At Wednesday night’s Bible study, we dealt with the question that Paul raises in Galatians 3:19: “Why then the law?” Up to this point in his letter, Paul has argued that, contrary to the message of his opponents in Galatia, obedience to God’s law can play no role in saving us. So it’s only natural that his readers might wonder, What’s the point of the law?
His answer? God’s law “imprisons everything under sin” (Galatians 3:22). In other words, the law makes clear how helplessly sinful we all are. It teaches us that our salvation will come only through an act of sheer grace on God’s part. It reminds us of our desperate need for a Savior.
The law prepares us to receive God’s Son Jesus.
I’ve said in previous sermons that our failure to keep God’s law is at least one-half of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we miss this point, we’ll miss the gospel entirely.
The late Anglican theologian John Stott describes the role of the law as follows:
After God gave the promise to Abraham, He gave the law to Moses. Why? He had to make things worse before He could make them better. The law exposed sin, provoked sin, condemned sin. The purpose of the law was to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really underneath—sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgment of God and helpless to save himself.
And the law must still be allowed to do its God-given duty today. One of the great faults of the contemporary church is the tendency to soft-pedal sin and judgment… We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel. To do so is to contradict the plan of God in biblical history… No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin and judgment that the gospel shines forth.[†]
No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself.
The law reveals to us who we truly are, without which the gospel will seem irrelevant. I like that!
1. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1968), 92-3.