“What, then, was the purpose of the law?” Galatians 3:19
“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 performance of the other party in order to receive and the Law is not God’s way of salvation.
So Paul anticipates their questions, “What, then, was the purpose of the Law?” (Galatians 3:19) 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 (the Seed, v. 19). 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.
The Law also mirrors God’s perfect righteousness and it contrasts our sinfulness showing us our need for a Savior. “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (v. 24) After salvation it serves as a guide, and something we delight in as believers, as 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 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) O how we need a Savior.
“The whole world is a prisoner of sin.” (v. 22) Since the fall we are all born as slaves to sin. Most people do not think of themselves as “sinners” yet they break most all of the Ten Commandments every day especially if you consider what Jesus says about Gods 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)
“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 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. “The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:2 The Msg.) “So that the righteous and just requirement of the Law might be fully met in us who live and move not in the ways of the flesh but in the ways of the Spirit [our lives governed not by the standards and according to the dictates of the flesh, but controlled by the Holy Spirit].” (Rom 8:4 NLT)
Apart from Christ (and even as believers living in the flesh) we will always be driven by 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 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.)
So 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.”
Discussion Questions FOR APPLICATION OF GOD’S WORD
How have you done this week in keeping the Ten Commandments? How about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)?
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 below 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? How do we apply this to the areas of sin we still struggle with?
Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living? 2 For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. 3 So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries. 4 So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. 5 When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. 7 Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.”8 But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. 9 At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, 10 and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. 11 Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. 12 But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good. 13 But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes. 14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 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. (Romans 7 NLT)
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25) It is in doing God’s Word, not in just hearing it, that we are blessed. What action will you take to apply these truths to your life?
Scripture memory verse: “So that the righteous and just requirement of the Law might be fully met in us who live and move not in the ways of the flesh but in the ways of the Spirit [our lives governed not by the standards and according to the dictates of the flesh, but controlled by the Holy Spirit].” (Rom 8:4 NLT)