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Delighted to be a son

I spent some of today on the ninth floor of a tower block in London teaching London Relay Workers about "Understanding the Law". This is part of that.

Further reading:
Chris Poteet - Why the law then?
Marcus Honeysett - Finding Joy
Galatians 3v15-26: Promises are for sons! Don't get locked up – rejoice in God's promise – we're blessed sons!

vv15-18 – Promise to Abraham & Jesus for justification!
Paul begins this section of his letter with what he calls a 'human example' - it's not the kind of thing we encounter everyday but the image is simple enough... the basic deal is when a promise is made you can't change the terms of the promise.

God made a promise to Abraham on blessing for the peoples, of righteousness and the Holy Spirit. This promise was to Abraham and his SEED (singular) - not to a whole nation of people, but to ONE. To Jesus.

Four Hundred and Thirty years later God gives the law through Moses. By the example considered earlier this promise cannot be modified. So the law can't change the way God's people will get made righteous. So, the law wont justify... because God's promise to Jesus does that.

19-20 – Law because of sin
Why then the law? Because of sin. Not because of a need to bring righteousness - the promise does that. No, it was a temporary measure, because of sin - until Jesus comes. In place until the offspring should come to whom the promise was made... in place until Jesus should come to whom God's promise was made. It stands until Jesus comes. And then it's purpose is fulfilled. Completed. Done.

What seems like a technicality about the delivery of the law is designed to show the superiority of the promise. The promise came direct, the law was delivered by postmen (angels, via Moses).

21-23 – Law to imprison Jews in sin, til Jesus came
Why isn't the law opposed to the promise? They're not contrary... opposed... Because?
They do different things.. So if you have two ways to do exactly the same thing they will fight it out against one another...

E.g. VirginMedia vs. Sky... to entertain us... But, VirginMedia vs. My Fridge is no fight... The Fridge can't entertain me, and VirginMedia can't keep my food cool.. If the law could make you righteous then it would have... but it couldn't and so it doesn't. But, as we saw earlier – it can make you unrighteous – by proving you're sinful, and nullifying the one way that you can get righteous... If the law didn't give life & righteousness, what then did it do? (22/23) Locked up the Jews . Why? “So that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe”

Er...? The law enables Jesus to come by preserving the Jews... imagine their rebellion without the law to constrain and protect them... ? It had a temporary purpose to enable God's promise to be completed in Jesus. Somehow. So, v23, Jews were prisoners “until the coming faith would be revealed” I'm going to sharpen that up for us: “we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until Jesus”

Would it be good for a Christian to submit to the law?
No. No. No. It was a temporary measure for the Jews... designed for the time before Jesus.
It's like the foreign exchange trip where you have to wear silly matching sweatshirts and matching backpacks. None of those french kids who walk around Reading in the summer are going to dress like that when they get home... and it'd be equally weird if I wanted to do so. Someone else's temporary rule.

24-26 – Son in Christ, by faith!!
What did the law do for the Jews? What does it now do for them? What changed?
It was a guardian for the Jews until Jesus. It was a guardian for the Jews until Jesus so they could be justified by faith. But now, Jesus has come so they don't have to keep the law anymore... they have faith in Jesus.

What does that mean for the peoples? (26) - feel the impact of this... “FOR IN CHRIST JESUS, YOU ARE ALL SONS OF GOD, THROUGH FAITH” - Mmmm.

But, hang on... God made a promise to Jesus. How do we get hold of it...??

3V27: Jesus on the outside.. Get 'in Jesus' and you get the promise. Not because it's made to you – but because it's made to Jesus! How does that feel!
4v6: Jesus on the inside – by the Holy Spirit who says “This is a Son” to the Father. Whatever you feel or think about it... he says “We have a SON here...” “I've got a SON here”... not by law, but by faith in Jesus!!!!

And if all God's promises are YES in Jesus and we're Jesus inside and outside then all the promises of God - not least righteousness and the Holy Spirit come to us in Jesus! God made the promise of inheritance to Jesus... and since we're in Jesus... 4v7... Sons... therefore heirs... (4v7) WOW! What about the law... it enabled the Jews to be preserved so Jesus would come... and now Jesus has come it's purpose in redemptive history is done. A temporary measure... And woe betide us if we re-impose the law.

To add the law is to deny the cross... and if you deny the cross there is no way to be justified.
Law can't do it.... it never could... it was never meant to... the only way is to hear the word of the cross with faith... and so be blessed.. justified... and receive the Spirit... by whom you live your life in the Son of God... and so the way to live as a Christian is not about law, it's about living in step with the Holy Spirit... which is the subject of chapter 5... and your next area of core study!
Sons... filled with the Spirit... (ch5) – That's how to live! Not by law, but in step with the Spirit... living in the Son of God!

Summary: Understanding the law...
The Law was a temporary measure until Jesus came.
The Law never justified anyone
The Law in the life of the Christian minimises the cross....
So, Christians are sons who live by the Spirit rather than slaves who lives by law.... people who make much of the cross!
A use of the law is to enable us to delight that we are sons by faith... God's promise has been kept!


  1. re: Virgin Media not wanting to take over your fridge - true enough, but you wait til Apple bring out the iFridge. It can't be far away...

    Great session, Bish. Loads to think about, and helped my session on that same bit of Galatians to no end.

    My questions at the end were more to thrash around the question than to disagree.

    I still think that 'law' may well not include the ten commandments in Paul's mind here. I think we see before the ten commandments explicitly given at Sinai, evidence that in some way the Patriarchs and those before them obeying and disobeying the ten commandments in ways on which they are judged. And I think there's data in Romans that needs to flesh a slightly fuller view (as you said, you weren't giving a full systematic theology of it).

    Great stuff. Thanks a lot.

  2. Sean... yes. but i'm only trying to exegete one passage, not a complete systematic, if that helps....

  3. The number of ellipsis points you used in that post make it look like a typed-up ancient manuscript that had loads of holes. ;-) Helpful stuff, cheers. Relay days rock methinks. I'm looking forward to Midlands May Relay day on heaven & hell - Jonny & I have agreed our reading material for prep: Easter hols fun!

    PS My money's on the fridge.
    PPS No of course I'm not gambling: I meant... I left some spare change sitting on top of the fridge.

  4. ok, so you know, this is pure musing:

    1) along sonship themes (ie like father like son), I've often supposed "seed, meaning one" refers to the Son (sic posterity, or offspring) of Abraham ...and "one, not many": posterity through Sarah (free promise) - no Hagar (slavery) alongside.

    2) obviously 3v16,19 are problems. I guess I'd answer 3v29 - that we come with Christ (just as the bifurcation in humanity in Gen 3:15)- all in Abe's posterity...maybe even similarly to Heb 11:40?

    3) in looking for warrant to read it this way, the "one" link between seed and covenant mediators "but God is one" seems to be big, especially given Galatians 4.

    4) also, briefly on the law, 4:21 is big - "listen to what the law actually says" points to Abraham's life in Genesis. Paul seems to refer willy nilly to tons of different places as "law" in different senses. Seems he has the whole covenant role of the Pentateuch in view, based on the new creation promises of Genesis 12? Might "the present evil age" in 1v4 which drives him to Jesus be the world since Gen 12?

    just some musings. Though I've never heard it put like that, and 3:16 is probably too hard to get around, but penny for your thoughts as you've obviously been in galatians lots. thanks, Chris

  5. Clokester - you bet it's one sided!! :) Though I did try to cover two uses of the law in the session - one as a warning to take Jesus seriously (Hebrews 1v1-2v4) and then this one about being delighted that Jesus has now come. I think there are more too.

    Chris, yeah stuff to think about there. Law is certainly used in many ways by Paul. I'd love to pursue this a bit further.


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