The Law and Freedom's Promise


Benny Phillips continued Redeemer's Galatians series, preaching on Galatians 3:15-25 on Sunday.  So far in the letter to the Galatians, Paul has a specific flow of thought: He has established that we are saved, justified and redeemed only by faith in Christ and not through righteousness of our own.  Any careful reader (or listener) will inevitably have questions about where the law fits into the Christian life, then.  Specifically, Paul answers the question, "Does the law (given to Moses) set aside the promise (given to Abraham)?"

Paul clearly establishes that 1) The promise came before the law.  The covenant was permanent, yes, but Paul contends that we aren't talking about a simple legal contract.  The covenant of Abraham was not an agreement between between two seperate parties, but as Benny said, "it can be thought of as an agreement between God...and God."  The covenant was sealed in blood, and a list of things that God promised.  This validated his covenant in a legally binding way.  And not only that, but all who are in Christ are joint heirs in the inheritance. 

Not only was the covenant permanent but it also had a promise.  This word "promise" occurs 9 times in verses 14-29.  Benny said, "The promise and the law are two seperate arrangements.  To Abraham he said 'I will, I will, I will' but in the law of Moses God said, 'You shall, you shall, you shall.'"  Or, as John Stott says, "The promise sets forth a religion of God--God's plan, God's grace, God's initiative.  But the law sets forth a religion of man--man's duty, man's works, man's responsiblity.  The promise (standing for the grace of God) has only to be believed.  But the law (standing for the works of men) had to be obeyed."  Paul makes the point that the promise takes precedence over the law, since it came first.  This makes the promise an irrevocable covenant, and it also means that the gospel has more to do with Abraham than Moses. This was NOT a happy thought to the Judaizers, who were saying that you needed the law to complete the promise, which was the same thing as saying that God had changed his mind about how to relate to us.  Paul hammers home that we are justified by faith and not works, and that God deals with us based on promise not performance. 

Benny said emphatically, "Salvation does not rest on the law that we inevitably break but on a promise that God cannot break." This leads then to the inevitable question, "Why then the law?"  And he answered that: a) the law reveals sin b) the law has limits c) it cannot give life d) it is our guardian and e) it is replaced by faith.

First, it reveals sin.  "The law came not to tell us about salvation, but to reveal our sin problem.  By reminding us we're sinners, it actually provokes us to sin."  To illustrate, Benny told a story of how he was at a courthouse paying a traffic ticket.  As he walked out of the building, there was a sign that said, "Do not walk on the grass."  What did he do?  Walked on the grass because it was the quickest way to his car.  As Romans 5:20 helps us see, the law is not preventative it is provocative.  Yet again in Romans 7, we are to understand this as good thing.  Calvin says, "The law was given in order to make transgressions obvious, and in this way compel men to acknowledge their guilt." 

But the law also has limitations.  Calvin calls is the first use of the law.  It is for a limited time, and is a parenthesis between the promise given to Abraham and the fulfillment of that promise in Christ.  Verses 1-5 make it clear that the power to do right does not come from the law but from the Spirit.  "The law is a good thing, but it has no power to help us change."

The law cannot give life, and it is our guardian.  Just like a parent with a child, who sets understandable and safe boundaries and punishes when those rules aren't kept, so the law guards us.  Only giving grace to your child, without them having a clear understanding of rules and precepts, won't make grace understandable to them. 

Or much like a prisoner, who is locked up and unable to escape, is reveals that the harder we try to escape the more bound we become.  The law refuses to let us go until it hands us over to Christ.  This, then, shows that the law is replaced by faith.  "Many people want the joy and forgiveness of grace without acknowledging their own sin or understanding the function of the law.  It makes a horrible savior, but wonderfully shows the mercy of God...unless we see how big our debt is, we will not understand the depth and glory of the mercy of God.  The law shows us who we are, so that we will forever be grateful that because of grace we are sons of God, united with Christ, united with others, and heirs of the promise."


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