Exposing Our Needs
- John A. Huffman, Jr. Pastor, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, California
- Published Oct 22, 2009
Fifth in a Series
(March, 2003 POL)
Topic: The Law
Text: Galatians 3:26-29
Why is it so difficult for you and me to admit that we have a problem?
We men are chronic at what is almost a gender-oriented disability. We get in our car to go somewhere convinced that we can find our way without specific directions. After wandering around futilely in the general vicinity of our destination, our wives suggest that we stop and get directions, only to fuel in us a greater determination that we know precisely what we're doing. We refuse to get help until finally we're forced to admit that we're lost. Why is it?
Our study workbook in Galatians describes Jill calling out, "Honey, you had better call the repairman. Our TV is on the blink again."
"Who needs a repairman!" Ron replies confidently. "I can fix it myself."
Four hours later, "There, that should do it." As Ron plugs it in, there is a loud buzzing noise, smoke rises from the TV, the lights begin to flicker, and then darkness blacks out the room.
"Uh . . . maybe you're right, dear," Ron says sheepishly. "I suppose calling a repairman couldn't hurt."
Whether we're dealing with frustrating but not so crucial issues like these all the way to those debilitating addictions of drugs, alcohol, sex, power, and greed that hold us in their stranglehold, we somehow think that we can solve the problem ourselves. We learn that when it comes to addictions, you and I are helpless to solve them on our own without the help of our "higher power."
This is precisely what the Apostle Paul is addressing in Galatians 3:15-29 as he continues to deal in this doctrinal section of chapters three and four with the theme of Grace and the Law.
The bottom-line thesis is that the Law is there to confront you and me with our need of outside help and then to point us to Jesus Christ as the only one who can give that help.
He is the one who gives the best directions. He is the one who is the true repairman. He is our "higher power" who can do for us what we cannot do in our own effort.
Last week we saw the Apostle Paul as he gave the personal argument for the importance of grace, not law, to be prevalent in our lives. He called those Galatians "foolish" who had been "bewitched" into exchanging the freedom which was theirs and the amazing grace through Jesus Christ to shift gears from faith in Jesus Christ alone to salvation by works.
He then gave the scriptural argument, going back to passage after passage in the Old Testament, emphasizing that if we are to live under the law we have to obey every aspect of the law. But even the Old Testament Scriptures talk about justification being through faith in God, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and then specifically to the case study of Abraham who pre-dated the Law of Moses by hundreds of years. Galatians 3:6-14 not only mentions the righteousness that was credited to Abraham through faith, but hammers away on both Old and New Testament statements to declare without question that we are justified by faith, not by works. We are clothed in the righteousness which Christ earned on our behalf on the cross. Not by our feeble efforts at earning a righteousness based on our adherence to the Law.
Now he moves into the logical argument that has a four-step progression to it.
First, in Galatians 3:15-18, Paul declares that the law cannot change the Promise.
The word promise is used eight times in these verses, referring to God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise was given approximately 2000 B.C., preceding by centuries the Law of Moses which came at about 1450 B.C. Judaizers argued that the giving of the law changed that original covenant of promise. Paul emphatically argues that it did not.
Paul argues that you can't change a covenant. A third party can't come along later and declare something agreed upon before to be null and void. God made the covenant with Abraham. The will cannot be broken. The inheritance stands as God intended it to. It was a covenant of grace, based on God's promises to Abraham which Abraham received in faith. Abraham did not initiate the covenant, buying from God His favor on the basis of all the good he would do. Paul writes:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)
The fact that Moses came along some 400-plus years later, receiving the Law at Sinai, does not abolish the prior covenant between God and Abraham.
Second, in Galatians 3:19-20, Paul declares that the law is not greater than the Promise.
He's not saying that there is no purpose for the law. What he is saying is that although there is a purpose for the law, the law still must be seen as subservient to grace. It comes under the Promise. It does not replace or become superior to the Promise. He writes:
What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one. (Galatians 3:19-20)
As impressive as is the giving of the law as we see it in Exodus 19, and as important as Moses is to the history of the people of Israel, the Law was temporary. Nowhere does God say to Abraham, "I make this promise to you, and if you keep the conditions of this you will be blessed." This was a promise based on grace, not on works. The Law was temporary. It depended on the parties meeting certain conditions. And it was the function up to the end-point, " . . . until the Seed (Jesus Christ) to whom the promise referred had come." The Law required a mediator. It was received third-hand. It came from God to the angels to Moses and on to the people. When God made His covenant of promise with Abraham, He did it personally without a mediator. "God is one" who initiates the covenant with Abraham--the ultimate covenant, and there is no need for a go-between.
The Judaizers were caught up in the incidentals of the Law. Paul looked beyond those incidentals to the essentials. The covenant of grace, the promise of God, was greater than the law.
Third, in Galatians 3:21-26, Paul declares that the Law is not contrary to the Promise.
It is at this point the Apostle Paul injects a whole new dimension to his argument.
By this time, after all these weeks of preaching, you're probably beginning to wonder why in the world was there such a thing as the Law? After all, part of the rich heritage which we have in biblical revelation is God's revelation of His will to the Jewish people through His great lawgiver Moses. Was God just wasting His energy? Not for a moment.
It is now that we begin to get some understanding as to why God gave the Law. God is not contradicting himself.
What Paul is saying is that the law does not contradict the promise. Rather, the law cooperates with the promise in fulfilling God's purposes.
Or another way of stating it is that the law and grace, instead of being contrary to one another, actually are complementary to each other.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe, to whom I am somewhat indebted for this basic outline, makes three emphatic statements that emerge from this text.
Statement one: The Law was not given to provide life.
Certainly the law of Moses did regulate the lives of the Jewish people. But it did not, could not, and never would provide spiritual life to the people. If life and righteousness could have come through the law, then Jesus Christ would never have had to die on the cross. It was the "worship of the law" that led Israel into the self-righteous religion of works which led, ultimately, to the rejection of Jesus Christ. Paul writes, "Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law" (Galatians 3:21).
Statement two: The Law was given to reveal sin.
Paul writes, "But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe" (Galatians 3:22). Law and grace cooperate, helping the lost sinner come to Jesus Christ. The law shows the sinner his guilt. Grace shows the sinner the forgiveness which he can have in Jesus Christ.
Do you get the picture? That's exactly what the law is. It is a mirror which shows us a picture of ourselves. We look into it and we see our ourselves. Our face is dirty. But if you look into a mirror and see that your face is dirty, you don't then wash your face with the mirror, do you? The cleansing comes through the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The law is useful to reveal our sin to us. The law is useless in providing salvation. All of us have sinned. And all of us may be saved by grace. It's not a matter of pick or choose. The law shows us our need, and it points to Jesus Christ.
Statement 3: The Law was given to prepare the way for Jesus Christ.
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:23-27)
Perhaps there's a practical way to try to explain this. It comes out in the phrase of Galatians 3:24, "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith."
In the Greek world there was a household servant called the paidagogos. This person was not the schoolmaster. This person was usually an old and trusted slave of high character who had long served the family. This person was in charge of the child's moral welfare. It was a duty of this person to see that the child of the family stayed as much as possible out of temptation and danger so as to have the opportunity to grow up into a fulfilled adult. Each day this person accompanied the child to and from school. He didn't actually teach the child. It was his duty to get him to school, delivering him safely to the teacher.
Paul is saying that the law has this kind of a function. The law is there to lead us to Christ. It is not there to take the place of Jesus. The law shows us that we are incapable of righteousness. Our very sense of failure leads us to Jesus in awareness that we are not dependent on law but on grace. To push the analogy a bit farther, the slave was not the child's father. He was a child's guardian and disciplinarian. He was a kind of custodian or high class babysitter.
The law did not give life to Israel. Instead, it regulated the life of Israel. The Judaizers taught that the law was necessary for life and righteousness. Paul is saying that they are in error. The work of the guardian was preparation for the child's maturity. Once the child came to maturity, he no longer needed this guardian. For the law was a preparation for the nation of Israel until the coming of the promised Seed, Jesus Christ.
Fourth, in Galatians 3:27-29, Paul declares that the Law cannot do what the Promise can do.
Paul concludes this logical argument by reminding us that we are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. By our baptism we have been clothed with Christ, literally laying aside the dirty garments of sin and being clothed in fresh clean garments of Christ's righteousness on our behalf.
When a Roman child came of age, he took off his childhood garments and put on the toga of adult citizenship. Paul is saying, "Why in the world are you taking off your adult toga and putting on children's clothes?"
Then he concludes with that gargantuan statement about the oneness we have in Christ Jesus. He declares: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:28).
A first-century Pharisee would pray each morning, "I thank Thee, God, that I am a Jew, not a Gentile; a man, not a woman; and a free man, not a slave."
Aristotle declared that only a comparatively few people could really live worthwhile lives. He named four classes who never could. Slaves could not, for they're the tools of other men. Those who die young could not, for they've not lived long enough to achieve true happiness. Those who are diseased could not, for they are necessarily miserable. Paupers could not, for they do not have sufficient of this world's goods. Take these four classes from first century society or any society and how many would you have left?
Perhaps now you get a feel for what grace can do in an individual life and a society when such narrow restrictions are removed. That is why we say the ground is level at the foot of the cross. That is why, in the chauvinistic society of the first century, the Apostle Paul spoke words of liberation, freedom in Christ.
For God's sake and yours, let's let the mirror show us our need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.
Let's let the guardian escort us into spiritual maturity.
Let's see the Law as a vehicle to Grace and the freedom which is ours in Jesus Christ, not the end in itself.