Last week we began our study of Galatians, examining Paul’s introduction and description of their problem. In the second chapter, he began diving into the main topic of the letter, the Law vs. the New Covenant, touching on the purpose of the Law as helpful but ultimately powerless to save us. Today we’ll continue on with the next two chapters (3-4), delving deeper into the place both the Law and our Faith hold in our lives.
Before we begin moving through Galatians, I’d like to jump back all the way to Genesis to take a look at the life of Abraham. Notice Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” This occurred while the Lord was making a covenant with Abraham to make a nation out of him. Notice that it wasn’t Abraham’s fulfillment of the Law that made him righteous, but his faith in God. This event transpired long before the Law was established, yet Abraham was still credited as righteous. This tells us that it is clearly faith in God that saves, not living up to any Law, even in the time before Christ came. They hoped in the One promised to come and were blessed for it.
While we are still in Genesis, I should note that in Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 that God promises all nations will be blessed through Abraham’s offspring, not just his descendants. We see this confirmed throughout Galatians (and several other books of the Bible) as well. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Through Christ, there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Greek (Gentile), all who believe are children of God (Galatians 3:14).
What is the purpose of the Law then? If we are saved by faith and were even during the time of the Law, why did God establish it? Excellent question. Galatians 3:19 (as well as Romans 7-8) sheds some light on its intent: “Why then the law? 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.”
Humans are imperfect. Ideally, all we need is to love God and our neighbors (Mark 12:29-31), but because of our waywardness, God established an imperfect system by which we could learn right from wrong, thus helping us live in Faith as He intended (Romans 3:20). However, it holds an expiration date: “until the offspring should come to whom the promise is made”. God never intended for us to be bound eternally by this set of rules. Though they serve as a helpful guide to knowing God’s heart, they are incomplete. They cannot save us. Only Christ can do that.
“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,” – Galatians 3:22-25
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that we have yet to discuss chapter 4. While it doesn’t contain as much instruction on the area of Law vs Faith, I feel that it is still important to go over. Chapter four describes a lot of what being a Christian entails, portraying the difference between our former selves and new lives in Christ. Verses 21-31 paint a picture of two covenants, Hagar and Sarah. One represents those under the Law: slaves and servants. The second represents the children of the promise: those who trusted in God rather in flesh.
These chapters help us understand the difference between those under the Law and those under the Promise. One must work to attain an unreachable goal, while the other is saved by their faith in their Savior, whether He has already come or was still promised to come. The book of Galatians only confirms the truth that none of us are powerful enough to save ourselves, and nothing created will ever be sufficient for that.