This is the seventh message in a series of studies by pastor Murray McClellan. It is our prayer that you are blessed through his labors in God’s Word.
Demonstrated in the unchanging promise of God and the purpose of the law (Galatians 3:15-29)
Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not!
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
After reminding his readers of the curse of the law and the blessing of of Abraham by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ – the One who redeemed His people from the curse of the law – Paul expounds on God’s redemptive history as it culminates in Christ. The promised blessings of God’s favor can only come upon a sinner through the grace and wisdom of God. Nothing can change the promise and purpose of God. Everything in redemptive history was working toward the glorious fulfillment of God’s promise in Christ. Everything was moving toward that “fullness of the time” when “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law that we might receive the adoption as sons, and because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!'” (Gal. 4:4-6) Yes, the promised Spirit, as the blessing of Abraham has come upon the nations through faith!
Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. (v.15)
Paul starts by giving an example from everyday life – from “the manner of men.” When a man makes a covenant or a will, nobody can change what he puts in that will. No one can cancel or add to any part of it. Now, if that is true in human affairs, how much more is it true of the immutable God? When God sets out His purposed counsel, nothing can change it. “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19) The Lord stated in Isa. 46:11, “Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.”
What was God’s expressed purpose? God made a promise to a man named Abram (later his name was changed to Abraham [meaning “father of a multitude” – compare Rev. 7:9] as a testimony to the promise). This promise was one of pure grace from beginning to end. God set apart this pagan from the land of Ur and told him that He was going to bless him. God was going to bless Abraham in the promised Seed in whom this sinner would be justified in the sight of God. Abraham would not be alone in this. God had promised to make a great nation who would be God’s special blessed people. It was God’s own good pleasure to do so – for His own glory – to display His grace and goodness.
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. (v.16)
Paul is very clear in this passage that the promise was not made to, nor fulfilled in the physical seed – the Jews. God’s real ultimate promise had to do with one Seed – one Man – who is Christ! This promise was the gospel of verse 8 – “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’” (Gal. 3:8) This was the gospel that Paul preached as an apostle of Jesus Christ – justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the promised Seed of blessing. The promised inheritance would come to Abraham and all those spiritually united with Christ through faith.
God’s plan, established before the foundation of the world, is constant. Though progressive revelation and dealings with men, revealed more details of this glorious plan, all paved the way for His coming – His suffering and entering into His glory. Even in the garden, at man’s fall, God revealed a glimpse of His grace when He told of the Seed of the woman whose “heel” would be bruised by the serpent, but in so doing, the promised Seed would crush the serpent’s “head” (Gen. 3:15).
Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, God continues to add details regarding this glorious Redeemer to come – the promised Seed. He is the promised Seed that would come through the line of Abraham in whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. In fact God states this specifically in Gen. 22:18 to Abraham right after painting an incredible picture of just how He would indeed bless the nations of the world. God in the beginning of Gen. 22, commanded Abraham to go with his only son Isaac (the one of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your Seed shall be called’) unto the land of Moriah to a specific mountain. Why a specific mountain of Moriah? God had His eye on Mount Moriah. Many years later, in response to a rash and unbelieving action of David, God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it (1 Chron. 21). David erected an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. David purchased this plot of land and began to call on the Lord as God had directed him. When the angel of the Lord came to this place, the sword of death was stopped. Where was the location of this threshing floor? Why it was Mount Moriah – that mountain ridge that runs through Jerusalem! It was here that the temple was built where the sacrifices, that pictured our Lord and His once for all sacrifice, continually took place.
Now Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (2 Chron. 3:1)
This mountain ridge – Moriah – actually had the wall of the city of Jerusalem cut through it. Outside the city, where the mountain ridge was cut through, it actually looks like a skull. Thus, that place of Mount Moriah is called Golgotha. Here on this same mountain ridge where Abraham was tested in being told to sacrifice his son; where God provided a ram as a sacrifice as a substitute for Isaac; the Seed of Abraham was crucified. It was here where God did not stay the “knife” against His only Son. It was here, as decreed and purposed by God, that Christ would die as the substitute for His chosen people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The angel of death and judgment sheaths his sword when coming to this place- for it is here on Calvary that Jesus Christ has already shed His blood in sacrificial death for all the nations of the world.
On this same Mount Moriah, where the promised seed of David would build God a house – the temple built by Solomon shadowed the reality. The ultimate Seed of David, on Mount Moriah, would, through the redemption of the cross, build His Father a spiritual house of living stones (Compare 1 Chron. 17:10-14 with Acts 2:29-36 and Eph. 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-10). The cross was truly shadowed in the temple!
Is not our sovereign God most glorious in working out His promise?
His plan has never changed. God reaffirmed this promise to Isaac and then Jacob. Even when Jacob and his offspring went to Egypt some 430 years before the giving of the law, God’s promise was standing firm.
And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (v.17-18)
Jacob’s descendants went into Egypt and came into severe bondage. In the land of Egypt, God raised up Moses, through whom God would would display His delivering power. After displaying His power through 9 plagues, God brought it all to a head in the passover. Again we see that God was not changing His plan, but establishing it. In the passover lamb we are given an incredible foreshadowing of the perfect and final Passover Lamb who was sacrificed for those who did and would believe. Then by faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians attempting to do so were drowned (Heb. 11:29). God lead the children of Israel (Jacob) through the wilderness to Mount Sinai where He made a covenant with them. God gave them the law which carried with it blessing for perfect obedience and a curse for any act of disobedience.
In the giving of the law, God was not changing His plan. He was not annuling “the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ that it should make the promise of no effect.”
What is the function of the law in God’s plan of redemption?
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. (v.19-21)
The law was given to convince men that they were guilty sinners who needed a Savior. The law did not change God’s promise. “It was added” to show people how much they needed the promise.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:19-20)
“The law entered that the offense might abound.” (Rom. 5:20)
The heart of man is deceitful and people have the prideful tendency of thinking of themselves as righteous or at least “not that bad.” In fact man will even change the standards to help quiet the quilt he feels in his conscience. When God gave the law to Israel (representing mankind – thus every mouth is stopped) man then had a measuring stick – a plumb line set in stone – to measure themselves against instead of their neighbour. When the law is laid down and man breaks it, he is a transgressor of the law and it reveals him to be the wretched rebel he truly is in his heart. The law gives the knowledge of sin to the sinner so he can no longer excuse or justify his guilt, without clearly suppressing the truth.
The law only had a temporary purpose.
“It was added… TIL the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.” Once Jesus Christ has come, the Redeemer was here; the reality of all the pictures and shadows. In fact, with the coming of Christ and even greater measuring stick is laid in place – for in Jesus dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily. When one lays their life against the perfection of Jesus Christ, he comes out full of darkness. The law has fulfilled its purpose now that Christ has come. His perfect, holy life convinces of sin and our need of grace if we are to ever be blessed of God.
The law was not against the promise. “God is one.” His giving of the law worked in harmony with the promise, revealing man’s sinfulness and guilt and driving him to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness of our iniquities is a part of the blessing promised to Abraham in his Seed.
You are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your Seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” To you first, God, having raised up His servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities. (Acts 3:25-26)
There is no forgiveness in the law for a guilty sinner. The law itself is holy, just, and good. That’s just the problem for man who is not holy, not just, and not good. The Mosaic Covenant did not work against the promise, but in fact, had the role of a tutor to lead us to the promised Seed – Jesus Christ!
The law, like a mirror, reveals my filthy stain of sin. Is there any way I can be made clean? Yes, there is a way. Jesus said, “I am the Way!” The law says you are guilty and deserving of death, “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)
Is it not glorious to have seen the truth about our wretchedness; to stop trying to justify ourselves? How wonderful to be absolutely humbled as a guilty ungodly sinner, because there is a Savior for just such sinners! There is a High Priest who is fitting for us. Does it not feel good to be clean; to have washed robes, made white in the blood of the Lamb?” (Rev. 7:14)
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:18)
I am glad the inheritance is of promise – the promise of our immutable God in the Seed, who is Christ!
But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. (v. 22-23)
All Adam’s descendants are born slaves. We are born into a state where we find ourselves at enmity with God – enslaved and held captive by sin. In fact, the testimony of God’s Word is that all the world is “under sin.” To be under sin is to be guilty and condemned. The word “confined” means to be shut up or imprisoned in bondage. It is also used in Luke 5:6 in reference to a great group of fish “caught” in a net. These fish are caught and condemned to die, with no ability in themselves to escape. The word is used again in v. 23, where it is translated, “kept“. The law does not free anyone from being under sin. Rather, it shows indeed that we belong in confinement on death row. The law guards and watches and if we disobey, it’ll kill us. It will sentence us to death. It will condemn us. It relentlessly watches ready to condemn even one act of disobedience. In Acts 9:24 the same Greek word that is translated “kept under guard” in our passage here, is translated “watched” in reference to Jews who were watching the city gate carefully so that they might kill Paul. “And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.” (Acts 9:24)
The law permits no escape.
The law can by no means clear the guilty. It continually reveals our sin and our guilt. The only way of escape was through faith in Christ who died to put away our sins, so that we could be released through a righteous means. The promise of deliverance through faith in the Christ who would work out a full redemption was indeed good news to those confined under sin. Jesus Christ is the blessed hope of all sinners – Jew or Gentile, “for there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:22-23) Justification can only come to guilty sinners “freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:24)
Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress” learned this same truth in the Scriptures and he stated, “Sir, I perceive by the Book in my hand that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment.” That knowledge of sin and judgment drove him to the cross of Christ!
In particular, the Jews had been kept under the law covenant established at Sinai. This kept them as a distinct and separate people through whom the Promised One would come. They were locked up under the Mosaic covenant until the Messaih came and fulfilled the law and the promise.
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (v.24-25)
A tutor was not a boy’s teacher. The tutor was usually a servant who would watch over his master’s son. He would take the boy to school, make sure that he learned his lessons, and would take him home again. The tutor would be his disciplinarian and would keep him in line. When the boy would step out of line the tutor would “train” him with a rod or cane. The tutor would have this role until the son reached maturity. The tutor never played a permanent role in the life of a boy. It was only necessary when he was a child. So, too, the law …. “before faith came…” (v. 23) …”was our tutor…” (v. 24) …” no longer under a tutor…” (v. 25) Its role ends with the age of fulfillment – with the coming of Jesus Christ; the substance of all the promises. The Seed has come ‘to whom the promise was made.” (v. 19)
When Paul says, “before faith came” in verse 23, he does not mean that Old Testament saints were justified by works; for the fact “that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident.” (v. 11) Paul has argued Abraham was righteous before God because he believed the gospel (v. 6-9). There is a difference, however. What he beheld in figures and types and promise, we have beheld in clear fulfillment and finished reality. Before our eyes, Jesus Christ has been clearly portrayed as crucified (v. 1). What the prophets of old longed for and what the law was powerless to do, God Himself has done!
Believers, we have come of age! We are members the new covenant through His blood. We are members of His body. We are complete in Christ! We have the prophetic word confirmed. Let us rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. We were slaves of sin, but the Lord has set us free! We did not recieve the spirit of bondage again to fear but we received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Since we are God’s children, we are heirs – joint-heirs with Jesus Christ! (Rom. 8:15-17) What could be better?
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (v.26)
Hosea 1:10 reads, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered, and it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.'” What an amazing truth that Gentiles like us and the Galatians, who were not a people are now brought into sonship through faith in Christ Jesus! When I think that God has declared Himself to be my Father, it is overwhelming. By His grace, I now, as an adopted son according to the good pleasure of His will, share in His inheritance as a joint-heir with His only begotten Son.
When I think that I, once confirmed under sin as a guilty rebel, was enslaved in the bondage of sin. I was under the sway of a wicked and cruel taskmaster and I loved his service well, for he kept me chasing after elusive moments of pleasure. Yet when all was said and done, it was vanity – grasping for the wind. My damnation was deserved. I had earned it well. But God…. God designed the year of Jubilee. But who is worthy to open my prison? When I saw I was confined under sin, condemned and unclean, I wept much because no one was found worthy to open my cell, to redeem this slave, or who would even look upon such as wretched one.
But one of God’s messengers came to me, with the Word of God in his hand and in his mouth and said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open your prison and loose your chains!” He is my kinsmen Redeemer! He has paid the price for my redemption not with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from my aimless conduct received by tradition from my fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
He is of our bloodline. He is a descendant of Adam – born of a woman, yet without sin. To all of us who truly believe, He is our elder Brother who has redeemed us! His Spirit He has sent, that we might not travel this sod alone. Through that same Spirit, our elder brother bids us to call His Father, our Father. Our Redeemer, through His cleansing blood, brings us near to the God we had opposed and offended. He robes us with robes only fit for a son of God and says to us, “You can call Him ‘Abba’.
At first my lips cannot move. How can I, filth from the pit, dare address Him so? He desires to show forth His grace and oh, it shows forth in me! “I love you, Abba, Father!”
As a son, my Father’s commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). My greatest sorrow is that I cannot live up to them like I desire and He deserves. It is not duty that drives me to obedience. It is not trying to earn His favor. It is not to avoid judgment. His will is my delight, for He is my delight. To know Him is to love Him.
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 neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (v.27-29)
For those who are united with Christ, they are part of a new community.
There is no distinction of race in the church of Jesus Christ. It does not matter whether you are poor and a slave or rich enough to be free. It matters not whether you are male or female. There is no difference in your relationship to God. That does not change your sonship. We are all one in Christ Jesus. We are members together of one body and the Lord Jesus is our head. When you read a great passage such as the chapter of faith in Hebrews 11, do you realize that those men and women of faith are your brothers and sisters? That’s our family!
We do not go into the presence of God as a Jew or free or a man or woman, but as a son who has put on Christ! You may even be one of Abraham’s natural descendants, but if you have not put on Christ – if you are not in Him – you are not His and you are not one of Abraham’s seed and an heir according to the promise.
I would like to close off this section with a quote from John Bunyan’s classic, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Faithful is speaking to Christian and telling him of his encounter with Moses, who spares none and shows no mercy to those who transgress his law.
Faithful: But, good brother, hear me out: So soon as the man overtook me, he was but a word and a blow; for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself again, I asked him wherefore he served me so. He said, Because of my secret inclining to Adam the first: And with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward; so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So when I came to myself again, I cried him mercy: But he said, I know not how to show mercy; and with that knocked me down again. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bid him forbear.
Christian: Who was that, that bid him forbear?
Faithful: I did not know Him at first; but as He went by, I perceived the holes in His hands and in His side.
Isn’t that great?
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.