Sabbath School Lesson for July 29-August 4, 2017
Understanding God’s grace seems to be an easy concept to grasp by most people today. We want to think of God in merciful, loving ways.
But in doing this, we must confront the issue of the law as well. What purpose does the law serve? Why did God express His will to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai in such a blusterous, forceful manner (with thunder, lightning, and a penalty of death)?
Here is where the historical context is crucial. It helps us confirm that the true character of God is and always has been about love. But without the law, this love would have no direction. We would be left clueless in knowing how to implement it.
The extreme circumstances of Moses and God’s people, when they made their escape from Egyptian slavery, helps us see why God needed to communicate His law to them the way He did. The complete set of instructions was designed to get and keep them in a relationship with Him. And it would have worked, if the people had remained true to God.
The relationship of the law and God’s promise of redemption are prevalent topics in the book of Galatians that we will examine this week in our study.
Memory Text: “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” Galatians 3:18 ESV
We must go back from Moses’s day to the original promise given to Abraham of a future Seed, being Christ, (Galatians 3:16). Even Adam and Eve were promised this Seed that would some day defeat Satan (Genesis 3:15).
What relationship did this promised inheritance have with God’s law? Was one more important than the other? Looking at the events around Paul’s time, we might think so.
God’s people had come to revere the law of God, forgetting the loving God who gave it. Their obedience to the law was even more important than their love to God and their neighbors. Ironic, because love’s what the law was really all about.
However, we may still do the injustice of misunderstanding the relationship of grace and law, when we throw obedience to the law out of the picture entirely. Some Christians have done this in order to justify not keeping the Sabbath commandment, and others just to prove they aren’t legalists.
Sunday: Law and Faith
It’s interesting that, in Galatians 3:15-18, Paul speaks of God’s covenant with Abraham as an inheritance. He emphasizes that a will, designating an inheritance, can’t be changed.
The word covenant might be more clearly understood, if the word will were used. This was done when the Old Testament was translated into Greek. Abraham’s covenant with God was spoken of as a diatheke (a will), rather than syntheke (a contract).
A covenant, when seen as a contract, would indicate that two parties were mutually agreeing to something. But a will is more one-sided. Only God laid out the Promise. We notice nothing promised by Abraham. No formal expression of the law, like given to Moses later, was needed. Even though the law had existed all along.
Paul seems to want to show the legalists of his day that God’s law did not take priority over the Promise to Abraham. God was primarily interested in the state of their heart, their faith in Him. This is not to say outward actions didn’t matter, but that our relationship with God’s Son must come first.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:15. Why does Paul compare God’s promise to a final will and testament? How were legalists trying to change God’s promise by using the law?
Read Galatians 3:16 and Genesis 3:15. Was the promise to Abraham the same as that given to Adam and Eve? Why did God need to renew it with Abraham?
Read Galatians 3:17-18. Do we attain the inheritance by keeping the law? How do we receive it then?
Monday: Faith and Law
We’ve looked at the law and have found that our obedience isn’t why we receive our heavenly inheritance.
“knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, for by works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Galatians 2:16 NKJV
So, what exactly does the law do for us? Some have felt that the law serves no purpose and was actually done away with when Christ the Seed came to our world.
Romans, chapter 3, is often used as a parallel text for Galatians 3, when looking at the role of faith and the law. Paul confirms in this letter to the Romans that the law still has value, and isn’t annulled, or done away with, at Christ’s first coming.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31 NKJV
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 3:31, 7:7, 12, and 8:3. How is the law established or fulfilled?
Read Matthew 5:17-20. As these verses are in the Sermon on the Mount, what makes us believe Jesus is speaking about the moral Ten Commandment law? How has Christ fulfilled that law for us, and how does this affect how we should keep the moral law today?
Read Romans 6:6 and Galatians 5:24. What was done away with at the cross and our baptism? Does this mean we don’t battle sin any more? Why?
Tuesday: The Purpose of the Law
Let’s see how Paul reveals the purpose of the law:
“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Galatians 3:19 NKJV
We read further in this passage that the law served as a tutor, “because of transgressions”. Obviously, the children of God had drifted far away from Him during their four hundred-year-exposure to Egyptian culture, when they served as slaves to Pharaoh. God needed a speed-course to get them back on track, and serving Him again.
But verse 19 also speaks of this law as only serving till the Seed (or Jesus) would come. This has proven troubling to some who understand this to mean that the law was only in effect until Jesus came to earth as a man.
Certainly, the ceremonial laws given to Moses that pointed to His death and resurrection were not needed after their purpose was fulfilled at Calvary. But can we also say His death caused the moral Ten Commandment law to be outdated as well?
According to other portions of Paul’s letters, we must assume that the moral law remains in effect. As Paul says in Romans 7:12, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”
The law is still needed in order to point out our sin. Galatians 3:24 tells us “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ”. Without the law, we would not know what sin is. This moral law has always been, and always will be, important for Christians to know and keep.
The whole Sermon on the Mount, preached by Jesus, was based on the Ten Commandment law and how we should keep it. Under the tutelage of Christ, the law of God was established and magnified. His whole life was a fulfillment of its requirements. No one has kept them more perfectly than our lovely Savior and God.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:19 and Romans 5:13, 20. Why does sin make it necessary for there to be laws (it “was added because of transgressions”)? How do laws show the grace of the lawgiver (“where sin abounded, grace abounded much more”)?
Read Galatians 3:21, 21 and John 1:29. If having and keeping the law would save us, then why would we need the Promise of a Savior? Why did Jesus come into the world, if we already had the law–was it to change or take away the law, or to change us?
Read Galatians 3:24 and Romans 3:20, 7:7, 8. Can the law increase or decrease our sinful desires? In what way?
Wednesday: The Duration of God’s Law
Assuming that the Ten Commandments were only in effect from the time of Moses until Christ came gives it a temporary status that just isn’t supported by Scripture. Throughout the Bible, we see evidence of its eternal nature.
For example, the commandment against murder was revealed by Cain’s misdeed (Genesis 9:5, 6). Abram was admonished when he lied about Sarah being his sister (Genesis 12:17-20). Joseph understood how wrong it was to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-10). Manna was given to the Hebrews, showing the distinctive features of the Sabbath, before the Ten Commandments were even delivered from Mount Sinai (Exodus 16:22-26).
Yes, the moral law had evidently been passed down through the generations, from family to family. God’s desire to create a nation of believers from Abraham’s descendants, who had been hi-jacked by Satan in the land of Egypt for over four hundred years, made it necessary for the Ten Commandments to be spelled out and enforced so dramatically to Moses and the multitude.
The problem lies in reading too much into Galatians 3:19, where it says the law was added “till the Seed should come”. The word “until” does not always indicate a limited duration of time.
If you tell your children not to fight and bicker until you come home, you don’t mean for them to fight and bicker once you are in their presence again. Similarly, the Bible tells us to “hold fast what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25). Does this mean we don’t have to be faithful after Jesus comes?
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:19, Revelation 2:25, and Colossians 2:6. Does the word “until” mean only for a certain amount of time? Did the role of the moral law change with Christ’s Coming? What has always been its role?
Read Romans 8:3, 4. What’s the difference in walking according to the flesh and according to the Spirit? How does knowing and loving Jesus make it easier to obey God in the Spirit?
Read Matthew 5:17-20. How does Christ’s righteousness differ from the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?
Thursday: The Superiority of the Promise
As part of Paul’s defense of God’s salvation being above keeping of the law, he reminds us that the law needed a mediator.
“…it [the law] was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Galatians 3:19 NKJV
In other words, Paul is telling us that the law was just a tool–a holy and good tool, even the “top of the line” variety–but without a good mechanic/mediator (Christ), it is a worthless tool to accomplish our salvation.
Therefore, Christ, the Promised Redeemer, is superior to the law, even though both are needed to do the job of saving this sinful planet. Christ is really our Savior, not the law.
Think what it would mean if we only had to keep the law in order to be saved. Would any of us qualify? It’s a terrifying thought, if our salvation depended on us keeping the law. The law is worthless to us, unless we allow Jesus to fill us with His grace, which comes with a desire to keep the law.
Only a few people in the Bible have had direct encounters with God the Father. Abraham, being one of them, heard about the Promised Seed from the Father. However, according to the Bible, the angels were God’s emissaries when the Lord’s commandments were given to Moses. They were mediators, dispensers, of the holy precepts.
Even a mediator was needed for giving Moses the Ten Commandments. We have reason to believe that the Mediator at that time was Christ Himself, but it required mediation nonetheless.
This helps us see that the Promised Seed, spoken of to Abraham without a mediator, was superior to the law that was later handed to Moses through a mediator. The Promised One needs no mediator. Therefore, He takes precedence in our salvation. The law is a needed tool, but without the heart change that only Jesus can provide, it is worthless in securing our redemption.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:19, 20, Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, 55, and 1 Timothy 2:5. Who delivered God’s law to Moses?
Read Deuteronomy 5:1-7. How do these verses reveal why mediation was needed when the Ten Commandments were presented to God’s people? Why was Moses even called into the mediation process?
Is it possible for us to have the kind of intimacy in our relationship with God that Abraham, Jacob, and Paul had? How is God’s voice heard by His followers even today, and how can we be more attuned to it?
God’s people have long been engaged in an active dialogue about the issue of faith versus works. Paul addressed this meaningful topic extensively in the book of Galatians, as we must also do, in order to prevent and/or correct the extreme positions that people tend to create for themselves.
Which has priority, faith or works? It’s the age-old question that we must fully understand because it provides the basis of our salvation.
- Was God’s covenant primarily a contract or a will? (Sunday)
- Does faith lead to obedience, and does this make it superior? (Monday)
- What’s the purpose of the law? (Tuesday)
- How long has God’s moral law been with us? (Wednesday)
- Why did the deliverance of the law to Moses need a mediator? (Thursday)
Final Thought (only one)
Once again, we are reminded that Christ is the only thing that matters in our salvation. Paul said this eloquently with these words in Philippians 3:8, 9…
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” NKJV
So, there is only one thought for this week. As someone has said it, plain and simple, “All I need today is a whole lot of Jesus.”
Next Week: The Road to Faith
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/