We have been working our way through Galatians, and are now at Galatians 3:14. But as we start verse 15, this is one of the challenging portions of the Bible, and it’s going to demand your attention. The Christian gospel is that everybody breaks God’s law, every human being who has ever lived, except Jesus Christ; and therefore, we are all under divine judgment.
However God is not only a judge, He is also gracious, and He is willing and eager to forgive men. And so we can escape the consequences of our sin by putting our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who took our place on the cross and bore the punishment that we should have received. That is the Christian gospel. Christ paid in full the penalty for our sins so the justice of God was satisfied.
The reason there was a Reformation from Catholicism about 500 years ago was because the Catholic Church had been teaching that salvation was a combination of faith and works. And the Reformers understood the Bible to say, “The just shall live by faith alone.” It is of faith, it is by grace, and not according to works. And that was the reason there was a Protestant Reformation.
So Paul is facing an attack on this. He had gone to a region called Galatia, and he had preached in many cities, and he started churches in Galatia. It was Gentile/Pagan world, part of the Roman Empire. They were predominantly churches made up of Gentiles who had no connection to the Law of Moses at all. All they had heard was the gospel of Jesus Christ; and they were saved.
Some Jews from Jerusalem came into Galatia who wanted to correct the teaching that Paul was giving. And they said, “No, salvation is not by faith alone, salvation is by faith plus you must adhere to the laws and rules of Moses, and that includes physical circumcision, ceremonies and other rules.” They said to these believers that they hadn’t really been regenerated.
They weren’t really going to heaven. They hadn’t really received the Holy Spirit, and they wouldn’t until they began to obey the Mosaic Law. Paul was deeply disturbed by this. So he writes this epistle to clarify the fact that salvation is by faith alone and not by works. Salvation produces works, but works are not a means of salvation. Works are not a cause of salvation, works are an effect of salvation.
Then in Galatians 3 and 4, Paul begins his argument for salvation by faith alone, and he reminds them of their own experience. “You already received salvation,” he said. “You already were transformed. You already saw the miracle of regeneration take place in the people around you and in your own life. You already have received and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.
How can you possibly believe that you’re not yet saved when you have experienced all of this? Why would you believe these Judaizers who are telling you that your salvation is not legitimate, unless you adhere to the strict laws of the Mosaic Law? Why would you believe that when you’ve already experienced the blessing of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit? It’s foolish to deny your own experience.
Secondly in verse 6 Paul says that salvation is by faith alone, and it has always been that way. And he uses Abraham as the example. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” You can’t earn it; God gives it as a gift of grace to one who believes in Him. So with Abraham, salvation was by faith. He was justified by faith and so are we.
Furthermore, he wasn’t justified by keeping the law, because the Law came 430 years after Abraham. So Abraham could never have had his justification through adherence to the Law of Moses with circumcision, Sabbath observances etc. Jews or Gentiles, going all the way back to Abraham, are saved by faith alone; and that is made effective, because Jesus Christ takes on the curse for all believers.
There are no conditions in that original covenant in Genesis 15. It is a unilateral covenant. And when God ratifies the covenant with Abraham, He puts Abraham to sleep, because it’s not a mutual covenant. And before he goes to sleep, God has him cut up a bunch of animals, lay them on the ground, and God, in a cloud of darkness, passes through the animals. That’s how you made a covenant.
But it was a covenant unilaterally with God Himself, “I will bless you, and through you and through your seed the Messiah, I will bless the world.” And these Jewish false teachers professed here to believe in Christ as their Messiah. But these Judiazers were now saying that faith alone was supplanted by the law, so that the new way you are saved is by faith and works.
And they would ask the question, “So why did God give the law if that’s not true?” Paul’s answer to that is the rest of Galatians 3. We also know that it was by faith after Abraham. Galatians 3:11 says, “No one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for ‘the just shall live by faith.’” That sentence is taken out of Habakkuk 2:4, who lived hundreds of years after the Law came.
So before Moses and after Moses, the righteous all live by faith alone. Moses was connected to the law, because he was the one to whom God gave the law. But the law did not change anything. The prophets are still saying, “The just shall live by faith.” When God gave the law He put on a grant display that involved majesty, thunder, lightning, earthquakes and blazing flames on Mount Sinai.
And God put the law in place for the next 1,500 years until Christ came. Why? If salvation by faith was already in place, why did God bring the law? The answer is clear. Look at verse 19, “It was added because of transgressions.” Verse 24, “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” Here we learn the purpose of the law.
The purpose of the law is to reveal our sins. And not only to reveal sin, but to reveal our guilt. And then to drive people to God in repentance to cry out in faith for that act of repentance will result in justifying grace of God. The law was given to make the sinner know how sinful he or she was. So we are talking about the moral part of the law. The ceremonial part was given to separate Israel from the other nations.
They had dietary laws, cooking laws, clothing laws and Sabbath laws. They had all kinds of rules laid out in the Old Testament to isolate them from the nations around them, because they were a great threat. So these external, physical laws were for their protection. God wanted to preserve and protect them, so that they could be a witness nation for the one true God, in the midst of these polytheistic nations.
Now Abraham received the promise, but the promise lacked clarity on sin. In fact, in the Abrahamic promise it doesn’t say anything about sin. But the law was added 430 years after Abraham, so that transgressions were clearly defined. And the law points us to Christ. How? The whole sacrificial system in the law points us to a final sacrifice, to a final atonement in the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
There are three things to know about the law. Number one: the law was an addition, in no way did the Mosaic Law set aside the covenant with Abraham. In verse 15 Paul says, “Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.” Then in verse 16, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made.” He does not say, “And to seeds,” (many), but only one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.”
The Jews were slaughtering lambs and goats by the millions, constantly throughout their history from Moses on, because God had said, “Blood is required for a temporary sin offering.” And all this was pointing toward Christ. So the Old Testament sacrificial law pointed them to a Redeemer. But the Old Testament moral law established the nature of an unchanging God.
For 500 years from Abraham to Moses, not much information or revelation was given about repentance. But when the law comes in, repentance is added with power. For 2,000 years God had established faith leading up to the Messiah; and for 1,500 of those years He established the need for repentance. The Mosaic Law morally gives us evidence that man had no ability to redeem himself.
Men just constantly broke the law of God, and so they constantly had to offer sacrifices. And since no one could obey the Law perfectly, the whole world is found guilty. And that was the purpose of the law. Abraham received a covenant of promise, Moses received a covenant of law. Abraham brings promise and blessing; and Moses brings duty to follow commandments and cursing.
Sinners need to understand, that we all have violated the law of God, and we all are headed for judgment. But God is a God of grace who holds out a promise of forgives and eternal life to those who believe in Him by faith alone. And by that faith in Christ, He imputes His righteousness to us, and covers our sin, because Christ has paid the penalty in His death on the cross.
The covenant with Abraham promised life. In verse 11, Paul talks about the fact that we live by faith. The covenant with Moses promised death, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” That’s why Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 says that the covenant of Moses kills. The Mosaic covenant reaches its apex at the cross in the death of Christ, who died under the curse of the Mosaic Law.
The Abrahamic covenant reaches its apex at the resurrection, when the risen Christ provides life to His people by faith. When you come to the gospels, what do you hear John the Baptist saying? “Repent and believe.” You must recognize that you are under the curse of the Mosaic Law, and come in faith to Christ, to receive the blessing of the Abrahamic promise.
The law was also a temporary addition. When God made a promise to Abraham and his Seed, He was talking about Christ, not just the descendant of Abraham, but the final and ultimate seed who is Christ. He says that in verse 16. So when Christ comes, the law has served its great purpose. The law was ordained until the Seed would come. It was inserted; that means it’s temporary.
Verse 19 says, “Until the Seed comes” which shows that the law is temporary in its external elements, but not in the moral character of God which is eternal. Paul tells us the Law is gone in Colossians 2:16-17, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, 17 which were a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
And Jeremiah said there was another covenant coming in Jeremiah 31, “Behold, I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. I will put My law on their heart; I will be their God, they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sins I will remember no more.”
So they knew there was something that would supersede the Mosaic covenant. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “I did not come to break the law, I came to fulfill the law.” He came and lived the law perfectly. Romans 10:4 says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Because the gospel is a covenant of faith, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
David knew that when the Messiah came, there would not only be a new covenant and a new kingdom, but there would be a new priesthood. When the Messiah comes, there will be no more Levitical priesthood. Christ would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek who lived way back in Genesis before Moses. If you have a different priesthood, you must also have a different covenant.
So when Christ comes, you have a new covenant with a person who is ratifying that covenant by His blood, who is the King of a new kingdom, and who is the Priest of a new priesthood and a priest forever. Now we come into the present time since Christ: the law as instruction. Its primary purpose now is to create in their heart a longing for the Redeemer. Its chief task was to show all their desperate need for the Redeemer, Christ.
But there’s one massive part of the law remaining, and that is the moral law. And the moral law is a reflection of the character of God. What is the Christian believer’s relation to the law now? It is instruction to holiness. There is an old popular lie that freedom means that we have no obligation to God’s moral law. “We’re not under the law, we’re under grace.” But that is antinomianism.
What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Opposition to law cripples the Christian’s soul, because it denies his need for obedience, and thus it halts sanctification. Legalism separates the law of God from His love and His grace. And antinomianism separates the law of God from His holiness.
Salvation is a relationship to God. Sanctification is a relationship to God. I can’t be saved by keeping the law, and I will not be sanctified by ignoring the law. If I love God, I love Him for His grace and I love Him for His holiness. Legalism is banished when we see the truth about God’s grace, and we enjoy Him for it. Antinomianism is banished when we see the truth about God’s holiness and we enjoy Him for it. Let us pray.