Galatians 3:15-18 It’s either faith or law, there is no middle ground

Galatians 3:15-18 It’s either faith or law, there is no middle ground

15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Background

The Judaizers purport that faith in Christ must be supplemented by works of the Mosaic law if believers are to obtain their inheritance. The Judaizers refer to Abraham’s circumcision as a necessity for receiving the inheritance even though he has already been made righteous prior to receiving circumcision. Paul counters their argument by referring to the fundamentals of human covenant. For the terms of the Abrahamic covenant cannot be changed by the subsequent giving of the law. Hence, the key to Abraham’s inheritance is faith as promised from the beginning. Today’s devotion teaches us to hold onto faith as the key to our inheritance, and not to depend on the practice of religion (the law) for divine approval: It’s either faith or law, there is no middle ground.

Observation

Even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.

Paul tries to use a principle that occurs in the human’s sphere (I speak in terms of human relations) to prove a corresponding truth in the divine sphere. In the human sphere: once a covenant is ratified, no one can annul or modify it. Thus, as with a covenant in the human sphere, it is so with the case of God’s covenant with Abraham in the divine sphere. The point is, God ratified His covenant with Abraham in a manner that is final and irrevocable, so it can never be annulled or modified. Indeed, Abraham obtained God’s approval and favour through faith; by his unreserved trust in God, and not by following some rules and rituals. And this will remain irrevocably so for Abraham and for the descendants of faith forever.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.

In previous sections, Paul has given extensive explications to “gospel” and “blessing”. Now, Paul shifts his attention to “promise” referencing “the promise of the Spirit” (3:14). Here, Paul explains why the event of the Abrahamic covenant (where the promises of inheritance received by Abraham) must be treated separately from the event of the Mosaic law (where the law was given to Moses). The conditions by which the promises of inheritance are received cannot be modified once it is established. The terms of the Abrahamic covenant will remain unchanged even at the giving of law which came later. It is important to understand that the promise and the law have their respective purposes and they operate at different planes. For Jewish writings have treated the promises and the law as inseparable, which led to their error. In Genesis, the promises are made out not only to Abraham, but most importantly also to his “seed” or descendent (see Genesis 12:2-3; 13:15-16, 18; 17:4, 7-8; 22:17-19; 24:7). We will look at the divine purposes of the Mosaic law in the next article.

The Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

Jewish traditions view Abraham as a keeper of the Mosaic law even though the law was given to Moses 430 years after Abraham received the promises. The Abrahamic covenant is also perceived by the Jews of that time as a primitive form of the Mosaic law which developed into its current form. In other words, Abraham, in having received the promises and later, the circumcision have in the same token entered fully into the Mosaic law even though he knew nothing of it. This is precisely what Paul is countering using his earlier argument: the terms of the covenant once established, cannot be modified (when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.) Because the Mosaic covenant came later… some 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant cannot annul or modify the Abrahamic covenant which took precedence.

For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

The promise given to Abraham pertains to an “inheritance” which the Jews interpret as land and material possessions. However, the Christian interpretation of “inheritance” has taken on an eternal and spiritual meaning (see 5:21, Colossians 3:24).

Paul is dead set against base human tendencies to use the Mosaic law as a means to gain divine acceptance without the element of faith, which is wholehearted trust in God and obedience to His directives. The Judaizers wanted the Gentile Christians to supplement their faith in Christ with the practice of the Mosaic law (just as God directed Abraham to do so) to obtain the inheritance. However, Paul claims that faith is the only sufficient condition to obtain divine approval and the practice of the Mosaic law is superfluous in the pursuit of righteousness. If works of the law would suffice for Abraham (having received the law of circumcision in Genesis 17:10-14), God would not have subsequently requested of Abraham to further demonstrate faith (by sacrificing Isaac). It is only at the offering of Isaac that God irrevocably ratified the Abrahamic covenant. Indeed, Abraham has fully satisfied the condition for inheritance, which is faith. If the promise of inheritance is based on law, then Abraham would not need to have his faith further tested (Genesis 22).

Truth

It’s either faith or law, there is no middle ground

The Judaizers’ mentality of having the Mosaic law as supplement to faith in Christ mirrors the mentality of many churchgoers today. For such suppose by their weekly church attendance and offerings would free them from living fully under Christ’s directives. The mentality of the law says: if you follow the religious rituals and practices, you will obtain salvation and divine favour for all your endeavours. But faith says: if you continually emulate the life of Christ by loving God with all your heart and loving others as yourself, you will be saved and blessed. Faith and the mentality of the law are opposed to one another. Faith is God-centred, while the mentality of the law is human-centred. Jesus taught believers to reconcile with others before offering their gifts at the altar (see Matthew 5:24). For the act of worship is itself an abomination if there is no faith working through human reconciliation. While the mentality of the law breeds works of the law,… faith breeds the works of faith. The mentalities of faith and law are antithetical. It’s either faith or the mentality of the law, there is no middle ground.

When Christ gives a man certain directives, he can either ignore it thinking his religious piety and participation in church have earned him some wiggle room… or he can obey God’s requests trusting Him to bring about the good. However, the tendency of man is to exact some leeway from God as a payback for their religious works (works of the law). When man works with the purpose of accruing divine favour, then it is counted as works of the law. Faith works towards the goal of pleasing God alone… it is evident in one who does God’s will because of his love for what is right. Thus, what he does is considered as the works of faith. Even though he may be greatly disadvantaged for his righteous decisions, he derives divine joy and satisfaction from pleasing God alone.

Because God has granted Abraham inheritance by means of a promise, Abraham believes the promise will materialise through continual faith: trust and obedience. Abraham loves God for who He is (being all-wise, all-loving and all-powerful), and he has committed himself unreservedly at God’s bidding… that is faith.

Many churchgoers suppose that Christ’s sacrifice has secured for them irrevocable favour from God and hence, the freedom to pursue their dreams apart from God’s calling. For them, religious disciplines (worship service, tithes and offering, bible reading and prayer etc) are mere channels through which divine favour is gleaned. For such, faith is falsely perceived as doctrine or knowledge through which salvation came… and works as an exchange for divine favour towards a selfish end.

Faith is unreserved love for God evident by the believer’s trust and obedience towards God’s directives. For his works are a natural outflow of his trust in God. Indeed, the mentalities of faith and law are diametrically opposed… There is no middle ground.

Application

Are you stuck in your journey of growth and experiences of the miraculous? Perhaps you have been holding off to what God has commanded you to do because you find His directives unreasonable. It could be a lifestyle or a mentality that you find difficult to change. Your religious devotions and practices cannot be a substitute for your lack of complete trust towards God. Until we surrender ourselves unreservedly by trusting in God’s all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful nature, we cannot experience the ultimate blessing. Unless Abraham obeys God’s seemingly unreasoning request to sacrifice Isaac, he will not inherit the promise. Ask God to reveal to you the stumbling blocks that are robbing you of God’s intended inheritance.

Dear Lord, reveal to me my stumbling blocks. As I open my heart to you, allow me to comprehend your all-loving and all-wise nature. Strengthen me to exercise faith in you by doing what is right. I will forgive and bless those who have hurt me. I will trust you and will not lean on my own understanding. In your time, I will inherit the divine promises in areas of career, relationship and ministry. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.


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