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Galatians 3:15-3:29
Key Verse: 3:26-27

In the last lesson, in the first part of chapter 3, we thought of the blessing of faith and the curse of the law. We thank and praise Jesus who redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us through his death on the cross due to our sins. To bear this wonderful grace of Jesus we are to all the more live by faith to completion, not trying to attain our goal by human effort. In today’s passage the word promise is written 9 times. It is used in contrast to the law and ultimately refers to Christ Jesus. The promise and the law that stand for Abraham and Moses respectively show concisely the whole history of God. Though in contrast both work in harmony for the salvation mankind fulfilled in Christ Jesus. In this passage Paul brings together Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ, who together span about 2000 years in the history of God. Paul presents the history like a mountain range, whose height peaks are Abraham and Moses and whose Everest is Jesus Christ. He shows how God’s promise to Abraham was confirmed by Moses and fulfilled in Christ. And through faith in Christ Jesus one becomes a child of God. Who we are, namely identity is a serious matter, particularly in our time. People seem to be seeking earnestly for their true belonging. As we study this passage, in light of God’s history we can see our true identity and belonging that lasts forever beyond this world.

First, the promise and the law (3:15-25). Look at verse 15. “Brothers, 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.” In NRSV, it is translated, “Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it.” If a man’s will cannot be set aside or added to, much more are the promises of God immutable. For God is truthful and faithful; God cannot lie even just once. With the understanding of an example from daily life, Paul wanted Galatians to understand the whole history of God summed up with the two words, promise and law.

Look at verse 16. “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” Particularly God said to Abraham in Genesis 22:18, “and through your offspring (in your seed in KJV) all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” God used the word, which was not the plural ‘children’ or ‘descendants’, but the singular ‘seed’ referring Christ. Also in verse 19 it is clearly written again, “…until the Seed to whom the promise referred.” And in the case of verse 29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed,” ‘seed’ is used as seeds collectively like ‘posterity’, a collective noun. Here, in talking about the promise given to Abraham and to his seed, Paul’s mind went from Abraham to Christ in direct connection.

Then Paul said of the law in connection with the promise. Look at verse 17. “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.” The promise given to Abraham continued to Isaac and Jacob. Then Jacob’s family, Abraham’s descendants, went to Egypt, when Joseph became Prime Minister of Egypt. They were in slavery in Egypt for 430 years. Then God brought them out of the land of slavery in Egypt and gave them the law through Moses at Mount Sanai. The law came much later. God is faithful and unchanging. Both the law and the promise were established by God and the latter one cannot do away with the former, because of God’s character.

Then Paul said in verse 18, “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise.” Here the inheritance refers to the blessing given to Abraham. This verse indicates that the inheritance cannot depend on both the law and promise, because they are different. How are they different? In the promise to Abraham God said, “I will…I will…I will…” stressing God’s initiative, to be believed. But in the law of Moses said, ‘You shall not…you shall not…” stressing man’s responsibility, to be done. If the inheritance comes from the law, it can be man’s work and man’s responsibility that will be so unsure and also can make man proud apart from the grace of God. So if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on a promise, which is of God’s plan and God’s initiative, so revealing God’s grace. Furthermore since no man is able to keep the law completely, it would be impossible for the inheritance to be given to mankind if the inheritance depends on the law. So verse 18b says, “but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” Thank God! The God of Abraham is the God of grace. He is the God of grace from the beginning. Since God in his grace gave the inheritance to Abraham through a promise, it is sure and certain, for he planned and he would accomplish as he willed.

What, then, was the law given at all? This question naturally arises. What was the purpose of the law? God gave the Israelites the law with hope for them to be a nation of holy people from a slave people. It would begin with the realization of their sins through the law. Verse 19 says continually, “It was added because of transgressions.” He elaborates this in the book of Romans: ‘through the law we become conscious of sin’ (3:20); ‘where there is no law there is no transgression’ (4:15); and ‘if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin’ (7:7). So the law was given so that sin might be recognized as sin and sin might become utterly sinful (7:13). The law’s main work was to expose sin as sin. It is the law which turns ‘sin’ into ‘transgression’, showing it up for what it is, a breach of the holy law of God. Verse 19b says continually, “It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” Thus, the law looked on to Christ, Abraham’s seed, as the Person through whom transgression would be forgiven.

Look at verses 19c and 20. “The law put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.” The God who gave the promise to Abraham and the God who gave the law to Moses are the same God. The God of Abraham and the God of Moses are one and the same God. In NLT, it is translated, “God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham.” The activity of angels in connection with the giving of the law is mentioned in Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53 and Hebrews 2:2. When God gave the law He spoke through angels and through Moses. But when God spoke the gospel to Abraham He did it directly. God who is one took initiative in giving the promise and he would accomplish it as one faithful God. In verses 19 and 20 the apostle is probably emphasizing the inferiority of the law to the gospel.

So far Paul clearly mentioned the relation between the promise and the law with the explanation about the purpose of the law. Then another question is raised in verse 21: “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?” It was likely that the answer had already given and this question was redundant. Probably the Judaizers still held falsely that the law annuls the promise and supersedes it, and had the question in their hearts. Anyhow Paul made the question come to the surface. In answering the question, Paul goes deeper into the relation between the promise and the law. First, he said, “Absolutely not!” The answer was crystal clear. Then he continued, “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.” Here this “if” statement clearly indicates that law could not impart life and could bring righteousness. And verse 22 says, “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Christ Jesus, might be given to those who believe.” It tells that the law condemns sin until every mouth may be silenced and the whole world is a prisoner of sin being accountable to God (Ro 3:19-20). It was so that the promise of righteousness might be given by faith to those who believe. Again, the function of the law is to help sinners to realize their sins and come to Christ Jesus, the promise of God and put their faith in him to be set from the prison of sin. In this way the law and the promise work together creating a harmony for the salvation of mankind in Christ Jesus. Paul teaches the true function of the law, which is to confirm the promise and make it all the more desirable and indeed indispensable. The law illuminates the promise, the gospel.

This teaching is so important that it is elaborated in the following verses. Look 23. “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” The law put the people in a prison and locked it up so that the people might long for a key to open the locked up prison. Paul used the imaginary of prison and prisoners to describe the state of men before Christ. Now Paul uses the image of guardian. Look at verses 24-25. “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (in 2011 NIV: So the law was our guardian until Christ came that…). Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (in 2011 NIV: …we are no longer under a guardian).” The guardian (paidagogos) was usually himself a slave. The law is a guardian or tutor in Roman society who disciplined the children under him strictly and harshly. This is the temporary oppressive work of the law, until one comes to the faith, that is, to Christ.

In this part we came to understand how the law and the promise, namely the gospel work for the saving of souls in Christ Jesus. This is why the risen Jesus said, “repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations.” In helping a Samaritan woman who was thirsty for living water, Jesus said, “Call your husband and come back.” Her husband problem was her private matter and a very sore part of her life. In fact this was her sin problem, woman’s cursed desire for man’s love and even marriage could not solve the problem. What Jesus said must have hurt her, but it was necessary for her to have the living water Christ Jesus in her, the true object of love and worship. John Stott put the relationship the law and the gospel this way: “Not until the law has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until the law has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free. Not until he law has condemned and killed us will we call upon Christ for justification and life. Not until the law has driven us to despair of ourselves will we ever believe in Jesus. Not until the law has humbled us even to hell will we turn to the gospel to raise us to heaven.” As for us we need to constantly struggle with God’s word, so that we can go deeper into the realization of our sinfulness so as to go deeper into the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that this is the meaning of what Paul said in Romans 5:20-21, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness.”

Second, children of God through faith in Christ Jesus (25-29). In the previous part we thought that while the power of sin and the law are like a prison, faith in Christ is like a key. Faith opens the door and sets the prisoner free. And in verse 25, “Now that faith has come…” In ESV and many other versions, it is “But now that faith has come…” Paul’s adversative phrase “but now” shows a complete transition. It underlines that we are now quite different from what we were. Look at verse 26. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” So far Paul said of our justification by faith, Christ’s redemption from the curse of the law, again justified by faith and having righteousness in Christ, being freed from prison state and ‘under guardian’ state. Finally Paul now declares who we are: “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” What an amazing declaration! According to the law, it was impossible for anyone to become a child of God. Man is born as a slave to sin. His position as a slave cannot be changed. Though his living situation may improve, his slave status cannot be changed. This is still the present condition of those who do not put their faith in Jesus. Through faith one can be set free from bondage to sin and the law. Through faith in Christ Jesus we become children of God. In Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith (26). The greatest blessing given through faith in Christ Jesus is to become children of God. This is not just the improvement of our situation by having good health, good occupations, a prestigious award or the most desirable marriage. But it is a fundamental change within us through union with Christ. Paul said in verse 3:27, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” The New English Bible translates ‘put on Christ as a garment’. The reference may be to the toga virilise, which a boy would put on when he had entered into manhood, a sign that he had grown up. Also, according to Romans 6:3-5, baptism into Christ means being buried with him through baptism into death for a new life. Those who are baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ. It is to put off your old self, former way life and to put on the new self in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24). Our status is changed from slaves to children. We have many ups and downs. Sometimes we make mistakes and fail. However, God never cuts us off from being his children. Even though we fall short, we are still his precious children. This happens when we believe in Jesus alone. What a blessing to become his children! It is totally out of Gods love for us. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Here we see our true and lasting identity as we live in this world.

Look at verse 28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ we belong not only to God (as His sons) but to each other (as brothers and sisters). There is no distinction of race. There is no distinction of rank. Nearly every society in the history of the world has developed it class or caste system. Circumstances of birth, wealth, privilege and education have divided men and women from one another. But in Christ snobbery is prohibited and class distinctions are rendered void. There is no distinction of sex. This remarkable assertion of the equality of the sexes was made centuries in advance of the times. Women were nearly always despised in the ancient world, even in Judaism, and not infrequently exploited and ill-treated as well. But here the assertion is made that in Christ male and female are one and equal.

A word of caution must be added. This great statement of verses 28 does not mean that racial, social and sexual distinctions are actually obliterated. Of course every person belongs to a certain race and nation, has been nurtured in a particular culture, and is either male or female. When we say that Christ has abolished these distinctions, we mean not that they do not exist, but that they do not matter. They are still there, but they no longer create any barriers to fellowship. In Christ Jesus we not only belong to God but also to each other to establish a community in him

Look at verse 29. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Those who are in Christ find their place in eternity (related first and foremost to God as His sons and daughters), in society (related to each other as brothers and sisters in the same family) and in history (related also to the succession of God’s people down the ages). Faith in Christ Jesus me to God, to man and to the history of God.

In this study we could see how the promise and the law worked together in the history of God. The promise given to Abraham was confirmed by the law of Moses and fulfilled Christ Jesus. And through faith in Christ Jesus, we are all children of God.” May we bear this marvelous blessing of God by keeping this identity over all others and living accordingly.

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