Galatians 3:19–4:11 The Critical Question.
Why the Law?
Key Notes: The Law as our escort. In Christ. One in Christ. Abba. Three uses of the law. The elements.
Now that Paul has covered the basics—the Holy Spirit, Abraham, the Covenant, Faith and the Curse, he comes to the critical question. “Why then the Law?” After he has shown that everyone who does not do the Law completely is under the Curse, we can hardly expect him to say anything positive about it. Given all the surrounding information, why not simply dismiss the Law? He gives a positive direct answer and two illustrations. We will find that there are three uses of the Law. This text is central to understanding salvation.
3:11–22 “[The Law] was added because of transgressions….” If humans were sinless, law would be unnecessary. Humanists may trust in the inherent goodness of human beings but the failure of human goodness has been demonstrated since the beginning of time. The first function of Moses' Law was to discipline and organize a rebellious mass of two million ex-slaves who had escaped from Egypt in the previous three months. They were brought to the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and many practical rules written in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Parenthetically, the law was ordained by angels through an intermediary—Moses. He was the communicator, the link between God, the angels and the people. Two other references confirm that angels were involved in transmission of the Law: Acts 7:53 and Heb.2:2. Why were angels necessary? We do not know.
The next verse is so condensed as to be cryptic:
“Now an intermediary (Moses) implies more than one; but God is one.”
Since Paul has repeatedly compared the Law with the Promise to Abraham, we understand him to say that in the case of the Covenant Promise to Abraham, there was no intermediary, for God made the transaction with Abraham directly. (Gen.15). With the Law, we have both Moses, and angels between God and the people. This also shows the superiority of the Covenant over the Law.
The Law is not against the Promises. They accomplish different tasks. The effect of the Law was to condemn everyone under sin so that the promise might be realized in Christ.
3:23–24 “….the Law was our custodian (servant) until Christ came, that we might be saved by faith.” This is a compelling illustration. In Greek society, the child was accompanied to the teacher’s house by a servant. The servant protected the child from harassment on the way to school, and was to deliver him safely to the master, and home again. The Law takes us by the hand and brings us to Christ to be saved by faith.
Rightly understood, the person who is confronted by the Law responds with “I can’t possibly do that.” The Law in itself is bad news because it is impossible to perform. We are stopped dead at the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex.20:3). God surely would not leave us in an impossible situation. There must be a solution to the problem of demands that we cannot fulfill. The answer is that the Commandments are not the end but the means to bring us to Christ. In Christ, the demands of the Law are met through the Atonement and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the second use of the Law—to bring us to Christ so that we may be saved by faith.
3:26–29 The rewards of coming to Christ are great. We
are in Christ,
have received the Holy Spirit,
are sons of God,
were baptized into Christ,
have put on Christ,
are all one in Christ,
belong to Christ,
are heirs according to the Promise.
Being “in Christ” is a favorite theme of Paul’s, and he uses the expression perhaps 200 times. At least it means being in union with Christ and in His Fellowship. Beyond that it is a concept that is mystical, indescribable. For a longer discussion, see Longenecker's work. (Paul, Apostle of Liberty. R.N. Longenecker, Harper and Row,’64; p.160–170).
Putting on Christ means to clothe oneself with Him. We are also to put on the whole armor of God (Eph.6:11), the new nature (Col.3:10), and incorporate the fruits of the Spirit (Col.3:12). These are rich dimensions of a new life.
In the OT, there are three occasions where the reverse is described: the Holy Spirit “clothed Himself with Gideon” for war against Midian (Judg.6:34); He clothed Himself with Amasai to prophesy regarding David (IChron.12:18), and with Zechariah to rebuke Joash and his court. (IIChron.24:20). That is an awesome concept.
We are all one in Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This verse is used as a slogan by various liberationist groups, taken out of context; but seen in context, it is part of the larger picture of our union with Him, being In Christ. It is clear that in society, Paul considers each of these people-categories differently, and instructs them individually. Women and men are given specific instructions, and Greeks are taught differently from Jews (compare I Corinthians with Galatians). He also deals with social sets such as rich and poor, magistrates and citizens, masters and servants, parents and children. The modern, widely felt longing for total equality, does not have a biblical basis. In the world, Jesus is a divider, not a uniter. He separates out people for Himself. (Lk.12:49–53). But in the Church His great prayer is for unity of the believers. (Jn.17:20–26). I believe He seeks spiritual rather than political unity, although both would be ideal.
4:1–7 Heirs according to the promise is the theme Paul develops next. He introduces his second illustration of why and how the Law works. The Law is like a will. It is of no value to the child, who is not better than a slave, kept by guardians until he comes of age and can claim the inheritance. Like children, unsaved and living under the Law, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe, weak and beggarly elemental spirits (4:9).
The next verse is worth memorizing. Each phrase is rich with meaning. “When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The will was probated by Christ's redemption..
4:5 As sons, the Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts. And it is the Holy Spirit in us who cries “Abba, Father”! (Rom.8:15; Mk.14:36)." Abba" is the personal, affectionate name we may use to speak to our Heavenly Father.
The third use of the Law is given farther on in the text,: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal.5:14) The Law informs the believer of the Will of God for daily living.
The three uses of the Law are:
I. To regulate and discipline Israel and other nations.
II. To bring us individually to repentance and faith in Christ.
III. To instruct the believer in righteous living, how to love God and our neighbor.
First, we are reminded that the Law is good. This is a prominent theme in the Psalms.
“…his delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water…” (Psa.1:2–3)
“…the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold…sweeter also than honey….” (Psa.19:9–10)
“Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psa.119:105)
“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” (Rom.7:12)
The first use of the Law was applied to Israel at Sinai. There was detailed instruction covering almost all aspects of life-- dress, care of skin, rules on sex and marriage, food, land use and worship. The Ten Commandments remain to this day to guide the behavior of people world-wide. We should see the wickedness around us not as ignorance, but as rebellion. Everyone knows “You shall not commit adultery”. (Ex.20:14).The excuses are endless. The reality is unchanged.
The second use of the Law is illustrated in two ways.
As a tutor to get us to school, it is a metaphor for how we go from our innocence as children, to faith in Christ. The spiritual distance is shortened by the training we received in our churches. We are often angered by the failure of main-line churches to give us the salvation message clearly, but they nevertheless give us working knowledge—Bible stories, Scripture reading, songs and prayers that got us part-way and may facilitate our final understanding of Him.
The second metaphor--of the child waiting to come of age and inherit the blessing--contains the idea of elapsed time necessary for acquiring our inheritance. We know a Nepali nurse who could not understand why God allowed her conversion to be delayed from age 18 when she first heard the Gospel, until age 40. But in these years she rose to prominence in Nepali politics where her influence could be felt. She would never have been allowed to come into political life as a Christian. Not all delays in coming to Christ are due to rebellion.
The other part of the metaphor is that the Law keeps us as children under wraps, putting a hedge around us until we come to faith. Some can testify that legalistic restrictions kept them from spoiling their bodies and minds until Christ was revealed to them.
The third use of the Law is often neglected. We live in an antinomian age, a time of lawlessness both in the Church and the World. Some Christians are deceived into thinking that sin is not a problem for the believer who may become completely sanctified. (See I John 1:8,9). Others think that we may do whatever we please because the Atonement covers all our sin regardless of whether it is deliberate or unintentional. That is self-deception.
“For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries.’ (Heb.10:26)
*The ancients believed that there were four elements from which all things in the world were made: earth, wind, fire and water. The astral bodies were also made of these materials, and being much greater, had powers to influence human behavior. Hence we come to the Zodiac and astrology. People are still in bondage to these weak and beggarly elements.
*Peter uses "elements" in its simplest meaning—the basic ingredients of the earth—which he assures us will someday melt. (IIPet.3:10,12). He did not know about the periodic table of the atoms, or nuclear fission and fusion but his warnhing becomes increasingly plausible.
*Another use of the word “elements” is for the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, the ABC’s. Heb.5:12
*But the text also gives us clues about specific bondages that the Galatians and Colossians were subject to. He mentions that the Galatians' elements (4:9): “you observe days and months and seasons and years." (4:10). These are the basic OT laws from which Jewish Christians had been freed.
*"Days" would be legal Sabbath rest and fasting Monday and Thursday.
*"Months" would be new moons. The lunar cycle made special days for planting and harvesting.
*"Seasons" were the festivals: Purim, Hanukkah, Sukkoth, Tabernacles, Pentecost, Passover, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah.
*"Years" were Sabbatical (every 7th) and Jubilee celebrations. (every 49th).
*In Colossians, Paul speaks of the fifth meaning of the elements (Col.2:9)—ascetic practices added to the basic laws by false teachers. These were human traditions, of submitting to regulations “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’“ (Col.2:21), “insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind”. (Col.2:18).