The Promise vs The Law

by David Clayton

The more we study the subject of righteousness in Christ, the more we realize how important it is that we correctly understand the purpose of God in giving the law, and the place which it has in the experience of the Christian. Misunderstanding of this has certainly led many to an experience in which Christ has been shut away from them and Christianity has become a hard religion of painful drudgery.

As we examine this subject once again, our focus will be on Galatians Chapter three where the apostle Paul gives us a different perspective on salvation in Christ. But let us begin with Genesis 17: 7 where God says,

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. (Gen 17:7)

God made this promise to Abraham, but to whom did it apply? Did it apply to Abraham alone? No, it applied also to his seed, and the promise was, “I will be a God to you, and your seed after you.” Why did God make this promise to Abraham? From time to time, God renewed this promise, but we can find the real reason why He made it in Genesis 15:5,6.

And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. (6) And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Gen 15:5-6)

What did Abraham do in order to become righteous? He believed God. God said, “I will make your seed like the stars of heaven.” It was not dependent on Abraham producing the seed, or producing the stars of heaven, all he did was believe what God said, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

In Genesis 22:18 we find God once again promising to bless the nations in Abraham's Seed:

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Gen 22:18)

Did Abraham have to do something in order for this promise to be fulfilled? In Genesis chapter 22:16,17, it says that God blessed Abraham, because he offered his son Isaac. But as we have seen, God's promise was originally made only because of Abraham's faith. The offering of his son did not change the terms of that promise, it only revealed and reinforced Abraham's faith. It “perfected” his faith as we are told in James 2:22. But his faith in God was the only reason why this promise was made to him.

Doubly certain

Notice how strong God is in making this promise. He says in Genesis 22:16,17,

.... By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: (17) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (Gen 22:16,17)

Now, God does not tell lies, so when He says something you can depend on it. Nevertheless, God is very strong in this statement, He not only says He will do it, but He swears an oath. When men want to establish something, they make an oath. Men sometimes tell lies, but when they take an oath, you can depend on it more. Here we see God, who never lies, makes His statement, and then He backs it up with an oath (see Heb. 6:14-18). So we have a double certainty that the world is to be blessed in Abraham's seed. Let us see how Paul comments on this in Galatians 3:15.

Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. (Gal 3:15)

Now Paul says, let us consider the way men operate: When a man makes a will (a testament or a covenant), and it is confirmed, if that man dies, can it be changed? Can you add something to it? If a millionaire leaves his money to his cat, his brothers and sisters may be very upset, but they cannot change the will. Once it is confirmed, you cannot add to it or take away from it.

One seed

Paul continues in verse 16:

Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Gal 3:16)

Now Paul says, God confirmed something, “to Abraham and his seed,” and then he says something striking. He emphasizes that God did not say “ seeds ,” as though he was talking about many, he said seed , singular, because he was talking about one, He was referring to only one person just like He was in Genesis 3:15, when He said that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent.. Who is that one seed? It is Christ. These promises were specifically intended to apply to Christ.

Nothing added

In Galatians 3:17 Paul continues his argument. He says,

And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. (Gal 3:17)

First God made this promise to Abraham, then four hundred and thirty years later He gave the law. Did the law add anything to the promise? The answer is no. Did it cancel the promise? Absolutely not. After the law was given, the situation did not change so that now men were blessed through both the seed and the law.

Now according to the promise, we are to be blessed in Abraham's seed. That is what the promise says, “in your seed, all nations shall be blessed.” This cannot be changed. This is the very point Paul is dealing with and he says that the law could add nothing to the promise which was confirmed four hundred and thirty years before.

So of course the question arises, why then did God give the law? But before we come to that question, let's take a brief look at verse 8 of Galatians 3.

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. (Gal 3:7-8)

Recently I was reading this verse, and I was blessed. For years I tried to understand and to express what the gospel is in a nutshell. All of us know it has to do with Christ, but exactly what about Christ? Some people say it is everything about Christ, but this verse puts it in a nutshell for me. It says, Abraham had the gospel preached to him in this one sentence, and what was the gospel? All the world is to be blessed, in one Person , that is the good news! The world is not to be blessed by what the world does, not by hard trying. The blessing is in one person, that is the gospel, and this was revealed and available to Abraham and to all who understood, four hundred and thirty years before the law was given.

The law cannot change the gospel, and in the gospel salvation was firmly established in Abraham's Seed by an oath. So to try to obtain salvation by the law is foolish. In fact, look at what Paul says in verse 10.

Under the curse

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Gal 3:10)

He says, those who seek salvation by the law, are cursed. they not only are unable to find salvation when they seek it by the law, but they obtain a curse as well! Now that is amazing. Here they are seeking righteousness, they are seeking salvation, but instead, what they obtain is a curse? Why? Because they are seeking in the wrong way. Does that sound unreasonable? This is exactly what happened to the Jews, as Paul explained in Romans 9:30-32.

According to the book of the law you are cursed if you do not do everything which the law requires. If it is your plan to be saved by keeping the law, then go ahead and try. If you are going to obtain righteousness by the law, fine, but you must make sure that you do every single detail of that law, because the same law says that if you do not do everything which it requires then you are cursed. And Jesus explained, that if you are even angry with your brother, you are already a murderer.

So when you set out to obtain righteousness by the law, make sure that you can keep it perfectly! God is perfect, and nothing but absolute perfection can meet His eye. James says, if you keep the whole law, but offend in one point, you are guilty of all (James 2:10). So it doesn't matter that you never stole, killed or coveted your neighbour's house, because here on the Sabbath, you just spoke one word pertaining to your own business, and now you are a murderer, a thief an adulterer, a liar. All these things are piled up against you in spite of all your efforts, because you transgressed on one tiny point.

But if you are guilty of all, how far does that put you from God? As far as sin is from righteousness, as far as death is from life, as far as heaven is from hell, in actual fact, an infinite distance away! So when you set out to obtain righteousness by the law, or God's blessings by the law, you're cursed, because you put yourself away from God as far as east is from the west, and there is no greater curse than that.

Christ bore the curse

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (Gal 3:13)

What does it mean that Christ became a curse for us? It says that the man who tries to be justified by the law is cursed and we have seen that this curse is separation from God. Here it says that Christ became a curse for us. This means that He was separated from God for our sakes. Our sin was placed upon Him and the essence of that sin is separation from God. That is what happens to the sinner and that is what happened to Christ. Ellen White says He felt in His own soul the awful separation that sin makes between the soul and God, and it was this that broke the heart of The Son of God. (Steps to Christ, p.13)

Why then was the law given

Since the law cannot provide righteousness, it cannot give salvation, and it cannot contribute to the salvation already given in Christ, then what was its purpose? Paul knew that we would have this question because he asks the very same question in verse 19.

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. (Gal 3:19)

Do we see what he is saying? There was a promise, and salvation is in the promise. Since salvation is what we need and we already have it in the promise of the seed, why did we need the law?

He answers the question by saying, it was added because of transgressions . Let us look at that verse carefully. There is something there which makes us know that the administration of the law was a temporary thing and not intended by God to last forever. It says it was added, “till,” or until . When you do something until , then you know that there comes a time when its authority comes to an end.

If the kitchen pipe gets broken off, someone might take a piece of wood and push into the line until he can repair it properly. The piece of wood might stop the leaking partially, but it is not satisfactory to leave it like that. What he has done is a temporary measure, until he can do something more perfect.

Now that's exactly what the Bible says God was doing with the law, He brought in a system, which demanded that men should work and behave in a certain way, to be under a certain discipline. He knew that the system could never save men, He knew they would not keep that law perfectly, so it was not a system that was intended to last forever. But until Christ came, there were certain purposes it had to serve.

Of course, the moral law is good and perfect and remains as a standard of right and wrong forever. But the entire system of government where we are controlled by law is not satisfactory, because law can only tell us how to behave, it cannot enable us to behave in the way that it commands.

A way to govern Children

At the age of 10, a child still needs to be governed by her parents' rules. When she is 19, they will have far less rules for her. What about when she is 30? She will then be free from their rules. However, this does not mean that her life will be disorderly. If the rules did their job when she was a child she will have a good understanding of good and bad when she is grown and she will walk more perfectly in harmony with those rules than when they governed her life, even though she is now free from those rules.

This illustrates why God gave the Jews the law. They were spiritual children, they could not understand God's principles. For four hundred years they had been slaves, all they knew was the rod and the curse. They could not think for themselves, and so God put them under law to keep them disciplined until they could come to the place where they could understand the gospel.

Now of course there were individual people who understood the gospel in Israel. All who will ever be saved must have had a basic understanding of the gospel, for nobody was ever saved by the law, it was always the gospel. But the fact is that most of them never found the gospel, and God was trying to bring them to that place where they all would understand and live by the gospel.

When Christ came, the moment had arrived that the law had fulfilled its purpose as a system. God's people were now grown up and so they were ready for the real thing.

So now, we understand what it means to be under law. It means to be governed by rules. To be free from the law, means that it is no longer rules that govern me. The reason for my behaviour is a changed nature – not because rules keep me under discipline.

So Galatians 3:24,25 tells us,

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Gal 3:24,25)

Abraham's Seed

Let us consider finally what verses 26-29 say.

(26) For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (27) For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) 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. (29) And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Look carefully at what it says in verse 29. It says that if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's seed. Does it say seed or seeds ? It says, “ Seed ,” (singular). Who is the seed of Abraham? Jesus Christ is that Seed.

In verse 15, Paul, made a big point about the singular number of the word “seed.” He said God did not say “ seeds ,” God said “ seed ” so God was talking about one, not several persons. This same Paul, in this same chapter, says, “if you are Christ's you are Abraham's seed ” (singular). What is he saying?

By Paul's reasoning, if God had said “seeds,” who would He have been talking about? He would have been talking about the Jews. But He said “seed.” He was referring to the one seed of Abraham and who is this? This seed is Christ. If you belong to Christ, who are you? You are Abraham's seed, which is Christ! Obviously He is equating us to Jesus Christ.

I know we are afraid to say it, because it sounds like blasphemy if we don't understand the point he is making. Of course there is only one Christ, but what he is saying is, you have become so closely united to Christ that you are a part of Him. As the same Paul says in Ephesians 5:30, “we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” He is trying to get our dull minds to understand, God has made us a part of His son.

God's name is love, and God is full of grace. It is His way to do the best for the worst, this is the nature of grace. Our God has placed us in an infinitely high place, He has made us a part of His own son's life, and that is who we are. We need to believe it, so that we may live it.

So that the next time you go to your work, it will be Christ who goes there. When you go home to your wife or husband, it will be Christ they will greet as you come through the door. And when Satan tries to tempt you, it will be Christ that he is dealing with. Knowing who we are is an empowering thing, because the reality is that we are a part of the existence of God's own son. If the Bible had not said it, I would never have dared say such a thing, but when God's word says it, I must believe it and so I will preach it.

I pray that you will believe also.

Restoration Ministries

Restoration Ministries is dedicated to the promotion of the truths contained in the word of God. In particular to the restoration of those truths which have been cast down to the ground and trampled underfoot by the papacy, and adopted by her daughters.

Our purpose is to motivate men and women to commit themselves wholly to the task of personal preparation for the coming of the Lord, and to the taking of the final warning message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.



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