I’ve tried to ask my now five year old, Gwyn, which came first, the chicken or the egg? She’s not quite ready to contemplate such philosophical dilemmas! When she stared at me with a blank look, I realized that she didn’t even realize that eggs came from chickens. So, I then tried to explain that to her! After waxing eloquently about how eggs are produced and laid by chickens, I then asked her, “So, what lays an egg?” Her response, “Mommy Eggs?” Maybe one day we’ll pick the conversation back up!
But what about these two covenants? Which came first, the New or the Old? Our natural inclination is to assume that the old came first. Why else would it be called “The Old Covenant,” if it didn’t predate the New Covenant?
Here’s the deal. It may be hard to imagine, but the New Covenant is actually much much older than the Old Covenant! In fact, this is Paul’s entire point of Galatians 3. The Galatians had been duped. The Judaizers had moved their focus off Jesus and His finished work of making them perfectly forgiven and perfectly joined to God. They had been distracted from the truth into thinking that their behavior, their actions, their ability to keep rules, etc, was what ensured their forgiveness and union with God.
Where did the Judaizers get this thinking? Did they completely manufacture it?
Not at all! They got it right out of the pages of the Bible! When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He established a covenant with them–the Mosaic Covenant. You can read about it in great detail starting in Exodus 19. Basically, God said, “If you do everything I say to do, then you will be my people.” The nation of Israel responded with, “All that the Lord has spoken, WE WILL DO!”
Well, it wasn’t even forty short days later when the nation of Israel had completely failed at their end of this bargain. They had created a golden calf to worship. Aaron even said, “All I did was put gold in the fire, then out jumped this golden calf!” Read it for yourself in Exodus 32:24! Just forty short days and they had proven they could not keep their end of this bargain (aka, the Old Covenant) because golden calves kept jumping out of the fire at them! I think my two year old has used a similar lie to try to get out of being in trouble!
So here’s the deal. These Judaizers had a great precedent before them of how being God’s people works. Jesus is a great starting point, but if we really want to be His people, then we must do everything He says to do. The Bible (Exodus 19:5-6) even says so!
So how can Paul say this thinking is wrong, perverted, anyone who proclaims it should be accursed, and anyone who follows it is foolish and under a witch’s spell (Gal 3:1)? Well, it’s because this covenant (the Old Covenant) on which the Judaizers were basing their preaching, actually came after the New Covenant was promised with Abraham way back, hundreds of years, before Moses and the Israelites. I refer you to last week’s devotional blog for the details, but God promised His very presence, His Spirit, to all those who believe Him. Abraham believed then, and we are to believe today. The blessing of being God’s people was first promised to Abraham. Through Abraham a seed would come that would be a blessing to all the people groups of the world. This promised seed is Jesus Himself. The blessing of God’s presence was first promised to all who simply believed like Abraham did. In fact, the promise wasn’t even to Abraham, but it was to God Himself. God knew that Abraham would not be able to keep his side of a bargain, so God didn’t give him a side. God kept both sides–His and ours! It’s scandalous, but it is God’s Grace!
So here’s Paul’s whole point to the Galatians: God’s promise of His giving Himself to all who believe Him was ratified, established, signed, sealed, and delivered hundreds of years before this other Covenant (the Mosaic Law) came around. Therefore, the later covenant (The Old Covenant) cannot undo what was first promised by God.
So why then the Covenant of Law?
What an obvious question this is! If our rightness with God doesn’t come from doing the law, then why did God give the law to Moses and the Israelites? If we’re not to live by it, be fixated on it, nor be bound to it, then why did God give it?
This might not be satisfactory, but it’s the truth nonetheless! The Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai to show humanity our great need to return back to God’s original covenant of faith. You see, as long as man thinks he can earn God’s favor, he will try! So the Law was given to reveal the great sinfulness of humanity and thus our need for God to graciously rescue us from our own inability. I’ve heard the Law best described as God’s raising of 613 boney fingers pointing out each and every wicked and sinful part of our lives, proving to us that we cannot in a million years achieve forgiveness and union with God. In other words, we are all born incompatible with God and many of us don’t know it. So God graciously reveals just how incompatible we are by these 613 laws. Aren’t you glad He did? Otherwise, we’d be spending our entire lives trying to accomplish compatibility with God–something we have no hope of doing on our own.
Here’s the kicker. The Law’s job is to point out our incompatibility. Its job was not, is not, and will never be to actually make us compatible with God. It can’t! Hebrews 7:18 says the Law is “weak and useless” at actually fixing the problem! The Law is perfect at what it does! It diagnoses the problem, but it doesn’t fix the problem. Can you imagine a doctor strapping an EKG machine to your chest in hopes it would fix your bad heart rhythm? You’d call him or her a fool! EKG’s are excellent at showing the doctor what the problem is, but it doesn’t fix it. Paul is simply saying that we are equally foolish to think that living by laws, rules, and regulations will actually fix our problem. The problem is death, distance, sin, and being in Adam. The Law points that out to us and shuts us up! The Law leads us to realize our great need for Someone greater to have mercy and extend grace. The Law points out our death in sin. Jesus comes in to give us life in Him!
So what is the purpose of the Law in the life of a believer?
Well, we’ll get into that more in Chapter 4, but ponder this for a minute. If, as Paul says, the Law is to point out our death and our need for Jesus, then what is the Law’s value to us once it has done its job and we now have life and Jesus?
Does the Law show us how to live uprightly? NO! It never had the ability to do that! It wasn’t designed to do that.
Does the Law show us how to say no to sin? NO! It never had the ability to do that! In fact, Paul says the Law does the exact opposite. Romans 5:20 “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” You read that right! The Law increased sinning. If the Law increased sinning, then why do we think it will show us how to say no to sin today?
Does the Law give us life? NO! It never had the ability to do that! In fact, Paul says the Law does the exact opposite. 2 Corinthians 3:6-9 “the letter (The Law) kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, … how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.”
In these four short verses, the Law is said to kill and minister both death and condemnation!
So who brings life if it’s not the Law?
Now we’re talking! It’s JESUS JESUS JESUS! We haven’t died to the Law so that we can live to anarchy! We’ve died to the Law so that we can now live to Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus, and Jesus in us! Think about it, if you are living in Jesus and Jesus is living in you, will Jesus ever lead you into sinful living? Of course not! Will Jesus ever arouse sin within you? Of course not! Will Jesus ever minister you death and condemnation? Of course not! Will Jesus ever kill you? Of course not! The Law does these things and does them well. It was its purpose! Jesus came to actually give us what the Law showed us we so desperately needed–righteousness, life, holiness, godliness, love, perfection, Jesus Himself!
How do we live? What’s our fixation? What does our life look like free from Law and full of Jesus?
I love Galatians 3:27, “You have put on Christ!” Just like we make a decision to put on clothes every morning before we walk out the door, we have made a decision to put on Christ by trusting Christ. He is our very life. The very compassion of Jesus is now your compassion. The very forgiveness of Jesus is now your forgiveness. The very selflessness of Jesus is your selflessness. The very love of Jesus is now your love. The very glory of Jesus is now your glory (John 17:22). The very sonship of Jesus is now your sonship. The very eternal life of Jesus is now your eternal life. You have put Him on!
It is no longer natural nor normal for us to walk after sin and the flesh. Our old nature from Adam was crucified and no longer lives. But our new life we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.
What about laws in America? Aren’t we to live by the laws of the land?
This is very important and speaks to the heart of his very issue. First, let us be very clear that no confidence of living by faith instead of living by law will provide you with any legal defense in a trial here in this world! If you break a law of this land, you are responsible, guilty, condemned, and will face the appropriate penalty. While you remain forgiven and free, clean and close in the courtroom of heaven, you will pay for your violations here in this world. Our complete pardon only pertains to the courtroom where God is the Judge, not where man is the judge.
But please consider this. Can laws in our country legislate morality? No matter how many laws we create, we cannot legislate a moral people. Laws are impotent at that. Laws can modify behavior by making the punishment deter people from the bad behavior, but laws cannot create a good people. What if you were living by a growing reality that Jesus is your actual life? What if you were growing more and more aware of your absolute dependence upon Him? What if you were so convinced that Jesus is your life that you start walking by His Spirit? Do you think Jesus and His Spirit would lead you into violating even the laws of America? Of course, they wouldn’t. The fruits of walking by Christ’s Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In other words, as we are living by faith in the Son of God, these are the very qualities that will be on display through our lives. Are there any laws in America against these? Does the law say, “Thou shall not be patient?”… “Thou shall not be faithful?”…etc? Of course not! This is Paul’s whole crescendo, if we want to live Godly lives, there’s only one way–to live by faith (not by law) in Jesus!
Don’t take my word for it!
Questions to Consider!
- If you have put on Christ, what does that mean about who you are?
- As you see who you now are, clothed in Christ, think of a troubling scenario you’re in right now and how the realization of being clothed in Christ Himself affects that scenario. Perhaps it’s a scenario where you are struggling to forgive or to love. What does the revelation of Christ’s life being your life say about your new found ability to forgive and love?
- If Law based living never brings life but only more sinning, then why do we tend to live so much by Law and not by Jesus?
- Is there fear in you that to throw away law would only insight sin? If so, don’t read Galatians 4!