“The law cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ” –The Apostle Paul, Galatians⇦Tweet that!
Which Came First, the Law or Grace?
I’ve asked this question of audiences and individuals all over the world.
Sadly, most people, Christian and non-Christians, get it wrong.
“Well of course the Law came first. It’s in the Old Testament. Then came grace, in the New Testament.”
Grace came first! Read Genesis 12-15 and God’s promises to Abraham. God promised to bless the nations through a descendant of Abraham (the Christ) in response to the patriarch’s faith (Genesis 15:6)
The Law came 430 years later.
430 yeas is a long time, but time isn’t the critical issue.
The Critical Distinction
The critical distinction introduced in Galatians 3:15-18 and developed in the rest of chapter 3 is the difference between God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham based on faith and God’s conditional covenant made with Israel (the Law) based on performance. God’s promise to Abraham that He would bless all nations through his faith is a no-strings-attached promise. God’s covenant (deal) with Israel after the Exodus is a-lot-of-strings-attached negotiation with Israel. God told Moses that He would bless them if they followed the Law perfectly and curse them if they messed up in any way.
There are no “ifs” in God’s promises of grace.⇦Tweet that!
If you’re having a hard time accepting that, so did a lot of faithful Old Testament, doing the best they could to keep the Law, sincere follower of the God of Israel. This is why Paul proves his point from the Old Testament they loved:
Paul proves from the Old Testament that the law given to Moses did not invalidate the covenantal promise given to Abraham (3:15-18).
- The Illustration: When humans confirm a legal covenant—last will and testament—no one can annul or add to it (15).
- The Fact: God made a covenant with Abraham and his Seed—Jesus Christ. (16, Genesis 22:15-19)
- The Point: The Law given to Moses cannot annul the covenant God made with Abraham and confirmed in Christ. The Law could not void the promise God made to Abraham and the Patriarchs (17). 430 years is the exact duration of the sojourn in Egypt (Ex. 12:40). It measures the time from the year that Jacob’s family left the promised land until the time they were freed from Egypt.
- The Application: The reception of the promise (inheritance God guaranteed by covenant) given to Abraham and his descendants—specifically justification by faith—is not secured by following the Law but by believing the promise (18).
If you don’t get this critical distinction right, you’ll never understand the grace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus, and you’ll never feel comfortable with the gospel of Christ taught in the New Testament: justification is by faith alone and not of works.
If you fail to separate these two concepts in your mind and heart, you’ll live your Christian life in fear, frustration, pettiness, anger, and defeat.
In God’s Mind, It’s Settled!
God will never go back on one of His promises. He promised to bless the nations through Abraham’s faith and that is exactly what He will do. Israel absolutely failed in following the Mosaic Law, but God did not and will not revoke His promise to Abraham. In the same way, He will not revoke His promise to justify you by faith, even when you fail.
Are you uncomfortable with the implications of grace and the gospel of Christ? Does it bother you that believers who aren’t as faithful as you get into heaven free? It’s not their performance that’s bothering you, it’s the unconditional promise of God!
Justification by Faith Came First! That’s the title of the sermon I preached and the point of today’s podcast and notes:
Faith came first; Law came second. The Law given to Moses did not invalidate the covenant of faith with Abraham.⇦Tweet that!
There’s a lot of theology in these crucial verses.
I tried to make it as clear as possible.
Question: Have you ever struggled with God offering grace to people you don’t think deserve it? What did you do to overcome that feeling of begrudging God’s grace?