October 27, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

III. Doctrinal: Defense of Justification by Faith (3:1–4:31)

            A: Vindication of Justification by Faith (3.1-18)

                        3: The Permanence of the Promise (3.15-18)


Chapter III.A.3.b: The Law’s Irrelevance for the Promise (3:17-18)


Galatians 3.17-18 (KJV)


17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.





17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise


After researching these two verses I have concluded that they are among the most remarkable verses in all of Scripture. I doubt that I can do them justice, and I beg your understanding of my quite lengthy explanation.

We will need to have an appropriate definition of “Law,” if we are going to understand this section. Here we are discussing the Law of Moses, but we must pay careful attention to the context in order to decide whether the civil, the ceremonial, or the moral law is meant. The CEREMONIAL or RITUAL laws, concerning the forms of worship, sacrifices, priests, purifications, etc., were designed to distinguish the Jewish nation from the heathen, and to foreshadow the gospel dispensation. They were annulled after Christ's ascension (see Genesis 3:24; Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 9:1-28; 10:1-22). The CIVIL laws, Acts 23:2 24:6, were for the government of the Jews as a nation, and included the Ten Commandments. The whole code was adapted with immanent wisdom to the condition of the Jews, and has greatly influenced all wise legislation in later years. Its pious, humane, and just spirit should characterize every code of human laws. The MORAL law (De 5:22; Matthew 5:17, 18; Luke 10:26, 27), is more important than the others, due to its bearing on human salvation. It was written by the Creator on the conscience of man, and sin has never fully erased it (Romans 1:19 2:12-15). For our purposes here the Law is the Civil laws in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular.

“This I say” is the same as “this is what I mean.” The “covenant” is the “Abrahamic covenant.” Confirmed before of God is the same as “ratified by God.” “In Christ” may be better stated as “unto Christ.” “Make the promise of none effect” means that the promise would become useless if the power conferring the inheritance was transferred from it to the Law—“For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect” (Rom. 4.14). “The inheritance” includes all the blessings to be inherited by Abraham’s literal and spiritual children, according to the promise made to him and to his Seed, Christ—justification and glorification (Gal. 4.7; Rom. 8.17; 1 Co. 6.9). It is by definition, something granted, not worked for, as proven in the case of Abraham.

Paul must love to use Abraham as an example, because once again he goes to the history of Abraham to illustrate a point he wants to make. Here he uses him to illustrate the great fact of our unbreakable union with Christ. In this passage the apostle illustrates his point that once under the grace of God, the Law no longer has dominion over us. He supports his point with the covenant of grace, with Abraham, and the Law of God that came 430 years later. Even though Israel failed under the Law, that does not annul the covenant God made earlier with Abraham.

So, Paul again uses Israel as an example. Israel as a nation was under God’s covenant of grace. In actual fact, this covenant is still in force, and will be forever, because God’s covenant which He swore by Himself cannot be broken. The fact, that Israel (Abraham’s seed) broke God’s Law, and brought upon them God’s chastising judgment, does not remove God’s covenant of grace. If you are saved, my friend, you are saved by grace alone. Your salvation depends upon what Jesus has done, not on anything you do. It doesn’t depend on what you feel, but on what Jesus felt for you. It doesn’t depend on your faithfulness, but on His faithfulness. This is also true of me and it was true for Israel. Disobedience will bring God’s chastising, but his covenant of grace keeps us saved. GOD IS FAITHFUL! I know a pastor who is fond of saying, “If you can’t do anything else, you can be faithful! (As if it was easy to do.) But it is hard to be faithful all the time, and I am glad that my position in Christ depends on His faithfulness to me and not my faithfulness to Him. Israel broke God’s Laws, and the result is that they have had to endure His chastisement over the past twenty-five hundred years. They have been removed from the land and scattered, because they broke God’s law, but they are still God’s covenant people, and someday they will be regathered and blessed. Our salvation may depend on grace, however, our enjoyment of salvation depends on our behavior. Our justification comes through faith in Jesus Christ, but our rewards will depend on our works. Eternal life is God’s gift to you and does not depend on anything you do. It is all of grace, and all of Jesus.

Our union with Christ lasts forever, but our fellowship with Him can be broken. This very fact that our union with Christ cannot be broken, although our fellowship with Him can be interrupted by sin in our lives should be all the incentive we need to try to live a holy life of obedience. The fact that we are preserved by grace should motivate us to live cautiously and sensibly. Grace does far more than the law demands. We should make grace out teacher. Grace should never be an excuse for sinning, but instead it should be its greatest deterrent.

In Romans 6.1 Paul says: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Listen to Paul’s answer to this statement: “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6.2). Or listen to what Paul has to say in Titus 2.11, 12:“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”

The grace of God teaches true holiness. Would you dare to substitute “Law” for “grace” in Titus 2.11, 12, so that it would read like this: “For the LAW of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” There are some who would be happy to see it read this way, but that is NOT how Paul wrote it. He knew that he needed grace, and so he said, “The grace of God teaches us holiness.” That is something the Law can’t do. It should be obvious, therefore, that grace does what the Law couldn’t do. The Law cannot save or keep one saved, only grace can do that. God gave the Law to man to prove once and for all that man could NOT save himself by works. It was given to show the utter depravity of the flesh and of human nature, and to cause us to flee to Christ for mercy, not for justice; for forgiveness, not condemnation.

We constantly face the criticism that when we say that the Law cannot keep us saved that we are, in effect, demeaning the Law. But instead, we are exalting it! The demands of the Law are so high, that it is impossible for sinful men to keep it. And because sinful men can’t keep it Jesus came to fulfill it for the believer. There are some who would say that we are destroying the Law, but we can reply to that accusation by quoting Matthew 5. 17, 18—“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Jesus didn’t destroy the Law, but He fulfilled it. He proved by rising from the dead that He had paid the death penalty of the Law. The Law has not failed, but man failed under the Law. The Law is still as perfect as ever, still as just as ever, and it will still condemn a sinner. The only hope a sinner has lies in abandoning all hope of saving one’s self, and casting one’s self on the grace of God, and God alone. I repeat, Jesus did NOT destroy the Law. It remains and always will remain, the perfect demand of a righteous God for ALL who want to save themselves. Since the sinner can’t keep it, the Law condemns him. But the Lord Jesus fulfilled ALL the demands of the Law, and so while the Law is not dead, the believer is dead to the Law, and alive unto God.

The assertion that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after” has puzzled Bible students for many years.  From Abraham’s call (Ge. 12) to Jacob’s arrival in Egypt (Ge. 46) is 215 years. (This may be computed as follows: Abraham was 75 years old when God called him and 100 when Isaac was born, Ge. 12.4; 21.5. This gives us 25 years. Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, Ge 25.26; and Jacob was 130 years old when he arrived in Egypt, Ge. 47.9. Thus 25+60+130=215 years.) But Moses tells us that Israel sojourned in Egypt 430 years (Ex. 12.40); so the total number of years from Abraham’s call to the giving of the Law is 645 years, not 430. The length of stay in Egypt is also recorded in Genesis 15.13 and Acts 7.6 where the round figure of 400 years is used. Several solutions have been offered to this puzzle; but perhaps the most satisfied is this: Paul is counting from the time Jacob went into Egypt, when God appeared to him and reaffirmed the covenant for the last time (Ge 46.1-4). The 430 years is the time from God’s confirmation of His promise to Jacob until the giving of the Law at Sinai. Regardless of what solution to the dating question we may choose, the basic argument is clear: a law given several centuries later CANNOT change a covenant made by other parties.

During that long interval God blessed the patriarchs on the basis of faith alone, and the coming of the Law could NOT change this in any way. Additionally, the Law could NOT alter God’s dealing with Abraham on the basis of promise because the two are fundamentally different in nature. They do not comingle; they cannot be combined. Instead, the inheritance (i.e., justification by faith) was given by God as an unconditional gift to those who believe. Contrary to the claim of the Judaizers, obedience to the Law was not necessary to gain the inheritance. God’s way of salvation has always been by grace through faith.

The essential thing, in this passage, in line with the truth of Galatians 3.15—“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men: Though it be but a man's covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no one maketh it void, or addeth thereto” (ASV)—is the consideration that the Law could NOT possibly set aside the previous arrangement God had made and confirmed.




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