Galatians 3: 15 – 22 The law and the promise

Galatians 3: 15 – 22 The law and the promise

Brothers and sisters, 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. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: the law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

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 Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

*       *       *

“Brothers and sisters, 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. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ.”

The covenant that Paul is talking about here is the one made between God and Abram. Here is the scriptural account of that covenant.

Abram fell face down, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.’

Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. (Genesis 17: 3 – 10)

God gives Abram a new name, Abraham, makes him a promise that he will be the father of many nations, and lays on him the requirement that every male in his household shall be circumcised.

Paul then explains. “…the law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”

He is making two separate points, first, that the covenant between God and Abraham pre-dates the giving of the law by 430 years, and second, that the law contains no provisions setting aside God’s promise to Abraham. The promise to Abraham cannot depend on observance of Mosaic law, because of its terms. There was only one condition laid on Abraham, and that was that he and all male members of his household and all his descendants, should be circumcised.

Now, it’s easy to mistake Paul’s intention here. What he doesn’t mean is that Christians are Abraham’s spiritual heirs and therefore need to be circumcised. He says at the beginning of today’s passage, “let me take an example from everyday life”. He is arguing here by analogy. His point is that the promise to Abraham was given freely by God’s grace in response to Abraham’s faith. The law has nothing to do with God’s grace, and cannot set it aside.

“Why, then, was the law given at all?”

One can imagine a member of the circumcision group asking ‘If God’s grace to Abraham was sufficient, why do we need the law?’ Paul can’t wait for the question to be asked – he’s writing a letter which will take weeks to arrive; he needs to deal with this possible objection. His answer is devastating.

“It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.”

God gave the law because his chosen people had behaved so badly.

“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.”

Laws deal with right and wrong. They are quite good for stopping bad acts, but no good at all for making people love God. In other words, they can’t impart spiritual life.

“But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”

God gave the law to the Jews so that they would know right from wrong. Speaking figuratively, Paul describes what the law has achieved as “locked up everything under the control of sin”. It is the way humanity’s sinful behaviour has been limited – humanity has been “locked up” by the law – until the time came for Jesus Christ to fulfil God’s promise.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you for your love for us, and for sending Jesus to be our saviour. Thank you for his incarnation, his death and his resurrection. Thank you for his ongoing work through the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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