To Whom Was the Law Given…and Why?
© C. O. Bishop 3/3/15 THCF 3/15/15
I remember hearing a story, years ago, about a young man whose wife was sick, so he called a doctor for a house-call (yes, they used to have those.) The doctor arrived, and the husband was sitting nearby while the doctor was asking the young woman a series of questions. The man was something of a hypochondriac, and for every symptom the doctor asked her about, the man would say, “Well, I’ve been having that!” Finally, the doctor was exasperated: he turned around and said, “Do you mind, sir? I am trying to determine whether your wife is pregnant!”
So the twin issues of “to whom was the doctor talking”, and “why was he saying the words he said” had both been overlooked by the man in the story.
We chuckle over such stories, but we fail to see that we have done the same thing—we are trying to claim or apply promises that were not made to us, and trying to obey a law, that in any case was not for us, and in every case, was not within our capacity to obey.
Things that share similarities are still not necessarily the same. It is the differences that matter, not the similarities. When I read the book of Isaiah, for example, it sounds very much as though he is talking about our country today, but, over and over, he clearly states that he is talking about Israel, before the Babylonian captivity. The similarities are definitely there, but there is no question he is speaking to his own people, the Jews, not our country.
So, as we study the differences between Law and Grace, we need to bear in mind the following question: to whom was the Law was given…and why? But Paul addresses the “why” first, so that is what we will do, as well.
Why was the Law given?
19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
Interesting! The Law was given because of sin…until the “seed” (singular—Christ!) arrived, to whom the promise was made. The Law was given through a mediator (Moses) who acted as a go-between from God to Man. Jesus is a Mediator, too, but of a different sort: he brought Grace and Truth; Moses brought Law—and the attendant curse on sin.
20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
Mediators necessarily have to go between two otherwise separated parties. Moses was one such mediator, and Jesus was another—a fulfillment of the picture that Moses made, in fact. But there was only one God involved; and only one human race (despite the many divisions, languages, nations, etc., with billions of individuals.) So, what changed between the ministry of Moses and that of Jesus? God did not change—and Man did not change either.
The two mediators work together to accomplish the will of the One God. Man had no say in the matter. Usually a mediator is requiring or at least recommending compromise from both sides in a conflict. In this case it was all about God’s will, delivered to humans by means of a mediator; two different mediators with two different tasks. In the one case, the bad news was delivered: “Man is lost and cannot save himself.” In the other case, the good news was delivered, along with a stark reminder of the bad news: “Jesus is God’s anointed sacrifice—crucified for us—by which we must be saved: and we lay hands on him, and appropriate that sacrifice by faith.”
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
Paul concludes, then, that the Law was not contrary to the promise. It condemned the sin, but looked forward to the fulfilling of the Promise in Christ. Paul does not mention it here, but in other places it is made clear that every blood sacrifice of the Old Testament, prescribed under the Law, was a foreshadowing of Christ. The Law was a “placeholder”: it maintained the holiness of God while demonstrating the utter sinfulness of Man and providing a blood-sacrifice as a substitute for the sinner (only a temporary covering) to be entered into by faith. But the result of the Law was that all became sinners:
22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
This is confirmed in Romans 3:23, 24: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God… being justified freely by his Grace…” That passage is clear: it says “all” and it means “ALL”. But as we read this passage, it is important that we pay attention to the pronouns, “we”, “us”, and “you”. They are not all in reference to the same group of people.
“We, Our, Us, and You”
23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
Who is the “we” in this passage? If it is in reference to the whole human race, we have a problem: the vast majority of the human race has never heard any of the Mosaic Law. How could the Gentiles have been said to be “under the Law? The Law was given to Moses, specifically to be delivered to a people called out from among the human race…they were specifically separated from the rest of the human race and called to be holy. The law was not given to everyone—just Israel. And the Law, far from providing a way to become a holy people, only condemned them for their unholiness.
The only solution ever offered by the Law was a continual flow of blood at the altar, recognizing the eternal need for cleansing. But Job, speaking centuries before the giving of the Law, knew that his Redeemer lived! He knew that the “goel”—the “kinsman-redeemer”, later described under the Law, was already alive—and he predicted the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the righteous dead which will come at the very beginning of the millennial kingdom here on earth.
Therefore, since Job, speaking before the Law, knew that the security of his own salvation rested in his Redeemer, we can conclude that the salvation that was offered under the Law, by faith, through the sacrifices, was also just as secure and just as effective as the salvation we experience. Why? He made sacrifices to God, but did so without the guideline of the Law. He did so by faith. Under the Law, the true believers followed the guideline of the Law, and brought their sacrifice, but still did so by faith. Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.
They were all looking forward to the Cross by faith, and we look back to the Cross by faith. One other difference, of course, is that very few believers in those times were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Today, everyone who trusts in Jesus’ full payment at the Cross for salvation receives the Holy Spirit the moment he or she believes…and whether he or she knows it or not. In the transition period chronicled in the book of Acts, there were frequently signs accompanying salvation—but they seemed to taper off toward the end of the apostolic age, and some think they have completely ceased. (There is a good deal of controversy around that point, so I am not going to address it here, since that argument has no pertinence to the passage we are examining.)
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Notice again the pronouns—“our, us, we”: The same individuals who received the Law and were under the Law were the recipients of the ministry of the Law.
The word translated “schoolmaster”, here, is “paidagogon”—pedagogue. (Pais = “boy”; agogos = guide) In the prevailing culture of the time, a rich father would assign an adult male slave to bring up his son—to tutor him, and bring him up to be a responsible adult. The result was to be a young man of whom the father could be proud. The pedagogue did not make him a child of his father—he only made him a respectable, responsible young man. Paul says that the Law was meant to bring “us” up to faith. Over in Romans 7:13, it clearly states that the Law was given to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Incidentally, from the moment that child was born, positionally he was a “son”—but until maturity came he would not be recognized as such, and had no inherited authority as yet.
Stop and think: over whose child did the pedagogue exercise His ministry? Was it to every kid in town, or just the son of the Father? Of course, his ministry was limited to the children of the covenant…the children of that Father. And when the time came to relinquish that responsibility, the pedagogue did so completely. The children were to approach the Father directly, and the Father could deal with the children as responsible heirs.
25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Who is the “we” in this passage? The same as the “us” to whom the Law was delivered! The Jews are no longer supposed to be under the Mosaic Law, if they have received their Messiah by faith. Paul, effectively, had “graduated” and had told it to the Jews…and they rejected the message. So, what about the Gentiles? Do they have to become Jews in order to share in the blessing? Do they have to bear the burden of the Law with its curse for failure, in order to inherit the blessing of Abraham?
So, What about the Gentiles? What about You?
26 For ye are all the children (huioi…sons) of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Ah! There is a change in pronouns! Now he is no longer saying “we”—not first person plural, but second person plural! (That’s what “ye” is, in Old English.) He says “You are sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ.” That is addressed to all believers!
I have never been under the Mosaic Law…but I have been “concluded under Sin”, according to verse 22 of this chapter, and also according to Romans 3:23—“ALL have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (There’s that word “all” again….)
Once a pedagogue had succeeded in bringing a son up to the satisfaction of the Father, his job was done—and he was just a slave. Once the Law has completed the task of bringing a man to faith, its job is done…that man is no longer under the Law. In our culture we have no slaves and no pedagogues so it is a hard analogy for us to follow. In addition, as Gentiles, we have never been under the Mosaic Law.
The “bad news” of our sin was made clear to us by the preaching of some small portion of the Law, or possibly simply by hearing the New Testament statements of our sin. The Good News (Gospel) of Christ came in the same message, usually. But the point is clear: we are no longer under the Law, once we have come to faith in Christ. I am no longer to dread the curse of God. God no longer sees me as a sinner, in spite of the fact that I still have my old sin nature.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
This statement is also addressed to “you”—all believers. But, the baptism here is not water—it is the Holy Spirit. 1st Corinthians 12:13 states that the Holy Spirit has baptized (past tense) all believers into one body…that of Christ. That baptism is also referenced in Romans 6—no water is in any of these passages. It is the Holy Spirit in view, here…not water.
Water baptism is only an outward demonstration, symbolic of an inward reality, just as communion is a commemorative feast, declaring what Jesus has done for us. Because water baptism is something that we can do, it is also something that can be faked by an unbeliever, just as an unbeliever can take communion. But there is no faking the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We can’t see it, and there are no outward signs, necessarily. Either you are or you are not in the body of Christ—and if you are, you got there by faith, and by the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is no “litmus test”: I can’t prove that someone is, or is not, a believer. We hear the testimony of faith, and see the testimony of obedience. A serious shortfall in either one may be cause to doubt the truth of the testimony, or the source of the obedience. When we fellowship with real believers, enthusiastic about God’s Word, and earnestly seeking to obey God’s Word, then the result is genuine unity, made by God, not man. All the ecumenical “unity” that we see today, built upon compromise and humanism, has nothing to do with the Unity of the Spirit.
People who set aside the written Word of God, trying to dissolve doctrinal disunity and create artificial unity are completely ignorant of the unity that Christ, the Living Word, produces. Lives changed by the Holy Spirit grow closer together, not further apart. Consider an old-fashioned wooden wheel. If Christ is the center of each of our lives— the hub, so to speak— then as we (as “spokes”) draw closer to Him we cannot help drawing closer to one another as well. On a wooden wheel the spokes converge until at the center they are joined…actually touching one another all the way around the hub. There is coming a day when all believers will be in full unity at the Throne of Grace, and there will be no division between us.
We have unity now—we need to maintain it.
Unity in Christ
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Notice the pronoun “ye”, again: this is still addressed to all believers. He says that we are (present tense) all one in Christ. This is genuine unity. It is made by God, not Man: we are only told to maintain it, not create it. (Ephesians 4:3 says we are to endeavor “…to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.”)
There are certainly differences from one person to another, by human standards, in terms of ability, social status, age, etc. Even under God, there are differences of gifts, and differences of maturity, along with different responsibilities and authority. But in terms of value, especially before God, the ground is absolutely level at the foot of the Cross. We need to see, here, that the differences do not in any way affect the value of the individual, nor our responsibility to maintain unity and fellowship with them.
29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Notice the continuing use of the plural pronoun, “ye”. If you are a member of the body of Christ, having been born again by Grace, through faith, and placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, then the promise that the nations would be blessed through Abraham has been partially fulfilled in you, and, more to the point, because you are in Christ, you are literally part of that promised seed…not a part of Israel, or Judaism, but a living part of the Messiah, himself: a part of the Body of Christ! He is the one Seed of Abraham…and we are part of Him forever.
But, as long as we are here in Galatians 3, look back at verse 26: please don’t fail to see how one becomes a Son of God. It is “by faith in Christ Jesus”: there is no other way. Faith is the only approach to God. I cannot get to God by church attendance, by Law-keeping, or by reciting a creed, however sincerely I may do all these things. If I am not placing my conscious trust in the fact of the Cross, then I am still seeking to achieve a “do-it-yourself” relationship with God, and it simply cannot be done.
Folks say “But all people are God’s children!” We see from the scriptures that Jesus disagreed with them; he stated that “…ye are of your father the Devil, and his works will ye do!” (John 8:44). So, not all people are children of God. In fact, in Ephesians 2:3, we see that none of us start out that way, and here, in Galatians 3:26, God says we can only become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
Over in John 1:12 John states that “as many as received him, to them gave he power (exousia—authority—the right) to become (the Greek means “be born; generated”—genesthai) the children (tekna—born-ones) of God. That is the only way it can happen. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that “You must be born again!”
If you have heard the bad news of your sin, and confess that you cannot save yourself, and have placed your trust in the Good News of the Person and Work of Christ, then you are permanently a child of God, and He will continue to correct you and draw you to Himself.
Trust Him, and give Him time to work!
Lord Jesus, focus the eyes of our hearts upon you. Draw us to walk together with you in faith, love and obedience. We confess that we cannot save ourselves, nor even see how to walk with you: We need the light of your Word, and the guidance of your Spirit. Give us Grace to live for you, by your Name and by your Spirit.