...This was how the Galatian believer saw the history of God’s people from Adam onwards.
Now for them, Christ’s coming and dying was very important: We must realize that these Galatians were not denying the centrality of Christ or His cross. But, they thought, surely the law comes first – the law is foundational.
The default way in which God relates to His people has surely been law. From the garden of Eden, surely – He commands and we are to obey. And when Moses went up Mount Sinai surely he was given the law of laws – He was given the very commands of God, written by His finger on stone. Surely these words, being God’s words, express His eternal will for the people of God. Bottom line – there is a law, law is to be obeyed.
Now, in this timeline, the cross is important, and Jesus’ dying is central because we need His sacrificial death for all our failures at law-keeping. So there is an understanding of Gospel here.
The Gospel comes and helps us out when we fail to live up to the law. But, basically, what God wants is legal obedience. That is the bottom line for being a Christian.
Now this view of history was a big problem for the Galatian church. Because they thought like this, when preachers came and told them that they needed to obey the OT Law of circumcision to be a proper Christian, they fell for it. Why? Because, they have gospel and law running along together, side-by-side, in their minds and hearts. They have faith in Jesus AND legal obedience in their thinking about what makes someone a Christian.
If you have this understanding in your head about Law and Gospel then you will fall for false teaching time and again. You will seek your Christian identity in duties and observances and not in Christ.
So we need to over-turn this telling of history. And thankfully Paul does that for us in chapter 3, beginning at v6.
First thing he does is he under-cuts Moses. Paul goes back in Israel’s history and leap-frogs over Moses and says ‘think about Abraham. Think about when there was no Mosaic law to be obeyed, not even the covenant of circumcision, think about the life of the people of God before there were any commandments at all. What made Abraham a fully-fledged believer?' Answer (v6):
"He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.
In verse 8 Paul describes this faith as faith in the Gospel. We are children of Abraham when we trust the Gospel, because that’s what Abraham trusted.
So the history of the people of God does not begin with law at all it begins with Gospel
Now the Gospel promises spoken to Abraham were about the Seed (v16) and that Seed, that promised offspring, was Christ. That’s why I’ve got the Gospel stretching right back to the time of Adam because the Seed who was promised to Abraham was first promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. Right from the garden of Eden, Jesus was promised as the Seed of the woman. He would crush Satan’s head but at great cost to Himself. Right from the beginning, Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection, His victory over Satan was preached. And people trusted this gospel – people like Abraham – and they were saved.
So this Gospel is how God relates to people. Gospel is God’s bottom line.
But if that’s true – where does the Law fit in? It begins 430 years after Abraham (v17) and it lasts until (v19) the Seed had come.
The Law begins at the mountain of Sinai and ends at the mountain of Golgotha. That is the Law’s place....
10 thoughts on “Galatians 3-4 Sermon”
What's meant by law?
I mean, God told people to do things before Sinai and after Golgotha, so presumably we're not defining law as stuff God tells us to do.
I'm preaching on Cain and Abel this Sunday. After Cain's offering is rejected God speaks to him, implying that he's not 'done well'. But what was wrong with his offering of the fruit of the ground? Do we need to go to Leviticus and see that ascension/burnt offerings have to involve animals, not just plants?
In which case, how do we know how much of the Mosaic Torah Paul was referring to?
My only attempt to solve this would be to say Galatians is talking primarily about Jew/Gentile distinctions, which is the theme of so much of Galatians.
Thought I should add - this is no way to undermine the gospel as foundation point that is being made.
Hi Glen! By saying "the law" ended in the cross, the commands that Paul gives to the churches as to how they should live are not "laws," are they? I would really love to grasp this more! I've always thought the the Gospel is "at the base" then the law is somehow on top of it (not necessarily ending in the cross), such that even if you fail to obey the law- Christ obeyed for you, died for you, and you are accepted. Where can we draw some sort of a line so that we can avoid antinomianism and legalism as well?
Hi Paul - from Galatians 3, what's meant by law is the law of Moses, beginning 430 years after after Abraham (v17) and terminating on the Seed (v19). So there was 4 centuries of Jew/Gentile-dividing circumcision before Sinai. Therefore I don't go for "law" meaning the Jew/Gentile aspects of law. I reckon Galatians 3 is a major obstacle in the way of that view.
I think Paul moves us - not so much to the centre of an anti-nomian / legalism spectrum - I think he lifts us clean away from it. The Christian reads the law as *Scripture*. Here are commands centring on the tabernacle (a shadow of the atonement of Christ) given to Israel (a shadow of the global church) to be obeyed in the land (a shadow of the whole earth). They had a binding claim on Israel, but they don't have that same claim on me. I consult them the way I would consult a retired schoolmaster - as having wisdom and reflecting the character and will of God. But it has no power over me.
Paul's contrast with the law (see especially Galatians 5) is the Spirit. There is a personal leading of the Spirit who applies the gospel of Christ to me (Gal 3:1-5) and bears fruit in my life in ways the law never could (Gal 5:23).
This doesn't mean there's no category for "command" in the Christian life. Jesus is Lord and can tell me to do whatever He wants. But the organising principle of my activity is not *my* fulfilling of the law but Christ's finished fulfilment.
Thanks Glen! I had to read your reply several times and it is much clearer to understand when I read it from bottom up! :)
I love Galatians so much at the moment... do you think he mentions the Sarah/Hagar ( 4:21-31) for the same reasons that he mentions Abraham? Cos Sarah/ Issac is comes through the promised seed, a free women, a pure and faithful match for the heavenly Jerusalem (Sonship)....
.... compared to Hagar where Ishmael is born and shown mercy by God ( Gen 21:10/25:21) but cannot gain the inheritance cos it is not a perfect match....... (enslaved)
So your either an Ishmael or an Issac?
Yes indeed - Galatians 3 is all about what makes a true child of Abraham. It's not about natural abilities (which is Ishmael the slave), it's about being a child of the promise (which is Isaac, the true son).
Hi, Glen! I have another question, sorry :) In light of what you explained above and in the comments, what does Paul mean when he said "we uphold the law," Romans 3:31? There are things in my head that I need to sort out. Thanks! :)
Hi Kebs, I think Paul upholds the law by doing what he does in Romans 1-3. That is, Paul convicts the whole world - Jew and Gentile - of unanswerable guilt before God. Then he announced what the law has always testified to - but has never produced - a righteousness from God through Christ (Romans 3:21ff). So to uphold the law is to use the law according to its purpose - convicting us of sin and pointing us to the Saviour.
Thanks a lot Glen! That really sort things out! God bless you and your ministry! :D