|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 14
Meditation Title: Promises before the Law
Gal 3:17,18 The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
The apostle Peter sometimes struggled with Paul's writings obviously : “our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Pet 3:15,16). Thus we shouldn't be surprised when we have to make an effort to take in and understand what Paul says sometimes. Let's recap Paul's argument in this chapter so far:
v.1-5 Power came through believing, not through works.
v.6-9 Abraham is an example of belief being all that is needed.
v.10-14 The Law brought a curse and Jesus took that curse.
Now Paul wants to give another Old Testament illustration to prove his point: “Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life.” (v.15a). He's going to start with something they all knew about in everyday life and then relate it back to history. See how he starts out: “Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.” (v.15b). A human covenant probably refers to a person's will. As children we cannot alter the will that our parent(s) produce. It's a legal document that stands until they might change it – but we can't.
Right, says Paul, the promise that God made to Abraham was a covenant, just like a will: “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.” (v.16a) and “the covenant previously established by God.” (v.17b) Paul clearly sees that promise of blessing to Abraham as a covenant or binding agreement on God. But, he goes on, that promise or covenant, actually referred to Christ: “The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.” (v.16b). The ultimate working out of that promise of blessing to the world would come through Christ who, humanly speaking at least, came through the family descended from Abraham. Now, hold on to that, is what he next implies because that initial covenant of blessing that would come through Abraham's family – ultimately through Christ – was not put aside by a subsequent covenant – the Law introduced at Sinai. “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.” (v.17)
Look, he goes on, if that initial promised inheritance of blessing depended on keeping the Law, then that original promise which had stood for over four hundred years before the Law, becomes meaningless – but it was a promise by God and (implied) God does not lie or withdraw His promises. “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” (v.18)
The truth is that the Law was valid, it was God-given, but it was to help Israel live good lives with peace and harmony prevailing within their society, but it was NOT the means of bringing them the blessing that God had already promised Abraham, that would come through Christ.
This is important for us to understand. It is not merely something consigned to Jewish history that has no significance for us. It is very significant for us. God has given TWO things and they are both important: first the promise of His blessing which will come through Jesus and bring us salvation, and second, the Law which, as I have referred many times to them, we might consider God's design-rules, ways for human beings to live in accordance with the way God has designed us.
Now we do need to recognise that the ceremonial parts of the Law applied to Israel only and, as the writer to the Hebrews explains, they have been fulfilled by Christ, and so we should not be trying to apply them today. There were also laws that applied specifically to Israel as a nation under God and it is therefore difficult to apply them to our societies today, but there was also a body of law, started in the Ten Commandments, which is applicable to mankind wherever they live and whenever they live – but these are NOT the means to salvation, just guide lines of how to live harmoniously according to God's design. Salvation comes purely through faith in Christ and that means faith to come to Christ, and then faith to live with Christ.
Can we see this distinction? Paul will go on to explain the purpose of the Law, but for the moment, the thing for us to take hold of is the truth that keeping the Law is not the way to salvation, only faith in Christ is. Everything else flows out of this faith. Amen?