Galatians 3:19-25 The Purpose of the Law WC McCarter
Are you with me? Are you following what the apostle is teaching in Galatians? Do you understand that you will be saved by faith and not by works?
Now that we have established that no one is made right with God by the law, let me ask you this, what is the purpose of the law? What is the value of the Old Testament? We are New Testament believers, right? Do we even need the Old Testament? Can we not just get rid of it? Should we just ignore what God said to and did with Israel? We will see today that the Law was for a limited time and specific purpose (Moo, 232), and also that the OT has tremendous value for Christian.
When I was in high school, I did not know exactly what career I would begin. I did not know what I would be doing for the rest of my life. Thus, I did know exactly what to study or how to prepare. So, the educational system put me through all sorts of disciplines that I did not necessarily care for. I was forced to take several years of math, science, language, and more. This was to get me to a certain point. It was to prepare me for whatever I would go into.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
#1 Because of Transgressions (19-20)
The law had a definite beginning (430 years after the promise was made), and it has a definite end (until the Seed should come to whom the promise was made). So, Paul says that the law was given until the Seed of the promise came on the scene. Whatever the law was for, it was only for a certain period of time and not forever. The promise is what God was wanting to accomplish. The promise is what God would surely accomplish in human history. And He has.
“Transgressions” is a very specific word. Paul does not say “sins,” but “transgressions.” Transgressions refers to breaking a certain, established law. This brings greater punishment. Sin is bad enough, but when one is fully informed that they should not cross a boundary and they do, then the punishment must be more severe. The law was the revealed will of God for the people. It demanded holiness. God said, “Be holy for I am holy.” What God did in giving the law was make rebellion against His will a legality. Humanity could no longer hide behind the notion that God’s will was not clearly revealed. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations. They were to share the instruction and demands of the Lord with the whole world, but they failed miserably. They themselves could not even keep the law, much less teach it to others. So the law was given for the simple fact that God could then say, “You have broken my law by transgressing its commands.”
It is well known in Jewish tradition, and even in the New Testament, that the Law was given by God to Moses through angels. After that the law was then given to the people by Moses. The Law, then, was given by God through the angels through Moses to the people. On the other hand, the promise was given directly by God to Abraham. The blessing associated with the promise was of the one God from beginning to end. However, the blessing associated with the Law was dependent on both God and the people.
Law Cannot Give Life (21)
After tearing down the law as a means of justification, Paul asked the question, “What is the purpose of the Law?” He answered by saying that it was to make sin transgression, which warrants a greater degree of penalty. He will give two more answers to this question, but before doing so, he will ask and answer another question in v21. The next logical question, then, is to ask, “Is the law against the promises of God?” To that Paul answers, “Certainly not!” The question is not so much important as is the answer. Paul only poses the question so that he can make the answer clear. His point in v21 is, The law is certainly not against the promises of God, but the law does not give life. That is why the promise still stands and is necessary to make us right with God. The law promises to give life to all those who keep every command, but no one has ever perfectly kept all the demands of the law. Thus, the law cannot give life.
#2 To Confine All Under Sin (22-23)
The next two verses, 22-23, give us a second answer to the first question, What is the purpose of the law? #1 To make sin transgression. #2 To confine all under sin. The law cannot give life, and, in fact, it does the opposite–it confines all under sin. And we all know that the wages of sin is death. The term “confine” in the NKJV is “locked up” in the NIV and carries this meaning of being imprisoned. So, the human offense is sin. Transgression is what has put humanity in prison. The Law is seen as the prison guard, the jailer. Now, we are the ones who have sinned, and God is the one who has handed down the law so that all things are confined under sin. Why has God done this? Why put mankind in this prison? “[It was so] that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Humanity was going to have to (and many still must) come to the realization that their righteousness is as filthy rags before the Lord, that they are poor in spirit, and they need Christ to save them. Thus, we were (and many are) in prison until Christ freed us.
#3 To Bring Us to Christ (24-25)
The NIV does a much better job in translating these two verses: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
V24 “παιδαγωγὸς” is where we get the word “pedagogue” which means teacher. Yet, that is not what the word originally meant. The word literally means “boy-leader” and refers to a male–usually slave–who was a trusted member of the family in charge of leading a boy to and from school, watching him while he played, supervising the boy’s overall conduct, guarding him, and disciplining him. He was not necessarily a teacher but was a leader, guardian, and guide. He was the restraining influence. Respect was due to him and obedience. This guardian would accompany the boy until he reached a mature age and was no longer needed. They were often seen as overly harsh in their discipline which was the acceptable practice.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) So, what is the purpose of the OT law? The apostle gives us three answers:
#1 To make sin transgression.
#2 To confine all under sin.
#3 To bring us to Christ.
(2) The Old Testament is vitally important to the history of redemption in that it demonstrates the holiness of God (you cannot approach God in just any old way); it determines our sinfulness and causes it to be transgression; and the OT has set boundaries morally, ethically, and religiously. By the way, it is decidedly difficult to understand the NT without the OT. Therefore, we should be sure to read and meditate on the OT often so that we may know who God is, how He has dealt with humanity, and that we may know our need of grace.
(3) You have been given life by the grace of God. Glory in that. You have been made alive, freed from sin to live as God desires. Although you were once confined by sin, overwhelmed by the burden of your sins’ consequences, you have now been made alive and free! Be satisfied in Him. Rest in faith.