Galatians 3: Law, a Temporary Tutor

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  Galatians 3:23-25

Paul has answered the first charge.  He is an apostle, sent by Jesus himself.  Now he turns to the second charge leveled by the Judaizers.  How dare he set aside the law, which was given by God?

Testimony Concerning Law; 3:1-15.  Paul begins by pointing out that even though law was given by God, it has nothing to do with the new life which comes from Christ.  He reminds these “dear fools of Galatia” of their own experience.  Did the Spirit come to touch their lives through law, or faith?  Wouldn’t it be strange, since the Spirit was received through faith, if Christians could “attain your goal by human effort”?  No, law has nothing to do with life (1-5).

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Paul points to Abraham.  He too was saved by faith (cf. Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4).  The principle of faith that brought Abraham salvation is the faith principle that operates in Paul’s gospel now preached to the Gentiles (6-9).

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Paul quotes the testimony of the Scripture.  The law brings a curse, not life.  The very OT the Judaizers accuse Paul of abandoning it testifies that “the righteous will live by faith” (cf. Hab. 2:4)  In the death of Christ he experienced the curse of the law — for us.  His death was a redemption — a purchase which takes the thing bought off the market!  The death of Christ was for the purpose of making the blessing that came to Abraham available to all, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (10-15).

Paul adds one devastating observation.  Abraham’s faith came in response to an unconditional promise made to him by God (15,16: cf. Covenant).  The law, introduced some 430 years after the promise was made, could not replace or set the promise aside (15)!  The promise speaks of what God will do and implies inheritance through his action.  Law speaks of what man must do and implies inheritance through human performance (17, 18).  We must make a choice between law and promise, for they rest on mutually exclusive principles!

Since in fact God “gave it to Abraham through a promise” it is clear that law is totally irrelevant to our new life in Christ.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

The Law and the Promise
15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

The Function of Law; 3:19-25.  Paul now underlines the fact that law is unrelated to life.  Law was “added because of transgressions” to reveal the sinfulness of sin (cf. Rom. 3:19, 20; 5:20, 21).  Thus law has always related to sin, not righteousnesss (Gal. 3:19).  This same verse points out that law was always intended to be temporary.  It was introduced long after Abraham and passed away when Jesus, the object of the Abrahamic promise, appeared.

The next verses show that while the promise imparts both life and righteousness, law can impart neither (3:21).  All law accomplished was to make the world aware that man is a prisoner of sin and turn his eyes toward Christ.  Aware through law of our desperate condition some at least might seek justification by faith (3:22-24).  Now that faith has come with Jesus, law is no longer in charge of us (3:25).

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

21 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. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.  23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

The last few verses of this chapter (3:26-28) belong with the argument developed in chapter 4.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.


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