Summary: Paul coinues with the question "What then in the purpose of the law?"
The questions of Grace part II
What then was the purpose of the Law?
I sometimes think in comic-book frames. I imagine (though this is not the case) Paul drumming out this passage before a set of judaizers and of their new converts back to the law. This question was not asked in the passage, but I can see these people asking Paul this question: Why did God make the law if it was not to be followed? What is the purpose of the Law?
Paul, in his best attorney’s hat, gives them a teaching on contract or covenant law:
Galatians 3:15-29 (NIV)
15 Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.
16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.
18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
Paul was saying in the clearest language imaginable- you cannot break a contract, or even add to it, unless both parties agree! The promise found in Genesis 12:3 3-“ I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” refers directly to Christ. The promise Abrahamic covenant of blessing-righteousness received by faith in Christ and eternal life in His name-is a unilateral promise- it was made by God directly to Abraham. All of the patriarchs were blessed and kept by God on the basis of their faith. The law did not even appear until some 430 years later. So, Paul says, what about all those patriarchs without the law? Were they not justified because they did not have the law? Their inheritance was not based on the law, with all of its instructions and regulations; it was based on the promise of God.
This to a Jewish believer must have stopped the argument. To suggest that the great patriarchs were somehow not justified because they didn’t even have the law would cause great pause and reflection. The question still remained with them what was the purpose of the Law. To the gentile, the law was never even meant for them! God did not give the law to the gentiles, but he made his moral law clear through the conscience.
Romans 2:15 (NIV)
15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
To Paul, he would have to say again “you foolish Galatians- why add misery to your perfect salvation found in faith in Christ alone?” The purpose of the law was not to bring righteousness, Paul reasoned, but an awareness of Man’s need of a savior!
19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one..
What then, is the purpose of the Law? It was added, Paul says, because of transgressions. It is in mans nature to sin, to transgress God’s law. Since Adam, we have a fallen nature. Jeremiah reminds us that the heart is desperately wicked above all things! The breaking of God’s law comes naturally to those men who know it by conscience as well as by study. This law, delivered by the very hand of God to Moses, was given to the people for the purpose of making them aware of sin. It was not put in place to provide righteousness or a way of salvation, for that was already in place- the righteousness that was by faith.
21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Is the law opposed to the promises of God? No, God gave them both, but for different purposes. It was never the purpose of the law was not to impart life (Though, Paul reasons, if it were, God would have made it so men could obey the law perfectly) No, Paul reasons, the law cannot bring about righteousness: