How Law and Faith Work Together
Paul's key point thus far in his letter to the Galatians is that the blessings of salvation are obtained through a system of faith, not law. He argues that it is our association with Jesus based on our faith in Him that enables us to share in the many blessings that accompany salvation He brings. One could compare it to a poor person marrying someone who is rich. You share in the wealth by marriage, not by merit. In this example, baptism would be the wedding ceremony where the poor person (the sinner) is united with the one who is rich (Christ).
In the previous chapter we began discussing some of the blessings that are obtained by faith and how to keep these in our possession. Paul has mentioned two so far: the blessing of righteousness and the blessing of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. These are obtained by faith, not works of law and tradition as the Judaizers claimed.
Paul also mentions that we maintain these blessings in the same way that we obtain them: by faith. I continue to be righteous before God because I continue to believe in Jesus, not because I manage to get everything right after I become a Christian.
In citing these two blessings Paul speaks to both Jews and Gentiles. In chapter 3:6 however, he mentions another blessing received by faith that his Jewish readers would identify with more than their Gentile brethren. This was the promise of Abraham, another blessing received exclusively through faith in Christ. In verses 6-29 Paul not only explains that the promise of Abraham comes through faith in Christ, but that the Gentiles receive it in the very same way.
Before getting into the text, let us first review what Paul is referring to when he mentions the promise of Abraham. When God originally made this promise He was assuring that Abraham would receive:
- Protection from his enemies.
- A great nation that would descend from him.
- A land of his own.
- Blessings for himself and that all nations would be blessed through him.
With time these promises were summarized by Jesus as being the assurance that they were God's special children, that their land would always be theirs and they would always be protected by God.
Paul will go on to explain that the essence of the promise was that Abraham and his descendants were being blessed and preserved so that through them Jesus would ultimately come and when he did, all of the spiritual blessings promised would be given to Him, to Jesus!
Once Christ had obtained all of the blessings then everyone would have access to them through a system of faith. This was God's plan in distributing the spiritual blessings of heaven as promised to Abraham.
Blessings Have Always Been Based on Faith
6Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
Paul begins by demonstrating that the faith system has always been the principle by which God operated. Even with Abraham, God imparted righteousness based on his faith. He was not inventing a new system but rather fulfilling the system which had always been in place. Sons of Abraham were all those who arrived at righteousness in the same way Abraham did: through a system of faith.
8The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you." 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
The heart of the gospel message, the good news, is not that Jesus is Lord; the good news is that through Jesus the Lord salvation is offered to man based on faith (otherwise he could not obtain it).
As the first one to hear and believe the message Abraham would:
- Himself be blessed with righteousness.
- Be the spiritual father of all those who would respond in the same way. In this manner all nations would have access to the blessings of salvation because they would be offered through a system of faith.
Paul brushes aside the Judaizers' argument (that one must first be circumcised and follow Jewish customs and laws before becoming a disciple of Jesus) by saying that only through his gospel could one truly become a "son of Abraham."
Now Paul contrasts the system of salvation by law keeping.
10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them."
The Law was given to reveal sin and condemn sinners. Anyone trying to justify themselves through law keeping had to perform perfectly. There was no grace, and any failure led to condemnation.
11Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "The righteous man shall live by faith." 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "He who practices them shall live by them."
Paul argued that Scripture itself (the Law and the prophets) taught that righteousness came through the faith system, not the Law keeping system. The gospel he preached therefore did not violate Jewish theology.
13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"
That the Savior was crucified was an obstacle to faith for the Jewish mindset. Jesus' death and especially the manner of it did not fit the image of a glorious savior that they expected and also seemed to violate the Scriptures concerning someone who was executed.
Paul goes on to explain that the curse of the Law was that everyone's sins were revealed by the Law and consequently were condemned by that same law. And yet even with this knowledge men were helpless to stop sinning or remove the punishment that hung over them. The Law did not give one the power to stop sinning or provide any way to appeal to God for mercy or forgiveness. Those were its main weaknesses. Jesus came and annulled this curse in three ways:
- He lived a perfect life and thus fulfilled the requirements of the Law once and for all.
- He offered His life in order to pay the moral debt owed by all men on account of sin. This was done according to the demands of the Law. A perfect life to redeem an imperfect life, and since His was a divine as well as a human nature, the quality of His sacrifice was such that it could pay for the sins of all men not just one man.
- He promised to give the Holy Spirit to all men so that they would be empowered to stop sinning.
Paul explains Christ's death was the curse He bore for us. It was a shameful thing for a Jew to die on a tree (executed as a criminal), but Paul says that it was our shame, our deserved curse that He innocently bore for us. The Apostle explains the curse in relationship to Christ's work on the cross in order to help Jews see that the curse was shameful indeed, but it was our shame that Christ bore, not His own.
14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Once the curse had been removed, everyone could now be blessed. The Jews had access to righteousness because the Law that condemned them had been fulfilled. The Gentiles had access to righteousness because the Law that had limited them had been removed.
15Brethren, 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.
After establishing the idea that salvation through a system of faith has always been God's way of dealing with man, Paul begins a new thought.
He explains a principle of law familiar to them:
- That when a covenant (testament) is made and ratified, you cannot undo it or change it afterwards (like a will).
- This cannot be done with man-made laws and certainly not with God's laws either.
16Now 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.
In the next verse Paul makes his point. The promise or covenant was made by God with Abraham. This covenant was established. The basis of the promise was that the seed of Abraham would receive the promised blessings (Genesis 22:18). He explains that the seed of Abraham was Jesus Christ. The blessings were not intended for the Jews alone as a special nation, but rather for Jesus Christ who would come out of this nation.
17What 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.
Four centuries after Abraham, Moses led the people out of Egypt, and God gave Moses the Law. The point is that this giving of the Law did not change the original covenant made with Abraham. Christ was still to be the recipient of the blessings and the faith system the manner in which all would have access to them. The Law did not change this.
18For 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.
The blessings were originally promised and received by faith, but if the system was changed and now they are obtained by law keeping, two things happen:
- You have added and changed God's original covenant.
- There are no longer any gifts based on promise, they must now be earned.
19Why 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.
Now Paul answers a natural question that might be posed to him at this juncture, "Why was the Law given?" In answering this question he explains that God gave the Law by the hand of angels through the mediator, Moses, for several reasons:
- For transgressions
- To reveal sin
- To mitigate against evil (divorce, food, etc.)
- To reveal condemnation on account of sin
- To prepare men for Christ (the seed)
- To reveal God's way of dealing with sin through atonement and the sacrificial system. Atonement for sin requires death.
20Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.
The Law did not replace the promise or change the promise in any way, and the way it was given demonstrates this. The promise was given directly by God to Abraham, one on one, as a covenant is done. The Law was given to the people by a mediator, Moses, who received it from God amid thousands of angels (Deuteronomy 33:2). The Law was not an addition to or a limitation of the promise, but rather a divinely appointed and temporary measure whose purpose was served when Christ came.
21Is 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. 22But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Even though the Law does not change the original promise to Abraham or cancel it, Paul is quick to add that it does not contradict or work against the purpose of God either. Paul merely points out what it was not meant to do, and that was to make men righteous. It was brought in to prepare men to understand their own sinfulness and how God was to deal with it through Christ, and then offer righteousness through a system of faith as originally promised to Abraham. First the promise, then the Law to prepare men for the promise, then the fulfillment of the promise in Christ.
After explaining that the faith system is scriptural, and then providing the reason and purpose of the Law, Paul summarizes how both worked together to bring us to Christ and the end result of this.
Paul uses the word faith in two different ways: faith as belief, and faith as in the faith, the gospel, the revelation of promise.
23But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
Before Jesus came, the Law served as a restrainer, to guide or mitigate until the gospel was revealed.
24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
Tutors were usually well-educated slaves who were responsible for the care and education of rich young Roman and Greek boys. They were not the parents but had the necessary authority from the parents to discipline and train the child. Once the child came to maturity he was then released from the tutor, free to receive his inheritance.
Paul makes this analogy in reference to the Law and how it trained and disciplined God's people until they were ready for sonship, maturity and the inheritance promised from their Father. God used the Law to prepare us to receive the promises by faith in Jesus Christ.
25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Now that the faith (Gospel) has come, it is the sign that the tutor (the Law) is no longer necessary. It has served its purpose.
26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
The principle summarized. The essence of the promise was that all would become sons of God and inherit the blessings that come with that position. That promise is obtained through the faith system originally revealed to Abraham. The gospel reveals the one who demonstrated perfect faith, obtained all the blessings for us and in whom our faith must be: Jesus.
27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
The expression of faith is explained. Abraham expressed his faith beginning with circumcision and ending with the offer of his own son Isaac. He wasn't perfect and failed in many ways, but his intention was to remain faithful. Our expression of faith begins with baptism and ends with offering of ourselves as living sacrifices in service and purity (Romans 12:1-2).
According to the Bible, faith has three components: trust, obedience and acknowledgement. Many have an incomplete definition of biblical faith seeing it merely as an acknowledgement of the proposition that Jesus is the Son of God without the elements of trust or obedience.
Abraham's faith is the model:
- He trusted God to provide for him.
- He acknowledged God's presence.
- He obeyed God's directive, with the intention to obey perfectly. (This is why only God can judge, because only He can see the effort of the heart.) He did not always do this well, but the purpose of his will was to do it and thus he was considered righteous.
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The result of the faith system. Unity of believers through Jesus Christ. Men are still men and women are still women, but now through this system of faith they can all have a relationship with God and with one another on a spiritual level that was not possible before. This does not free slaves, give women authority in the church or eliminate cultural differences—we are still what we are and still play the roles we do. What it does do, however, is reveal that in God's eyes all those united to Christ are of equal value and recipients of the blessings.
29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
The purpose of God's plan. God fulfills His original promise to Abraham: all nations are blessed through the seed of Abraham—Jesus Christ. For the Jews who knew the scriptures, the revelation was not that the Gentiles would be saved (this was repeated often by the prophets); the great revelation was that they, the Jews, would be united to the Gentiles in order to form one people in Christ.
In this long passage Paul has one objective and deals with three issues. His objective is to show that the promise made to Abraham (in all of its terms: sonship, righteousness, blessings, etc.) was obtained through a system of faith, in the same way that all the other spiritual blessings are apprehended. The faith system has always been the way God has transferred blessings to man. In this context he explains three things:
- The faith system is scriptural; it was what God required of Abraham and of everyone who was to come to Him, both Jew and Gentile.
- He explains the scope and purpose of the Law. Why God gave it and what it could and could not do.
- It could prepare us for Christ.
- It could not change God's faith system.
- It could not make men righteous.
- He summarizes how the Law worked to bring us to Christ and the result of the faith system. The faith system produced:
- Personal righteousness.
- Unity in Christ for all regardless of culture, sex or class.