GRACE – SUPERIOR TO LAW
In the first part of this chapter we saw that Paul went to Holy Scripture (OT) to prove that believers are justified by faith and not by works.
In our passage today we see that, as Charles Swindol says, Paul is “still hammering home God’s plan of salvation that comes freely through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.”
The Judaizers were saying you must be saved by works, by keeping the law.
Paul, in essence, says, “No sir! Works are not involved – Law is not involved – not anything is involved other than faith in Jesus Christ.”
A song we sing often in our churches:
“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
In our passage today we go back once more to Abraham to see:
I. THE PROMISE OF THE SEED. 15-18
Verse 15, “Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is T confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. ”
The NIV reads: “Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.”
Paul’s intention is to prove the validity of salvation by grace without works being involved in any way.
“Covenant” (Gr. DI-ATH-E-KAY) – Strong says this refers to a disposition or arrangement, of any sort, which one wishes to be valid.
1. Paul’s argument is that an agreement between mere man cannot be broken by a third party.
2. From the standpoint of human law it would be an illegal act for a third party to add or take away from the original agreement.
An agreement between two people cannot be broken by anyone other than the two parties that made the agreement.
3. A third party has no authority whatsoever to annul that agreement.
Since this is true among mere men – it is even more true when the agreement is made with God.
In the days of Abraham when an oath was made by two parties it was confirmed by a ritual whereby animals were cut in half and placed in two rows. Then the two parties would walk between them reciting the oath and that would make the oath binding.
Such an agreement or covenant was made by God and Abraham in Genesis 15.
But in this Covenant God put Abraham to sleep and walked by Himself between the animals.
So, what we see is that God made a covenant with Abraham – not Abraham with God.
Neither did God lay down conditions for Abraham to meet. Why? Because it was a covenant of Grace and not of works or law.
The Covenant of Grace is unconditional, whereas, the law is conditional.
In the Covenant of Grace God says, “I will …” and under the Covenant of the Law God says, “If you will obey …”
This Covenant of Grace was made by God with Abraham – involved only two parties.
Now the law, is the third party because it came 430 years later
Therefore, it has no power nor authority to annul, add to, or amend the Covenant.
Verse 16 -“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.’”
Here, we see that God not only made that promise to Abraham, but also to Christ.
Paul, once more, uses Abraham to hammer in or instill in their mind his point.
Again he looks back to the OT to Genesis 17:7-8 where God made a promise to Abraham and his seed.
Paul explains that God used the singular rather the plural concerning the seed, meaning He was speaking of One (Christ) and not to many (all of Abraham’s descendants).
Verse 17 -18 –
17. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.
18. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
The law came after the promise; the law is the third party; it can never annul or negate the promise.
The Promise was given by God irrespective of the law and God never reneges on His promise.
II. THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW. 19-22
19. What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.
20. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.
21. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.
22. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
The legalizers at this point might be saying that if salvation is of promise and not by keeping the law, and if the law is a curse, then what good is the law?
They might have been thinking that, according to Paul, the law not only cannot provide salvation, but is opposed to it.
But Paul is not playing down the law at all – he is explaining what the purpose of the law is.
1. It was given because of sin. (19) “…It was added because of transgressions…”
Barnes says, “It was given, not to reveal a way of justification, but to disclose the true nature of sin, to deter men from committing sin, to declare its penalty if broken, and to convince men of the reality of sin.”
The purpose of the law is not to remove sin, but to reveal sin.
a. The law awakens man’s conscience to the fact that he sins.
How can a person know he has sinned unless there is a law to reveal to him that he has.
b. How can I know I have broken the speed limit unless there is a law telling me what the speed limit is.
Wuest says, “When the law was given, sin was seen to be, not merely the following of evil impulses, but the violation of explicit law.”
Sin has been in existence since the fall, but until the law was given men could not conceive the sinfulness or the awfulness of it.
The law was given to show the human race that sin was in violation of God’s holy.
2. The law was temporary. (19) “…till the seed should come to whom the promise was made…”
Wuest says, that grace flowed full and free in Adam’s time, and will continue to flow full and free as the only way that God saves a sinner until the Great White Throne.
3. The law in inferior to grace because the promise was given direct to Abraham by God, whereas the law was given through a mediator. (19)
“…it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator…” (See Acts 7:53 & Hebrews 2:2)
The law does not have the direct and positive relation to divine salvation as grace does.
4. The law is not as strong as grace. (20)
“Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.”
The NLT makes this verse easier to understand: “Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham.”
a. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
Concerning the law, we, the sinner, are the weakest link.
The law involves two people – the one giving the law and the one receiving the law – and the strength of the law depends on both sides keeping it.
b. A promise depends upon only one person keeping it.
God gave the promise and we know beyond doubt that He will keep His promise.
Barclay says, “The way of grace depends entirely on God; it is his promise. Man can do nothing to alter that. He may sin, but the love and the grace of God stand unchanged .”
5. It was given to bring us to Christ. (21-22)
21. Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it.
22. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.
Tony Evans says, “The law is like a mirror. It reveals to you that your face is dirty, but it cannot wash it for you.”
Some people have the mistaken idea that if they don’t commit some detestable sin then they will be all right.
It is not how much we sin, but the fact that we are sinners is why we need a Savior.