15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.
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 revealed.
After so much time spent discussing how the Mosaic Law can negatively affect the Christian walk, it’s seems about time to discuss why it’s still important to us as Christians. Today’s passage holds the answer. Verse 19 tells us that the Law was given to let people know that they were sinning – because they were as a whole not walking as closely with God as (for example) Abraham had, they were not directly talking with God anymore, so they needed the Law to tell them how to follow God. The Law can serve the same purpose for us today. As Christians, we are not supposed to do good out of fear of hell, but out of love for God – out of the desire to please Him. The Law gives us guidelines for how to please Him. The second purpose of the Law is this: to point us to Christ. I grouped verse 24 with Wednesday’s post because it is part of a continuing thought, but I will provide it here as well because it explains this purpose: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” Think about it – if we didn’t have the Law, we would not see how high God’s standards are, and how much we fall short of those standards…meaning, we would not see our need for a Savior.
I’m now going to back up to the beginning of today’s passage and borrow both Paul’s method of “speak[ing] in terms of human relations” and his analogy of government laws. Think about the U.S. Constitution – this will represent our salvation. Now, consider that the bulk of the amendments to the constitution are not changes at all – they are only additional bits that help make it easier to follow the constitution itself by enabling us to understand it better. Such is how we should view the Mosaic Law – following its decrees should never replace any part of the grace given to us, but it should help us to understand how to correctly live under grace.
This passage also states that the Law shuts us up (verses 22-23); imprisons us. Under the Law, sin must be atoned for with blood – it is a covenant of death. But remember – Christ came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Because He met all the requirements of the Law, serving as our perfect sacrificial lamb, He has the power to set us free from this bondage. Because of His grace, no one can shut that prison door again! Revelation 3:7b-8 tell us of Jesus, “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one will open, says this, ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have set before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name’” (this concept is introduced in Isaiah 22:22 and 45:1). Remember, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV).
Discussion starters for today:
1- Can you provide additional purposes of the Mosaic Law to the Christian (ideally backed up with Scripture)?
2- God came to set free the captives (Luke 4:18), but when we put ourselves back under the Law, we re-shackle our own wrists. What mindset can we adopt to make our jailbreak permanent?
Next post, we’ll finish chapter three as we examine God’s role as our Teacher and our role as His followers.