that is the exact antithesis of faith.  The law is not of faith.  But the Good News, the Gospel, is that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law and from the wrath of God.  Christ took the curse upon Himself and entirely fulfilled the law in His life and death.  This made it possible for Gentiles to enter the blessings of Abraham even though they never received circumcision (entry sign of the Abrahamic Covenant) or kept Sabbath (repeatable sign of the Old Covenant).  Christ fulfilled both covenants.  He fulfilled the promises of both and accepted the curse of the latter.  The gentiles were never under the Old Covenant.  They entered a New Covenant and received the promise of the Spirit through faith alone.
Galatians 3:15-18 (NASB)
15 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.
16 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.
17 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.
18 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.
Notice here that the true objects of the promises made to Abraham are Abraham and the coming Messiah.  They were not necessarily promises to ethnic Israel per se.   The fact that ethnic Israel was given the Old Covenant 430 years after Abraham doesn’t invalidate the promise made to Abraham and his seed (singular).  The promise was not based on law or works.  The law was only a temporary covenant that was added later.  It had a beginning 430 years after Abraham and, for those of faith, an ENDING when the Messiah came and fulfilled the promise. 
Galatians 3:19-22 (NASB)
19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.
21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
So here we finally see the purpose of the law.  It wasn’t given to invalidate previous promises, but to condemn us in sin and to vividly point out the need for a savior.  As stated above, any failure at all puts us under the wrath of the righteous God of the universe.  The law points out that no human mediator could ever save us from that wrath.  Only God Himself can sovereignly save.  The law illustrates like nothing else that we are dead in sin and there is absolutely no way we could ever be declared righteous by our own merit or works.  The law proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that salvation must be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.  The law drives us to Christ and to His cross.  But notice, it was only added UNTIL Christ.  When we are in Christ we are no longer under the law.
Galatians 3:23-29 (NASB)
23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
The Greek word “paidagogos”, which is translated as “tutor”, means “child-conductor”.  It originally referred to the slave who conducted the boys from home to school.  That was the purpose of the law.  The law shows our need for a savior, drives us to Christ, and then ceases to have a function in the life of New Covenant Spirit-filled believers.  We are no longer under a tutor!  Let me say that again, WE ARE NO LONGER UNDER A TUTOR!  The Bible could not be clearer on this.  If we are of faith we no longer need the tutor.  The law is not of faith and returning to the law is antithetical to life in the Spirit.  It is a bewitchment!  It is a foolish thing to return to the law.

This passage is also quite powerful proof that the law was only in effect for believers from the exodus to Christ (see verses 17 – 19).  This passage should forever put to rest the idea that the law preexisted the exodus or that it continues to be a tutor or teacher for those who are living life in the Spirit.

In Part VIII we will begin to explore the New Covenant and the implications of being under a covenant that is really new and different from the old.


  1. Paul uses very strong language in Galations 5:1-4 to warn us what happens when we attempt to keep even a small portion of the law. Verse 4 should rattle any "legalistic" believer; "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace".

    So for example if a church teaches the "law" of the tithe, as opposed to the spirit of benevolence and charity, then the joy and rewards of giving (relationship with Christ) disappear and that church always struggles financially (no grace). This dreary existence is of course reflected in the lack of "abundant life" in the individual who tries to live by law.

  2. Galatians lets us know that the law came 430 later. How do we reconcile this with the fact that Cain murdered Abel and was punished for it and that Abraham ham lied and commandments ted adultery, Joseph did not was sleep with someone else’s wife: do not these incidents seem to indicate that there was a law prior to Sinai?

    1. I believe Part XIV: "The Law of Christ" addresses your question. Here is a direct link: