Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
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. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Galatians 3:19-22 ESV
There’s that word, “offspring” again. Paul continues to unpack the true meaning behind Genesis 22:18 where God made His promise to Abraham: “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” According to Paul, the “offspring” to whom God referred in His promise was Jesus. It would be through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the law was given by God after He had made the promise to Abraham. Why? In order to expose the extent of mankind’s sinfulness. God gave His chosen people the law “because of transgressions.” The law clearly articulated God’s holy and righteous expectations of men. There could be no debate. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7 ESV). Prior to the giving of the law, man could have rationalized away his sin or simply claimed ignorance. But the law made it perfectly clear what God expected and demanded of mankind, especially His chosen people. In Romans, Paul indicates that the very presence of the law acted as an impetus to sin, not causing man to sin, but provoking man’s sin nature to rebel against it. When the law said, “Do not…”, man’s sin nature automatically and reflexively responded, “But I will…”. Paul went on to say, “sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8 ESV). Indwelling sin, which opposes God, stands opposed to His holy law. It rejects the law and entices man’s fleshly, sinful nature to disobey it. Like a parent telling their child not to touch a hot stove, the prohibition creates in the child an even deeper desire and curiosity to do that which has been denied.
In verse 19, Paul says the law “was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Moses provides us with some insight into the meaning behind Paul’s statement. Just prior to his death, Moses gave a blessing to the people of Israel, saying, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deuteronomy 33:2 ESV). Angels played a mediatory role, while Moses played an intermediatory role. The law was given and it placed responsibilities on God and upon man. God was obligated and committed to bless when men obeyed His law.
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV
But He was also required to curse or punish when man disobeyed.
But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV
In contrast, when it came to the Abrahamic covenant, the promise God made to Him regarding his “offspring”, the sole responsibility of the covenant fell upon God. There was no intermediary. It was a unilateral covenant. The promise was made by God and would be fulfilled by Him. Moses could add nothing to the equation. He was simply required to believe God, and Paul writes in Romans, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:20-22 ESV).
The law did not stand opposed to or somehow replace the promise of God. It was not intended to be a substitute for the promise. And it was never designed to produce in man a righteousness that could restore him to a right relationship with God. What it did was show men just how sinful and helpless they really were. Whether motivated by genuine love for or fear of God, men were incapable of keeping His righteous decrees. The law simply confirmed that they were law breakers.
Paul tells us the law was designed to be temporary in nature. It was to be in effect until the promise was fulfilled and “the offspring” came. With the coming of Jesus and His death on the cross, the law’s binding hold on man was released. Jesus became the fulfillment of the law, having obediently kept every single requirement. He did what no other man had ever done. And His sinless perfection made Him the perfect, blameless sacrifice that God required to atone for the sins of mankind. Jesus paid it all. His sinless, unselfish sacrifice of His own life satisfied the just demands of a holy God.
In Romans, Paul writes of the unbelievable impact of Jesus’ death on our behalf:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. – Romans 5:6-9 ESV
Law-keeping is not the answer to man’s sin problem. The law was never intended to provide salvation. It was designed to show man His sin and place him under God’s holy, just condemnation. The law was not even capable of driving men to God. As Paul indicated, it actually inflamed man’s sin nature and drove him further from God. Law-breakers hate the law. They look for ways to disobey it and get around it. They see the law as oppressive and unnecessary. But Jesus came to free men from the law. He came to provide a means by which they could be made right with God apart from the law. And Paul makes it very clear that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. We didn’t see our need for a Savior and run to Him. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were blinded by our own sin natures and by Satan himself. And yet God, in His grace, opened our eyes to see the glory of the offer of the gift of His Son’s death. The scales fell off our eyes and His Spirit gave us the supernatural ability to say yes to that which we, if left to ourselves, we would have always said no.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV
Even our faith is a gift from God, otherwise it would be a work. It is not our doing, but a gift from God. Our salvation is the sovereign work of God, from beginning to end. As when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, shouting, “Lazarus, come forth!”, God calls us out of the death and darkness of sin, providing us with not only life but the capacity to obey. That is truly amazing grace.