Christ and the Law 1

Galatians 3: 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

The purposes of the Law (regardless of whether it is civil, ceremonial, or moral) must not be allowed to stand in the place of Christ. If the Law was not meant to save sinners and not sanctify them either since Christ is the justification of the believer and Christ is the sanctification of the believer, then what purpose was and is the Law? This is a vital question and it is not an easy answer. However, it simply must be dealt with honestly and biblically. We can answer this question differently with different theological categories, but we cannot arrive at the biblical truth without answering the question from the biblical point of view.

The question (v. 19) comes from the background of how the Law came 430 years after the promise to Abraham. The promise of Christ to Abraham is the glorious promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God made a covenant with Abraham that He was going to bring forth the seed from Abraham and this covenant was one of promise. The Law, which came 430 years after Abraham, did not invalidate the promise of Christ to Abraham. In fact, if we read this in context, the Law came about to show us the need of Christ. The Law did not come in as a way of life or as a way of holiness, but instead it came about to show us our great need of a Savior.

This must be a point that drives deeply into our souls. The purpose of the Law was to be a tutor or teacher to prepare for Christ. The promise was for Christ and the Law, which came over 400 years later, was not against the promise and did not add or change the promise. The Law was part of the plan to keep men under custody of the Law and be their tutor to take them to Christ. The Law does not stand against sinners in this sense, but it is to show them and teach them of Christ. The Law does not stand against believers and has no power over them to curse them or have authority over them.

When we step back and look at the picture that Galatians gives us, we can see that the Law had a good purpose. The Law was and is centered upon Christ and was never meant for anything else in terms of what its primary goal and function was. “Why the Law then?” The question of Paul was answered (by him) in what follows: “It was added because of transgressions.” The Law was added because of transgressions. On the surface of it that seems rather meaningless. However, Paul is driving at a point for us. The Law was ordained through angels. The Law had a purpose and the Law had an end. The Law was ordained through angels, yet the promise came by God Himself. The Law had an end and that was when Christ (the seed) who was and is the promise would come.

We are left beholding the glory of God and His wise and sovereign plan in bringing forth Christ to save sinners. While many would want to divide the civil, ceremonial, and the moral laws at this point, the Bible does not do so and in fact will not allow it. Since the Law was added because of transgressions, it had the moral law in mind as well. Since the Law cannot impart righteousness, we can know that the moral law was in mind there as well. The Law in all of its aspects came in order to be a tutor to lead people to Christ. The Law is not opposed to Christ in truth and the Law does not replace or instruct Christ in truth. The Law came because of transgressions which is to say that it came to show men their sinful hearts and expose their sin. That is the major reason for why it came. It came to show sin.

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