The law and the promise. 3:15-18


In our passage for study, Paul continues to argue from scripture for his beloved gospel. His argument is simple: the promised blessings that are part of God's agreement ("covenant") with Abraham, blessings even now experienced by those who rest on the faithfulness of Christ (his death on our behalf), depend wholly on God's promise. The law of Moses, given some four hundred and thirty years later, does not detail supplementary requirements necessary for a believer's access to the promised blessings. The promise stand in its own right, apart from the law.

The passage

v15. Using a legal analogy, Paul makes the point that even a human agreement (eg. a will, or deed), legally ratified, is irrevocable. So obviously, when God makes an agreement, it is set in concrete.

v16. God's agreement ("covenant") with Abraham is just such an agreement, an agreement set in concrete. In the agreement that God made with Abraham he promised blessings both to Abraham and to his "seed". God promised Abraham a land, a people as the stars in the sky, and a blessing extending to the whole world (Jews and Gentiles). God's promise was the promise of a kingdom, the kingdom of God, life in all its fullness. The fulfillment of this promise is in Abraham's "seed". Paul makes the point that although "seed" would naturally be taken as plural, it can rightly be taken as singular, and given the realization of the promise in Christ, it is obviously singular. Jesus is the heir of the promise and those who are in a relationship with Christ become fellow-heirs, all on the basis of the promise itself, on the basis of God's grace (his covenant mercy).

v17. Given this human analogy, it is obvious that God is not going to either set aside the agreement he made with Abraham, or add some codicil to it. He is certainly not going to do this in his gift of the law some 430 years later. The simple fact is that the law does not impose itself on the covenant; it does not interfere with the promise.

v18. The blessings of the kingdom are promised as a free gift. If they were by law-obedience then they would not come my means of God's promise, yet we know that God promised the blessings of the kingdom to Abraham as a gracious gift. The conclusion is obvious; the inheritance is not facilitated by law-obedience.

Jesus is the full deal

"In the end there's just you and Jesus", Luxford Matumbo.

In my early days at theological college I can't remember Luxford ever saying very much. He was an African student in a noisy testosterone driven Australian theological college, so he didn't get much of a chance in the push and shove of it all. Yet, to this day I can remember his one and only contribution. I mean, what more is there to say?

Here we are, inheritors of God's promise to Abraham, a promise that comes with no strings attached. In the end, it's the promise of life, life in all its fullness, life with God, "eternal life". That life is fully ours in Jesus. When we place our fading self in his gentle arms all the promised blessings of eternity are ours with no strings attached.

In Paul's day he was having terrible trouble with fellow believers who wanted to add a codicil to God's promised free grace. They happily agreed that the blessings of the Christian life are found in Jesus, but to properly facilitate those blessings, day-by-day, required a faithful submission to the law of Moses. They would have loved the old chorus, "trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." The little codicil of obedience has always been with us.

The truth is, everything is ours in Jesus. In fact, the more we focus on Jesus the more we become like him. Obedience is actually a by-product of being "in Christ". So yes Luxford, there's just me and Jesus, and you and Jesus, and ....


"The law is an institution inferior to the covenant of promise", Y.K. Fung. Discuss.

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