What Then is the Point of the Law
Verse 21 then raises a second question. A question that Paul anticipates from the Judaizing party and even from us today. That question is: “Is the law then against the promises of God?” The answer Paul fires back with is “Certainly Not!” As he saw it and as we should also see it, the law and the promise has complementary functions, for they worked together. For the law points out sin and drives sinners to the promise in Christ for the forgiveness from the curse of the broken law (verses 10-14).
So, then is it impossible for the law to be against the promise, because God gave both to his people? The Law and promise have different functions, but this does not make them contradictory. The purpose of the law is to point out sin while the promise (which is Christ and the saving Grace He provides) is to provide the solution to the sin problem. Consequently, the two have a complimentary relationship.
Interestingly, Paul implies in verse 21 that it was the Judaizers who pitted the law against the promise in their claims that salvation comes through the law. His answer to that proposition he sets forth in the second half of verse 21, in which he writes that “if the law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”
This is a crucial point for us all to understand. Especially since so many in our day teach that in the Jewish dispensation people were justified through law-keeping, but that since Christ came, humanity is saved by grace. For Paul and all of us today that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. For it has always been impossible to be justified before God by obeying the law. That was never its proper function. Paul is stating that from the time the promise was given to Abraham, which was just echoing the promise that had already been given to Adam and Eve, that salvation has only been achieved through Faith in Grace.
Verse 22 brings this to light where it says, “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (ESV). The verse has to key points. The first is that everyone is imprisoned under sin. It would appear Paul had Deuteronomy 27:26 in mind, which he had quoted earlier in Galatians 3:10. “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” Paul makes it clear in Romans that “all have sinned” and “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” Here in Galatians he has just framed the thought differently by stating all are imprisoned under sin.
Paul also sets before us the solution to that imprisonment – that being “Faith in Christ.” To Paul and for us that was and is the only way that anyone throughout history could ever be saved from sin. It was true of Abraham, Moses, the apostles and Paul and it is also true of us today. Sin has always been a jailer and Christ has always been the one to set us free. It is not the acquiring of merit by doing good things that releases us from the prison of sin, but our expression of faith in Christ and what did for us on the cross (Galatians 3:13).