God’s Law Doesn’t Override God’s Promise
This week, as we continue our journey through the book of Galatians, Pastor Matt shows us how we can be unburdened from our tendency to relate to God by our law keeping through the BIG IDEA that God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise.
1. God’s law came after God’s promise.
2. God’s law drives you to believe God’s promise.
3. You are one by believing God’s promise.
Tony Evans Bible Commentary
Zondervan Exegetical Commentary – Galatians – Tom Schreiner
ESV Study Bible
Various sermons by Ray Ortlund
I am one of those stranger creatures who actually enjoys running. One of the things that I enjoy about running is the simplicity of it. When it comes to running the way you start is the same way you continue and is the same way you finish – you run. When it comes to running, you never graduate beyond the simple act of running. And the Christian life is a lot like running; you continue and finish the same way you began – by believing God’s promise. Can you remember how you began as a Christian? If you’re a Christian, you began the Christian life when the Holy Spirit opened your eyes to see that you are never going to measure up to God’s standard and God is never going to lower his standard. And then you collapsed. You collapsed into Jesus and received him with the empty hands of faith – nothing to offer. You received his righteous life in the place of our resume of unrighteousness. You received his atoning death in the place of our condemnation. You received his victorious resurrection as your only hope for eternal life instead of eternal judgment. You began the Christian life with nothing to offer God but Christ. And just like running – the way you continue the Christian life is the way you began – receiving God’s promise by faith.
Now, why do I say all that? Because God has a law. It’s written in the Bible. And one of the greatest burdens that we all carry is our tendency to live and relate to God by the law rather than by faith in his promise. One of the greatest burdens we carry is our tendency to begin judging God’s love for us, our ok-ness with him, and our ability to draw close to him on the basis of our law keeping rather than living by faith in his promise. It’s such a burden! But it’s not the way that we are meant to live. As Ray Ortlund says, “We never exchange the empty hands of faith for the clenched fists of merit.” And that’s where Paul takes us in Galatians this morning. The heart of his message is found in Galatians 3:17 – This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. That brings us to the big idea of our passage: God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise. Yes, God has a law. But we never exchange the empty hands of faith for the clenched fists of merit. Like runners, we continue the way that we began – by believing God’s promise. We are going to walk through three reasons why God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise so that we can be unburdened from our tendency to relate to God by our law keeping. 1. God’s law came after God’s promise. 2. God’s law drives you to believe God’s promise. 3. You are one by believing God’s promise.
GOD’S LAW CAME AFTER GOD’S PROMISE (3:15-18)
Last week, Pastor Mark taught us that relying on our law keeping is foolish because we were declared right with God, received the Holy Spirit, and became part of God’s people not by our merit, but by receiving Jesus with the empty hands of faith. Paul has defended justification by faith alone apart from works of the law from experience, from Scripture, and now Paul is going to defend it with a human example. This doctrine is so significant! Paul’s human example is complex, so we’re going to walk through it slowly together. Galatians 3:15-18 – To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Paul illustrates that we are right with God by faith in his promise, rather than by our law-keeping with the example of a man-made covenant, or contract. Even with a man-made contract, there is no adding to it or voiding it once it has been signed and executed. For example, when you buy a home and get a mortgage from the bank, your bank can’t just switch you from a fixed rate mortgage to a variable rate and start adding percentages to your interest payment. No one annuls or adds to a contract once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. Like you with your bank, God entered into a special kind of contract called a covenant with a man named Abraham thousands of years ago. God’s covenant with Abraham was characterized by promises that God made to Abraham. God promised to keep his covenant with Abraham no matter what. And while God made promises to Abraham on several ocassions, Paul mentions offspring, which means that Paul probably had two verses from way back in Genesis in mind. Genesis 13:15 – for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. Genesis 17:8 – And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. God promised land to Abraham and his offspring. And Paul makes a big deal out of the word “offspring,” singular. God’s promise to give land to Abraham and his offspring is ultimately fulfilled in the one true offspring of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true offspring of Abraham who perfectly followed God by faith, died for all of our unfaithfulness, and rose to receive the true promised land – the whole cosmos – forever. And we share in the inheritance of eternal life when we believe in the true offspring of Abraham – the Lord Jesus Christ. And God’s law doesn’t override that promise. As Ray Ortlund says, “Christ is all God will ever ask of you.” And God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise because God’s promise came first. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. In other words, God’s promise to Abraham, which is fulfilled in Christ, and we receive by faith in Christ apart from law keeping is a promise that the law can’t override because God’s law came first. God’s promise is fixed rate, not variable rate. No human adds to a contract or covenant once it’s ratified, far be it from God himself to do such a thing. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise to give eternal life in the eternal land to all who believe Abraham’s true offspring Jesus Christ because God’s promise came first. God’s promises are fixed rate, not variable rate. Christ is all God will ever ask of you.
Question: Are you relating to God on the basis of your performance or his promise? God’s law has its place, but it never overrides his promise. Now – all of this raises on important question. If God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise, then what is God’s law for? That brings us to our second point:
GOD’S LAW DRIVES YOU TO BELIEVE GOD’S PROMISE (3:19-25)
God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise. Why? God’s law came after God’s promise and God’s law drives you to believe God’s promise. Galatians 3:19 – Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions… The phrase “because of transgressions” is difficult to nail down. It could mean that the law was given to restrain sin, to define sin, or that the law was given to show us our sinfulness so that we will believe in Jesus as our Savior. While each of these options are theologically true, I believe that last one is in view in our passage. The law was added to show us our sinfulness so that we’ll never exchange the open hands of faith for the closed fists of merit. And the reason why I take this view is because Paul will now provide two illustrations for what the law is like.
First, Paul says that the law is like a prison. Galatians 3:21-22 – Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. The law is like a prison; a prison can show you that you need freedom, but it cannot give you freedom. The law can give you the diagnosis, but not the cure. Like a prison, the law can’t make you free, but it can show you that you desperately need to be set free from the tyranny of sin through God’s promise of eternal life through Christ alone. The law is like a prison; it can show you that you need freedom, but it can never give it to you. Second, Paul says that the law is like a nanny. Galatians 3:24-25 – So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian…A nanny is a temporary arrangement in the life of a child. In the same way, we are not meant to permanently live under the law. Rather, the law is meant to drive us to believe God’s promis of eternal life by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. God’s law drives doens’t override God’s promise, rather, it drives you to believe God’s promise.
If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, you need to know that God has standards. You’ll never measure up to his standards and he’ll never lower his standard. And God’s standard is meant to drive you to the One who perfectly kept God’s standard for you, took the curse of all your standard breaking upon himself at the cross, and rose to give you eternal life instead of eternal, conscious torment. Will you believe God’s promise? Will you today be done with being too moral for Jesus and become a Christian?
Now, if you already are a Christian, God’s law is meant to keep driving you to keep believing God’s promise of eternal life in Christ with INCREASING joy. Let me show you how that works:
God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise. God’s law came after God’s promise in order to drive you to believe God’s promise of eternal life to all who believe in the true offspring of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s turn now to the final reason why God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise…
YOU ARE ONE BY BELIEVING GOD’S PROMISE (3:26-29)
In this final move in our passage, Paul begins addressing us not as individual Christians, but as a community, a local church. So, as we follow Paul into this final move, I want you to begin thinking less in terms of “me” and more in terms of “us.” The final move is this: God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise because it’s not our law keeping that makes us one, it’s God’s promise. Let’s look closely at 3:26-27 and 3:29, and then we’ll come to the application in verse 28. Look with me at all the ways that believing God’s promise of eternal life through Christ has made us all one:
We are one family. Galatians 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. We are one family. When we all believe in Jesus, we are all in Christ. It’s very mysterious. We are welded to Christ by faith and we become what he is: sons of God! And it’s not for the elite. All who receive Christ with the empty hands of faith are in Christ, sons of God, and one family. The law can’t make us one, only the promise. Not only are we all one family, but we share one in identity. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Water baptism is a physical picture of what happens to us when we believe in Jesus. That’s why everyone should be baptized after believing in Jesus. When we are plunged under the water, it’s a physical picture of our old identity marked by sin and striving being put to death. When we come out of the water it’s a picture of our new life, which is in Christ. In baptism we put on a whole new identity, a new identity we all share, we put on Christ. We are all wearing the Jesus jersey now, we are team Jesus, and he is our shared identity. And the law can’t do that. Only believing the promise. And we are one people. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Jesus is the true offspring of Abraham and when you believe in Jesus, you become an offspring of Abraham too. We all are the true people of Abraham, the new Israel, one people in Jesus. And that’s all by the promise, not the law. You are stunningly one not by keeping the law, but by believing the promise!
Let’s look now at Galatians 3:28 – one of the most significant verses in the Bible for our oneness. Galatians 3:28 – 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. Wow! What is Paul saying? Paul is not saying that our ethnic, socio-economic, and gender identities are irrelevant or eliminated in Christ. For example, at Citylight Church we believe that God created humanity in his own image – male and female. There are only two genders and they are very good by design (Genesis 1). Not only that, but since the Bible teaches that men and women are distinct by design, men and women fulfill different roles in the family and in the church. God calls men to Christ-like headship in the family as husbands and women to church-like courageous submission as wives (Ephesians 5). Similarly, God calls men and women to use their gifts together to build up the church, but only men to serve as elders or pastors of the church (1 Timothy 2). And when we inherit the promise of eternal life one day, we will live in a new heaven and a new earth with resurrected bodies that are male or female because male and female is good by design. We love male and female as distinct image bearers with different roles because this is how we see the glory of God in humanity. So Paul isn’t saying that racial, ethnic, gender, life stage, or marital status identities are eliminated or irrelevant in Christ. But he is saying that they are relativized.
When we all believe in Jesus, we become one. Christ becomes all of our ultimate identity and all of our other identities, as important as they may be, are relativized. The truest you is not your race, your ethnicity, your age, your gender, your life-stage, your marital status, your life-experiences or your net worth. In Christ, those important identity markers are all relativized by your new, primary, glorious shared identity as the sons of God in Christ. And that’s why we can enjoy glorious, other-worldly unity in our – we pray- growing diversity: we are all sons of God through faith in God’s promise. In fact, most of our disunity and failure to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us for the glory of God, is the result of relativizing our ultimate identity in Christ and making ultimate our relativized identities in this world. So keep believing God’s promise. Keep believing God’s promise in Christ and by that promise keep moving into otherworldly unity despite all your diversity because you’re all sons of God!
I have run exactly one marathon in my life. It was about ten years ago. Because I am a glutton for punishment, I signed up for a mountain trail marathon. To help us runners estimate how long the race would take, they told us to take our road marathon time and add an hour and a half to it. They weren’t lying. The 26.2 mile race was almost entirely on rocky single track trails with about 9,000 feet of elevation change. I loved it. It was a really special experience. And it was grueling, long, and painful – you should see what the human foot looks like without toenails. When I got to the final aide station at mile 20, runners were dropping out and calling it a day left and right. But for those of us who finished, there was no secret to it. We finished the way we began, by putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to shuffle on. Sons of God – that’s what the Christian life is like. It’s an exhilarating, joyful, and yet arduous path and we finish the way we began. We keep believing God’s promise because God’s law doesn’t override God’s promise. I’ll close with the famous poem often attributed to John Bunyan:
Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings