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The Law and the Promise February 9, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 3:15-25.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding the Galatians that they obey the civil law by not altering a person’s last will and testament; how much more, then, should they not alter God’s “last will and testament” that He gave to Abraham and his descendants? Now this testament was freely given to Abraham – and it was made in his descendant, Jesus Christ. Also, God gave His law long after He had already given His promise to Abraham; thus, His law could not abolish His promise. If God’s blessings could have come by the law, then His promise would have been in vain; yet He freely gave His blessing to Abraham.

Now Paul asks the Galatians: if God’s blessings do not come by the law, then why did He give the law in the first place? In fact, He gave the law so that sins would increase and be revealed to mankind until the incarnation of Christ – the One who is referenced in God’s promise to Abraham. He reminds them that God’s law was ordained by angels – and by Moses, who was inferior to these angels (in contrast to the new covenant, which was ordained by Christ). Men offended God, and so they needed Moses to intercede with God on their behalf; now Christ has interceded with God on their behalf, and His intercession permanently reconciles them to God.

Paul then cites another objection to the Gospel – namely, that man’s failure (or success) in terms of observing God’s law causes Him to delay (or hasten) the fulfillment of His promise. This is false, as no law that God gave could, by men’s success in terms of observing it, hasten the fulfillment of His promise. Instead, the Old Testament asserts that men are subject to the curse of sin and eternal death – so that those who believe in Jesus Christ can receive God’s blessing that He originally gave to Abraham.

Paul states that before the incarnation of Christ, men could not free themselves from the terrors of the law, as they knew that they were subject to God’s eternal wrath. Yet God gave His law so that men might be:

  • humbled by the ensuing revelation of their sinfulness
  • come to Christ
  • be declared righteous by Him.

Paul concludes by asserting that after the incarnation of Christ, believers are not subject to God’s eternal wrath – and so the law cannot terrify them any more in that regard.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul discusses the role of Moses as a mediator between God and His people – who had offended Him. Luther offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

Moses’ intercession does no good here; he has done his job and has now vanished, with his veil. Here the wretched sinner, quite desperate and approaching death, encounters the offended God. There must be a mediator quite different from Moses to satisfy the law, take away its wrath, and reconcile to God the poor sinner who is guilty of eternal death.

Now we see in Deuteronomy 18:15 that Moses knew that Christ – at some point – would surpass him as a mediator. Thus, I wonder what thoughts occupied his mind as he delivered a plethora of commandments, regulations and ordinances to the people of Israel as recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Perhaps Satan tempted him to interrupt his delivery of God’s law and inform the Israelites, “by the way, you won’t be able to follow this entire law perfectly, and so you will be cursed no matter how you strive to obey it. You have to look beyond this law to be right before God.” Did God only partially reveal His will to Moses regarding justification (which would have diminished the force of that hypothetical warning on his part)? Perhaps God prevented Moses from fully understanding this mystery of justification, as his exhaustive list of laws would illustrate the magnitude of His holiness to the Israelites (and show them their inability to emulate His holiness).

Verse 22 clearly states that all men are under the curse of the law and are subject to God’s wrath. Luther offers some insights on this point:

These verses clearly say that sin imprisons not only those who sin blatantly against the law or do not outwardly obey the law, but also those who are under the law and try their best to obey it. Whatever is without Christ and his promise, whether it be God’s law or human law, ceremonial or moral law, without any exception, is a prisoner of sin. The policies and laws of all nations, however good and necessary, and all ceremonies and religions too, if without faith in Christ, are and remain under sin, death, and eternal damnation.

Luther’s comments caused me to mull over the following thorny issue: how can we, as Christians, effectively communicate to an outwardly righteous non-believer (i.e. one who constantly shows kindness to others yet does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior) that they are “under sin, death, and eternal damnation”? Of course, numerous passages in Scripture affirm this truth, yet it is often difficult to persuade such non-believers of its reality, especially when they do not affirm the reality of Jesus Christ. One approach in this regard entails presenting them the historical evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If they could be compelled to – at a minimum – mull over this body of evidence, this process could plant some seeds of faith in their hearts. Another approach in this regard entails believers examining their own lives and seeing how they can – both inwardly and outwardly – show kindness to others more often. In some ways, this latter approach can be more effective than the former in terms of evangelism.

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