Why then the Law? (Galatians 3:19–25)

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“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…” —Galatians 3:19

The law is not a ladder for men to climb up towards self-righteousness, but a pit to fall into realization of the depths of our depravity. The law is the nail in the coffin of efforts at self-righteousness, showing man that he is dead in his trespasses and sins.

This is not to say that the law is contrary to the gospel (3:21), for the gospel speaks to none but sinners. One cannot hear the gospel unless their ears have been slapped by the law and are ringing with guilt. Luther comments,

“The Law with its function does contribute to justification—not because it justifies, but because impels one to the promise of grace and makes it sweet and desirable. Therefore we do not abolish the Law; but we show its true function and use, namely, that it is a most useful servant impelling us to Christ.”

But we have glazed over the mirror of the law, so that men may delude themselves they are more attractive than they are. We have not allowed the full weight of the heavy hammer of the law to crush the consciences of men. We have not preached the law so that sinners hear the prison door clink behind them and feel the coldness of their cell of death. We have not proclaimed God’s law such that they feel it’s discipline and long for the maturity of sonship in the Son. The gospel isn’t sweet, because the bitterness of the law isn’t tasted. Men do not thrust themselves on Christ in despair of themselves because they’ve never seen the terrors of Mount Sinai so that they cry out for a Mediator.

We must do what the Puritans referred to as “law work” before we herald the good news of the gospel. Yes, may we ever revel in the gospel. But this means preaching the law. Not as a means of justification, but to cause men to despair of any hope of self-justification. Let us preach the law so that men may see the depth of their sinfulness, their total depravity, their wickedness that permeates their every faculty such that they do not love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind as He is worthy of being loved.

And then, once the image of the mirror horrifies, once the hammer has crushed, once the prison door has clinked loud, then may we proclaim that though we have not loved God, He has loved us and sent His Son to keep the law as our righteousness and to suffer the just wrath of God for all our lawbreaking.

Then we will marvel. Then we will weep. Then we will rejoice. Then we will sing.

Law Judo against the Legalist (Galatians 2:17–21)

“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!” —Galatians 2:17

Paul, for his defense of his apostleship and the gospel, is now is dealt a foul backhanded in return. Paul doesn’t simply dodge the accusation, he does a bit of judo, flipping things around, slamming his perceived opponent to the ground with his own strength.

The accusation is that of antinomianism, of being anti-law, anti-obedience. People’s pride dresses up as piety, human hubris as holiness, and attacks the gospel as antinomian. Paul is basically dealing with the same accusation that follows his presentation of justification in Romans.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2)”

There are true antinomians, and their teaching is heretical, but the Judaizers were saying that the gospel itself is antinomian. They were accusing the gospel of freedom as frivolousness and the gospel of liberty as leading to license. The legalist will always slander the gospel as license. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones took comfort in such accusations.

“The true preaching of the gospel by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”

Paul demonstrates that the legalist ironically doesn’t understand the law, for if Paul rebuilt what he tore down, namely, his efforts at justification by works of the law, then he would be a transgressor of the law (2:18). It is only because Paul died to the law, by the law, in the death of Christ, that he can live unto God by faith in Christ. Herein is the paradox, if you don’t die to the law as a means of justification, all your law-keeping is law-breaking, but if you die to the law as you are in union with Christ through faith, then you live in Christ, by faith, unto God.

These because of Those (2 Peter 1:5–11)

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV).

Before you deal with these, you must remember those. These because of those is a fundamental principle. Before you make every effort, you must see the reason why you should do so, namely, the two grants mentioned in vv. 3–4.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (ESV).”

You are not to make every effort to gain the grants; you are to make every effort because you have the grants.

Many churches are thick on command and thin on promise, which means they get neither. If you don’t understand the promises of vv. 3–4, you can carry out the command of vv. 5–7. Paradoxically to some, it is that church that is soft doctrinally that is more about law than grace. Show me a church that is atheological and I will show you one that is anti-promise. To teach the promises of Scripture you must teach doctrine. Doctrines like election, calling, substitution, propitiation, redemption, and covenant are essential to understanding God’s promises. You don’t need any doctrine at all to teach five steps to a better marriage. You don’t even need God’s law. Because we don’t teach God’s promises, we don’t teach God’s law either. We’ve substituted those of man in both instances. Thus it is that we get neither grace nor law.

When God gives His law to His people it comes as grace on top of grace. This means that there must be grace for the law to come on top of. If there is no foundational grace, then the only kind of grace the law conveys is not constructive but destructive as it shows us our need of Christ. But to those redeemed by the blood of the Passover Lamb, God prefaces His law in this way, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1–3).

Peter is writing to those who stand righteous by faith in Christ (1:1). The Christ in whom they stand has granted them all things that pertain to life and godliness (v. 3). He has granted his great and precious promises through which they partake of the divine nature (v. 4). For the reason of those two grants, we are to make every effort at these virtues. All our effort then is an expression of faith in Christ. Before you make every effort at these virtues, make sure there is a faith to supplement first, faith in the Christ of those promises.

Blood-Splattered and Blood-Sandwiched Law (Exodus 24:1–8)

I don’t care much for red-letter Bibles. Every word is God’s Word. I don’t care for red-lettered Bibles, but I insist on a blood-sprinkled law. Give me the law blood-sprinkled and blood-sandwiched and give it to me no other way.

Moses’ reading the Book of the Covenant and the people’s responding “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient (Exodus 24:7),” is sandwiched between the blood being thrown against the altar and sprinkled on the people. The law is blood-sandwiched. Further, Hebrews 9:19–20 informs us that the Book was also sprinkled with the blood. This has been Israel’s experience. Before Sinai, the Passover Lamb’s blood was applied. Take away the blood, and the the law condemns and crushes. Take away the sacrificial blood, and the law demands our blood. But sandwich it and sprinkle it with blood, and it comes as grace on top of grace.

Dispensationalism, popularized by the Scofield and Ryrie Study Bibles, basically says that the law was for them and the gospel is for us; that God has two plans, one for Israel and one for the church. Raspberry. All is of Christ, it’s only that they had the shadow, and we have the light. Yet, it is the shadows that help us to know and understand the redemption of the One who dwells in unapproachable light. We know what it means when John says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” because of the Old Testament. The shadows help us understand the light as the light helps us understand the shadows.

We are redeemed by the blood to be ruled by the Book. We are saved by the Word to be ruled by His word. Christ rules to save and He saves to rule. Covenant with God means that the blood is applied and the book is affirmed.

The Puritan Samuel Bolt helps us to understand how we relate to the law after redemption, “The law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; the Gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of [life]. Our obedience to the law is nothing else but the expression of our thankfulness to God who has freely justified us.” To hearts brimful with joy for the salvation of God, longing to express praise and thanksgiving, the law comes as a gift to which we exclaim, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do.” We are sure that we will fail, but we are also sure of the blood of the covenant. We exclaim this because we are sure of the blood of the Shepherd and of all His promises to His sheep that are irrevocably secured by that blood.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20).”

For the Love of the Gospel, Love the Law (1 Timothy 1:8–11)

“The law is good (1 Timothy 1:8).” That short phrase could do a lot of bad theology a lot of good. The law is good, and the gospel is glorious (1 Timothy 1:11); and the gospel’s being glorious doesn’t undo the law’s goodness.

The law is good, if one uses it lawfully. This is like saying that cars are good, if one uses them lawfully. When a drunk, reckless, or irresponsible driver gets behind the wheel, that mass of metal, plastic, oil, and gas becomes a bad thing for humanity; but we don’t outlaw cars. We understand that the problem isn’t the car, but the driver. Likewise, when Paul says the certain persons who are teaching “different doctrine,” want to be “teachers of the law,” we must understand that the problem isn’t the law. Cars are good, but that doesn’t mean we let the immature or blind use them at their leisure. Likewise, when the spiritually blind, or the immature young convert gets behind the wheel of the law  all alone, the best place to be is behind them. Young converts have their permits, but they need a mature Christian to teach them how to drive the law. How then should we use the law? Lawfully.

To make the likening more accurate, when Paul says that the law is to be used lawfully, it is like saying that cars are to be used car-fully. Cars are meant to be used as cars, not kamikaze missiles. How was the law to be used? Protestants have long spoken of three uses of the law. The law is a bridle to restrain sin. It is a mirror to show us our sin. And it is a map for the Christian showing them how to live the blessed life. Amen. But there is something more foundational. How does one use the law lawfully? What was the point of the law?

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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. —Jesus, Matthew 5:17–19

Jesus shows us what the point of the law is—Him. The law was never meant to be used without reference to Jesus. Never! When God gave His good law to his people at Sinai, a lamb had been slain first, redemption out of slavery had already happened, and a promise had been made to Abraham generations before. We should be slow to throw away as unnecessary that which Jesus kept perfectly for our salvation. The law shows us how to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus kept that good law perfectly for us, and bore God’s just wrath for all of our law breaking. If you love Jesus, you will love the law. If you love redemption, you will love the law. If you love grace, you will love the law. You will plead with the psalmist, “graciously teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).” You will exclaim, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97).”