Galatians 3:15-25 “The First Use Of The Law” February 26, 2006
SI: Paul is continuing his argument that you are accepted by God
through faith in Jesus Christ. Period.
Religion and morality, the works of the law, do not earn you God’s approval.
If you think they do—then you are under a curse.
So then, what is the purpose of God’s moral law if it is not to show us how
to become acceptable to God?
That’s the big thing Paul addresses in this next passage.
INTRO: What is the most ridiculous product warning sticker you have ever seen?
A while back Allison bought a hair dryer—Do not use in bathtub.
Heard once a sticker on lawnmower: Not for use as hedge clippers.
As someone has pointed out,
that means that somewhere in
there was once someone who thought that would be a good idea.
And you can almost see him mowing the grass,
looking at his over grown shrubs—saying, hey, I’ve got an idea.
And you can almost see his wife shaking her head in the emergency room
saying: What were you thinking?
If you use something the wrong way it can hurt you.
That’s exactly what was happening in the Galatian churches.
Except the damage being done was not the loss of a few fingers—
it was the loss of souls.
That’s because the thing being misused was the law of God.
If you do not understand the proper use of God’s law—
and if you use it the wrong way—it can kill you.
So what is the proper use of God’s law?
The proper use of God’s law is to condemn you.
To condemn you so thoroughly that you utterly despair
of ever doing anything at all that is good enough for God.
This is how Martin Luther put it:
“The true function and the chief and proper use of the Law is to reveal to man his sin,
blindness, misery, wickedness, ignorance, hate, and contempt of God.”
But when the law condemns you, makes you realize that you can’t save yourself.
For the first time you start to see your need.
That’s a good thing, because it makes you realize how much you need a Savior.
The problem in the Galatian churches was that there was a group of people—
called the circumcision party, judaizers, had been teaching
that the use of the law is to make you right with God.
Put faith in Jesus Christ and obey the law (be circumcised)—
that makes you acceptable in God’s sight—
that’s what makes you a real Christian.
Paul says over and over: No.
You are righteous by faith in Christ alone.
Not by the works of the law.
If you think you can use religion/morality along with faith in Jesus—under curse.
But Paul anticipates a challenge from circumcision group:
OK Paul, then what is the use of the law?
That’s what he starts to answer in this passage.
And it’s a complicated answer.
Parts of this passage that still give Bible scholars trouble.
But the overall point is very clear—the use of the law is not to save
but to condemn and in the condemnation show you your need for Christ.
You may have noticed that the title of the sermon is “The First Use of the Law.”
That’s because the Bible explains that God’s law has three uses.
Just a moment going to mention the other two—
because knowing these other two will help you understand this one.
Look at this passage in two phases:
First, going to focus on understanding the first use of the law.
Then, some practical ways for applying the first use of the law.
We are not going to cover every idea in this passage.
Touch very lightly on the first part.
These are important truths.
You will love Jesus more if you understand them
You will be freer and happier Christian if you understand them.
This is a hard passage but it a good one.
So let’s look at it together.
MP#1 Start by getting a good understanding of the first use of the law
First use is to condemn you. Law like a mirror.
It’s prom night and you look in the mirror and your face is covered with pimples.
And there is nothing you can do—nothing at all—when squeeze, get worse.
And you despair of being acceptable.
That’s the law of God.
It is a mirror that reflects your sinfulness and your bondage to your sins.
And your utter inability and failure to do anything about it.
It causes you to despair of ever earning God’s approval by being good.
This is not the only use of God’s law.
Second use is to restrain evil behavior. Law like a bridle.
If you have ever been driving down interstate, see a state trooper,
heart jumps, look at speedometer and take foot off gas—second use.
It doesn’t change hearts. It doesn’t restrain all evil.
But it restrains enough evil to make human society possible,
so that the church can carry out its mission. Romans 13 key passage.
Third use is to guide believers. Law like a lamp.
It shows you where to walk as a Christian.
It shows you what it looks like in daily life to love God and your neighbor.
David referring to third use: “O how I love your law, my meditation all the day.”
Paul will get into this use of law in Galatians 5 and 6.
But before you can use the law like a lamp—love it—
you have to see it as a mirror that condemns you.
Key vs. 19: “What then was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions.”
What does that mean? Added because of transgressions.
First glance, seems to mean that law is to keep people from sinning.
It certainly does that as we just saw—restrains evil behavior.
But that is not what Paul means here.
He means that the law was added to expose transgressions.
To show people just how many of God’s laws breaking, how thoroughly.
Paul explains this idea in verse 22:
“But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”
Scripture/law shows your true condition. Prisoner to sin. Bondage to it.
Throughout the passage, Paul uses this same language of prison, bondage.
vs. 23 “we were held prisoners by the law, locked up.”
A person locked up in prison, bound by chains is hopeless.
He knows he can’t break the iron chains, open the cell door, get past guards.
He doesn’t have the strength or the will to even try.
That’s what law does—binds people in hopelessness regarding own obedience.
So that people begin to say for the first time:
I can never be good enough for God.
I’ve broken so many of his laws.
I don’t have it in me to even start to obey Him.
Paul refers to his own experience of this in Romans 7.
“Once I was alive apart from law; but when commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”
There was a time in Paul’s life when he was happy in his self-confidence.
He was alive part from the law. Paul knew Bible, 10 Commandments.
But it had never come to him. Never been a mirror.
He knew that he was a good man, sure keeping all God’s commands.
And that his good deeds would outweigh bad things he had done.
But then what happened? The commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.
Describing first use of the law.
It suddenly hit him: I am not a law keeper, law breaker and condemned.
Died of any hope of self justification.
A modern example: Charles Colson’s autobiography.
But it is not God’s desire for the law to leave you in despair—
but for that to cause you to look to Jesus Christ for help.
vs. 24 “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”
The phrase “put in charge to lead us” is just one word in Greek: pedagogue.
The law is a pedagogue to lead us to Christ.
We use the word pedagogue today as a fancy word for teacher.
But in ancient
put in charge of their children after they left their nannies.
Pedagogue’s job was to be the disciplinarian until the child reached adulthood.
He would make the child do homework, recite lessons, mind manners.
Could beat him if he needed.
Depictions of pedagogues in Roman art always show them carrying rods.
In literature the pedagogue was always depicted as strict and unpopular.
Children under pedagogues were treated no much better than slaves.
But—the pedagogue was preparing the child for his life as an adult—
where he would live as a free, privileged Roman aristocrat.
That’s the law of God. Beats you down. Burdens you.
It shows you the thousands of ways that you have failed to obey God.
It says that if you have hated in heart, have murdered,
If you have looked at a woman with lust, have committed adultery.
It makes impossible demands like:
Love God with all your heart.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Be content with what you have.
It shows the utter worthlessness of your excuses and justifications.
But—it prepares you for a totally different life.
That is a life lived by faith in the perfect life of Jesus Christ.
Total acceptance from God based on what he has done, not what you have done.
Do you see how wrong it is to use God’s law as a way to get right with Him?
It’s worse than trying to use a lawnmower as hedge clippers—
it’s using the law for the exact opposite purpose for which God gave it.
It’s not for you to use to make a righteousness you present to God.
It is to show you your need for a Savior.
Old hymn asks the question:
“What comfort can a Savior bring, to those who never felt their woe?”
Have you experienced the first use of the law?
Probably not like Paul, Charles Colson—those are huge, dramatic examples.
In fact, if you became a Christian as a child—this understanding of the law
came later in life—growing understanding of your complete inability to keep law.
But have you known what it is to despair of your goodness and look to God for salvation?
MP#2 Brings us to the matter of applying the first use of law to your life.
Does the first use of the law apply to you any more as a Christian?
In one sense absolutely not.
First use disappears completely.
Vs. 25 “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”
You are no longer condemned by God’s law if you have faith in Christ.
You can’t be. It’s impossible.
Christ has taken your condemnation.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”
Not only is condemnation removed—there is a positive side.
As a believer you are related to God through His promise—not his law.
Means that your standing with God does not rest on your performance at all.
Paul uses the example of Abraham at the beginning.
We haven’t spent any time with that part of the passage—complicated argument.
God related to Abraham by promise to him and his seed—not through the law.
Abraham received blessings by faith in God’s promises, not his performance.
As a believer you relate to God through His promises to you in Christ.
You are not under the first use of the law.
Cannot be condemned—even when you sin.
Cannot be condemned—live under God’s promise.
Objectively speaking you are done with the first use of the law.
But, experientially will be times when you are still under the first use of the law.
As a Christian you will sin, you will fail, you will come up short—
and you will feel a strong sense of condemnation.
You will look at your failures and sins and they will cause you to despair.
Now—it is absolutely crucial that you understand what this means
when it happens and how you are to deal with it.
When a Christian who is no longer condemned by the law feels condemned—
it means that in some area of your life you are trying to find your
perfection, comfort, security, acceptance, success or worth—
through your own efforts, instead of trusting Christ.
You are in a way, putting yourself back under the law.
Not really. You can’t really go back.
You are related to God through faith in Christ.
God’s blessings do not depend on your performance.
But it is so easy to start thinking that they do depend on your performance.
One old preacher put it this way:
“Satan would have us prove ourselves holy by the law which God gave to prove us sinners.”
When you think that, the law, like that old pedagogue with the rod—
beats you and condemns you and shows you your utter failure.
And so the key for Christians who feel condemned for sins and failures—
is not to repent of those particular sins—
but to identify your underlying unbelief and repent of that.
There have been times when I have felt crushed by my failures as a pastor.
I’ve let people down
I’ve given poor council.
I’ve made the wrong decisions.
I’ve been sloppy in my duties.
And it kills me.
I want to walk through life taking one firm step after another.
I want to be perfect. But I haven’t. And it’s miserable.
I review in my mind conversations—
things I’ve said, things I’ve done, left undone.
On top of it all is James 3:1
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers,
knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
What’s my problem? Why am I feeling condemned?
My problem is that I am looking for my worth, my acceptance in my work.
I believe that if I can just do this right—blessings will pour out.
But the law is holding up the mirror of perfection to me and saying—
despair of that perfection.
What do I have to repent of when I get in that state?
Not my failures and weaknesses as a minister.
My unbelief. My lack of faith in Christ and the great promises of God.
Repent of failing to believe that nothing rests on my performance—
everything rests on the promises of God.
Listen to the way Eugene Peterson put it:
“We live by faith and failure, by faith and forgiveness, by faith and mercy, by faith and
freedom. We do not live successfully. Success imprisons. Success is an unbiblical burden
stupidly assumed by prideful persons who reject the risks and perils of faith, preferring to be
right rather than to be human.”
Do you see how the first use law continues—even in a Christian?
It is there to give you a whack when you start to think—
even for a moment—that good things come to you through your performance.
It is still prison to bind you in hopelessness so that you will say:
I’m not perfect—only Jesus is.
And that drives you back to the Lord and his promises.
Where do you feel condemned and miserable?
Is it in relationships with spouse and children?
In areas of work and finances?
In your religious exercises?
Trace it back—what are you depending on these things to give you?
Repent—not of your sinful failures in all of these areas—
but of your unbelief in Jesus Christ as the only one you need.
Then look up. Rejoice.
When you wake up tomorrow morning make your first thought promises of God
to you in Christ—not the requirements of the law.
Make your first thought what he has done for you—
not what you have to do to secure your own happiness.
We have a hard time thinking like this—even as redeemed people.
Works of the law are so ingrained.
But thank God for the Gospel—for the salvation we have in Christ—
and for the law—which is our schoolmaster to lead us to Him.