“From the Guardian to Adoption”
The big question of Galatians is this: Do Gentiles need to become Jewish before they can become Christians? In Gal. 3:13-14 Paul answers this with a resounding “NO WAY!” He explains that Christ bore our judgment for being Lawbreakers, and He did this in order that the blessing of Abraham could be given to the Gentiles. The main text for today (v.15-29) is an explanation of v.13-14.
The Example: Covenant Promises (v.15-18)
Paul gives the example of the covenant: If we keep our covenants, how much more will God keep his?! One thing that’s helpful for us today is to understand the difference between a covenant and a contract. Today, if we signed a contract and then wanted to change the terms of our contract, we could change those terms if we both agree to it and have a lawyer write up a new contract to replace the old one. You couldn’t do that with a covenant – the covenant was a permanent and unchangeable oath that was absolutely binding.
Since Paul hinges his argument on Abraham’s covenant, it’s important for us to understand why that particular covenant is so important. In a covenant, both parties make oaths to each other and seal those oaths by walking between a sacrifice (they would kill the animal and split it in two) in order to say, “If I break this covenant, may I be cut in pieces like this animal.” Now that’s a commitment! Abraham’s covenant was one-sided… only one party walked through the sacrifice: GOD!
Jesus Christ fulfilled this one-sided covenant by being split open for us on the cross; not because God didn’t keep his vows to Abraham, but because we became sinners and broke the Law, and the Law must be upheld. Because of Jesus the blessing of Abraham has been made available to all by faith.
The Law Was Never Life-Giving, (v.19-22)
Paul continues by asking two questions: “Why did God send the Law?” & “Are the Law and Promise are contrary to each other?” In order to answer these questions, we first need to make sure we’re using the same dictionary for “Law” and “Gospel/Promise.” When we’re talking about “Law” we’re not simply talking about the Ten Commandments, but we more broadly talking about the commands (think: Imperative verbs) in Scripture: Keep the Ten Commandments, Love your neighbor as yourself, etc. “Gospel/Promise” represents the promises of God towards his people (think: Indicative verbs): “I will be your God and you will be my people and I will dwell in your midst,” as Christians this especially points to the promised Holy Spirit, who lives within us and sanctifies us.
Paul answers these questions by pointing to the purpose of the Law. It was never meant to give life. It was meant to show us our sin and our need for the life-giver! As Tim Keller has written, “The purpose of the Law is not tell us about salvation, but to tell us about sin (v. 19). It’s main purpose is to show us our problem, that we are law-breakers; and to prove to us that we cannot be the solution, since we are unable to be perfect law-keepers. ” The Law is not contrary to the Gospel, because it always shows us our need for the Gospel. When the Law tells you to fly, the Gospel gives you wings.
In the midst of this, it’s important to remember that you cannot simply fill yourself up with sin and then try to claim God’s promise. One of the first signs of a child of God is a heart-felt desire to submit yourself to God and to His Law. If you’re trying to sin and sin and sin and then claim that Jesus will just forgive you anyway, then you’re deceiving yourself – you have not understood and received the Gospel. Repent of your sins, and prayerfully receive Christ as your greatest treasure.
From the Guardian to Adoption v.23-29
We used to be held captive under the law as a guardian. The Law restrained us from falling so deeply into sin that we would fully destroy ourselves, and now that the Promise has come, we have been adopted as children of Abraham and children of God. Now that we have been adopted, the Law can guard us from taking credit for receiving the adoption: It guards our hearts from taking credit for our salvation. I cannot think, “I’ve earned God’s promise. I’m better than others, I don’t sin as often or as seriously as others do. I mean, there’s no way that guy deserves God’s grace, but I do.”
The glorious promise of v.28-29 is that we are all equally adopted. This passage has often been misinterpreted as destroying any significance to gender and ethnicity – but if that was true then why would Paul have specific instructions for parents and children elsewhere and elsewhere throughout the New Testament ethnicity is continually affirmed. The wonderful truth here is that we are all adopted by faith, not by genetics! Your genes matter, they matter in a way that enriches the family of God… not in a way that keeps you out or gets you in!
- Law never brings life.
- Promise comes from God, not from your effort.
- Don’t throw the Law away… you still have work to do!
- How would you explain the significance of Abraham’s promise coming before Moses gives the Law? Why is the timeline important?
- What role should the Law have in the Christian’s life? We agree that we shouldn’t look for life in it, but does that mean it’s not important?
- What are some of the implications of this passage on how you interact with your family, friends, classmates, or coworkers? Is anyone ever “too far gone” to be saved?
- How can this passage help you “preach the Gospel to yourself” when you fall into sin?