Sabbath School Lesson for August 5-11, 2017
Paul has convinced many Christians to recognize the primacy of faith in our age-old struggle to obtain salvation. Our self-righteous works just can’t compete with the perfect model of faithfulness and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This admission of being justified by faith alone, however, does leave some of us with questions of what purpose the law then serves. It’s one thing to be persuaded that the moral law can’t be done away with, but we must go a step further and discover what exactly are we to do with the law. If it doesn’t save us, then what value is it?
This week helps with this dilemma of what place the law should hold in our lives. Paul points us to at least two ways the law can be helpful in our Christian walk:
- The first part of the ten commandments points to our need of a Savior, encouraging us to embrace the One who created us and gave life.
- The rest of the moral law acts as a protection or guard against the harmful consequences of sin against our fellow human beings.
Memory Text: “Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:22 NKJV
The law, as found in the Bible, informs us that we are all indeed breakers of it. We are “confined” under the condemnation of being lawbreakers. That recognition of the enormity of our sin, when seen in the light of the law, is crucial in creating a barrier that will help us form the discipline it takes to keep the law.
Like guide rails on a highway, they help keep us on the road of faith. The longer we stay on that road, the greater our chances of coming in contact with the Lawgiver himself. Our faith in Jesus can only grow as we remain on that road of faith. We may stubbornly take detours occasionally, when we willfully break through those guard rails. But we are always welcome back on the highway, where Jesus, who traveled the same road of faith we are on, is always present in Spirit as our traveling companion.
Sunday: The Law and the Promise
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?” Galatians 3:21 ESV We’ve established that when it comes to faith (in the promises of God) and works (keeping the law), we must choose faith as the vehicle to save us. Must we avoid the law then entirely? Or does the law still have value for us?
There are some passages in the Old Testament that sound as if the Israelites must live by the law if they wanted God to give them life. But perhaps we are misinterpreting the intentions of God. Yes, we must act out, or live, by the rules God gives us. Our actions do count. But it is still God who gives us life by doing so. God is still the giver of life, not the law.
God assures us throughout Scripture that faith and works are both valuable, even though they hold different functions and roles in our life. The law can not make anyone alive spiritually. It merely keeps us on the road to faith and eternal life that we have chosen to travel.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:21, Leviticus 18:5, and Deuteronomy 6:24. How is the law related to life?
Read 2 Kings 5:7, Nehemiah 9:6, John 5:21, and Romans 4:17. How do both the Old and the New Testaments verify that only God gives life?
If obedience to the law does not make us alive spiritually, then what practical good can we experience from keeping it?
Monday: “Kept Under Law”
The phrase “under the law” is mentioned twelve times by Paul in his letters to the churches. Just what he refers to may vary. In some contexts, we see “under the law” as meaning an alternative way of salvation, as opposed to being “under faith” (as in Galatians 4:21). But at other times, he uses it to mean being under the condemnation of the law (as in Romans 6:14, 15).
Especially troubling is the passage in Galatians 3:21-24 that we study this week. Paul starts out by emphasizing that being under the law does not save us. But he then speaks of no longer being “under [guard] by the law” when [the] faith came (probably referring to the time before and after Christ). He then calls the law a “tutor to bring us to Christ”.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:21-25. How does our keeping the law before we know the love of Christ differ with how we keep it after Christ comes into our life?
Read Galatians 4:21 and Romans 6:14, 15. Is it possible that Paul using the phrase “under the law” can mean different things? What possible things could it mean?
Read Isaiah 42:21 and Matthew 5:17. Did the role of the law change when Christ came to our world to die for us? How did Christ’s appearance magnify or fulfill the law? Did He make it a better law?
Tuesday: The Law as Our “Guard”
Galatians 3:23, 24 seems to reveal both negative and positive connotations of the law. It sounds rather negative to say we are “kept under guard by the law” in v. 23. But the very next verse says the law is our “tutor to bring us to Christ” (NKJV).
Going back to the Old Testament, we find several reasons to think positively of God giving the law to His people on Mt. Sinai.
- God entrusted His commandments with Israel, which would make them a witness to the surrounding countries. Deuteronomy 4:5-8
- Many blessings to their nation would come so long as they remained obedient to God. Deuteronomy 7:12, 13
- The law would keep them pure, separate from the sinful practices of the pagans. Leviticus 18:30
Just because God’s people are unfaithful to God’s precepts does not make the precepts themselves at fault. An analogy might be a drug that could treat and even heal some disease. Often, people have taken a drug or medicine for purposes other than what was intended, i.e. for recreational purposes, or in some cases, to commit suicide. Does that then make the drug bad?
The law was meant to be our guide for living God’s way. It was never meant to be a means of obtaining favor with God and thus getting us to heaven, or to selfishly make us holier than someone else.
Used for the right purpose, and applied with love through the Holy Spirit, the law can be a very helpful schoolmaster, growing us up in the faith. And this was true for the Jewish nation, as well as for us individually today.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:19-24. In what way was the law added “because of transgressions? How was it their “schoolmaster”?
Read Philippians 4:7, 1 Peter 1:5. How can the word “keeping” us be viewed in a more positive light? How does God “keep” us through His law?
Read Romans 3:1, 2, Deuteronomy 7:12, 13, and Leviticus 18:30. What benefits did the law mean for the ancient Israelites? Is it fair then to call the law a curse for them?
Wednesday: The Law as Our Schoolmaster
Paul first describes the law as a “guard”, conjuring up pictures of a prison guard, keeping watch over our every action. He then calls the law our “tutor” or “schoolmaster”, which in ancient times also meant a pretty strict disciplinarian.
The intention of either of these characters, the guard or the tutor, would be for us to be protected from harm, and in the end to perfect our most admirable traits and give us positive values to live by.
What the moral law does for us is simply…
- to reveal our sin
- to cause us to feel our need of Christ
- to encourage us to flee to our heavenly Father for pardon and peace
- to be able to continue on the road of faith that we have chosen
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:24. What was the purpose of a tutor?
Read Romans 10:4. What is the end, or purpose, of the law?
Read Acts 13:39. How are we justified? Do we still need the law, and for what purpose?
Thursday: The Law and the Believer
Some Christians have seen Galatians 3:25 as a definite dismissal of the law. It does say…
“But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” Galatians 3:25 NKJV
As with verse 23, the literal Greek translation would be “after the faith came”, leading most biblical scholars to agree that “the faith” refers to Jesus, not to Christian faith in a general sense. We are indeed talking about before and after Christ comes into our lives.
But what is Paul really trying to say here, when he declares “we are no longer under a tutor”? The meaning that would be most compatible with Paul’s teaching in other places would be that we are no longer under the law’s condemnation.
Consider Paul’s explanation of this process of not being under the law (or tutor) in Romans 8:1-3…
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” NKJV
What Paul most likely meant in Galatians 3:25 then was that we are no longer under the condemnation of death that breaking the law brings.
Having Christ in our heart, means also having the law in our heart. It means keeping the law, but through the power of His Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, not our own weak will power.
This is good news to every believer. A change in our relationship with Jesus results in a change in our relationship with the law. A desire to do good, to be like our Lord, prompts us to keep the law in the way it was meant to be kept.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:25 and Romans 8:1-3. How does this passage in Romans more fully inform our understanding of Paul’s statement in Galatians?
Read John 8:34. Does breaking the law mean we are a slave to the law, or a slave to sin?
Read Romans 6:14, 15, 22. Does being under grace mean we are no longer required to keep the moral law? What is it like to be a “slave of God”?
Having the law means that we don’t have to get lost on the road to faith. The law is our map to guide us to our destination. The map itself doesn’t save us, but following it will ensure our safe arrival.
Paul compares the law to a guard and a tutor. Its function then is to protect us from harmful behavior, but also to teach us a better way to live.
Until we allow Jesus to enter our heart, we fail miserably at keeping the law, because the law too must be written on our heart in order to be kept properly. This is what faith is all about. It’s all about Jesus.
Consider the thoughtful, merciful way Jesus approached the woman at the well, and others, about their sins. He always did it in a way that gave them hope and a desire to do better. Even the stern voice He used when addressing the scribes and Pharisees was filled with passionate love and concern about their salvation.
Read and meditate on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) this week, forgetting the blusterous thunder which was heard by the people. Imagine instead the tender voice of God that Moses must have heard.
Remember Joshua 1:9, which says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” RSV
What this is saying is that we should not let God’s commandments scare us, or make us discouraged. They are meant to keep us in God’s presence, because they represent His will and character.
Try to see God’s Ten Commandments in the best possible light, and show others their shining possibilities. What a thrilling, peaceful world we would have, if everyone kept them.
Next Week: From Slaves to Heirs
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/