What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. (verses 17-18)
The false teachers in Galatia claimed it was necessary to keep the law in order to be saved. Without circumcision, they believed, you were hooped.
Paul argues, vehemently, that the gospel clearly says otherwise. Salvation doesn’t come about through our own efforts. It’s not by keeping the law. It’s simply by believing.
Coming at it a different way, he looks logically at the historical sequencing of the covenant promises and the law. Which came first? Was it covenant promise or law? If a covenant is established by one party with another, and then they add further conditions later, we would simply say they had broken their promise. They hadn’t lived up to what they initially pledged.
By claiming that circumcision was necessary for salvation, these false teachers were actually implying that God had broken his initial promise. But how could that be? It simply couldn’t. God is true to his word. So, it turns out the logic works in the other direction. Since it is clear that “God in his grace gave (the inheritance) to Abraham through a promise,” then it is also logically clear that the promise could not be dependent on keeping the law, which wasn’t given until 430 years later. The promise has priority – it stands alone, sure and unaltered.
“What, then, was the purpose of the law?” (verse 19). Paul argues it was given in order “to lead us to Christ” (verse 24). Because of sin, the law was put in charge, like a guardian who has oversight of a youngster – a minor – until they reach maturity. Only then do they receive their freedom. In that same way, the law was put in place, indeed holding us prisoners, to direct us to Christ, the Saviour, the one we need, the very one who ultimately fulfills those covenant promises given to Abraham centuries before.
God gave his promise. Abraham believed. “And it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gal 3:6).
That’s the full story. Don’t add anything more to the mix. Yes, follow God’s will and his ways closely. Do it in loving obedience. But don’t ever think that’s how you earn his favour. His favour is given solely by grace, just as he promised, and it is received by faith. So then, place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his finished, sacrificial work on the cross. It’s fully sufficient to bring about salvation. Indeed, salvation for all. For the Lord had made the promise to Abraham: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3).
In Jesus, the promise is here.
Father, what grace! What gift! All peoples on earth have been blessed in your promise to Abraham. Thank you that you laid out your plan, fulfilled in your Son. Thank you for extending grace to me, received by faith alone. I choose to honour you with my obedience. Strengthen me with your Spirit, to the glory of Jesus’ name. Amen.
Give thanks: When Abraham received God’s promise, the Lord already had you in his sights. The promise embraced you. Reflect. Consider the impact. Give thanks.