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THE LAW DOES NOT CONFLICT WITH THE PROMISES OF GOD (Galatians 3:21

If the law did not add anything to the terms of the promise of God to Abraham and to his seed, and if it could not disannul the terms of the promise, and if the law was only added for the sake of bringing out the sinfulness of sin in horrible transgressions, then there seems to be a conflict between the law and the promises. God was then performing a conflicting work at Ur of the Chaldees and on mount Sinai. That seems to be the legitimate inference and conclusion. 

To this the apostle replies with the strongest denial:God forbid! (Gal. 3:21) For a similar denial see Rom. 6:1where the seemingly legitimate conclusion is warranted concerning the “added law that the offense might abound.” (Rom. 5:20) Let that conclusion never even arise in our hearts to subscribe such folly to the most wise God, Who does all things in wisdom and prudence, (Eph. 1:8, 9) making known unto us the mystery of His will! The law cannot, in the divine wisdom, be “against” the promises of God! God is too great a Teacher and Pedagogue of His saints to perpetrate such folly and injustice. 

What then? 

Such folly could only be true if God had given the law the same life-giving powers which He has reserved for the operation of the Holy Spirit. If the law were of such a nature that it had the innate power (dunamos, compare our English: dynamite) to make a dead sinner alive, a rebellious sinner willing, then it would be doing what the Holy Spirit does in the risen Christ at God’s right hand. (Eph. 2:5-7) Then the law could and would be doing what grace now does, the rich mercy and love whereby we have been made alive with Christ and whereby we have been set with Christ in heavenly places. But that is as unthinkable, in the light of Scripture, as it is untrue. Then righteousness would have been by means of law and Christ would have died on the Cross unnecessarily. The law would have made the Cross redundant, superfluous! But such a law was not given. God did not save us both by law and by grace. And, therefore, the law is not against the promises of God. God forbid! 

Now we look for the highest wisdom and beautiful design of the architect of our salvation in the lawgiving at Sinai, The righteousness whereby we are saved is without law as the basis of salvation. (Rom. 3:21) Such is the testimony of all the law and the prophets. Paul now calls attention to all these Old Testament Scriptures and tells us that “the Scripture,” as the revelation of the divine plan and purpose, had something in mind with the law-giving in relationship to the fulfilment of the Promises of God. 

THE SCRIPTURE’S PURPOSE IN PLACING ALL THINGS UNDER SIN (Galatians 3:22

Paul’s appeal is here not to human logic or mere correct inference from certain data of Scripture. Paul appeals to the last court of appeal, the normative, canonical teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. Before this teaching all human reason must bow. These are the spiritual weapons which are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. (II Cor. 10:4) The foolish imaginations of these Judaizing teachers, which exalts itself against the knowledge of God, must be brought down crashing to its destruction. All must be brought to the obedience of Christ. And, therefore, Paul says: The Scripture hath included (shut up) all things under sin in order that the promise might be out of faith of Jesus Christ, to all them that believe!

Before this Scripture all must bow! There may be some difference of interpretation relative to the term: Scripture. In the Greek the definite article points out the well-known Scripture in this regard. Whether this refers to a definite Scripture passage in the Old Testament or whether it refers to the Scripture as a whole in its united teaching is not of great consequence as far as Paul’s positive setting forth of the truth of the Gospel is concerned. Sometimes the term refers to a definite Scripture passage in the Old Testament. (Mark 12:10Ps. 118:22) Sometimes the term “the Scripture” refers to more passages than one, to a group of passages as in John 7:28, 42. Here reference is to such passages as Ezekiel 47:1-12Joel 3:1, 4:13Zechariah 13:1, 14:8. It seems to this writer that here, in Galatians 3:22, the apostle has in mindall the law and the prophets. These all testify of this great “purpose” of the law in relationship to the fulfilled promise. (Rom. 3:21) For this reason Paul can say theScripture, just as he did in verse 8 of this Chapter, where he personifies the Scripture, making the Scripture a preacher of the gospel-tidings to Abraham that in him all nations would be blessed. This same “Scripture” is here once more personified as putting “all things under sin.” Here the Scripture is not a “preacher” but is more a “keeper of a city,” a Divine pedagogue to Christ. 

But we are anticipating. 

Now Paul tells us some very instructive and interesting things about the law, as given 430 years after the gracious promise-giving to Abraham. This law did only one thing. That was all it could do. In comparison with the life-giving promise of the Spirit it was weak. It did not merely leave us in our sins, but it most emphatically put us under sin. (upo hamartian) That was the very operation and functional design of the law, That was the purpose of the law-giving: it was for the transgressions’ sake. (See verse 19) 

It is worthy of notice that the phrase “under law” is only found in the writings of Paul, and then only in the Romans and Galatians. Again, we should notice that this term “under law” sometimes refers to beinglegally under law, that is, under condemnation. (Rom. 6:15) It is the very opposite of being “under grace” of justification. Being “under law” means to be legally in the status of a servant of sin. We then have no right to serve God as sons. Sin is our legal master before God. In Romans 7:14 we read that Paul confesses that, even as a free-born son, (Rom. 7:3, 4) he is, as far as his flesh is concerned, “sold under sin.” His flesh is completely under the sin-principle. (Compare for the idea of being entirely under the grip of sin such passages as I Kings 21:25 and II Kings 17:17, where it means to be wholly and entirely and totally under the dominion of sin.) Paul is sold under sin as far as his flesh is concerned. There is no good in it. Here “under sin” is not quite the same as being “under law.” However, in our present passage, which we are considering here in Gal. 3:22, the term under sin, means legally andspiritual under the sin-principle. And, it must be understood that we are legally thus under this principle, because we are under law-principle whichcannot make us alive, nor can it justify us! 

Now the entire teaching of Scripture is that we are thus “shut up” under sin. We are like fish in a net. There is no escape, there is no getting from under this law. The Scripture thus teaches everywhere in all the law and the prophets. Thus it was in the Old Testament from Sinai till Calvary; any other teaching concerning the law is a lie. 

However, this law is not a sadistic contrivance to torture the heirs of the promise; it was the Divine way of underscoring the grand Gospel-message, by the greatest contrast, that the promise is for those who believe alone. Only it is for such only in the way of “out of the faith of Jesus Christ.” The false teachers, who had descended upon the Galatian churches like vultures, would admit that the promise is only forbelievers. What they denied was that it was “only out of faith” without works of law. Thus they denied the great promise of God, and all the teaching of “the Scripture” concerning the very purpose of the law! They failed to hear the Gospel message in the Scripture. They failed to hear the one “Scripture” which spoke of the promised salvation to all nations, and of the role of the law in Israel toward that sure and wonderful goal. They erred because they did not know the Scriptures, nor the power of God, (Mark 12:24). 

THE FAITH WHICH WAS ABOUT TO BE REVEALED (Galatians 3:23

The law was really a marvelous institution of God, given by angels in the hand of Moses for Israel at Sinai. Although it kept Israel, the heirs of the promise, under sin, it had a very definite purpose of pointing to the fulfilment in Christ’s death and resurrection! Christ would be delivered for our offenses and He would be raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25Isaiah 53:4

Writes Paul, “we were kept under law, shut up unto (eis) the faith which was about to be revealed.” Hence, there is now a point of reference for Paul in his reasoning. It is “before” and “after” faith came. Israel in the Old Testament, under law, lived “before faith was revealed,” We live “after faith is revealed.” Now this has great meaning in Paul’s argument against the false teachers. These disregarded this before andafter faith of the Scriptures, They would bring the church back from the “after” to the “before” faith came. Thus they denied the truth of the Gospel of Christ: justification by faith, receiving the Spirit by faith! They were really enemies of the Cross of Christ. 

Now we must understand this well! 

What is this “faith” which was about to be revealed? A mere glance at this Chapter here in Galatians will show us that Paul uses the term “faith” many times, more than a dozen times. In some instances he refers to faith as the subjective faith in our hearts, by which we lay hold upon and appropriate to ourselves all the benefits of Christ. (see verses 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11 etc.) Then faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby we hold for true all that God has revealed to us in the Gospel, but it is also a hearty confidence which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts by the Gospel, that there is for me forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and eternal life merely for the sake of Christ’s merits. (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 21) However, here in Gal. 3:23 the apostle Paul uses the term “faith” in the sense of the entire merited salvation by Christ on the Cross. It emphasizes that now there is nothing of the “works of law” left. What the gospel proclaims is “faith”: the Cross and all its benefits are this faith. This is “the faith” once delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3) Paul would have the Galatian churches and the church of all ages “earnestly contend” for this faith: the Christ crucified, evidently set forth in the preaching of the Gospel.