The Necessity of the Law (Galatians 3:19-29)
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 3:19–3:29
The Necessity of the Law
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
July 29th, 2012
I. The Torah Today
Here's a question you don't hear everyday: “What part does the Law of Moses play in your everyday life?” Does the Law that God gave to Moses, the 613 regulations listed in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, does that law make any difference in your daily decisions and daily direction? Listen to how one Jewish blogger described how at least some professing Christians would answer that question:
"Torah keeping" or "Torah observant" Christians are Christians who, recognizing that Yeshua (Jesus) was a Jew, and in an earnest desire to lead what Christians refer to as "Christ-like" lives, have done a close reading of the Torah and chosen to participate in many Jewish practices, including Shabat (Sabbath) and other holidays, keeping Kosher [recognizing clean and unclean foods] at least in part, and the circumcision of their sons on the eighth day after birth...As a result, many Christian blogs boast a seemingly Jewish lifestyle. One recipe blog asks that those wishing to contribute recipes refrain from offering those calling for pork or shellfish...Still another [website] included a picture of all the children in the family, including the boys sporting kippot (small hats that cover the top of one's head) and side locks (hair grown from above the sideburns).
So...what do you think? Ready to give up bacon? I doubt that any of us are interested in going this direction in regard to the OT Law. But if not, how do we think about this important part of God's word?
This morning we continue our ongoing study of Paul's letter to the Galatian churches, picking up where we left off in chapter 3, verse 19. But let's talk a little about where we've come from.
II. The Passage: “Until the Offspring Should Come” (3:19-29)
As we think about what we've learned thus far from this letter, we know this question about the role of the Law in the Christian life speaks to the very issue that has prompted the Apostle Paul to write so passionately to these relatively new Christians in Galatia. As we've seen, these disciples of Jesus were predominantly Gentiles, that is, they were non-Jews.
But certain men, certain so-called Jewish-Christians had come from Jerusalem and had crept into these communities, teaching these believers that in order to be good Christians, the Galatians also had to be 'good' Jews. These men were teaching the necessity of the OT Law in terms of being right with God. They were in essence saying, “If you are not circumcised and do not observe the Law of Moses, you cannot be children of Abraham; you cannot be counted among God's people; you cannot be righteous before God.”
But in verses 7 and 9 of chapter 3, Paul has made it abundantly clear that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham...So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. And in verses 15-18, Paul explains that since the Law was given hundreds of years after God's covenant with Abraham, the Law cannot nullify what God had already established through Abraham, namely, that He would bless the nations through faith.
A. Because of Transgressions (3:19, 20)
But in light of what the Galatians had been told and had accepted, at least to a certain extent, and in light of everything Paul has laid out so far about Abraham and Moses, about the promise and the Law, the obvious and logical question to be answered is the very question Paul begins to answer in verse 19. Look at verses 19 and 20 with me:
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.  Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
So if Paul is telling them that God's plan had always been about fulfilling His promise to Abraham and about righteousness through faith, then why the Law? Maybe God changed His mind. Maybe the Law was an experiment...that eventually failed. Maybe God was forced to go back to the promise because the Law turned out to be a dud.
No, Paul tells us here that the Law was ADDED. It was not a replacement, it was an addition. It had a role to play in the original “promise to Abraham” plan. But, as verse 19 makes clear, it was a temporary addition. The word “until” confirms that... “until the offspring [that's Jesus (v. 17)] should come to whom the promise had been made”.
And I think the superiority of that promise is highlighted in the second half of 19 and in 20. Paul's reference here to the Law being “put in place through angels and by an intermediary” is probably a reference to Moses and his role in delivering the Law and representing the people. This is simply a reminder that, when it comes to the Law, God did not deal with the people directly.
“But”, as we see at the end of verse 20, “God is one.” I think that statement is meant to highlight how the Law differs from the promise, since God gave the promise directly to Abraham. There was no intermediary!
But the key point here is that verse 19 does confirm why the Law was temporarily added: because of transgressions. Now at this point, it isn't exactly clear what that means. It could mean the Law was given to point God's people away from transgressions. It could mean the Law was given to teach God's people about making atonement for transgressions. Or it could mean the Law was given to formally define transgressions.
All of those would be legitimate answers in light of everything God has revealed in Scripture. Only the context can help us understand what Paul is emphasizing here, and I think Paul's emphasis becomes clear in the next set of verses. Look with me at verses 21-24...
B. From Transgressions to Faith (3:21-24)
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.  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
At this point, Paul's readers may be thinking to themselves, “If God counted Abraham's faith as righteousness, but then gave the Law to Moses to promote righteous living, then isn't the Law contrary to the Promise?” And Paul has already told them in verse 12 that “the law is not of faith”. So again, maybe God gave up on the Promise and replaced it. Maybe God switched from what HE would do and, through the Law, put the emphasis on what WE must do.
Paul is very clear in terms of a response to that idea. Verse 21: Certainly not! (or: Absolutely not! May it never be! No way! God forbid!) God doesn't work in contradictory ways like this. He isn't indecisive. He isn't trying to figure things out as He goes along! No, Paul has already begun to explain this. The Law was ADDED because of transgressions. And I think he explains what he means by that, starting in verse 22.
The Law was not given to inspire us. It was given to indict us. The Law was not given to set us free. It was given to imprison us! It was not given in order to give us life. It was given to kill us. Paul explains this precise idea very clear in Romans 7:
...if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (Romans 7:7-1 1)
You see, the Law was added in order to prepare God's people for the coming of Abraham's offspring, Jesus Christ. And it did this by making our need for faith absolutely clear. You see the Law exposes our utter weakness under sin, and thus, is intended to drive us toward God's strength in faith.
But in verse 24, Paul switches from the language and imagery of the courtroom and the prison to the language and imagery of the household. Yes, the Law was a like a warden, but it was also like a custodian or guardian. The actual Greek word Paul uses here in v. 24 is the word paidagogos (from which we get pedagogue). The paidagogos was slave who was entrusted with watching over a nobleman's son and making sure he got to and from school, and that he behaved properly according to his family's position.
This custodian or guardian was not the teacher, but he made sure the boy was brought to the teacher. Paul says the Law has this same function. Yes, the Law imprisonsed God's people under its indictments. But it should also be understood positively, as guarding the people and bringing them to the school of faith.
C. From Captive to Son (3:25-29)
But look at what Paul emphasizes in verse 25 about the role of this custodian or guardian:
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
So in verse 25, Paul comes right back to this idea that the Law was only a temporary addition to God's main mission, codenamed, “Operation Promise” or “Operation Faith”. And this is precisely what the Galatians needed to hear (v. 25): “we are no longer under a guardian”. We have been made right with God through faith. The custodian has served his purpose!
And so what we see Paul doing here is starting to crank the steering wheel a little bit more in order to bring the whole chapter back around to where he began in verse 7. As those who were told they were on the 'outside' without the Law, Paul wants to drive home the glorious reality that they are the 'inside' because of Jesus Christ.
How could they be on the 'outside' if they are “sons of God, through faith” (v. 26)? If the Holy Spirit has baptized them into the body of Christ (v. 27), then, in terms of belonging to God's people, there is no distinction between them and Jewish believers. They all belong! There is no distinction between those who are slaves among them and those who are free. They all belong! There is no distinction between the women and the men. They all belong! Obedience to the Law will not make them Abraham's sons. Jesus, the offspring, has already done that!
III. Responding Rightly to Our Failures
So this morning, we come back around to our initial question: “What part does the Law of Moses play in your everyday life?” Or we could ask, “What part should the Law of Moses play in your everyday life?” The Galatians have not been the only Christians you have wrestled with that question. Followers of Jesus have been thinking about this issue for 2000 years.
They have read verses like Matthew 5:17…“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… Or Romans 7:12…So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good…Christians have read verses like these and wondered what to do with all of that OT ink devoted to the Law of Moses.
But as we’ve seen, Paul speaks to that issue this morning. Paul would argue that Jesus did “fulfill the law”, and that “the law is holy”. Does the Law have value for us today? Yes, and Paul will touch on this in chapter 5. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Law ultimately served a temporary function: as I’ve already stated, the Law exposes our utter helplessness under sin, and thus, was designed to drive us, in faith, toward God's help in Christ.
You see, the false teachers in Galatia were right, in some sense. How?
Well, they were somewhat correct in proclaiming the necessity of the OT Law in terms of being right with God. What they were horribly wrong about was HOW the Law was necessary. It wasn’t necessary like a ladder. It was necessary like a thermometer. (2x) The Law doesn’t show us how high we can climb. It shows us how sick we really are.
When you are reading through the Old Testament (and you should be), think about how the moral requirements of the Law point to our moral failings; think about how the purity laws point to the ways we are too conformed to the world; think about how the social laws point to our failures to walk in justice with one another; think about how the festival laws point to our selfishness with OUR time, and to the fact we are so prone to forget God’s wonders; think about how the sacrificial laws point to the reality that our sin leads to death…to the reality that we desperately need forgiveness. In light of the Law, who can boast before God?
And even though the Gentiles in Galatia did not know the Law of Moses beforehand, they had some basic understanding of right and wrong. As Paul wrote in Romans 2: …when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts… (Romans 2:14, 15a)
Listen, all of us know, and are still growing in an understanding of how God has called us to live, how God has called us to obey in terms of our words, actions, thoughts, and priorities. But as we continue to battle against the influence of sin, we will fail. And when we do fail, the question is, how will we respond to our failures? There are three ways we can wrongly respond: 1) we can deny or try to rationalize our failure, or 2) we can beat ourselves up and sit in despair, or 3) we can pick ourselves up and say, “I think I can… (3x)”.
But those last two responses arise from the twisted perspective Paul is fighting against in this letter. Both of those responses are focused on what I CAN DO…on MY strength. But as we’ve seen this morning, God’s design (through the Law of Moses, or His law written on our hearts…His design) is to show us we CANNOT do it…that WE are weak and not strong.
In 1980 a man named Willie Jones was admitted to an Atlanta hospital with a temperature of 115.7 degrees. Friends, our spiritual temperature is 215.7! We are hopelessly sick because of sin. But when we recognize that, when we know that we have failed, we don’t simply sit in despair OR tell ourselves, “I just have to try harder”. No, in every failure God wants to drive us in faith to Jesus Christ.
In our disobedience, we must trust in HIS obedience. In our moral poverty, we must trust in HIS riches. In our weakness, we must trust in HIS strength. In our emptiness, we must trust in HIS fullness. In our defeats, we must trust in HIS victory on the cross. Why? Verse 24… in order that we might be justified [acquitted and made right with God…that we might be justified] by faith [by trust]. THAT has been God’s plan all along.
24 days after he was admitted, Willie Jones was discharged. He had completely recovered. There is also hope for us…in Jesus; through Jesus. When we believe Jesus isn’t enough, we turn to things like the Law. But the Law cannot save us. What it can do is prove our helplessness and drive us toward God’s grace.
When you stumble, remember how Jesus ran the race. He fulfilled all that the Law required. And because He did, we can now walk in His fullness…by grace, through faith.