Category Archives: GALATIANS 3

Reasons why grace is superior to law


We now come to that section of the epistle where the apostle brings forward seven reasons why grace is superior to law.  It extends from Galatians 3:1-5:26.  The seven reasons are presented in the form of contrasts between law and grace as follows:

1. 3:1-14 Grace results in blessing, whereas the law brings a curse.
2. 3:15-29 Grace makes us heirs, law makes us transgressors.
3. 4:1-10 Grace makes us sons, law is for infants.
4. 4:11-18 Grace makes the apostle like an angel, law makes him like an enemy.
5. 4:19-31 Grace makes us sons of free woman, the law, sons of slave woman.
6. 5:1-15 Grace helps us progress, the law only hinders.
7. 5:16-26 Grace results in the fruit of Spirit, the law results in works of flesh.

By means of these reasons, the apostle deals with the errors of the three parties of law-teachers that opposed the gospel.  These were:-
 Unbelieving Jews who taught that men should reject Christ and remain with the law of Moses.  They are answered by the first five verses of the epistle.
 False brethren who taught that Gentiles should be put under law before they believed the gospel, Acts 15:1.  These are answered by the remainder of chapter 1 and the whole of chapter two.
 Believers who were formerly of the Pharisees, who taught that believers should be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, Acts 15:5.  These are answered by chapters three to five inclusive.

Each of these variations represents an attack on both the sufficiency of the work of Christ, and the grace of God.  Just as the apostle gave no ground to Peter in chapter 1:11-21, so he gives no ground to these others.  We should remember in this connection the words of Jude, telling us that the faith, (the body of Christian doctrine), has been delivered to the saints so that they contend for it.  This may be done by preaching and teaching, or by conduct, as the truth is expressed in our lives.

REASON ONE           GALATIANS 3:1-14   


3:1  O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

3:2  This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

3:3  Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

3:4  Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.

3:5  He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

3:6  Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

3:7  Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

3:8  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.

3:9  So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

3:10  For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

3:11  But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

3:12  And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

3:13  Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

3:14  That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.


(a) Verse 1 Christ crucified
(b) Verses 2-5 The Spirit received.
(c) Verses 6-9 Abraham blessed.
(d) Verses 10-12 Law-breaker cursed.
(e) Verse 13 Christ made a curse.
(f) Verse 14 Gentiles blessed.

(a)    3:1    Christ crucified

3:1    O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you- The apostle has not referred to the Galatians since 1:11, after he has marvelled that they had moved away from grace.  In that chapter he pronounced a curse on those who were leading them astray with another gospel which mixed law and grace.  Now he turns to the Galatians themselves, and condemns their foolishness for listening to the false teachers.  They should have proved all things, and only held fast that which is good, 1 Thessalonians 5:21.  Christ has cancelled the wisdom of this world, whether it be Jewish or Gentilish in origin, and He is made unto us wisdom, 1 Corinthians 1:30, which is communicated to us by the Spirit of God, 1 Corinthians 2.  To turn from this is, by definition, folly, hence his description of them.  The word bewitch reminds us that the flesh is fascinated by error, and only the teaching of the Spirit can counteract this.  That ye should not obey the truth- gospel truth is presented to men for the obedience of faith, Romans 1:5; 16:26, and since the just shall live by faith, (that is, shall live as Christians on the same principle as they became Christians), then obedience should mark the believer at all times.  Note that the apostle will not have it suggested that the Christian life is lawless, which is part of what the law-teachers would be saying.  Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified, among you?- Superstitious people around them would believe in “The evil eye”, the malign influence of evil spirits, to counteract which they would fix lucky charms to the walls of their houses.  Believers do not fear the evil eye, however, for they know the power of evil was broken at the Cross.  The setting forth of Christ crucified before their minds was enough to shield them from evil.  Not in the form of an image or mascot, however, but in the preaching of the gospel.  The apostle may also be referring to the marks on his body which he received because of allegiance to Christ crucified, see 6:17.  The apostle borrows a word from civic life to convey the thought behind the word “set forth”.  When a notable criminal was executed, the magistrate who dealt with the case would go to the marketplace and announce the fact publicly.  This is what the apostle had done when he went to Galatia; announced, not the death of a criminal, but the crucifixion of Christ between two criminals, for He was numbered with the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12; Mark 15:28.  Note that it is the crucifixion of Christ that is emphasised here, for the following reason.  Our old man was crucified with Christ, so that what marked us before we were saved is gone as far as God is concerned.  The apostle had used this truth in 2:20 to show that he, a man zealous for the law in former days, is crucified with Christ, and his life under the law is ended.  Here there is a similar thought, but not as with the apostle the ending of his past as a Jew under the law, but the cancelling of the flesh, which proudly thinks that it can keep the law.
We might list some reasons why it was necessary for Christ to die by crucifixion:
1. It shows the length to which Christ will go in love to His Father, being prepared to suffer the excruciating pain of crucifixion.
2. It shows the length the Father will go in love to the world, for He spared not His own Son the horrors of Calvary.
3. It identifies Him as the sacrifice for sin, for the sin-offering of old was burned in the outside place, and so Christ was crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
4. Shows the extreme hatred of man towards Him, that they executed Him in such a way.
5. Christ was placed in a position of weakness, so that He might defeat evil at that time.  If He defeats evil when weak, evil will never succeed now that He is strong in resurrection.  See 2 Corinthians 13:4.
6. He was crucified in a public way, to be like the brazen serpent in the wilderness, see Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14,15.

(b)    3:2-5    The Spirit received.

3:2    This only would I learn of you- The answer to this question will settle the matter.  It is a question of several parts.  Having called them foolish because they had listened to the wisdom of the world, he now implies that they had enough Spirit-taught truth to answer his question.  Each part of this question will take them progressively through their Christian experience, and show that God acted consistently at every stage.  He begins with their conversion, then moves on to their desire to make progress in their new-found life in Christ.  Next he refers to the persecution they suffered as a result of these things, then moves into the present, (“ministereth…worketh”- present tense), and the ministry of God by the Spirit they currently knew.  Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?- The word “by” in both parts of the sentence is “ek”, meaning “on the principle of”.  The references to the Spirit here after the mention of Christ crucified in verse 1 remind us that not until our old man has been crucified with Christ can the Spirit take up residence within us.  He is holy and righteous, and cannot dwell where there are conditions contrary to His nature.  The holy anointing oil, (a figure of the Spirit of God, see Zechariah 4:1-6), was not to be poured on man’s (literally rendered, Adam’s) flesh, Exodus 30:32.  The incident of the Brazen Serpent, (an illustration of the work of Calvary, John 3:14), was followed by the Springing Well, in Numbers 21:4-18.  The benefits of the crucifixion of Christ are received by faith, and on that same principle God gives the Spirit.  This settles the question as to whether every believer has the Spirit, and on what condition.  The apostle is very clear in Romans 8:9- “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His”.  This would not be a valid test if some believers did not have the Spirit.

3;3    Are ye so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit are ye now made perfect by the flesh?- To receive the Spirit at the moment of initial faith in Christ is to be henceforth reckoned by God to be “in the Spirit”, Romans 8:9.  It is our responsibility to work this out in practice, so that we are not only “in the Spirit” as to standing, but also walk after the Spirit, following His leading.  By doing this we shall perfect ourselves; that is, bring ourselves progressively into conformity with the perfect standing that God reckons us to have.  But going over to law for sanctification necessarily involves the effort of the flesh, for the law does not extend its influence beyond death, and believers are risen with Christ.  We are dead to the law by the body of Christ, for the process of death, burial and resurrection which the body of Christ experienced is our process too, for we are identified with Him, see Romans 7:1-6.  The path to perfection, or full maturity, is not by way of law-keeping, but rather by the reproduction of Christ in our hearts and lives by the power of the Spirit.

3:4    Have ye suffered so many things in vain?-  Those who turned to Christ were liable to be persecuted by the Jews, as the Lord Himself had warned when He was here- “But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you…and ye shall be betrayed…and ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake”, Luke 21:12,16,17.  So convinced were the Jews that He was an impostor, that they took every opportunity to show their hostility to Him.  Now that He was gone from their midst, they turned their attention to those who believed in His name.  The light that Christ brought into the world exposes the dark deeds of men, and so they hate the light, John 3:19-21.  Believers are to shine as lights in the world, Philippians 2:15, and when they do this they attract the same hostility as Christ did from those who hate the light.  “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you”, John 15:20.  King Saul not only threw his javelin at David, but at Jonathan also, when he realised he had sided with David, 1 Samuel 18:10,11; 19:9,10; 20:32,33.  It is not a vain thing to suffer in this way, for it bears testimony to the reality of salvation, which in turn is a token to the adversaries of the gospel that they are on the way to perdition, Philippians 1:28.  This coupled with the fact that suffering is part of God’s process of refining our faith, and will result in praise for Him and His Son in a day to come, 1 Peter 1:7, shows that suffering for Christ is not a vain or pointless thing.  If it be yet in vain- the Galatians would have suffered in vain if they reverted to Judaism, for they could have started off with the law, and avoided the trouble which receiving the grace of Christ brings.  By continuing with grace, they could show that they were genuine, and their former sufferings would be to purpose and gain.

3:5    He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?- The apostle has already made it clear in verse 2 that the Spirit is received initially when a person believes.  Subsequently, the “Supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”, Philippians 1:19, is made when the need arises, the supply being, not the Spirit Himself, but the power He gives to the believer to react to circumstances in the same way as Christ did.  Paul, confined to prison, had heard that there were those who preached so as to add affliction to his bonds.  Lest he react to this situation in a way that is not Christ-like, he requested the Philippians to pray that a further supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ might be given him, to enable him to respond to circumstances as Christ did.  So also in Ephesians 1:17, where the apostle prays that the believers, (whom he has already said have received the Spirit when they believed, verse 13), may be granted the Spirit of wisdom and understanding.  In other words, that the Spirit may be known in His wisdom-imparting role.  Those who are already believers, then, may have Spirit ministered unto them further in this way. And worketh miracles among you- was it the law-teachers who were able to work miracles, or those who came with the gospel of God’s grace?  The answer is, of course, the latter, and affords proof from the present experience of the Galatians that God was at work on the principle of faith, not works.  The law was confirmed by the judgement of law-breakers, whereas grace is confirmed by miracles and wonders and signs, Hebrews 2:2-4.  So when the apostle asks the question, “On what principle does God minister further help by the Spirit, and also give the power for miracles to be done by the power of the Spirit?”  The answer can only be, “On the same principle as He gave the Spirit to them initially, even on the principle of faith”.

(c)    3:6-9    Abraham blessed.

3:6    Even as “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness”- This is the first of seven quotations the apostle makes in this chapter.  Abraham, of course, lived long before the law was given, as the apostle will state in verse 17, and therefore if he was blessed of God, and became the father of those who believe, he did so, not through law-works, but through faith.  The fact that God responded to Abraham’s faith by accounting him righteous, shows that faith is what God is looking for, not works.  See Romans 4:1-5.

3:7    Know ye therefore- the apostle wants the Galatians to take in the implications of what happened to Abraham, for it had relevance to them.  They would get to know the truth, and so be delivered from their foolishness.  That they which are of faith, the same are the children (sons) of Abraham- at around the age of 13, a Jewish boy went through a ceremony which made him a “Son of the Law”, and he committed himself to keep the Law.  In effect, this is what the law-teachers wanted the Gentile Galatians to do.  The amazing truth, however, is that Gentiles may become the sons of Abraham, in a spiritual sense.  God had said to Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, Genesis 17:5, and this has come to pass, for, all believers, whether Jews or from the nations, take character from Abraham the man of faith, and sonship involves the sharing of character. 

3:8    And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith- Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world, Acts 15:18.  Preached before the gospel unto Abraham- since the gospel concerns God’s Son, then to announce blessing through the One who would come through Abraham was to preach the gospel.  Compare the preaching of good tidings about Canaan to the Israelites, in Hebrews 4:2.  Peter, in Acts 3:25, quotes from Genesis 22:18, “In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed”, for he is emphasising that the first kindred to which Christ was sent was that of Israel, see verse 26.  Here, however, the quotation is from Genesis 12:3- Saying, “In thee shall all nations be blessed”- for Abraham would be a blessing to all nations as he gave to them the example of faith.  Other ways he would be a blessing are as follows:-
 The worship of the True God, in the midst of universal idolatry. 
 The tabernacle system of sacrifices, foreshadowing Calvary.
 The prophets and their writings.
 Christ Himself.
 The preaching of the apostles and their writings.

3:9    So then- in fulfilment of the prophecy of Scripture just quoted.  They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham- note the way the word faithful is used here, meaning full of faith.  Every true man of faith from amongst the nations of the earth who takes his stand alongside Abraham as he believes God, is blessed like Abraham was blessed.  The Gentile does not have to come via the law.

(d)    3:10-12        Law-breaker cursed

3:10    For as many as are of the works of the law- who take their stand, so to speak, alongside of Moses rather than Abraham.  Are under the curse- far from knowing the blessing Abraham knew, they know the opposite.  In verse 8 there was glad news, now we have bad news.  For it is written, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them”- This is the last curse that was to be recited from Mount Ebal when the children of Israel reached the land of Israel, Deuteronomy 27:13, Joshua 8:30-35. 

Note that nothing less than perfection is demanded here-

Every one All the people.
Continueth not All the time.
In all things All the commands.
To do them All the heart.

To do them- this is an unusual phrase, and is found again in Hebrews 10:7,9, “I come to do Thy will O God”.  The idea is not simply carrying out God’s will, but doing so with the utmost devotion.  Wanting to do that will, not just complying out of a sense of duty.

3;11    But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident- Only those who perfectly carry out the will of God as expressed in the Law would ever be justified that way.  This rules everyone out.  The only One who kept the law perfectly, was the only One who did not need to be justified.  For, “The just shall live by faith”- the principle by which a believer lives is the principle of faith.  It follows, therefore, that the principle upon which his life was received in the first place was faith also.  Note that the apostle does not quote what we might have expected, namely “In thy sight shall no flesh living be justified, Psalm 143:2, even though his words “in the sight of God” might have led him to do so.  He is not so much concerned with the impossibility of keeping the Law to God’s satisfaction, but with the principle involved in keeping the law, which is contrary to the principle of faith.  Law-keeping depends on our efforts, whereas faith realises our efforts can never be enough, given that we are marked by failure, and depends on the work of God. 

3:12    And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them- faith rests, law-keeping involves constant working- the two are incompatible.  To live “in” the works of law, means to live in virtue of the merit gained by doing them.  The contrast is between living by faith in God, and living by supposed merit gained by ourselves. 

(d)    3:12,13        Christ made a curse

3:13    Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law- verse 10 has already stated that those who seek to please God by law-keeping are under His curse because of their failure to fully keep the law.  Man is under obligation to God for his failure, yet has no means of discharging his debt of responsibility.  This is why the apostle calls the principles of the law “beggarly elements”, 4:9, for they bring to poverty and bondage. The answer to man’s bankrupt state as well as his state of bondage because of his failure to keep the law, is the redeeming work of Christ.  In Old Testament times, a man who was hopelessly in debt could be rescued by a near-kinsman who had both the wealth and the willingness to redeem.  Also, if a man was sold to be a slave, he could be rescued by his kinsman redeemer.  By saying “us” the apostle first of all means believers who before had been Jews under the law; but in a secondary sense, Gentile believers are redeemed from the curse in the sense that they shall never know it in the future.  Note that we are redeemed when we exercise initial faith in Christ, whereas the being made a curse happened at Calvary.  In other words, we are redeemed at conversion, Christ was made a curse at Calvary.   Being made a curse for us- instead of simply being cursed of God for our law-breaking, the Lord Jesus was made that curse.  In other words, He is reckoned by God to be that which men are when cursed of God.   We may learn something of the meaning of this when we remember that there were four main consequences threatened if Israel failed to keep the law, as detailed in Deuteronomy 28. 
 There was a financial penalty, their crops would fail.  The Lord Jesus became poor at the cross, for He was cut off and had nothing, Daniel 9:26, margin, 2 Corinthians 8:9.
 There was the physical curse, with disease and illness brought upon them.  The Lord Jesus suffered physically as no other has done, as He endured the agonies of the cross.
 There was governmental judgement, with no answer from heaven, which would be as brass to them.  We learn from Psalm 22 that Christ was not answered when He cried to God at Calvary, and far from rescuing Him, God abandoned Him. 
 There was the political judgement, and Israel would be handed over to their enemies.  So Christ was delivered to the Gentiles, and suffered a Gentile form of execution.
Note He had to be made a curse, for in no way did He bring ill upon the people.  In fact, Peter says of Him, “God sent Him to bless you”, Acts 3:26.  For it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree”- The reason for this curse in the case of an Israelite hanged on a tree, was that his body defiled the land of Israel.  In this case, the cursed man brought disgrace on the people as his sin was recompensed by his death.  Because of this he was accursed of God.  In the case of Christ, however, it is not that His hanging on a tree brought a curse to us- the reverse is the case, for he absorbed the consequences of our law-breaking in Himself, so that only blessing results.  So the quotation is not prompted by the words “made a curse”, but rather, by the expression “curse of the law” found in verse 13.  God has transformed an act which normally brought disgrace on Israel, into an act which brought blessing within their reach.  He is a curse for us, not to us.  Note that this quotation begins in exactly the same way as the one in verse 10, “Cursed is every one”.  By being made a curse, the Lord Jesus was reckoned by God to represent all that our law-breaking deserved, and was treated accordingly. 

(f)    3:14    Gentiles blessed

3:14    That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ- it is only through Christ that Gentiles may have a claim on the blessing that Abraham knew.  The way it happens is described in subsequent verses, where the apostle explains that we are linked to Christ so closely, that we can be described as Abraham’s seed, just as He can be so described.  Two things must happen before the Gentiles can be blessed in this way.  First, it must become evident that Israel, with all their advantages, cannot keep the law, verses 11,12, and second, that there is one who can deal with the curse that a broken law brings, verse 13.  These two matters now being settled, the obstacle to the blessing of the Gentiles is removed.  That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith- the promise of the Spirit is the promised Spirit- it is the Spirit that is received, not just the promise.  Compare Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33.  The selection of the gift of the Spirit is significant, since His is the power by which the Christian life is lived, not the energy of the flesh which the law used, Romans 8:3.  Note the double use of the word “that”, indicating two distinct results of Christ’s death.  First result, the blessing of Abraham, which was imputed righteousness; second result, the gift of the Spirit, which Abraham perhaps knew nothing of. 

REASON TWO    3:15-29


3:15  Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

3:16  Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

3:17  And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

3:18  For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

3:19  Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

3:20  Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

3:21  Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

3:22  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

3:23  But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

3:24  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

3:25  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

3:26  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

3:27  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

3:29  And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. 


(a) Verses 15-18 The promise to the Seed.
(b) Verses 19-25 The purpose of the Law.
(c) Verses 26-29 The position of the believer.

(a)    3:15-18        The promise to the Seed

Verse 16 The promise is confined.
Verse 17 The promise is confirmed.
Verses 17 and 18 The promise is constant.

3:15    Brethren, I speak after the manner of men- the apostle argues from the case of a human situation, to one in which God was involved.  Though it be but a man’s covenant- even though a covenant may only be between mere mortals.  Yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, nor addeth thereto- once a matter is agreed, then no cancelling or adding is considered proper.

The promise confined
3:16    Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made- the literal order of the words is “Now to Abraham were the promises made, and to his seed”; this serves to distinguish the promises made to Abraham personally, and those made to his seed.  Having established that a man-to-man covenant is stable, the apostle now brings in a God-to-man covenant, the one made with Abraham, and repeated subsequently.  The word “made” means spoken, and now we learn the words that were spoken.  He saith not “And to seeds”, as of many- there are various groups and individuals that are called Abraham’s seed, and they are:-
 Isaac, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called”, Genesis 21:12. 
 Ishmael, “He is thy seed”, Genesis 21:13.
 Natural descendants of Abraham, “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed”, John 8:37.
 Christ, “And to thy seed, which is Christ, Galatians 3:16.
 Spiritual sons of Abraham, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed”, Galatians 3:29.

The context, and statements made in the New Testament, must decide who is in view in each case.  But as of one, “And to thy seed”, which is Christ- The apostle makes clear here that God’s promise to Abraham’s seed was not to be shared.  Only the one God had in mind as He promised would receive the blessing.  Whether Abraham realised who was being spoken of is not possible to determine, except that we know that he rejoiced to see Christ’s day, John 8:56, and so may have been given insights into this matter, especially as he was the “Friend of God”, James 2:23, and God was willing on another occasion to inform him of His intentions, Genesis 18:17.  The apostle is making clear that the promise of blessing was not made to any other than Christ, and He shares the blessing not with natural children of Abraham who are wedded to the law, for they are of their father the Devil, John 8:44, but with those that He now calls His own, John 13:1, “If ye be Christ’s”, verse 29.  “His own”, (meaning the nation of Israel), received Him not, John 1:11.  It is important to see that the apostle is establishing a principle with regard to a specific promise to Abraham.  He will then apply that principle to believers now, but without implying that all that God promised to Abraham becomes the believer’s.  For God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham- he does not promise that to believers of this age.

The promise confirmed
3:17    And this I say, that the covenant, which was confirmed before of God in Christ- This reminds us of the way in which the covenant made to Abraham was confirmed by God.  The covenant victims were slain, and the carcases of the animals divided.  Usually, after this, the parties entering into the covenant would walk between the pieces of the sacrifices, indicating that the covenant had been ratified in the death of the sacrifices, and also that if either party defaulted, then they deserved to be cut in pieces as those sacrificial victims had been.  On this occasion, however, there was a difference, for God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Abraham, Genesis 15:12.  Instead of Abraham walking between the pieces, it was a burning lamp that passed between them.  Now Isaiah looks on to the day when the covenant with Abraham will be fulfilled, and speaks of salvation going forth from Jerusalem as a “burning lamp”, Isaiah 62:1.  But as is the case on several occasions in the Old Testament, the word for salvation is Yeheshua, the equivalent to Jesus.  He it is then that guarantees the covenant, so we can see why the apostle states that the covenant is confirmed in Christ. 

The promise constant
The law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect- if a covenant between men is not alterable, how much more so a covenant between God and men.  So nothing that was said by God at the giving of the law can cancel what He had previously said to Abraham, the father of the nation that was given the law.  The four hundred and thirty years extends from the time of the original promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:7, BC 1921, and the giving of the law, in BC 1491.  We are not told the precise date when God actually spoke the words of Genesis 13:15 quoted in verse 16 of this chapter.  This shows the importance of the literal order of the words in verse 16, which serve to allow for the fact that the promise to Abraham and the promise to the seed in the words of Galatians 3:16, were at different times.  The dates actually given in the Scriptures are precise- we should beware of thinking of them as rough approximations. 

3:18    For if the inheritance be of law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise- it is important to notice the word for “gave”.  It contains within it the idea of grace, so God gave the promise to Abraham on the basis of His grace.  Clearly, the promise cannot be of law and promise at the same time.  So of this promise we may say:-
 It is given by God in grace, verse 18.     
 It is received by faith, verse 14.
 It cannot be cancelled by the law, verse 17. 
 It is available even to Gentiles, verse 29.

(b)    3:19-25        The purpose of the Law

Verse 17 Not to cancel
Verse 19 To condemn.
Verse 21 Not to compete.
Verse 23 To confine.
Verse 24 To control.

Law is given to condemn
3:19    Wherefore then serveth the law?- what purpose was served by giving the law to Israel, when the promise to Abraham was already confirmed?- There is a double answer to this question.  First: It was added because of transgressions- that is, literally, to create transgressions, “That sin might take on the character of transgression, and with consciousness of sins aroused, the desire for redemption would be intensified”, Grimme.  The law was not added to the promise, (for that is ruled out in verse 15), but was added to God’s ways of dealing with men.  The second reason: Till the seed should come to whom the promise was made- the law was an interim measure, regulating and holding the people in check, until such times as Christ the seed should come in grace.  And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator- the law was given by the disposition of angels, as Stephen said, Acts 7:53.  Paul is emphasising here that the law was not an arrangement between God and men directly, but angelic agents and a human agent, Moses, interposed.  The arrangement of the law was not a personal and direct one, such as Abraham knew.

3:20    Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one- As just noticed, the law involved several parties; God, angels, Moses, and the people of Israel.  The very fact that there was a mediator indicates this.  With God’s arrangement with Abraham, however, one party was asleep, and the covenant was confirmed not by him passing through the pieces, but the burning lamp, a figure of the Messiah, doing so.  But Messiah is equal with God, so the Godhead alone is responsible for the fulfilment of the promise contained in the covenant.  The unity of the Godhead is the guarantee of the fulfilment, just as the unity of the Godhead is the guarantee of the security of the believer, John 10:27-30.  The covenant of the law depended on man’s effort, whereas the covenant to Abraham depended on God’s oneness.

Law is not given to compete
3:21    Is the law then against the promises of God?- Is there a competition between the covenants, both of which were brought in by God? God forbid- that cannot be the case, for God does not conflict with Himself.  For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law- the purpose of the giving of the law was not to enable man to be righteous, but rather to show up the fact that he was unrighteous.  Abraham believed God and was accounted righteous, and that is the abiding principle. 

3:22    But the scripture hath concluded all under sin- this is a similar statement to that in Romans 3:19- “Whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God”.  The scripture is the whole of the Old Testament considered as giving a united testimony.  That the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe- when the sinner realises that his only hope is faith in Christ, not faith in his own efforts through works of law, then when faith is exercised, the promise becomes good to him.  So far from being against the promises of God, the law has a part to play in the conviction of the sinner.

Law is given to confine
3:23    But before faith came- before faith in an incarnate, crucified and risen Christ was a possibility, or in other words, in Old Testament times.  We were kept under the law- notice the way in which the apostle uses “we” and “ye” in these verses.  By “we” he means “We who are Jews by birth”, and by “ye”, he means “You who are Gentiles by birth”.  The nation of Israel was protected and guarded by the law from the wild excesses of the nations all around them.  This is why they had to be so ruthless in their dealings with the nations already in the land of Canaan when they arrived under Joshua.  The iniquity of the Amorites had become full, and the inhabitants of the land were not fit to live.  Shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed- Israel was not only protected from things around, but also enclosed in view of things to come, the opportunity of faith in a manifested Christ.  The were in a room with only one exit, that marked “faith in Christ”.  When Christ was revealed, so faith in Him was revealed as God’s way of blessing.  The law and the prophets prophesied until John, and he exhorted the people that “They should believe on Him who should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus”, Acts 19:4.  The “should afterwards be” does not mean “ought to be”, but rather “was to be, by Divine appointment”.

Law is given to control
3:24    Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ- a schoolmaster in those times was one responsible for the well-being of the child under his care.  It is not that the law is able to bring to Christ, (“To bring us” is in italics), but rather it was an interim measure, protecting Israel’s interests until Christ arrived.  That we might be justified by faith- the apostle here defines what the result of the faith of verse 23 is.  Abraham was reckoned righteous by God, and justification is the act of reckoning a person right. 

3:25    But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster- as will be shown in the next verses, maturity comes in through Christ, and therefore the schoolmaster in charge of Israel in their state of immaturity, is no longer needed.  To cling to the law is to fail to realise that God’s purposes have moved on to their consummation in Christ.

(c)    3:26-29        The position of the believer

Verse 26 New status.
Verse 27 New start.
Verse 27 New standard.
Verses 28,29 New situation.

New status
3:26    For ye are all the children (sons) of God by faith in Christ Jesus- the apostle sees in the fact that those who were of Gentile birth have come into full maturity, (sons), a proof that Israel’s time under the schoolmaster, the guide for the immature, is over.  Note it is not now, as in verse 7, that they were sons of Abraham, which indicated they followed Abraham’s example of faith.  Here the point is that with the coming of the Son of God Himself, it is possible to become a son of God by faith.  Note it is Christ Jesus that their faith is in, the Risen and Ascended Man.  As will be made clear in verse 28, the position given to the believer is one outside of this world system, and also outside the law system.

New start
3:27    For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ- this does not suggest that some of them were not baptised, but rather, that every one that was baptised into Christ has indeed put on Christ.  It is not possible to be baptised unto Christ and not put Him on.  Having been baptised, they pass, morally, out from the sphere where the law operates, and into the sphere where Christ is all.  The word of God to Joshua was “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan”, Joshua 1:2.  With the representative of the law gone, the promise to Abraham of a land can begin to be fulfilled.  The land of Canaan was named after the man Canaan.  When Israel were “baptised” in the river Jordan, they emerged into a territory which had the name of a man upon it.  So we have been baptised into Christ, and have emerged out of the waters of baptism into a sphere where the name of Christ is all-pervading. 

New standard
According to the custom of the day, when a child came to maturity, a cloak would be placed upon his shoulders.  This was called the cloak of manhood.  When we are baptised, we pledge to display the character of God’s Son in our lives, as if the cloak of His manhood is put upon us. 

New situation
3:28    There is neither Jew not Greek- the word “there” is an adverb with the same force as the preposition “in”.  There is there, (that is, in Christ), neither Jew nor Greek.  All such distinctions are irrelevant as far as our position in Christ is concerned, for that position is a heavenly one, whereas they relate to differences on earth.  There is neither bond nor free- the distinctions of privilege which have come about as a result of the Fall are irrelevant.  As the next verse will show, every believer is an heir; the fact that a slave had nothing, and that a free man only had riches of this world, is of no account.  There is neither male nor female- there is a slight difference in the wording here, obscured in the Authorised Version.  The words are literally, “There is not ‘male and female'”.  In other words, the apostle is quoting directly from Genesis 1:27.  Since to be in Christ Jesus is to be part of a heavenly sphere, even such basic things as gender differences are not relevant in this context.  We have noticed that the apostle does make a distinction between “we” and “ye” in these verses.  He elsewhere gives instruction as to the conduct of bond and free, and he maintains the distinction in the assembly between male and female.  So the differences mentioned here are not completely eradicated, or else there would be no marriage between believers.  The point is that in this context they are irrelevant, for the reason he now gives.  For ye are all one in Christ Jesus- however diverse they were before, they are, in Christ Jesus, a new entity.  He will say in 6:15 that they are a new creation.  Here, in context, they are the seed of Abraham. 

3:29    And if- the words are “but if”, carrying the argument forward from the statement of verse 28, and bringing it to a climax.  If ye be Christ’s- if Christ recognises you as His own, even though you were once Gentiles.  He disowned the nation of Israel as a whole, even though it claimed to be the seed of Abraham, John 8:37.  In 4:9 believers are said to be known of God, whereas here they are owned by Christ.  Then are ye Abraham’s seed- here is a further dimension to the idea of Abraham’s seed, and is the logical outcome of being the sons of Abraham by faith.  This is a staggering statement, that Gentiles are Abraham’s seed!  Zealous Jews would find this very difficult to accept, but John the Baptist had prepared them for the idea when he said that God was able to raise up children unto Abraham from the stones, Matthew 3:9.  If He can do this with stones, He can do it with Gentile sinners.  And heirs according to the promise- there is no definite article here, so they are heirs according to promise, which reminds us of the distinction made in verse 14, see notes on that verse.  They are heirs on the principle of promise, implying God’s working, and certainly not heirs according to their works.