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Why Then The Law?

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REVIEW:

Today we reach the half-way mark of Paul’s pointed letter the churches in the Roman Province of Galatia. Ironically, we also reach the apex of Paul’s argument against the Judaizers. In the last section we ran across a critical point of application about how to read the Bible the same way Paul read and understood the Bible. We have to keep the entire storyline of the Bible in mind if we are to truly understand any part of the Bible. So you cannot begin with your circumstances and hope that the Bible speaks to that issue. You cannot begin with current event and hope the Bible speaks to them. You cannot (as the Judaizers did) begin with Moses and the law and interpret the rest of the Bible upon that foundation. You must begin where the Bible begins, with God. You must see that God is the Divine initiator; He speaks and Creation happens. He speaks and man responds. And God’s first action was creative and beautiful and his first words were “It was good.” Everything begins with a good and generous Creator who is sharing his own goodness with his own created beings. If you don’t begin there, you will miss God’s longterm agenda. You’ll miss his intentions with mankind. And because of this, you’ll miss the true nature of God.
You also must see how God interacts with a humanity that has rebelled against his authority. There is no doubt that God justly brings judgement to a people who were wreaking havoc in his good world (like ), but even when mankind deserved to be wiped off the face of the earth, he reached out to one family. The family of Abraham. And even though Abraham was not looking for God, he wasn’t worshiping God, he didn’t love God. God wanted once again to show that even though he had the authority and the power to bring more judgement that instead he would offer protection and provision.
So he entered a covenant with this family of Abraham. He promised them that he would miraculously provide a child for he and his old and barren wife. He also promised them that he would bring blessing to the people of the earth that blessed Abraham’s family and cursing to those who cursed his family. Lastly, he promised this family that he would provide and prepare a land for them to live in that would be unlike any other land he had journeyed to or lived in before. Filled with beauty and flourishing and life and abundance.
God, however, demanded that Abraham lived his life as if what God had said he was going to do, he would actually do. That was the covenant. It was based upon God’s promise and Abraham’s faith. And in the end of the great big story that we read in the Scripture, God has welcomed not only Abraham’s ethnic family into this blessing, but he opened it up for all kinds of people who would believe in him to enjoy his goodness and generosity, like he intended them to from the beginning.

INTRODUCTION:

The Judaizers (the people that followed Paul to undo parts of his message and questioned his authority) must have laughed at what Paul had just said. Paul, you’re living in a fantasy world. Paul you’re just offering people a more palatable message so you can get more followers, probably so you can become more wealthy. Paul you’re not a true apostle. You’re not a true Christian. True people of God obey the law, Paul.
Paul, why don’t you enlighten us all… if what you say is true, “Why then did God give the law?”
Before we continue in the text, you might be wondering, if this was settled in the first century, is it even an issue today? Is this even a message I need to hear? The question is still being asked, and there is still so much confusion in the world today, and there is so much confusion in religion today, and so much confusion in the Church today. Since I am speaking to many of you who consider yourself to be a part of the Church and part of the family of God, my application points will primarily be towards you. However, if you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian and a part of the Church, I believe you can be greatly helped by observing this conversation. The internet if chalked full of satirical shows, skits, movies, and articles that poke fun at Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus and they are typically aimed at the Mosaic Law.
So the same question can be asked from two opposite perspectives: 1. The Jews would ask “Why then the law?” to someone like Paul because Paul preached that your acceptance with God did not come on the basis of strict observance of the law. So, if it doesn’t, why did God give the law? 2. The unbelieving world, on the other hand, looks at the law as an enormous list of arbitrary demands that God gave to a group of primitive people just to mess with them. So, “If God is so good, why did he give people the law?”
There is good reason for asking question number two, but that is not the purpose of the passage we’re looking at this morning. The passage we’re currently looking at comes from a thoughtful and earnest protest from the Jews. If the covenant made to Abraham was the basis of our standing with God, then why would God even give the law in the first place? You need to understand the way that God-fearing, Jewish people viewed the law that was given thousands of years prior to the first century to their forefathers. In their thinking, the covenant was the starting point, but the law was the foundation of their relationship with God.
For the Jews and maybe even for the Galatian Christians, this is where the rubber meets the road for Paul. Because if Paul has no adequate response to the Jews question, the Galatians convert wholly to Judaism (and by doing that nullify God’s gracious act in initiating the covenant.) If Paul says, “the law had no authority or bearing” the Judaizers win and everyone removes the bacon from their refrigerator, gets circumcised, and worships at the temple on Saturday SO that they can receive a place at YHWH’s table.
So how does Paul deal with this delicate question?

EXPLANATION:

Galatians 3:19–29 ESV
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. 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. 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.
The complexity of Paul’s answer informs us of the complexity of the situation. Paul knows that the simple answer to the original question was not going to be enough, he had to dig quite a bit deeper and answer a couple other questions to fully explain what he intended for his readers to grasp.
We have talked a little bit about the law, but I want to be sure that we’re all thinking the same thing when we hear the term, “The Law.” It’s clear from the context that Paul is referring to the Mosaic Law which contained both moral and ceremonial law.
Now, Paul unwinds this obviously difficult subject like this:
First, He defines the purpose of the law
Second, He explains the scope of the law
Third, He details the transmission of the law
Fourth, He exposes the two-fold function of the law

What is the Purpose of the Law?

Galatians 3:19 ESV
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.
The law was added (because) of transgressions - the law (which came 430 years after the covenant) was added (in addition to the promise) because of a stepping over the line.

19 Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins.

Let’s back up for a moment to really get a hold of what Paul is saying. Remember, God chose Abraham, God chose his family to be the family through which he would bring blessing to the whole world. That is what God wanted to do through them. However, what we discover along with Paul by simply reading the OT is that even though the Jews carried with them the solution to man’s problem, they were actually a part of the problem. Why? Because they were infected with the same disease as everyone else. Sin had taken hold of their heart in the same way that sin had a stronghold on the hearts of the pagans.
So, God’s intention with the law was at the very least to show them that they were infected with the same disease that everyone else was infected with. The way that Paul puts it in another letter he wrote is like this:
Romans 5:20 ESV
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
Romans 5:
Commentator William Hendrikson captures the purpose well when he wrote:
“By reason of the transgressions, therefore, the law was added, so that when the law demands nothing less than perfect love for God and the neighbor, and the man sees clearly that there is very little of this love in his heart, he may by means of this realization be led to the Savior.”
Interestingly enough how many people inside the church and outside have assumed that the law’s primary purpose was to prevent sinning? Yet, to really understand this you must admit that error and realize that God added the law to reveal sin, not prevent it.

The Purpose of the Law was to Reveal Man’s Sinfulness

What is the Scope of the Law?

Galatians 3:19 ESV
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.
The scope is that the law is added until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…
The offspring (as we learned last week) is Christ. And the promise that God made to Abraham was to him and his offspring, or to him and Christ, which is shorthand for to those who have faith in Christ.
To carry on the analogy that I used partially in the last section of a doctor who carries with her the vaccination for a disease, yet is infected with that disease, that doctor must be quarantined temporarily until they receive the vaccination themselves.
The law was like a temporary quarantine until the medicine could be applied to the Jews themselves, but not just the Jews. The promise was made to Christ and all of those who trust in him.
So the point Paul makes by bringing in the scope of the law was to show that the law was never intended to be permanent, but temporary, until the Messiah came.

The Scope of the Law was that it was to be Temporarily in Place until the Messiah Came

it was to be Temporarily in Place
until the Messiah Came
Now for the third part of Paul’s answer to “Why then the law?” he details the transmission process of the law

How was the Law Transmitted? And why does that matter?

There have been large sections of books and commentaries written trying to answer what I’m going to spend a very little amount of time on. Because the answer is NOT the most essential piece of this puzzle. But it is important…
Galatians 3:20 ESV
Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Galatians 3:19–20 ESV
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 in addition to the law being added for the purpose of revealing sin (not preventing it) and in addition to the law being temporary, the law was put in place through angels (which is really Paul’s way of confirming that the law was indeed from God and it was indeed holy and good) and also a mediator (which is Moses at Mt. Sinai).
That’s easy enough to understand, until we try to figure out why that matters? Why does that matter? And in order for us to get to a conclusion we have to transport ourselves back to an era of when the messenger still really mattered. We still have this hierarchy to an extent, but in ancient days when Kings were gods and the final authority, the King did not “do his own bidding.” The King had myriads of messengers and mediators. And depending on the importance of the message you could get a lowly servant boy, to an official ambassador. But when the King had a message that was too sensitive, private, or important that he couldn’t risk it being confused or lost, he would speak himself.
Romans 3:29–30 ESV
Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Paul is making the case here for the hierarchy of importance. He is saying, “God gave the law to angels to give to Moses to give to the people. That was important. But when God made the promise to Abraham, it wasn’t through angels, it wasn’t through a mediator, it was directly from his own lips.” And because a message given through an intermediary creates two separate families, the law could not be part of God’s permanent plan because his plan (as we’ve said many times) was to have ONE multi-ethnic family. Paul says the same type of thing in:
Romans 3:29–30 ESV
Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Therefore Paul’s point seems to be that:

The law was not to be put up against the covenant. They’re not competing messages.

But this then leaves the door open to ask, “Was the law contrary to the promise?” And that’s exactly where Paul goes. And he goes there because of how the Jews had distorted the original purpose of the law. To give a quote from the Mishnah (Published at the end of the second century CE, the Mishnah is an edited record of the complex body of material known as oral Torah that was transmitted in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Basically it was a book of the Jewish study and interpretation of the law.)
The NIV Application Commentary: Galatians The Question about the Historical Function of the Law (vv. 21–25)

Mishnah Aboth 2:8 says, in an interesting list of wisdom, “lots of Torah, lots of life,” and then says, “If he has gotten teachings of Torah, he has gotten himself life eternal.”5

You see how far Jewish thought had gone from what was originally promised to Abraham before the law came on to the scene. So back to the question, is the law contrary to promise?
Galatians 3:21 ESV
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.
How are they not competing messages? The promise fulfilled in Christ brings LIFE, the law was never given that assignment. The law had a different assignment, to reveal the need for life because of the transgressions that were already at work in the hearts of every Jew.
To go again to the medical analogy:
When you’re being given an MRI or CT-SCAN the purpose of the scan is to expose what is inside. The scanner does not work against the treatment or surgery that comes after the scan. To ask the law to fix the problem that is inside is unheard of. Yet, when the Jews were shown to have a depraved heart because the law showed them they did, they continued to go back to the scanner hoping that after each scan they might eventually be getting better, but you know what was discovered—the test had the reverse result.
Galatians 3:21 ESV
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.
So, No! Paul is not saying that the law and the promise were at odds with each other. In fact, what Paul is saying is that the law and the promise were working in harmony together to bring about the goal that God had from the beginning. If God had designed the law to be a way to bring life, then our right standing before God would come by relying upon the law. But that’s not the way that God designed it. He, as Paul noted earlier, designed the law to make it plain that the Jews (even though chosen by God) had a problem that was just as bad as the pagan Gentiles.
But that’s not all that the law was assigned to do. The law had a purpose, but it also had a scope, and a transmission process, next we’ll see it also had a very practical function revealed in two parts, one negative, and one positive. Look at what Paul says next:
Instead of him saying that the law revealed sin, Paul uses an illustration to

What was the Function of the Law?

Galatians 3:22 ESV
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

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.

This is where we can now see the Galatians and even ourselves as a part of this story. Paul hasn’t really said anything new because if the law revealed that Israel needed a redeemer, it would be just a different way of saying that Israel was imprisoned by the law or as Paul says, Scripture. Except for one word, did you see it? Paul doesn’t say “us, you, or Israel,” he says, “everything is imprisoned under sin because of 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.

But we must expand this the way Paul does, he doesn’t even say everyone, he says everything. It’s much like what Paul says in:
Romans 8:20–23 ESV
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8:
This means at the very least that everything evil we see in the world around us is actually not worse than what God saw inside of us. You now have an insiders look at your very own depravity. And yet, so often when we look at the evil in the world we look at it from an eye of superiority instead of through the eyes of compassion. Our neighbors, our communities, our families should be seen as people who are locked in the prison of sin, and they are not to be avoided as though we are going to catch the sin-coodies. Instead, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We must bring the good news that the rescuer is the key to being freed from this prison. And there will be some who ignore, mock, and reject, but with true love and compassion we will see many come to be freed from their bondage.

The first function of the law is to imprison everything under the control of sin

… but why? so that what was promised by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. In Christ, the promise has now come true and not for only one ethnic group, but for all who believe. No one can show credentials of ethnicity or morality, the only credential we have is that we all have faith in Jesus.
I am afraid that a picture has been painted for those who are outside of the church that is totally inaccurate. The picture is that you must meet a certain moral criteria to be a Christian. And if that were the case, we’d all be hopeless. What God asks of us is that we acknowledge our need for him (for which the law reveals) and that we offer him our trust instead of our independence. And that message is just as much for the Christian as it is for the non-Christian. Because the ailment of the human race is that we crave independence so much so that any threat to our craving leads us to once again scrape for autonomy and independence.
The second function of the law was to be a guardian until

APPLICATION:

As we pause here to reflect just what this means for us today, we must at least see this: regardless of your ethnicity, your religious background or any other category God had a plan from the very beginning to bless the whole cosmos with a right standing with himself; in other words, his plan was that he as God would live in harmony with his creation. But because of man’s desire for independence from God, God allowed not only the effects of sin to blast on the scene, he added the law that put everything in handcuffs, but it was never his plan to keep everything in that prison, but to free man and creation alike to once again live in harmony with himself.
And I know, it’s easy to wonder, when we look around, we see anything but harmony with God. And that is because God is patient, Peter tells us that He is waiting for those who he has called to turn from their independence from him right to his arms that are open, waiting to receive those who will trust in him, with a warm welcome. And at a time of God’s choosing, he will return and punish those who refuse to repent and reward those who trust him with his own presence on a new earth that is free of the hopelessness and brokenness we see all around us.
And for those who have turned to God by trusting in Jesus, before this gives us freedom, this gives us incredible assurance. Because if the law cannot bring life, but Christ could, then that life that we so often claw and scrape and grasp for is already a sealed

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