What's the Point of the Law
So if we've always been saved by faith, what's the point of all of those Old Testament laws that God gave to Moses??
Morning. David Sorn. Lead pastor at Renovation Church. Hope you had a great 4th July weekend.
Well, let’s start with your stat of the day: Today, in churches all across America, is the least attended Sunday of the calendar year.
But while everyone else is up at their cabin watching a hot dog eating contest, they’re going to miss something special today.
We are going to be diving in extra-deep this morning. So put on your thinking caps. There’s one under your chair.
This is about as deep into the study of the overall story of the Bible as we’ve ever done
It’s not necessarily normal here, but it’s what our text calls for today in the book of Galatians.
Galatians is a book in the Bible written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Galatia.
The Galatians had forgotten that people are saved by faith in Christ alone, and were starting to believe they could earn their way to God by being a good person, or a good Jew, or by following “the law” as they called it.
As I said last week, Galatians 3 is one of the toughest chapters in the entire Bible.
The book of Galatians starts out at about “medium” in terms of difficulty, gets to brain scratchingly hard in chapter 3, and then is incredibly accessible and full of practical advice in chapters 5 and 6.
If you’ve been in and out the past few weeks, as I know a lot of you have, as it is indeed the summer, here’s the 2 minute catch-up on Galatians 3 so far.
Paul’s set up this argument that people are “made right” with God, forgiven, granted access to heaven, when they believe in God by faith
Which is now done through believing that Jesus died for you.
And this agreement/contract/covenant goes all the way back to Abraham in the book of Genesis.
Because God declared Abraham righteous (made right) because he BELIEVED God.
Not because of what he did.
Then last week, in verses 15-18, we showed how Paul says that even though 430 years after Abraham, Moses institutes the law in the OT…
(that’s the 600+ commands by God about how to live)
(the 10 commandments are a part of that. And actually they aren’t all rules. Almost have of them are positive commands…not just prohibitions)
And what happened is…many of the Jews…(like the Pharisees…and these Judaizers in Galatia) made “the law” (these rules) the cornerstone of their faith.
And they turned it into a religion where you had to be good enough to get a “reward” from God and be forgiven.
But Paul tells them in Galatians 3 that God made a PROMISE to Abraham that we are forgiven by the grace of God…by faith in Him…
And if God promised to Abraham that’s how people are forgiven…he didn’t go all schizophrenic, and change his mind with Moses and say, “Nah, JK, I changed my mind…impress me humans!”
And then change it back again to faith when Jesus came along.
NO…it’s always been about faith.
To God, A Promise is a Promise, and He’s not going back on his word.
Well, then that begs a HUGE question, which is this: WHAT’S THE POINT OF THE LAW then?
Why did God ever institute these 600 laws for his people in the first place if it’s about faith?
And what point did these laws serve from roughly 1400 BC to Jesus’ death in 30 AD?
And do they serve any point now?
This was a huge question for all of the Jewish people in the 1st century that were trusting in Jesus as their Savior.
A HUGE Question!
What does the law have to do with Jesus, then?
And it should still be a big deal to us today as we try and figure out the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament.
So what’s the point? At first glance, there seems to be no point.
If Abraham was saved by faith, and his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob, and on and on (and we know they were saved too)
Check out Jesus’ words in Matthew 22
(Matthew 22:31-32) – NIV
But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
He’s making the point that these men are forgiven, saved, and in heaven now.
So those 3 guys didn’t need the law. The Israelites didn’t need it for the 400 years they were in Egypt to be saved.
So why have the law at all?!?
It’s a question that Paul HAS to answer.
For the whole book of Galatians so far, he’s essentially been slamming the law.
Saying, “You guys know you can’t earn your way to heaven through the law, right? It’s a GIFT…not a REWARD”
So before he looks like some heretic that doesn’t believe the Old Testament…he needs to answer what the point of the law is.
THE LAW INCREASES AWARENESS OF SIN (v. 19)
So let’s check out his response.
We’ll be on page 944
Or use YouVersion
(Galatians 3:19) – NIV
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.
Ok…let’s keep that up there for a moment…
So the law was given…until the Seed (that’s Jesus)…he’s the promise given to Abraham
So, and we’ll get to this later, but we see right away that the purpose the law will change once Jesus comes.
But it also says “It was added because of transgression”
An easier translation would read, “it was given to produce transgression.”
Transgression is a fancy word for sin.
Or…it was given to create sin…
And obviously doesn’t mean that the law invented sin…it just means that the law SHOWS US our sin.
How does law do that?
Here’s an example:
If you’re sitting in the doctor’s office and he says, “Friend, your cholesterol is off the charts…if you want help…you need to take this prescription.”
But let’s say, you might doubt him in your heart.
But that distrust doesn’t actually become visible until you take an action…until you throw his prescription for what you should do (that’s the law) in the garbage…or his free samples he gives you. “Stupid Lipitor”
The prescription for how to live makes your sin actually visible now.
It shows…who really trusts the doctor and who doesn’t.
Just sitting in the doctor’s office, you can’t tell that.
So the law makes it obvious to us that we sin.
In fact, the law (also this is contrary to what you’d think) actually INCREASES sin.
The Bible even flat out says this:
(Romans 5:20) – NIV
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
(Romans 7:5) – NIV
For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.
This says…The law…God’s rules…even arouses our sin. Makes it worse.
Two easy illustrations of this.
The easiest way to make a teenager rebel: Give them an unbelievable amount of rules.
It’s like they just SEE the rules…and all they want to do is break them
There was a story a number of years ago about a hotel on the ocean in Galveston, Texas.
They were having problems because occasionally their guests would come up with the not-so-brilliant idea to fish from the balcony of their hotel rooms.
And they’d usually use such heavy sinkers that often their leaded sinkers would crash into a window below and shatter the glass.
Well, finally, after spending tons of money trying to fix the problem, a manager solved it for once and for all.
His idea: They simply removed the “No fishing from the Balcony” signs and no one did it anymore.
So in a way…law actually increases sin.
But then the other result of that is: it’s through the law that we actually become aware of our sin, right?
If you didn’t know what the standard was, you wouldn’t call yourself a sinner, because you wouldn’t have broken any standards in your mind.
It’s one of the challenges of modern day evangelism, because there is no universal standard anymore.
One of the methods people sometimes use in evangelism (it’s been made famous by Ray Comfort) works off of this function of the law.
They start by asking people if they’ve broken any of the 10 commandments.
And once people begin to realize that they are indeed a sinner…only then…can they see their need for a SAVIOR
But what helps them do that? The law.
The law establishes that we are broken and need help. We need a Savior.
IT CANNOT SAVE, BUT IT’S NOT OPPOSED (vv. 20-22)
Okay…so there seems to be some sort of point to the law here…but isn’t it still opposed to grace? To finding forgiveness to faith?
Paul answers that question in the next 3 verses
(Galatians 3:20-22) – NIV
20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Paul starts with kind of a random argument about how God’s promise to Abraham is also superior because it came straight from God…where Moses had to have a mediator in having angels be involved.
And then he proceeds to say…so then is this law thing opposed to salvation by faith?
The question is: Are they on opposite teams? (is this Packers/Vikings here?) Or are they just different players on the same team? With different roles at different times?
See, the law can’t save you. You’re never going to get to heaven by being good enough.
There’s no magic line we cross. It’s only by faith.
But that was NEVER its PURPOSE!
The law is more like a dentist’s little mirror. It can show where cavities are. Where decay is…but it can’t fix the teeth.
The law is like the light that reveals how dirty the room is, but it’s not the broom that sweeps it clean.
So…it’s not contrary. It’s not part of a different system where God was saving people for being “good enough” for a while.
It was merely a different player on the same team as faith.
And we make a pretty big Biblical mistake when we turn God into this schizophrenic being that had this 1,400 year zone-out where he accidentally was saving people for obeying the law for a while
And then changed it to faith when Jesus came.
No…the people of the OT were saved by faith.
(Romans 4:4-8) – NIV
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
So Paul is quoting Psalm 32, a Psalm of David, about 1,000 years before Christ.
It sounds like it’s right out of the NT…because David believed he was saved by faith!
Or look at Hebrews 4:2, it’s from the New Testament, but it’s referring to the people of Moses’ time.
(Hebrews 4:2) – NIV
For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.
In other words, it wasn’t enough, even for them to just follow some rules. They needed to TRUST in God…through faith.
Even Hebrews 11, which is known as the Hall of Fame of FAITH chapter…full of all the great people of faith…is entirely about people of the OT.
So just like Abraham, the Jews of the Old Testament were saved by faith in God.
Yes…the law was also a major part of their faith…and played a SIGNIFICANT role in how they lived that life of faith out…
But it was never intended to be their savior.
If anything…it was there to POINT them to the savior.
By reminding them: “Hey…look at how you measure up to God’s standards. Not well. You need forgiveness…through faith. Trust in God”
And trust in the promises…trust that a Savior FOR THE WHOLE WORLD… is coming
Look at how Hebrews 11, the hall of fame chapter about faith ends…while talking about these old testament heroes
(Hebrews 11:39-40) – NIV
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
So, really, it’s only through their faith…in that God is forgiving them.
We also see that their faith is in God and (just like Abraham)…in GOD’s promises.
So interestingly enough…in a way…their faith (and their salvation) is through Jesus too (Because that was God’s promise to them)
“A savior is coming!”
Again…it’s not some system where they all thought they were trying to earn their way to heaven.
TIME OF THE TYPEWRITER IS OVER (vv. 23-25)
Let’s look at it through another lens. Take a look at verses 23-25.
(Galatians 3:23-25) – NIV
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 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.
Paul says…that before the coming of faith (that’s Jesus he’s referring to), we were held in custody under the law.
Normally, as much as some pastors try and pretend otherwise, it’s not that great of an advantage to know Greek
However, this is a rare exception.
When Paul says we are no longer under a guardian, the Greek word is “paidagogos,” which the best translation is “Guardian” today.
But back then, it was an actual type of person that isn’t around anymore…and thus we don’t HAVE a word for it in English.
In those days, a paidagogos was a trustworthy slave who was charged with supervising the life and morals of rich boys.
Making sure these boys didn’t go around lifting up everyone’s tunics and giving them wedgies. J
These boys often couldn’t go anywhere without these slave-guardians until the boys reached manhood.
And Paul is saying…this is kind of what the “law” was like for people (specifically Israel…who is the child in this illustration)
The guardian slave can’t make their heart good.
And as we’ll see worked out in the coming weeks, the guardian slave can’t give them his inheritance either.
They were sometimes just called “Glorified babysitters.”
And that’s what Paul is calling the law.
It’s not a contradiction. It’s just more like a babysitter. A placeholder if you will.
A placeholder that was needed to help the people of faith live out their faith at that time.
Context is important. The law came at a time where over a million people, who had been slaves their entire lives in Egypt…are now about to enter into their own land, start their own government, and their own society in Israel.
And God graciously gives them a little more info on how to live out this faith.
But it’s not the ultimate fulfillment of this faith-covenant God started with Abraham.
It’s just kind of a “slave guardian” to watch over the people until the Messiah comes.
Which Galatians 4:4 tells us that Jesus comes in “The fullness of time”
Which, like we said last week, was at a time in history where the roads were finally in a condition to take the Word global, where the Roman empire had established unprecedented peace…and on and on.
But for the 1,400 years until that happened (from Moses to Jesus), the law was a guardian…helping the people find direction and restraint.
But it couldn’t make them new. It couldn’t save them.
That wasn’t its purpose.
And remember…its main purpose was just for a time.
Remember verse 19? It said, “The law was added UNTIL the Seed comes”
So…it’s main purpose is UNTIL Jesus comes.
But what does it’s role for today then?!?
Here’s one way to look at it.
The role of the law in history is kind of like the role typewriters have played in the development of word processing.
The technology of the typewriter was eventually developed into the technology of the keyboard…and the computer.
But when you type on a computer, you realize that you’re still using the manual typewriter’s technology.
But now, what your computer can do can far surpass what a typewriter could.
It’s like…everything the typewriter wanted to be when it was a little boy is now found in the computer.
That’s like the law. Everything the law wanted to be is now found in Christ…and in the Holy Spirit.
Yes, the law could still be a starting point for morality…a root of it if you will…but the ultimate fulfillment…the ultimate blooming of that flower is Jesus…and His teachings.
Yes, the law can still today help us realize we’re a sinner…we fall short of God’s standards, but the ultimate convictor is NOW the Holy Spirit
Yes…the law was the starting point...the root… as our guide to obeying God and living OUT a life of faith…but it’s now bloomed into this beautiful flower that is the Holy Spirit (which NOW lives in believers…but didn’t before!!)…and HE is what guides us personally…as well as ALL of God’s word (The ot AND the nt)
But the law was the guardian…and the starting point for that.
But it all changed when Jesus died.
It’s like…we grew up. It came to fulfillment. There was no need for slave-guardian anymore.
But the law isn’t irrelevant. It’s not abolished.
(Matthew 5:17) – NIV
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
The law isn’t abolished. It’s not worthless. It still has meaning.
It’s just not our primary guide. Jesus is the ultimate fulfiller and guide…along with the Holy Spirit.
So for example, the law talks about sacrificing animals as a symbol of forgiveness.
We shouldn’t forget all about that…but it’s just that that symbol of sacrifice and forgiveness has now been FULFILLED in the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
But….But…those animal sacrifices described in the law were the like the guardian that led people to better understand what Jesus’ sacrifice meant.
Otherwise they would have never got the meaning.
But the law helped them understand…a spotless lamb must be killed as a sign of your forgiveness..
But until Jesus died…the law was just a placeholder…pointing people to something better that was coming.
It was still just a baby typewriter.
Dreaming of being fulfilled and filled out…of upgrading…to a MacBook Pro someday.
And our verse 25 says, “Now that this faith has come…we don’t need a guardian anymore”
In other words, now that it’s been fulfilled, now that the Messiah…for the WHOLE world has come…we’re in the age of computers.
You can’t go back to the typewriter.
That doesn’t mean we throw it away.
Doesn’t mean it doesn’t have meaning.
“Doesn’t mean it isn’t at least a part of the foundational way we operate and follow God now
But you can’t go back.
Paul is saying to the Galatians, “It makes no sense to go back to the guardian now.”
His time has past.
It served a GREAT purpose…and is instrumental and what our faith has now become…
But you can’t go back.
If you go back…and start making it all about just obeying the law…trying to get right by being good enough….
A) The law was never intended for that in the first place
B) It’s not about the law anymore.
So, to the Galatians, he says….”Remember…being made right with God is about faith in Christ…not about obeying the law...
“But, yes, if you truly want to know…I’m not saying the law is bad. In fact, the law was very important.
It helped people be convicted of sin…so they would know they would need God…and ultimately a coming Savior.
It helped people know what a faith in God could actually look like if it was lived out.
“So yes…it was important”
But times have changed. We’re in the age of the computer now.
The law has been fulfilled by Jesus…who led a perfect life.
And we have more teachings…the teachings of Christ. We have the Holy Spirit now…each of us as believers…to guide us to righteousness.
So, yeah, the law is important…but we can’t go back.
We’ve grown up now.
We can’t go back to the babysitter.
“And while this is a deep look into how the Old Testament and New Testament work together…I do think it’s really important.
I hear all too many Christians say today… “I don’t need to read the OT…that part isn’t inspired…or it’s not important.”
And I think some of those misconceptions come from the fact that we don’t understand the law.
Because we think it’s contrary…but Paul says in Galatians 3, isn’t NOT contrary…it was just the guardian.
And if we look at the WHOLE story (and it’s ALL important), it’s been about faith all along.
And now…that faith story has reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
But much of our faith today is built originally on these principles from the law.
So it’s really important to us today to understand it.
It’s part of God’s inspired word.
And if we’re going to know where we are today…we need to know how we got here.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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