Galatians 3:19 “What, then, was the purpose of the law?”

Dear Friends,    

“God in his grace gave it (justification by faith) to Abraham through a promise.” (v.18) Paul argues with the Judaizers that a promise (from God in this case) is something one person (God) says He will give to the other party (Abraham) without conditions. Whereas the law is based on the performance of the other party in order to receive something from God; but the law is not God’s way of salvation.

“Why the law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed (Christ) would come to whom the promise had been made.” (Gal. 3:19) So Paul anticipates their questions, What, then, was the purpose of the law?  If the law is unnecessary why did God give the law? The law was given to be a means of checking sins, a restrainer of sins by showing them to be transgressions against God that would incur His wrath.  But it was temporary (as a way to be right with God) and only served until Christ came. It served as a strict disciplinarian to keep people from sinning; a lot of do’s and don’ts as seen in the Old Testament.

And the law also mirrors God’s perfect righteousness and it contrasts our sinfulness, showing us our need for a Savior. “Therefore the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (v. 24) After salvation it serves as a guide, and something we delight in as believers, because obeying it pleases the One we love. (Rom 7:22) It is not the source of salvation but a course for the saved. If you think keeping the Ten Commandments is impossible, how much more so is obeying the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus revealed the full intent of God’s law showing that even our thought life and attitudes of our heart are murderous and adulterous for which God will hold us accountable. (Heb. 4:12-13)  Oh how we need a Savior.

“The whole world is a prisoner of sin.” (Gal. 3:22) Since the fall, we are all born as slaves to sin. Most people do not think of themselves as “sinners” yet we break most all of the Ten Commandments every day especially if we consider what Jesus says about God’s moral law; then we are all guilty:  “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.  But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. If you are kind only to your friends how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.” (See Matthew 5-7)

Paul speaks about the enslavement of sin in Romans 6, and Peter in his second epistle: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:6, 18, 20) “They (false teachers) promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” (2 Peter 2:19)

Before we were saved we were enslaved to sin but now we are free, but free to do what God calls us to do as seen in His Word through the power of the Spirit dwelling in us. “And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.  The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature (flesh) but instead follow the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:2-4 NLT)

Apart from Christ (and even as believers living in the flesh) we will always be driven by self-centeredness, pride or fear. Our moral efforts may restrain sin but not change our heart, and when we perform well we take pride in our goodness.

Whereas when we are saved and controlled by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18) we are motivated by love and gratitude and want to please the Lord and serve His people. “Be filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:18-20) A Spirit-filled life is high praise to God and humble service to man.                                                           

So God’s moral law, His Word and truth is good, but only in Christ (saved and changed) and through Christ’s power working in us (sanctification) can we obey the Lord and enjoy and manifest the fruit of the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge].” (Gal. 5:22-23 Amp.) Even as believers, God’s Word/law continues to drive us to Christ for His power to do what He says in His Word. So we don’t try harder, we pray harder. “Help me, Lord, to do what I now want to do; obey You and Your Word out of love and gratitude for Your mercy and grace, and out of love for Your people.”

Questions for reflection and application:  

Were there areas of your life before you were saved where you just kept failing and sinning? How did the law work in your life to lead you to Christ?

How does the law, God’s moral law revealed in His Word, help you now as a believer?

In Romans 7, Paul shows us the struggle we have with sin as a believer and how the law helps us. Yet he also shows us how we cannot keep the law in our own strength. What is the answer as seen in verse 25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”  How do we apply this to the areas of sin we still struggle with?

Until He comes,

Len and Kristen                        

We are grateful for your prayers and financial support for this Faith Mission /501c3/non-profit. For on-line giving go to and click on Reflections/donations and scroll to Len Sykes. Thank you.

This entry was posted in Monthly Teaching Letter. Bookmark the permalink.