Summary: Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel: Promises and Prisoners
Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel:
Promises and Prisoners
So far in chapter three Paul has said that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised because they have already received the Spirit by faith and the Spirit is the sign that they belong to the people of God (1-5). Faith is the only condition to belong to Gods family; faith making them spiritual children of Abraham
(6-9). He warns them that the law or works righteousness puts one under curse and faith in Christ redeems them form the curse of the law (10-14). Now he describes the relationship between the promise and the law. The law does not replace the promise but that the purpose of the law is to exposes the sinfulness of sin and our need for a Savior.
The Priority of Promise (v. 15-18)
Promise is based upon the Abrahamic Covenant
Paul starts out giving a human example to demonstrate the nature of a covenant. He brings this up because the Judaizers were saying that the Mosaic covenant was the final revelation and trumped the Abrahamic Covenant. If you remember the church at Galatia was deceived into thinking that to be justified before God one must add to faith ‘works of the law’ and in so doing they were changing the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul tells them that even a human covenant once ratified is binding and is not changed. If this is true of a human covenant how much more of a covenant God made. The only condition required by the Abrahamic covenant was faith (Gen 12:1-3). This covenant is a promise covenant and points to what God promises to do on behalf of Abraham and his offspring. As a matter of fact, when Abraham tried to do things his way, tried to make the promise happen by sleeping with his maidservant he messed things up. He did not trust God and ended up with a son from his servant Hagar. That is still a problem in the Middle East today.
Promise is fulfilled in Christ
Paul interprets the Abrahamic Covenant through New Covenant eyes, seeing Christ the fulfillment of Abraham’s offspring. Paul saw the promises made to Abraham being partially fulfilled with Abraham’s physical children and the land of Canaan. But the promise pointed to something greater because the promise was for all the families of the earth and the inheritance of the land was more than just the land of Canaan. Paul sees the ultimate fulfillment of the offspring of Abraham being Christ and all the families of the earth being blessed as the gospel goes for to all nations and the ultimate fulfillment of the land being the new heaven and the new earth. Paul sees the Abrahamic Covenant as fulfilled in us, the spiritual children of Abraham.
Mosaic law does not nullify the promise
Then he argues this same conclusion from Old Testament history, that the law does not nullify the promise of Abraham. The law was given after the promise and is subordinate to the Abrahamic Covenant. The law came after Israel was in bondage to Egypt for 430 years. Its coming did not change the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. The law had a role in God’s economy but was temporary. If the promised inheritance given to Abraham was by works of the law then the promise would be void because the promise is by faith not works. Works of the law, what we have called works righteousness, changes the nature of the covenant that God established and that is arrogant and silly and impossible. The promised inheritance has always been by faith never by work starting with Adam and Eve in Genesis and culminating with the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22. God has always saved people by faith not works.
The Purpose of the Law (v.19-22)
Paul then asks two questions that might be raised by his understanding of the law. The first question is, ‘why the law?’ The Judaizers accused Paul of so fusing Abraham and Christ that he squeezed out the law. Paul was seen as speaking against the law (Acts 21:28). "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place (Act 21:28).”
The law increases sin
It was given, not to secure the promise, but increase sin (19a). The law makes the sinfulness of sin plain. The law does not curb sin but makes it worse. If you read the Old Testament you see that the law did not create a law abiding society. The history of Israel is littered with rebellion against God, a stiff necked people opposing God at every turn. No matter how good we make everything look, sin is always lurking under the surface and taints everything we humans touch.