Galatians [3:19-23]

Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)

 Galatians 3:19-23

Well then, why was the law given? It was given to show people how guilty they are. But this system of law was to last only until the coming of the child to whom God’s promise was made.

WHOA! What did he just say? I forgot it was so plainly spelled out. There can be no mistake here. Read those lines once more, then come back to my next sentence. Go ahead, I’ll wait. OK. Did you catch that?! The purpose of the law was not that we might have some standard to align ourselves with, or to help us gain favor with God (after grace initially establishes our relationship with him, of course…) and it was certainly not the distinguishing mark of a God-lover to adhere to its tenets. It was given to show people how guilty they are. That’s it. Paul does not say, “One of the things the law was for…” or, “Part of what God intended through the law…” He only says one thing, and leaves it at that.

But even more astounding to me than that very plain, unmistakable truth about the purpose of the law is the duration of the “system of the law”. This is the part that many Christians really don’t understand. Paul says, right there, again in plain English (well, the translation is, anyway…) that the “system of the law was to last only until the coming of the child to whom God’s promise was made.” That’s just incredible. I know that. I have understood that from the whole of Scripture, that Jesus changed everything. Paul has been revealing that all through this first half of his letter to the believers in Galatia. But, it is said so plainly here in Galatians chapter three… how can people still cling to the old system for their righteousness that was never intended to provide that in the first place? Why must people insist on living a life of fear-based performance before a terrifying deity?

Paul is telling us quite plainly that the law served (past tense) a purpose, and now the promise has been given. God has blessed all nations through Abraham’s child. Through Jesus, we have full and direct access to our Father. Unfettered. Unwavering. We are accepted, and loved and it does not depend on how closely we follow some code of law. …the law was to last only until the coming of the child. Let it go.

And there is this further difference. God gave his laws to angels to give to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. Now a mediator is needed if two people enter into an agreement, but God acted on his own when he made his promise to Abraham.

Well then, is there a conflict between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could have given us new life, we could have been made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures have declared that we are all prisoners of sin, so the only way to receive God’s promise is to believe in Jesus Christ.

Until faith in Christ was shown to us as the way of becoming right with God, we were guarded by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until we could put our faith in the coming Savior.

Yes! That is such a cool picture of the purpose of the law. It was never intended to save, to make righteous, or to last. It was to keep us in “protective custody” until we could put our faith in Jesus. Until the plan was finished on the cross. God was looking ahead to that moment in our history when it would be finished, and he declared Abraham and others righteous (even before the existence of The Law of Moses) because of the truth of that event, even before it had happened. (This is sounding like a Star Trek episode…) We can only have access to Father through Jesus’ death on the cross. That’s it. So, righteousness is given by God, when we trust in Him, apart from the law, or anything we might accomplish.

Now, I don’t completely follow Paul on the first part of this section. He seems to be pointing out the difference between the Law given to Moses and the promise made to Abraham in the way it was presented. The Law was given to angels to give to Moses, so, there was a go-between. But God handled it himself with Abraham. To me, this is very much like our connection with him through Jesus. After Jesus had died on the cross, we had full access to God, as God himself had bridged the gap between us. But before that, he had a system of priests and such in place. A mediator. That is what the law was all about. A separation between God and Man. But the “promise”, made before the law was given, was directly from God himself to a man, no mediator. Which is exactly what we have today with God through Jesus. HE is our mediator.

Again, the clear truth presented here, and indeed through the whole letter up to now is: the Law was never intended to save us. Never. It wasn’t even given, dare I say, to be obeyed. God wanted us to see we can not be righteous on our own. “It was given to show people how guilty they are.” God intended for us to fail. He knew we would. That’s why the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. The promise to give us life (not a chance to earn it) was given, and then the code of law. The law was given to prove that our own efforts are worthless, meaningless.

God wants us to know we can’t do it without him. And we don’t even need to try.

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