CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXXVII)

Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) enlightens us on what Paul was driving at when he asks in verse nineteen, why was the Law even given? Clearly, says Paul, it was given because of sin. And furthermore, it was an interim solution to be utilized until the Messiah came. Hovey notes that the Greek preposition charin translated as “because of” signifies, primarily, “for the sake of.” In Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it explains the phrase as, “for the sake of,” and “for this cause,” meaning, “transgressions” – that is, not to encourage or promote sinful behavior, but to show the true character of wrongdoing, and thereby increase a person’s consciousness of sin in order to create the desire for redemption. This interpretation is very much in harmony with the language of Paul in Romans,[1] and by his discussion, which follows in the next few verses.

So, we can conclude, says Hovey, it was the mission of the Law to awaken in mankind the consciousness of sin, in order that they may feel the need of a Savior. Even among the Gentiles, it was understood that it is part of human nature to be upset with restraint, and we’re sure to covet what was forbidden. That’s why conscious transgression is increased by a clear revelation of the Law and at the same time, distinctly aware of its contrary self-will and inclination to do something illegal even when they know it’s wrong.[2] From this, we can draw many comparisons. For instance, for a person with a greedy appetite, their sheer gain in weight makes them cumbersome, so they find it harder and harder to stand up and walk will tell them they need to make a change. And the uncontrolled drinking of alcohol that leads to alcoholism and its effects, especially the pain of detoxification, sends a message to give it up. Even children who love to play in the dirt will, after a while, ask Mommy if they can take a bath.

George W. Clark (1831-1911) makes a point that receiving the indwelling Spirit through listening to the Word by faith, is just as real as receiving His gifts. Unfortunately, some individuals in his day were limiting the receiving of the Spirit to His gifts through the baptism of the Spirit. At the moment of regeneration and new birth, the Spirit took up residence in order that they may then live for Messiah with the Spirit’s inner presence. Some people today are still confused by this. As Clark sees it, hearing the Gospel is a passive act of faith while responding to what one hears is an active act of faith. So, unless the active act of faith takes place, then simply hearing the message is not enough. Likewise, there can be no active act of faith unless the message is heard.[3]

George B. Stevens (1854-1906) states that “The principle of the Gospel predates and triggers the Law.” In other words, the teachings in the Gospel were already written down in heaven before the Law was written on Mt. Horeb. That’s because in the promise God made to Abraham of the inheritance of Canaan for all his descendants, was made before the Law was given. And in that promise, the one to inherit that promise was the promised Seed who would be born in the genealogy of the Promised son, Isaac. And this Promised Seed was none other than the only Son of God who existed with the Father since eternity past. And since no covenant signed by the maker can be changed, that means that while the Jews looked for a Messiah outside the line of David, it was predetermined by the covenant that it would only be given to one of David’s descendants. That is the only way that the royal line could be passed on to the Messiah.[4]

Arno Gaebelein (1861-1945) asks that if the Law cannot give the Spirit of God, if it cannot give righteousness, if the Law bestows no blessings on mankind, but pronounces a curse upon them, if it cannot, in any way, affect the original grace-covenant made with Abraham, confirmed in Isaac, then the logical question certainly is “Why did God give the Law?”  This seems to be Paul’s question here in verse nineteen. The answer is “It was added because of disobedience.” It was not added that sin might be curbed, or a person might be saved by it, but that every person might be established as a transgressor and their hopeless and guilty condition fully visible. It was introduced as a teaching tool in between the original promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in the Anointed One, in order that the corrupt moral condition of mankind might be more clearly seen.[5] Therefore, it was a mere addition “till the seed (the Anointed One) should come, to whom the promise was made.” And the Law was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Angels in glory were present at Sinai;[6] God did not fully reveal Himself in His glory to the Israelites and so a mediator was needed, that is, Moses.

Paul’s statement “a mediator is not one person” means that mediatorship necessitates two parties. So, there were God and Israel, Moses stood in between as the mediator. But in the promise, the covenant made with Abraham and his seed, God was the only one who spoke. Its fulfillment is not (as in the law-covenant) dependent upon a faithful God and Israel’s obedience, but on God’s faithfulness alone; all depended upon God Himself. The mediatorship of the Lord Jesus the Anointed One is a different matter and not in view here at all. But the Law is not against the promises of God. Man needed life; the Law could not give that, neither could it give righteousness. All – Jews and Gentiles – were shut up sin’s prison. Therefore, the promise God made to Abraham might only be fulfilled through faith in Jesus the Messiah who was the only one who could set them free.[7]

Don Garlington feels that all the Apostle Paul said so far about the Law being unnecessary to one’s faith in God and the Anointed One, it would seem normal to ask the same question, “What was the purpose of the Law to begin with? Why was it necessary if in the end, it doesn’t count one iota toward our salvation?” Paul’s answer, says Garlington, is this: “It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred came.” The disputed part of verse nineteen is the statement that the Law was added “because of sin,” says Garlington. Here are a variety of understandings: to restrain transgressions; to multiply transgressions or increase the awareness of sins, thus showing humanity’s need of a savior.[8] Didn’t they know they would turn sin into a transgression against God? The Law makes it very clear that every sin is a sin against God. But the Law was also given in a positive manner to provide a way of dealing with transgressions, namely, in the sacrificial system. All in all, the most satisfactory interpretation of why the Law was necessary is that it filled the void “until the Promised Seed should come,” and with the proposition in verse twenty-four below, the Law was a disciplinarian to bring a repentant Israel to the Anointed One.[9]

This search for a savior led many Israelis to become involved in idolatry. The Torah was given expressly to preserve them as a distinct and peculiar people. The effect of placing the people under the Law was to preserve the promise of mercy through the Messiah, of which they were the chosen to maintain this gift from God until it came to pass. We might say the same thing today about the second coming of the Anointed One. The Gospel was given to the Christian church to keep them faithful and carry enough oil to keep their lamps burning until they hear the trumpet sound and the words, “Behold, the Groom is on His way!”

Alfred E. Bouter contends that the Law was added only for a limited time, “until the Seed came.” Who is the Seed? the Anointed One is, as we have seen. The Law was fulfilled in the death of Jesus Messiah which completed the Law’s purpose because everything it demanded was fulfilled. Some more details are then given about the character of the Law in order for us to see the difference between it and the system of grace. Law was ordained through angels in the hand of a mediator. God gave the Law to angels which means they were mediators; then the angels gave it through the hand of Moses, and Moses became the mediator on behalf of the people. So, there was a great distance between God and the people.

That raises the question: “Is there a great distance between God and us under grace?” No, we are His sons and daughters, so very close to God. This shows a difference in character. Paul told Timothy: “For there are one God and one mediator between God and mankind, Messiah, Jesus.” That means, the next question is, “In what way did He become our mediator. Paul goes on to tell Timothy: “by giving Himself as a ransom for all people.”[10] This is difficult to understand, says Bouter, but in the end, it implies that it all depends on God. God worked with the Israelites through slaughtered animals alone. Everything depends on God. Now God works with Christians through the sacrifice called, “The Lamb of God.”[11] When we try on the basis of works of Law then it depends on us and as a consequence, it will never work, but when it depends on God alone He is faithful and then things are fulfilled through the Anointed One and His sacrifice on the cross. That’s why God raised Him from the grave to become our King.

3:20 That’s because a mediator is only needed when two people must reach an agreement. In Abraham’s case, God acted on His own behalf when He gave His promise to him.

We can see that as far back as the righteous man Job, people thought that a mediator was needed between mankind and God. Job once felt dismayed that on his own he couldn’t defend himself before God. He said, “For He is not a man, as I am, that I may answer Him, that we might go to trial together. There is no arbitrator to decide the case for us, someone with the authority to discipline both of us.”[12] But Paul sees another way of looking at it. He told young Timothy, “There is one God. There is one Man standing between God and men. That Man is the Anointed One Jesus.”[13]

But unlike Job’s conclusion, Jesus does not overrule His Father in Heaven. All those matters are already settled. As our Mediator, when we displease the Father, Jesus His Son stands willing to plead for grace and mercy on our behalf by holding out His nail-scarred hands. Then to send the Holy Spirit with the message, if you will just confess your sin, He is faithful and just to forgive you of your sin.[14] So it is not we who through tears and repentance, or many prayers and penance, earn God’s forgiveness. It is a gift that is always ready for those who are willing to see their need and humbly ask God if by His love, grace, and mercy He can forgive them.

[1] Romans 5:20; 7:7-9

[2] Hovey, Alvah: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 46–47

[3]George W. Clark: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 80

[4] George B. Stevens: Short Exposition of Galatians, op. cit., pp. 104-105

[5] See also Romans 3:20; 5:13, 20, 7:7-9

[6] Psalm 68:17

[7] Arno Gaebelein: The Annotated Bible, op. cit., p. 217

[8] See Romans 3:20; 4:15; 5:20

[9] Don Garlington: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 109-110

[10] 1 Timothy 2:5

[11] John 1:29, 36

[12] Job 9:32-35

[13] 1 Timothy 2:5

[14] 1 John 1:9

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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