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Once again, Lives Transforming presents a clear, understandable analysis of a theme prevalent in the book of Galatians — law versus grace. In breaking down these verses, Derek Wilder creates simple but powerful analogies that drive home their message – now that Jesus has come, there is no need for the law.
Derek starts by reviewing a few prior verses that lead into this study. Verses 13 and 14 of this chapter, covered more fully in another webinar, present a strong basis for the most common view of Christ’s work on the cross, substitutionary atonement. Because Christ took our place on the cross, we can be justified through our faith in Him and made righteous, or in ‘right standing’ with God.
This is the blessing that was given to Abraham in the Old Testament (justification by faith) before the Law was given to Moses. Furthermore, those who are justified by faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement for us are given the promise of the Holy Spirit, who empowers sanctification in the believer.
With all of this being established, verse 19 opens up with a question: “Why the law then?” This is a question that Paul poses to answer the logic of the Judaizers, those in his time who still believed Christians were indebted to obey Jewish law, and were trying to persuade the Galatians and others to do so. He then answers the question in three parts.
The first reason the law was given, Paul states, is because of sin. In other words, the law acts as a restraint to keep sin in check. Without the law, there would be no control of sin; even though, as Derek points out, the law does not have the power to change us so that we don’t want to sin in the first place. Even if the law retrains us from sinning, it cannot change our desire to sin.
The middle reason is that the law was given through a mediator, which many commentaries referenced by Lives Transforming believe to be referring to Moses. This points out that the law was inferior to the covenant God made directly with Abraham, justification by faith, which we partake of in Christ.
The third reason states that we needed the law until Christ came. It was necessary to restrain sin, but it was also temporary. The law was the pre-cursor to salvation by faith in Christ. Law is no longer needed to be a restraint to sin, because when we are justified, and made righteous through faith in Christ, our desire to sin is conquered. We are changed by the Holy Spirit at work within us, setting us free from our former bondage to sin, something the law could not do.
The grace that Christ extends to us in salvation frees us from the guilt of our sin, and is the only true path to obedience, or following God’s law.
Verse 21 points out that if the law was able to give us eternal life, there wouldn’t be a need for another way. The only way to be saved by the law would be to keep it in its entirety. Since the Fall, there is no way any of us can do that.
In reality, the law kept us as prisoners to sin, with no possible way of escape. When we are held accountable to the law, we realize that we cannot keep it or obtain salvation by it. In this sense, the law leads us to the understanding that there has to be another way, because we cannot be justified by the law, and this prepares us to receive the gospel.
In summary, salvation through faith in Christ has eliminated the need to be captive to the retraining force of the law, which has no power to change us. When we are justified and made righteous through faith in Jesus, we are set free from the desire to sin and enabled, through the Holy Spirit, to live in true obedience in God.