I am convinced that if believers would understand–and I mean really understand–the truth of the following passage of Scripture, then we would walk in true freedom and magnetic peace. It’s huge. The evidence that most Christians do not understand what we are going to discuss today, is everywhere. You can see it in Facebook statuses. You can hear it in Christian songs. You can hear it at Christian bible studies. You can hear it in Christian pulpits. And most of all, you can hear it people’s hearts as they share their stories with you. I hear it All THE TIME.
If you have been following the blog through the book of Galatians, then this information will be nothing new to you. However, I, for one, need to re-believe this as truth every day of my life. Here’s our new text for today, Galatians 3:19-22:
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
I love the questions Paul asks. He is truly a teacher at heart. A good teacher is a good student. He/she knows how to look at their material and then scrutinize over what questions a student will ask. He has just gotten done in verse 18 talking about the inheritance coming by the promise and not the law. So, he asks what he thinks his audience will wonder: “Why then do we need the law?” He simply says, “because of transgressions.” Now, according to the ESV Study Bible, there are four possible explanations that theologians/scholars give regarding Paul’s answer:
- to provide a sacrificial system to deal temporarily with transgressions
- to teach people more clearly what God requires and thereby to restrain transgressions
- to show that transgressions violated an explicit written law
- to reveal people’s sinfulness and need for a savior
All four of these are theologically true and accurate, but the last is probably at the forefront of Paul’s mind.
I want to jump right to the heart of this passage: in any of those four reasons given above, do you see “provide righteousness” or “offer forgiveness” or “give redemption” or “make dead sinners live” or “save people from their sins”? NO!! The blessed point of this passage, and more specifically v. 21, is that God never intended for the law to GIVE LIFE…because (brace yourself for really great logic here) it CAN’T!!
We get really messed up in our Christianity when we become convinced, dare I say deceived, down deep in our hearts that the law’s purpose is to give us life and God’s covenantal love. It’s NOT!! Hear me–the promise was given, because God’s perfect love and acceptance COULD NOT COME BY THE LAW but only through Christ’s righteousness. You can never earn the very thing that God always intended to be a gift of grace.
Plainly (as plainly as God taught it to me just this week), the promise and the law have different purposes and thus have different functions.
Say I had a huge pimple–and I mean the kind of pimple that has earned the title “Z-I-T”–and I asked you for the miracle zit cream that you just created (and it really, really works). But instead, that night, after you gave it to me, I looked in the mirror and said, “Huh–that’s interesting. Those wrinkles weren’t there when I was 31!…maybe I’ll use this miracle cream to get rid of them.”
Question: when I see you the next day, can I be upset or hurt or angry at you that I still have my wrinkles, even though I used your miracle zit cream?? Of course not, that wasn’t its purpose!! Even worse, I still have my Z-I-T because I failed to use the cream for its created purpose!
The purpose of the promise was to give life by faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe (v 22). The purpose of the law was to show us that we need that life because we are dead in our trespasses and sins (v 19). Mixing up the two is bondage. Bondage. Bondage.
The purpose of the law was NEVER to cleanse us from our sins. But so many of us try to make it perform that very function. We think that keeping the law (doing all the right things, not doing the wrong things) will do what it was never intended, and therefore unable, to do. Just like the miracle zit cream couldn’t erase my wrinkles, the law can’t put us in right-standing with God–it can only make us see our wrong-standing.
If you believe in your deepest heart of hearts that God is pleased with you or displeased with you based on what you do or don’t do; if you think that He changes his opinion of you according to your behavior; if you feel secure in your relationship with God only when you have been a “good” Christian, but feel like He’s mad at you if you have been “bad”; then hear me loudly and clearly, you have the purposes mixed up, devastatingly mixed up.
Receive the freeing truth of Galatians 3. Reject the binding lie of the hater of your soul.
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not!” (v 21) They just have different purposes.