Today, my husband and I were studying God’s moral law and how it relates to faith and His promise to Abraham. It was stated that if Abraham’s life was characterized primarily by faith why then did God give the law to Israel about four centuries after Abraham? Wouldn’t the giving of the law nullify God’s covenant with the patriarch? The answer is no. Paul explains why in Galatians 3:17, 18, “And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” In other words, the law which came after God’s covenant with Abraham could not annul it. The promise God made to Abraham was changeless. Nothing could annul it or make it of no effect. If the law was able to do then our inheritance would have come through the law rather through God’s promise. We are heirs according to God’s promise to Abraham. The law does not make us heirs.
Paul elaborates more in Romans 4:13-17. “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”). God’s promise was granted through faith.
God is incapable of breaking His promises. After He stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, He said to Him, “By Myself I have sworn” The author of Hebrews concurs, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17, 18).
When Paul stated that salvation is by faith and not by the works of the law, he didn’t mean to say that faith abolishes the law. He was not exalting faith at the expense of the law as some might conclude. He dispels this by asking the rhetorical question, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). In Romans 7:7, 12, he points out what the law did for him, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” ” He concludes that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”
The law existed before Mount Sinai but not in written form. It was given to the Israelites to redirect them back to God and His grace. Besides they had been living in a foreign land for many years and were surrounded by idolatry and the worship of other gods. The purpose of the law is not to save or redeem us. It cannot do that. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:3, 4).
The law was given to reveal our sinful condition and our need for a Savior. It was to show us more clearly the sin in our lives. “The law acts as a magnifying glass. That device does not actually increase the number of dirty spots that defile a garment, but makes them stand out more clearly and reveals many more of them than one is able to see with the naked eye” (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Exposition on Galatians, p. 141).
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; (Galatians 3:19). A lot of people think that Paul is saying that the law valid until Jesus comes. They believe that it was nailed to the cross and that we are now under grace and not under the law. This could not be farther from the truth. The role of the law does not end at the first coming of Jesus and it will continue to point out sin as long as the law exists. If Paul were saying that the law given at Mount Sinai was temporary, He would be contradicting Jesus who testified, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Christ fulfilled the law. He came and did what the law could not do–provide a remedy for sin and to justify sinners to fulfill His law in them by His Spirit. The law still stands! It was not done away with. It was not destroyed. It was not nailed to the cross. Our sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus, thus fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law. Sin is the transgression of God’s law and the penalty for that transgression was death. So, the sinless Son of God died for our transgressions so that we could be freed from the curse of the law.
“Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:21-25). Christ fulfills God’s promise to Abraham. The law brings us to the Seed (Galatian 3:16).
The Bible makes it clear that only by the shedding of blood can there be the remission of sins. This is why Jesus, the Lamb of God came in the flesh to shed His blood on the cross for us. He became a curse for us so that the righteousness of the law which Paul stated was holy and good could be fulfilled in us. In order for us not to be under the condemnation of the law, we must walk after the Spirit. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). The Spirit enables us to live in obedience to God’s law.
It is important to point out that role of the law did not end with Jesus’ coming. It will continue to point out sin.
As majestic as the giving of the law was on Sinai, with countless angels in attendance, and as important as Moses was as the lawgiver, the giving of the law was indirect. In stark contrast, God’s promise was made directly to Abraham (and, therefore, to all believers), for there was no need for a mediator. In the end, however important the law, it is no substitute for the promise of salvation through grace by faith. On the contrary, the law helps us better understand just how wonderful that promise really is (http://www.ssnet.org/qrtrly/eng/11d/less06.html#thur).
Take comfort in these words of Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28, 29).