“Wherefore Then Serveth The Law?”
False teachers crept into the Church at Galatia and convinced many that they must seek to live by the law, that the believer’s justification and sanctification were not accomplished by grace alone. They taught we must be saved by grace, by faith in Christ; but we must also keep the law, if we would be saved. Paul boldly and dogmatically asserted that there can be no mixture of law and grace.
Paul could not have stated himself more clearly than he did in Romans 11:6 and Galatians 5:1-4. In those two places, he declares ― If you add your works to the grace of God, for justification, for sanctification, or for righteousness of any kind before God, then you deny the grace of God altogether and are lost, totally ignorant of the grace of God, without Christ, and without hope before the Holy Lord God. In Galatians 2:21, having dashed in pieces the notion of mixing law and grace, he makes this bold, dogmatic assertion - “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law (justifying righteousness or sanctifying righteousness), then Christ is dead in vain!”
He simply could not have used stronger language to state his case. He declares that those who teach that righteousness may be obtained before God by our personal obedience to the law both frustrate the grace of God and assert that Christ died for nothing. With that as the background, read Galatians 3:19-29.
"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. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 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. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
These eleven verses of Inspiration tell us the purpose of God’s law. Paul, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, anticipated the carping of the legalists who would denounce his doctrine. He knew they would come along and say, “If the law has nothing to do with the believer, if it has nothing to do with our justification and nothing to do with our sanctification, if it is not to be used as a rule of life, why was it given? What is its use?” That is the question he answers in these verses. ― “Wherefore Then Serveth The Law?”
“The law was added because of transgressions.” ― The law of God, (the ten commandments and the legal precepts of worship, civil government, and daily life given in the Old Testament), was never intended to be a means of righteousness, a means of grace, or a means of salvation. It was not given as a code of moral ethics. It was not given as the believer’s rule of life. It was not given as a motive for Christian service. It was not given as a measure of sanctification. It was not given to be the grounds of our assurance. It was not given as a basis for reward in heaven. It was never the intent, purpose, and use of the law to make sinners holy, righteous, and just before God. The Book of God is crystal clear in its language in this regard. Believers are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14-15). It is impossible to be under both. We are dead to the law (Rom. 7:4). “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4)
The purpose of God’s holy law is to identify and expose man’s sin, shutting him up to Christ alone for acceptance with God. It is written, "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19. "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20).
Before anyone is converted, he must be convinced of his sin and guilt. And so we preach the holy law of God to convince men of their sin. Before anyone is given the newness of life in Christ, he must be slain by the law. The law is God’s deep cutting plow, by which he breaks up the fallow ground of a man’s heart and conscience, and prepares the soil for the gospel. This plowing is a painful and difficult work, but must be done.
Look at the next line in verse 19. The law was given until “the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.” The Seed spoken of here is Christ. The promise spoken of is the promise God the Father made to God the Son before the world began. That promise was the promised gift of grace, salvation, and eternal life by the Holy Spirit to his elect. It was a promise made on condition of Christ’s obedience and death, upon condition of righteousness established by him for us as our Substitute.
I am not guessing about this. The context declares it. The Mosaic law given at Mt. Sinai was given to Israel in the hands of a mediator who was but a man. But the promise was given to Christ our Mediator from God our Father; and these two are one God. Look at the Scriptures. That is the meaning of Paul’s words here in verse 20 ― "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one." God the Father promised eternal life to his elect before the world began. But he made the promise to Christ as our Covenant Surety (Tit. 1:1-3). We who believe have obtained this promise of eternal life in Christ because the Lord Jesus Christ purchased it and effectually obtained it for the seed of Abraham, Abraham’s true, spiritual seed (Gal. 3:13-14; Heb. 9:12; 2:16).
"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" (v. 21). ― What a plain statement this is! It is utterly irrefutable. The law, which was given by Moses, cannot be contrary to the promise of eternal life to God’s elect before the world began. It is absurd, monstrously absurd, to imagine that God would have sacrificed his darling Son for nothing. If righteousness could be obtained by us doing something God would never have sacrificed his Son at Calvary to bring in righteousness for us!
Now, look at verses 22 and 23. ― "But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed."
The law was not given to makes us righteous, but to shut us up to Christ. The law of God, set forth in Holy Scripture, concludes all under sin. We are all by birth, by nature, by choice, and by practice under sin (Rom. 3:19-23). We are under sin’s dominion, corruption, penalty, and curse. The reason for this is ― “That the promise (the same promise he has been discussing throughout the chapter, the promise of grace, salvation, and eternal life) by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”
Read that last sentence carefully and understand the gospel. ― Grace, salvation, and eternal life come to chosen sinners upon the ground of and because of the faith, faithfulness, or faithful obedience of Jesus Christ as our Substitute.
It was Christ alone who brought in everlasting righteousness for us. It was Christ alone who redeemed us. It was Christ alone who put away our sins. It was Christ alone who made atonement for us by satisfying the justice of God with his own blood. It was Christ alone who, with his own blood, obtained eternal redemption for us. Our faith in him has no part in the accomplishment of these things!
What does faith do? Nothing! Faith receives. Believing God, every sinner who believes has been given grace, salvation, and eternal life by God the Holy Spirit because God the Father promised it and God the Son purchased it! “Salvation is of The Lord!”
Before faith came, that is before we came to trust Christ, before God gave us faith in his Son, “we were kept under the law.” As we read in Ephesians 2 ― We were by nature children of wrath, just like everyone else. Though we were justified from eternity by God’s decree and justified at Calvary by Christ’s blood atonement, we knew nothing about it. We lived as wrathful children, hating God, under a sense of guilt, as cursed, condemned sinners, without hope. Our first convictions, our first thoughts toward God, filled us with terror. The law condemned us, condemned us justly. When the law came, sin revived and I died! That is what Paul said (Rom. 7:9).
Why? The Spirit of God tells us. We were thus (by the terror of the law in our consciences damning us) shut up to Christ. Look at it in verses 23-24. ― “Shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."
The law’s purpose, function, and use is to bring sinners to Christ. Once it has served that purpose it has no other function. That is not my opinion, interpretation, or theological view. That is exactly what God the Holy Spirit tells us in verse 25. ― "But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."
What does that mean? It means exactly what you think it means. It means spiritually what Martin Luther King proclaimed with the passage of the Civil Rights Bill. “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” So it is with the law. Once the sinner has come to Christ, he is free from the law. The law has no more dominion over him (Rom. 6:14-15; 7:4; 10:4).
Salvation comes to sinners, in its entirety, by faith in Christ, by faith alone, without the works of the law. Is that, or is it not the doctrine of Holy Scripture? Read the verse 26. ― "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." Paul took the Galatians at their word. Because they professed faith in Christ, he charitably assumed that their profession was genuine. Therefore, he says, “Ye are the children of God by faith in Christ.”
Paul is not suggesting that our adoption into the family of God is the result of our believing, not at all. It is just the other way around. Our faith in Christ is the result of our adoption. We were adopted by God before the world began in divine predestination (Eph. 1:5). It was our adoption that sent the Holy Spirit to us in effectual, regenerating grace. Our adoption in election was the cause of Christ’s atonement and the Spirit’s call (Gal. 4:3-7; 1 John 3:1).
"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (v. 27). ― Paul does not imply here there were some in the church who were baptized and some who were not, or that there were some Christians who submitted to the gospel ordinance of immersion in the name of Christ and some who did not. His language here is simply that there might be some of them, who though baptized in water, yet did not know Christ. John Gill explains the text correctly, saying, “Those who are truly and rightly baptized, who are proper subjects of it, and to whom it is administered in a proper manner, are baptized into Christ.”
Paul is not saying that by baptism we are brought into union with Christ, but into communion with him. When baptism is an act of faith in and obedience to Christ, believers are baptized in the name of Christ, by the authority of Christ, according to the doctrine of Christ, in obedience to the command of Christ, into the body of Christ, and in hope of the resurrection with Christ.
And all who have truly been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, both before we were baptized and when we were baptized. Before we were baptized we put him on as the Lord our righteousness by faith. We put him on as our robe of righteousness. When we were baptized we put on Christ by public profession, declaring him to be our Lord and King, declaring ourselves to be his voluntary servants forever, resolving to walk with him in the newness of life. “The allusion,” Gill suggests, “is to the priests putting off their common clothes, and then bathing or dipping themselves in water, and putting on the garments of the priesthood before they entered on their service.”
"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" (v. 28). ― All who are in Christ are one in him. In Christ all social, economic, racial barriers are dissolved. The only place in the world where race and place make no difference is in Christ, in the church of Christ. Grace alone can make sinful men and women truly one. And God’s elect really are truly one in Christ.
In verse 29 the apostle brings his argument to a tremendous conclusion. ― “And if ye be Christ’s,” nothing else really matters. If you belong to Christ by the Father’s election, the Son’s redemption, the Spirit’s call, and your own faith in him, if you believe on the Son of God, all is well. If not you’re going to hell. ― “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed.” This is what that means. If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you are the object of God’s love, the recipient of his grace, and “heirs according to the promise.” If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you are God’s forever and he is yours forever! You are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, “according to the promise,” according to the promise of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, made to his Son before the world began!