October 18, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Galatians 3)

Submitted by Ernestine L. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Galatians 3:15-29 (ESV)

  • Apostle Paul makes the point that the Mosaic Law was given after God gave the covenantal promise to Abraham.  How does that fact clear up the misconception that obedience to God’s law is a prerequisite to becoming His people?  If obedience to the laws is not a prerequisite, then what is the purpose of obeying the commands or laws of God?

This fact that the Mosaic Law was given after God gave the covenantal promise to Abraham clears up the misconception that obedience to God’s law is a prerequisite to becoming His people because as it says v.17 that “the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.” In other words, the Mosaic Law came later, but that in no way eradicates the covenant God had formed with Abraham nor does it eliminate the covenantal promise God made for Abraham’s offspring. It seems the misconception came from the notion that this Mosaic Law overrules everything else, that because it is more current that now people would have to submit to it before they can become His people. This would be a tragic misconception had not Apostle Paul boldly made this clear through what he says in this passage.

So if obedience to the laws is not a prerequisite, then the purpose of obeying the commands or laws of God is noted clearly in v.19 – “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Basically, the reason why the law was formulated and put into place was because of our transgressions. As long as we are living out this life here on earth, we are tempted by our sin, and the law serves as an intermediary to re-direct us towards the path to God’s kingdom. So in essence, these laws are not the way or the process we go through to receive salvation – salvation can only be given through accepting Christ’ dying for all our sins and being raised so that we may receive life.

  • This passage unapologetically presents the superiority of salvation by grace over salvation by good works.  Why would the doctrine of unmerited grace be so scandalous and difficult to accept for the hearers of Paul?  What is my reaction to this news of unconditional justification through Christ alone?

The doctrine of unmerited grace was so scandalous and difficult to accept for the hearers of Paul because firstly as many of the Galatian Christians were of Jewish origin, they were steeped in the practices of the Old Testament and the laws. Basically, they were so used to the old ways of obeying and following the law that it became second nature for them to lean on and rely on the Law as having the final say regarding their spiritual state. So this message of unmerited grace shattered their belief that grace is earned purely by their works.

Secondly, this message was so bewildering – it said that whatever spiritual acts or laws they submitted to does nothing to save them from sin. Apostle Paul was saying that the law doesn’t amount to much at all when it comes to salvation and inheritance of God’s kingdom. This would be scandalous and difficult to swallow for these churches as their focus must have been so much so on the works, on the laws to clear themselves of sin.

As I assess this news of unconditional justification through Christ alone, I respond with a bit of hesitation – because I have been steeped in performing all my life, being good on the outside so that I would be rewarded with approval, praise and acceptance. I remember times in grade school in which I would be lavished upon with praise for my work in helping other students in their schoolwork. It gave me a sense of pride – that what I have done with my own hands have brought upon this praise for myself.

But this news of unconditional justification through Christ alone says something else to me – it says that no matter how much I want to play the diligent minister, the “good” person and if I rely on these works alone, I will only receive temporary satisfaction that provides a really brief relief and avoidance from that which actually lurks inside my heart – that which is the sin that causes so much shame and guilt and that continues rearing its ugly head.

On the one hand, I hesitate when I recognize that I am justified without conditions; but on the other, I marvel at this sweetest and greatest message, the fact that my full brokenness and sinfulness cannot mar God’s eternal salvation plan for me. That I do not need to strive and struggle hard in the ways I do in this world to receive salvation from my sin, but to only admit who I am honestly before a holy God and a dying Savior, that I could receive eternal salvation from all sin. It is so astounding, yet when I come to my senses and recognize God’s message to me, I realize again this great gift is so unwarranted and ought to be gratefully received.

Galatians 3:23-26

  • What two things did the law do?  Or, what are the two functions of the law?

The law served to imprison or restrain sinners from sinning; secondly, the law served as guardian.

  • In what ways does the law of God “imprison” sinners?

The law of God “imprison(s)” sinners because in a way it holds us firmly on the correct path as it serves the function of restraining believers from sin. Verse 23 says that “before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoneduntil the coming faith would be revealed.” Because the law was set in place, in a sense each sinner who abided by the law, was imprisoned and restrained from sinful desires that much of the world succumbed to. As in the commentary’s illustration of a slave who corrects those under him, the law was like this – served a correctional function, but it in itself did not serve to bring life as did Christ.

It holds us to our word, that what we ought not do in this world we would not do. For the Galatians, it held them accountable, keeping them within the boundaries of God’s people and what was preached as the law. There were many commands in the law, in many ways it preaches that we ought not to submit to the appetites of this world and therefore imprisons us, holding us captive against our own sinful desires. It was only when they took it out of hand and relied on it as the answer to their sin that it became something else.

  • In what ways does the law serve as “our guardian,” i.e., a benevolent influence leading us to place our trust in Christ?

Another function of the law is as a guardian. The illustration noted in the commentary is of a slave who becomes the children’s tutor, one who teaches, guides and guards the children as he watches over them. Note again, the law is not in it of itself the solution – but only something that drew boundaries for the people to follow so that God’s purposes could be fulfilled and that we may be justified by faith. It guards us from sin and temptation, from conforming to this world.

Personal Prayer

Father, I thank You dearly for being a God of grace. For by my own merit, I would never have even come close to salvation from my sin. Thank You that You offer Christ as the only answer, the only way to life for mankind and for me. Many times I have tried with my own hands and have failed; yet this unconditional justification tells me that I need not strive any longer to function in the law but that I can be assured of my salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.


Submitted by Jasper C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

  • Apostle Paul makes the point that the Mosaic Law was given after God gave the covenantal promise to Abraham.  How does that fact clear up the misconception that obedience to God’s law is a prerequisite to becoming His people?  If obedience to the laws is not a prerequisite, then what is the purpose of obeying the commands or laws of God?

The example of Abraham practically clears up any misconception that obedience to law is required for becoming God’s people because Abraham received the promises of God long before there was any law – this is significant especially for the Jews because Abraham is the spiritual father of all their people, if all of his receiving God’s call and becoming God’s people happened apart from the law, then the truth that “relationship with God is established apart from the law” applies then to Abraham’s descendants.

This doesn’t mean that obedience to the law serves no purpose at all, but v.19 says that “it was added because of transgressions” which is to say that the law was implemented by God because of human sinfulness – it’s an identity thing: through God’s covenant promise they became God’s people, part of being God’s people meant that they were to live in a way that is fitting and appropriate for such a calling, but sin kept them from doing that. So God gave them the law as a standard for how to live and to clearly identify their sins as sin, v.22 “but the scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise of by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” The law brings about this full recognition of the problem of sin and makes clear the need for the ultimate solution which is found through faith in Jesus Christ.

  • This passage unapologetically presents the superiority of salvation by grace over salvation by good works.  Why would the doctrine of unmerited grace be so scandalous and difficult to accept for the hearers of Paul?  What is my reaction to this news of unconditional justification through Christ alone?

The doctrine of unmerited grace was scandalous and difficult for the hearers of Paul to accept because they believed that rightness with God could be achieved by obeying the law, the Jewish establishment and all the teachers of the law over the years had come up with a system and culture which placed the emphasis on being able to attain righteousness through law-observance, and so this is the mindset that Apostle Paul’s audience was used to – for Apostle Paul to suggest otherwise seemed scandalous and disregarding of the law. However there are aspects of human pride and delusion at work here too. Human pride because people like to think that they have control over their sins rather than thinking of themselves as being ultimately helpless against their sins. They want to think “I can do it” or for ways in which they are doing better than others, they want to be able to take personal credit for that too. Human delusion is at work too, because the reality is people do not have control over their sins, they are ruled by them and are ultimately helpless, but they keep thinking they do. The way to do it is to emphasize obedience to rules, which is what the Jewish establishment did, because that can produce clear external differences between people so that they can compare themselves with one another and take pride in “obeying better” than others. When they seem to be managing externally compared to others, then they delude themselves into thinking that they really are achieving righteousness when all their root problems and sins remain alive.

In the same way that many of the Jews had trouble accepting unconditional justification through Christ alone, I have that same problem too – it comes down to my personal pride and delusion about myself. Part of me likes to think of myself as someone who actually has control of my life, who can keep my sins under control, and doesn’t need to humble myself or acknowledge that I need anything or anyone to save me – it’s the “I can take care of myself thank you very much” sort of attitude. The pride is even more sensitive other people are taken into account – I want to look good before them and project an image of myself as one who is competent, not needy. I want to be able to point to ways in which it would appear that I’m being more spiritual or living a cleaner more “successful” life and claim credit for myself, that I earned it because of my own efforts and resolve. There’s a kind of worldly significance that I feel through outperforming other people in these areas too. Officially speaking I have no trouble acknowledging the truth that I need justification through Christ alone, but the reality is that I often say that it’s all through Christ I’m saved, but at the same time be motivated to live Christian life for the sake of looking good on my own and being able to claim credit for “successfully” living a good Christian life. It’s an attitude that disregards the core of the gospel, and while it’s not like my Christian is all characterized by this distortion either, there’s aspects of it that are mixed in along with genuine recognition that I have nothing I can claim before God apart from Jesus.

Galatians 3:23-26

  • What two things did the law do?  Or, what are the two functions of the law?

The first thing that the law does is that it identifies the problem of sin for the people who are given the promise of God but have not experienced it’s fulfillment yet – v. 19 says that the law was “added because of transgressions” (sins), and v.22 says that the scriptures “imprisoned everything under sin.” This is not to say that people weren’t sinful before the law, but in a sense the law was needed for this purpose of keeping people in check and identifying the sin in their lives (for the passage also describes the law as a “guardian”).

The second purpose of the law is to prepare people to receive salvation that comes by grace in Christ. Once it fully identifies sin for God’s people, it also serves as the standard against which these people will recognize that they cannot make themselves right before God on their own, that even though they can try they would never actually be able to fulfill the entire law and thus the law ends up being a judge that condemns them. The law makes it clear to people that they need a help that they cannot produce on their own, and so when people encounter the gospel of salvation through Jesus they will be ready to fully embrace this as the thing that will save them.

  • In what ways does the law of God “imprison” sinners?

As mentioned earlier, the law imprisons sinners in that it sets up the high standards that God wants them to live by, and it demonstrates again and again that people on their own power cannot actually fulfill the righteous demands of the law, and thus they stand condemned – The law in this sense keeps them in check, does not let them off the hook, and you can describe this as a certain kind of oppression or imprisonment.

  • In what ways does the law serve as “our guardian,” i.e., a benevolent influence leading us to place our trust in Christ?

The law serves as our guardian because we are sinners by nature, and so even when we accept the promise of God and desire to live the way that He wants us to live, we are still children of our sins – the law then helps us to identify the ways in which we still sin and fall short of God’s standards, and it serves as the guiderail by which we can know how we should change to better live in accordance with God’s will for us.

Submitted by Linda K from Gracepoint Riverside Church

·     Apostle Paul makes the point that the Mosaic Law was given after God gave the covenantal promise to Abraham.  How does that fact clear up the misconception that obedience to God’s law is a prerequisite to becoming His people?  If obedience to the laws is not a prerequisite, then what is the purpose of obeying the commands or laws of God?

The Galatians thought by obeying the law only then could they become God’s people, but this was not true. Apostle Paul points out that the Mosaic Law was given after God gave the covenantal promise to Abraham and that it merely served as a supervisory function until the promise and obligations of the law was fulfilled through Christ. The purpose for obeying the commands or laws of God was to help them be faithful to the promises of God that Christ would be the one who would provide the way to salvation for them.

·       This passage unapologetically presents the superiority of salvation by grace over salvation by good works.  Why would the doctrine of unmerited grace be so scandalous and difficult to accept for the hearers of Paul?  What is my reaction to this news of unconditional justification through Christ alone?

The doctrine of unmerited grace would be scandalous and difficult to accept to the hearers of Paul because they were brought up in Judaism where they were accustomed to obtaining righteousness by being law abiding and doing good works. Obeying the law was an easy way to proclaim one’s righteousness before God because they knew what they should and should not do. But when Apostle Paul proclaimed that salvation by grace is superior to good works it required them to confront the ugly truth of their sinfulness, which told them that they could do nothing to save them judgment except to receive the forgiveness that comes from God alone. I am no different from the Galatians. To know that Christ justifies me by dying on the cross for my sins bruises my ego because it tells me that I can’t save myself, even though I know there is a sense of relief to know that he could do what I could not do on the cross. Though it is great news that I am unconditionally justified through Christ alone it brings me back to reality to remind me of how utterly helpless and hopeless I am against sin. My sinful and stubborn pride doesn’t want me to be in debt or feel needy, so I would rather obey and follow rules so I can be in control, but I need to see that when I do this I forfeit the amazing gift God has given me through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. It is only when I realize more and more how hopeless against sin and to save myself, I realize more and more that I need Jesus and his grace to save me. Though at times I want to just obey and follow rules to feel good and righteous I have to remember that to the core I am a sinner and that the law alone cannot save me except Christ alone.

Galatians 3:23-26

·       What two things did the law do?  Or, what are the two functions of the law?

The law functioned in two ways.

1)     V.22 Held people captive under the law and imprisoned them.

2)     V.23 Acted as a guardian until Christ came.

·       In what ways does the law of God “imprison” sinners?

According to the commentary the ways the law of God “imprison” sinners is by “restraining and to “bringing transgressions to light and even to augment them.” Through the law, sinners know what they should and should not do. While we have the freedom to do whatever we want, the law calls out the boundaries on those freedoms as a way to restrain us from sinning and to help us see the wrong that may come if we do not obey the law.

·       In what ways does the law serve as “our guardian,” i.e., a benevolent influence leading us to place our trust in Christ?

In addition, the law not only acted to “imprison” sinners, but it also served as our “guardian” to help us see our need for salvation. As sinners the law helps to point out our sins, flaws and limitations and to help us see that as much as we try to obey the law we cannot perfectly obey all of them. Consequently, the law helps us desire for the promise to be fulfilled, which came in the form of Jesus, who came to save us from the condemnation that comes from our own sinfulness. In response, the only way to claim the salvation that Jesus offers is to place our trust in him to make us right before God.

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