The Pursuit of Righteousness That Can Lead to Perdition
Sunday, December 20, 2009 -
Galatlians 3:19-25 - “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.  Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian....”
You can’t receive maximum benefit from any good thing until you know its purpose. A traffic light, turning red in the intersection, only saves lives if people driving their cars know what a red light in an intersection means. This is also true when considering the law of God. In fact, Paul clearly teaches that many people missed the true blessing of the law of God because they didn’t understand its purpose:
Romans 9:31-32 - “....but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.  Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone....”
And further, because they didn’t know the purpose of the law, they missed the blessing of God’s righteousness in their lives - Romans 10:3 - “For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.”
1) THE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH OF THIS PASSAGE IS THAT THE LAW WAS ADDED TO THE PROMISE (430 YEARS LATER) TO ACCOMPLISH A DIFFERENT, YET COMPLEMENTARY PURPOSE TO THE PROMISE
The fact that the law was added after the fact of the promise is made clear repeatedly in these verses. Notice all of the time expressions: “It was added...”(19), “so that the promise of faith in Jesus Christ might be given....”(22), “....we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed”(23).
2) THE CENTRAL PURPOSE OF THE LAW, AS FAR AS SALVATION IS CONCERNED, WAS TO MAKE HUMAN SIN DEFINABLE AND OFFICIAL
Paul says this several times in this passage: “It was added because of transgressions”(19). Then again, “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin....”(22). Through the law sin becomes more than mere failure or foolishness. It becomes a crime against God. Paul makes this same point even more strongly in the book of Romans:
Romans 4:15 - “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.”
Romans 5:20 - “Now the law came in to increase the trespass....”
Romans 7:12-13 - “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.”
These words put the law of God into a gospel framework. The law wasn’t contrary to the promise through Abraham and it’s fulfillment in Christ. Rather, the law was an addition with the specific function to prepare us to embrace God’s promise and grace in Christ Jesus.
3) THE LAW WAS NEVER DESIGNED TO CREATE SPIRITUAL LIFE. ONLY THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN BRING THE RENEWING PRESENCE OF GOD IN A DIRECT SENSE INTO THE HUMAN SOUL - Galatians 3:20-21 - “Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.  Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”
These are difficult verses. The law was a mediated deal between two parties, with Moses as the go-between. In order for this deal to work, both sides needed to do their part. This has always been the problem with mere religion. It depends on more than just the faithfulness of God. And sinful people always fail to live up to their end. But the promise given through Abraham, and fulfilled through Christ, was an unmediated deal. God dealt directly Himself with the problem of our sin and rebellion. In fact, it was designed for sinners - Romans 5:6 and 8 - “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly....8....but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The law can’t impart life. That’s the problem in a nutshell. This is why Paul thought he could keep the law in his own strength, as long as he only focused on the external demands of the law. We talked about this in earlier teachings (see Philippians 3:4-6). Then, at other times, when the law pressed up against the thoughts and attitudes of Paul’s heart, he realized he couldn’t keep the law internally - Romans 7:7-9 - “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet."  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”
4) THE ROAD OF PROMISE FROM ABRAHAM TO CHRIST RUNS, NOT AROUND THE LAW, BUT THROUGH THE PATHWAY OF THE LAW - Galatians 3:22-25 - “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian....”
The law keeps us in “custody” by revealing two very distinct kinds of sin. First, it reveals our transgressions when we break the law. And second, as we saw last week, the law also reveals our tendency to use the law of God, in our own fallen pride, as a tool of earning our own righteousness before God without relying on His grace. So the law keeps us fenced in, unable to escape either our failures or our self-righteousness. It keeps us from finding false freedom outside of Christ.