Introduction: Have you ever been in a situation in which your belief
is challenged by someone who you think might be right? At first you
feel annoyed. Than you begin to feel bad that you have been wrong.
Then you look at the whole situation again to be sure that you have
the right view. Our Bible study this week reminds me of this. Paul
tells us boldly that Abraham was saved by grace, not works. But,
then Paul’s opponents raise a fierce argument: if the plan of
salvation was faith alone, why would God later give us the Ten
Commandments? How does that make any sense if the Ten Commandments
are not God’s current plan? Let’s jump right into our study of the
Bible and see if we can figure out who is right!
- The Contract Argument
- We left our study of Galatians last week with Paul
pointing out that the righteousness by faith relationship
Abraham had with God is now available to us. Great news!
Let’s continue by reading Galatians 3:15. What kind of
argument is Paul making? (He is making a legal argument.
This is an argument based on contract law.)
- Okay lawyers, what is Paul arguing? (Contracts are
enforceable just as they are written. Abraham’s
contract with God (salvation by faith alone) is a
valid, enforceable agreement.)
- Is Paul’s legal theory correct? Is it possible to
set aside legal contracts? (Generally, no. Not
legally. If you have a valid contract with someone,
you can go into court to enforce your contract.)
- Read Galatians 3:16-18. Notice that Paul now calls what
Abraham received a “promise.” Are promises legally
enforceable? (Not unless you give consideration. That
means “not unless you promise to trade something of
value.” If you promise to give me your car, and I
promise to give you $20,000 dollars, we have an
enforceable contract and not an unenforceable promise.)
- What consideration, if any, did Abraham give God?
- Apparently, there is much dispute over the way that
Paul interprets God’s promise to Abraham (see, e.g.,
Genesis 12:3) and particularly the word “seed.” I’m
going to leave that dispute alone, because Paul
restates his argument in a less controversial way in
verses 17-18. Is it true that a later contract
offer does not invalidate the earlier agreement?
(Yes. If you and I have agreed to the terms of a
contract, you can offer to change the terms, but I
do not have to agree.)
- What is Paul’s theological argument? (That if the
contract “negotiated” by Abraham was that if he
believed he would receive salvation, then God cannot
change this contract later to say we must obey the
commandments to have salvation.)
- The Counter Contract Argument
- Read Galatians 3:19. Let’s “read between the lines” and
try to figure out, based on Paul’s rebuttal, what Paul’s
opponents were arguing. What do you think was the
counter argument of Paul’s opponents? (If faith was the
agreement between God and humans, then why would God
later give His law?)
- Are Paul’s opponents making a pretty good argument?
(We can understand it two ways. We just discussed
one understanding – if we really have a contract, as
opposed to a mere promise, we can enforce the
original contract against God. A second way to look
at this is like a new law. In the United States, if
you have an older law and a newer law, and there is
a conflict between the two, the newer law controls.)
- Let’s look at this second argument – that God gave a
later law (at Sinai) which changed the earlier law
(given to Abraham). How accurate are the factual
assumptions made in this counter argument?
- Read Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:8-11. Did the
Sabbath commandment begin at Sinai? (No.)
- Read Genesis 4:8, Genesis 4:10-12 and Exodus
20:13. Did the prohibition on murder begin at
- Do Paul’s opponents have an obvious factual problem
with their argument? (Yes. If what was given at
Sinai existed before Abraham was born, then this
argument has a huge problem.)
- Remember that there must be a conflict between the
older and newer law for the newer law to control. Is
there a conflict between righteousness by faith and
the law given at Sinai?
- If you answered, “yes,” how were sins forgiven
in the sanctuary system?
- Did people have to do push-ups when they
- Did they have to pay a fine?
- Did they have to promise not to engage in
the same sin for a year? (No. They offered
an innocent lamb. This was is not “works.”
It pointed back to the agreement with
Abraham and forward to what Jesus would do
to win grace for us.)
- If we can see these flaws in the arguments of Paul’s
opponents, do they have any reasonable argument?
(They must be arguing, “Why did God make a big deal
of the law hundreds of years after He made His grace
agreement with Abraham?”)
- What answer does Paul give to this? (Galatians
3:19 – Because of the amount of sin
- Let’s step back a moment. How much do you think the
Israelites knew about their God after hundreds of years
of slavery in Egypt? (Probably not much. This makes the
“transgressions” comment in Galatians 3:19 make sense.
The people of God were not only sinning, they had no idea
about God’s standard for conduct. God needed to let His
people know what He considered to be sin.)
- If God made a contract with Abraham that he was
saved by grace, when God’s law was known to Abraham,
what does that say about the relationship between
faith and law? (It reinforces the idea that our
agreement with God is salvation by faith, and not by
keeping the law. But, it also says something
important about the law.)
- Is God’s law important to Him and to us? (It is. If
grace, without any reference to the law, was the
contract between Abraham and God, then God would
have no need to introduce the Ten Commandments (and
the rest of the law) at Sinai to people who knew
nothing about the law.)
- Read Romans 3:19-20. How does this text fit the situation
of God’s people at Sinai? (It is exactly what we have
been discussing! God uses His law to made us conscious
of our sins. How would we recognize sin without the law?
We would be bragging about our righteousness if we did
not have the law to silence us.)
- Read Romans 3:21-24. How do we become righteous? (By
faith in Jesus. By believing Jesus.)
- Read Romans 3:25-26. What part does the Old Testament
sanctuary service play in this? (Paul is using the
picture of the sacrificial system to explain Jesus’ work.
This is the unity that we find at Sinai, not the conflict
you would need to say “God instituted a new law at Sinai
which supercedes the old grace agreement with Abraham.)
- The Mediator
- Let’s go back to Galatians 3. Re-read the last part of
Galatians 3:19 and add Galatians 3:20. We find another
legal term: “mediator.” What is a mediator? (Not a lawyer
who represents one side. Instead, a mediator is supposed
to work with both sides to reach a resolution to the
conflict between the two. To get both sides to agree to a
- This says a mediator and angels put forward the law.
Does the law act like a mediator between God and
- What has the law done for God?
- What has our knowledge of the law done for us?
(The commentaries are in conflict about what
verse 20 means. A common suggestion is that
Moses is referred to as the “mediator.” But, I
see that the law functions as a mediator at two
important points in time to bring us together
with God. First, the law shows us God’s love.
God died for us to meet the demands of the law.
Second, the law is a standard – a standard that
we cannot meet. The law brings us to accept
Jesus’ offer of grace – out of gratitude to
God, and our helplessness in the face of the
law. What could bring us closer to God than
- How does the law affect our attitude towards
obedience? (Jesus says, “If you love Me, you
will obey what I command.” John 14:15. How true
this is! If we respect Jesus’ sacrifice, we see
that the law must be important to God.
Otherwise, God would have ignored the law and
saved Jesus from a horrible death. God’s love
in dying to satisfy the requirements of the law
helps us to respond in love by determining that
we will live, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
a life that pleases God. Now we can see
( Galatians 3:20) why “God is one,” for His
system for salvation is “one.”)
- Friend, if you have not fully accepted righteousness by
faith alone, will you accept it right now? Why not ask
Jesus to forgive you of your sins, and to save you by His
- Next week: The Road to Faith.