We talked yesterday about what the law does not do, namely, it doesn’t replace the covenant God made with Abraham. God’s covenant with Abraham was a one-way contract solely based on God’s promise, not on anything Abraham or any of his descendants did. Because of this, nothing could ever supersede it.
Paul continues this theme on why this is so in verses 19-20. He said,
The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.
When Moses went up the mountain to get the ten commandments, the people were so frightened by God that they told Moses,
Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die. (Exodus 20:19)
And so while Moses approached God, the people stayed at a distance from God. (Exodus 20:21). All the words God spoke to them had to go through Moses. God spoke to Moses, saying “Tell them to do this, this, and this. If they do, they will have life. If they don’t, they will die.” And Moses passed on all this information to them.
But think about this a minute. Why did God need a mediator to pass on any information at all? It was because the law was a two-way contract. Both sides had their part to fulfill. And if the Israelites did not keep their part, all the blessings promised to them in this covenant would be void. Ultimately, that’s what happened. Because they repeated broke the covenant, God did away with it. It was an utterly fragile covenant.
Paul then says, “But God is one.” That is to say, God is only one party and the only party responsible for doing anything in the covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants. Abraham didn’t have to do a thing to obtain his blessings. So the covenant with Abraham was totally different from the covenant based on law. It was totally unbreakable because it wasn’t dependent on what we did, but on what God did.
In short, a fragile, breakable covenant can never supersede one that can never be broken.
What, then, was the purpose of the law? (19)
Logical question. Paul answers,
It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. (19)
In other words, it was a temporary way to deal with sin until Christ came. Hundreds of years passed between the time of Moses and the time Christ came. And God needed a way to deal with sin until then. The law was that way. But in saying that, Paul makes something very clear. He asked,
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? (21)
Put another way, “Is the law is then an alternative way to salvation?”
Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. (21)
Paul’s saying here that the law is not an alternative way to salvation because if it were, there would have been no need for Christ. All we would have needed to do is keep the law. But the truth is, no one can keep the law, and so it has no power to give life to anyone in itself. Rather, all it does and is meant to do is lead us to Him who can truly save us from our sin.
How does it do that? We’ll continue on this theme tomorrow.