Looking forward to our Numbers party this Sunday after service! Try to come ready to share one thing you learned in your GAME time in Numbers. (You'll have a chance in small groups to briefly share with others that day.) Now onto today's passage...
What's the main message of Galatians? It's that we are justified by faith in Christ and not by trying to obey God's laws. (Remember that "justified" means to be declared righteous and blameless in God's sight, worthy and qualified to be in God's presence, to have a relationship with God and to be in heaven with Him.) As an example of "justification by faith", Paul focuses on the life of Abraham, how Abraham believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness. In other words, God justified Abraham not because he perfectly obeyed God's laws, but because Abraham believed God's promise.
Now in Galatians 3:15-22, Paul answers some questions on how justification by faith works if God gave laws for His people to obey in the Old Testament.
Question 1: Did God set aside His promise to justify people by faith when He introduced the Jewish law? In other words, when God used Moses to introduce the Jewish law, was God basically saying, "Forget all that justification by faith stuff I did with Abraham 430 years earlier. From now on, if you want to be justified, you need to earn it by obeying my law perfectly"?
Answer (v. 15-18): No. By introducing the Jewish law, God was not setting aside His promise to justify people by faith. Rather His promise is a lasting promise, given not just to Abraham but to Abraham's "seed", which Paul takes to mean Jesus and, indirectly, anyone who places their faith in Jesus. God's promise to justify people by faith was not set aside by the law, but continues to this day.
Question 2: If we are justified by faith and not by observing the law, why did God give us the law?
Answer (v. 19-20): The law was added "because of transgressions until the Seed [that is, Jesus] to whom the promise referred had come." In other words, God gave us the law (1) to show us how perfect His standards are and how far we fall short of them, (2) to govern us until Jesus came, and (3) to point us to our need for Jesus to save us from our sin.
Also, in verses 19b-20, Paul adds that the way God gave people His promise to justify by faith and the way He gave them His laws were very different. The law was given through a mediator: God gave it angels, who in turn gave it to Moses, who in turn gave it to us. In contrast, the promise was given directly by God to Abraham.
Question3: Is there a conflict between God's law and God's promise to justify people by faith?
Answer (v. 21-22): Absolutely not, Paul says. God's law and God's promise are not in conflict, but they are working together. The law shows us how sinful we are -- that the whole world is under the control of sin -- and how far we fall short of God's standards. If anything, God's law shows us that the only way to receive righteousness is by believing in God's promise, "through faith in Jesus Christ" (v22). The law and the promise work in tandem to show that righteousness is not earned by obeying the law, but "given to those who believe" God's promise.
Thank You, Father, for removing from us the burden of trying to win your approval and earn righteousness by obeying Your laws perfectly. We couldn't and we can't. Thank You for Your laws which show us how perfect You are, how imperfect we are, and how much we need a Saviour. Thank You that You didn't leave us helpless, but You sent the hero we need -- Jesus Christ -- to save us from our sins. Thank You that by believing in Jesus and the promise that we are forgiven through Him, we can receive Your righteousness and be justified. In Jesus' name, AMEN!