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The Gospel in Galatians Lesson 7: “The Road to Faith”

The Gospel in Galatians

Lesson 7: “The Road to Faith”

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Have you ever made a bad deal and bought a “lemon”? You had to throw good money after bad on a five-year loan. Every check written brings out an inner “tension” over a deal gone sour. Israel made a bad covenant with their faulty promises at Mt. Sinai and paid for it ever since with a constant conflict over the law of God (Heb. 8:7, 8).
In four short verses Paul contrasts the two covenants as two different experiences. These two covenant experiences have a radically different relationship to the law of God. Paul draws upon two occupations from his contemporary world of the correctional officer and the schoolmaster in order to illustrate his point (Gal. 3:22-25).

God’s original plan with His covenant to Abraham was “the promise by faith of Jesus Christ” (3:22). Abraham believed God’s promise because God proclaimed to him the heart-moving grand sacrifice of the Saviour. “The covenant … was confirmed … in Christ” (3:17). The clearest revelation of God’s love for sinners is the crucifixion of Christ.

The cross is the faith of Jesus. God “preached before the gospel unto Abraham” (3:8). When God proclaims the good news it is never incomplete. It is a full exposition of the message of the cross (it “was confirmed before of God in Christ”, 3:17). It was this saving truth which Abraham heard and converted his heart so that he was stirred by agape-love to believe.

Likewise, it was the faith of Jesus Christ which God proclaimed to Israel at Mt. Sinai. When in unbelief in God’s provision and care for them in the wilderness Israel murmured against Moses, the Lord instructed him to strike the rock and water gushed forth bringing with it life to all who drank. Paul understood that Rock, Mt. Sinai, to represent the smitten and crucified One. “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). So, in a vivid and practical way God proclaimed their very life was a gift to them by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice. This was the ever-present cross of “Calvary at Sinai.” [2]

Christ is the reality to which every sacrificial lamb pointed since Adam sinned in the garden and God covered him with the animal skin. It is by “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” that anyone enjoys life (1 Peter 1:19, 20).

Now when God proclaimed all of this to the children of Abraham and they still did not see their need of Christ as did their father, in their self-sufficiency they proclaimed themselves as righteous enough to fulfill the conditions of their old covenant (Ex. 19:8). Their promise to do everything just right was not God’s plan. He did not have to write His law on tables of stone for Abraham. Abraham believed and God wrote His principles of moral truth on his heart that was moved by the love of the great sacrifice.

So God spoke His law from Mt. Sinai amidst the fire and lightning, the earthquake and death-boundary, in order to impress upon sinners their utter weakness and lack of power to keep their promises to obey–their old covenant. First, God by means of “the Scripture” “concluded [locked up] all under sin” (Gal. 3:22). The law condemns the sinner. The law is the “correctional officer” who is given the responsibility of securing the death-row inmate for his punishment. Second, the law was given to drive them to “the promise [the new covenant] by faith of Jesus Christ” (vs. 22).

It isn’t the Jews only that are “kept under the law, shut up” (3:22). Through the entire flow of the passage Paul has been writing to Jews as well as Gentiles. He especially refers the “we” to the Gentiles (3:14; cf. 3:28, 29). [3] Paul writes “we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9, see also Rom. 11:32, “shut them all up together in unbelief”).

To be “under the law” is identical with being “under sin.” The problem with being “under the law” is not with the law itself. It is unbelief in God’s promise of the faith of Jesus that perpetuates the constant tension with the law.

Another illustration Paul uses for the purpose of the law is as a “schoolmaster [disciplinarian] to bring [drive] us unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24). The law is like the Roman “tutor” who had the “child” in “bondage” as a minor before he came of age to receive the inheritance (Gal. 4:1, 2). The future estate owner was put under a disciplinarian whom he would later own.

The law was put in charge of sinners to drive them to the covenant in Christ by the converting power of the Holy Spirit in order that they might experience justification by faith–the forgiveness of sins. When the “schoolmaster” law has driven the “child” to “the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ” then he is “justified by faith.” The righteousness of Christ reconciles his alienated heart to God and brings him into harmony with the law of God so that the law is actually a witness to that fact.

“Is the law then against the promises of God?” (Gal. 3:21). No, the law is in the covenant of God just as it was for Abraham who “believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). When God gives his character of agape-love to the believer he is “no longer under [in conflict with] a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:25).

Two different experiences of the two covenants are described in Galatians 3:22-25. The two covenants are not matters of time, either before the cross or after. One may have an old covenant experience after the cross as well as another have a new covenant experience before the cross. The self-sufficient old covenant promise to do everything just right, places one in a constant tension of I ought to do this, I ought to do that, with the law of God.

God has given the capacity to every one to choose belief in His covenant promise. Christ alone brings freedom from the self-enslaving bondage to the law into the sunlight freedom of harmony and peace with the law and God. These two covenant experiences of bondage and freedom are irrespective of time either before or after the cross. At any time one may move from the old dispensation of unbelief into the new dispensation of faith.

This unique insight of the 1888 message goes far beyond Babylon’s understanding of the two covenants. The counterfeit view of Galatians 3 is that the “schoolmaster” law was abolished with the old covenant “obey and live” when Jesus died on the cross. The counterfeit view says that “under grace” there is no seventh-day Sabbath in the new covenant.

Such an unbiblical “dispensational” theory is a doctrine of men. This argument was used by the late Pope to abolish the true Sabbath and promote Sunday observance as the new covenant Sabbath. What a pity that evangelicals and some ex-Adventists are doing the same thing!

When you finally wake up after a wasted life and you realize that you’ve blown nearly all your original “capital,” you feel despondent. You’ve gone through one or two divorces, you’ve ruined your health by dissipation, your family have lost confidence in you, you need a job (and the strength to work at one if you can get it), and the loneliness you feel is oppressive. Maybe you have left some criminal record behind you. You feel that God has forsaken you. The “good news” is that Christ takes you by the hand and leads you out of old covenant despair into the freedom of His life-giving love.

Paul E. Penno

[1] According to Galatians 3:22, this is better titled, “The Promise of Faith.”

[2] See Paul E. Penno, Calvary at Sinai (2001).

[3] A big point is made in the Sabbath School quarterly of the “we” in Galatians 3:23 being “the Jews who were kept ‘under the law’ before the coming of Christ.” The Gospel in Galatians (Teacher’s edition), p. 80 (Monday’s lesson). But this tends toward a “dispensational” view of the two covenants as will be explained.