The Law Road to Faith
“The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:22
“The law was our custodian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24
Galatians 3:6-9 has made it clear that faith justified Abraham and that God’s promise to Abraham was grounded in faith. Next in verses 10-14 Paul argued that the broken law leads to a curse but that Christ absorbed it on the cross for those who have faith in Him.
What Then is the Point of the Law?
These points are clear. But they also raise a question. If faith is everything in getting right with God, then what is the point of the law? Paul treats that question in verses 15-25. In the first segment of his answer (verse 15-18) the apostle contrasts promise and law chronologically and demonstrates the superiority of the way of faith and grace over the way of law as a method of getting right with God.
Paul’s main point seems to be clear enough for all his readers to grasp. But that very point has left them with some very important questions that need answering. The first question surfaces in verse 19: “Why then the law?” It would appear Paul is putting words in the mouth of those that wish to tear him down. Those opposed to Paul are thinking the following: If, as he argues, faith is the only way to get right with God, where does the law come in? What is its function? The implied answer of Judaizes is nowhere, that Paul’s emphasis on faith has left no room for the law, and that his gospel has totally eclipsed the law. That very accusation would later surface in Jerusalem, where certain Jews from Asia Minor pointed Paul out as “the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law” (Acts 21:28).
However, Paul is quick to point out, that is far from his position. Instead it is a falsification of it. The law he notes, “was added because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19). Here for Paul is a major purpose of the law, though he doesn’t make his point in Galatians as clearly as he does in Romans. In Romans 3:20, we read that “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Again Paul writes that “If it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin” (Romans 7:7). Paul adds in Romans 4:15 that “the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.” Basically, what Paul is trying to say is that “‘transgression’ (parabasis) and ‘sin’ (hamartia) are in Paul always to be distinguished. Men may sin in ignorance, but they transgress only when they have a recognized standard for what is right, and it was to provide such a standard that the Law was brought in.” Thus the law not only identifies sin in a general sense but also a more precise category of transgression.
That truth, however, does not exhaust Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:19. He goes on to say, “till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” Here we find the apostle tying the purpose of the law to the role of Christ in a way that he will not clarify until verses 22-25. Verse 19 is clear that the law and its exposure of transgression in some way lead us to Christ.
Five hundred years ago Martin Luther caught this same idea when he wrote that “the law then can do nothing, saving that by his light (the law) it lighteneth the conscience that it may know sin, death, the judgment and the wrath of God. Before the law come (sic), I am secure: I feel no sin; but when the law cometh, sin, death, and hell are revealed to me. This is not to be made righteous, but guilty and the enemy of God, to be condemned to death. . . . The principal point therefore of the law” is to show “Unto them their sin, that by the knowledge thereof they may be humbled, terrified, bruised and broken, and by this means may be driven to seek grace, and so to come to that blessed seed.”[i]
Consequently, the Judaizers and all those that feel the law is above faith are dead wrong in their evaluation of Paul’s theology. Just because a person is saved by grace through faith does not mean that the law is unnecessary, “for Paul was quite clear that it had an essential part to play in the purpose of God. The function of the law was not to bestow salvation, but to convince men of their need for it.
Then from what we are seeing the Judaizers would be presenting the arguments of Satan where he would have us believe that we have to prove ourselves holy by the law. But Paul points out that the law which God gave is to prove to us we are sinners and not to make us holy. Perhaps a better way of stating it is that the law points out our need for Christ.
The first part of Galatians 3:19 is quite clear, yet the last part and all of verse 20 remain somewhat of a mystery. So let us look at what Paul said, see if we cannot shed some Biblical light and with the aid of the Holy Spirit come to a better understanding.
First let’s read the two texts together. “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.” Galatians 3:19, 20
I hope we have covered first half of verse 19 well enough that everyone understanding is that the law’s purpose is to point out transgressions which should lead us to Christ.
The next portion of verse 19 reads “It was added because of the transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appoint through angels by the hand of a mediator.”
When Adam and Eve sinned something was added that had not previously been there. The Law of God, the Ten Commandments were in affect from before creation. It had to have been to reflect back to Lucifer the error of his ways. Where his character did not match up with God’s character. Then when Adam and Eve sinned there had to be something that was added that helped us better understand the consequences of sin. And this is seen in Genesis chapter four which is the story of Cain and Able, where both brought sacrifices before God but only Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because it was a true sacrifice representing his acknowledgement that he was unable to live up to the law, but could by faith accept the promise given that a Saviour would be born, who would lay down his life that Abel would not have to be permanently separated from God.
Oh, but wait you say, Cain brought a sacrifice too. Yes, you are correct, but the sacrifice did not show an acceptance by faith in the sacrifice of Christ as our saviour. There was no acceptance on Cain’s part of the pointing out of his transgression of the law. Instead, he placed himself above the law, which God was displeased with. This illustration was again pointed out to Abraham when he was asked by God to sacrifice his son and at the last second God provided a substitute, giving us an illustration of how Christ is our substitute.
Then at mount Saini God gave to Moses and the through Moses to the children of Israel a set of laws called the ceremonial laws. There whole purpose was to point out to us how our transgression of the law causes Christ to eventually suffer and die. This whole illustration or object lesson that was given to the children of Israel, pointed to Christ as our substitute. This the children of Israel must accept by faith for there was no salvation offered in the actual sacrificial system, it just pointed to Christ, which is pointed out in verse 19 as the Seed. As it states, “till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.”
Genesis 3:15 gives us the first promise of this Seed that was to come. It states: “And I will put enmity between You (Satan) and the woman (the church), and between your seed and her Seed; He shall cruise your head, and you shall bruise His heal.” The seed referred to in Galatians 3:19 is the same Seed referred to in the promise given to our first parents. At mount Sinai Moses stood as the mediator between God and man, giving us an illustration of what would eventually take place between God and man through Christ who became our mediator. How was he able to become our mediator? Because having been born like one of us he became one like us. Then upon His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection he returned to heaven sitting at the right hand of the Father to act as our mediator before God.
Which brings us to verse 20 where it says: “Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.” Between God the Father and God the Son who has the likeness of man, Christ with perfectly Godly character can be as one with the Father, yet know and understand us having lived like one of us, therefore can represent us. He mediates between God and Satan on our behalf. Satan points out where we fail to live up to the law, this is why the Judaizers were so adamant about the law, and thus states before God the Father that we do not deserve life. Christ says, wait a minute, “They have accepted My grace through faith, therefore my righteousness will stand in their place and they will be counted righteous before My Father.”
Christ is not mediating just before the Father, but he is mediating to the entire Cosmos that the accusations presented by Satan against Christ’s true followers are false, but rather that Christ righteousness is sufficient. Then, as we look upon Christ and learn to love him more for the wonderful gift of grace that we have accepted through faith, then we will with the aid of the Holy Spirit, see in the mirror of the law, were we fail to live up to the law, and desire an even stronger relationship with Christ. Not because we feel compelled to keep the law because we are earning our way to heaven, but because we love God and desire out of love to keep his 10 Commandments.
So the law done away with at the cross could not possibly be God’s 10 Commandments, but instead the ceremonial law which pointed to Christ, in which Christ was the fulfillment of that law, by his death, burial and resurrection. Therefore the ancient Israelites through faith accepted the promise of his grace, where we accept through faith the fulfillment of the promise of grace given so long ago to Adam and Eve and then confirmed to Abraham the Father of all Christ’s followers.
We will pick up this theme in our next post starting with verse 21 which will be at 8:00 pm Central Time.
[i] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, ed. Philip S. Watson (London: James Clarke, 1953), 316