The Purpose of the Law
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 3:18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians is a three-fold letter. The first two chapters are Personal and here, Paul discusses his life before salvation as a Pharisee, his zeal about the Law, his passion about wiping out Christ and the name Christ from off the surface of the earth and then his call as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus called of God to proclaim the gospel message which is by faith and through grace (See Gal1:13-16;2:15&16). The third and fourth chapters are Doctrinal and there we see Paul defending the gospel of Justification by Grace and explaining the inferiority, temporary nature of and uselessness of the law for the purpose of justification. The last two chapters are Practical and they teach the application of the doctrines of the previous chapters— how Grace is not license to sin but instead is an empowerment and freedom to love and serve (See Gal5:1-6;6:1,10).
The Blessing of Abraham.
The promise of God to Abraham was described in various parts of scripture from Genesis throughout the Old Testament and it is one of the fulcrums around which the Inspired Text revolves; in the New Testament, the Abrahamic covenant was summarized as the gift of righteousness given to Abraham on the basis of Faith (see Rom4:3, Gal3:6 and James 2:23) and the pivotal role Abraham will play as the Father of Faith in whose seed (Christ) all the nations of the earth will be blessed. See Gen12:1-3;18:18; 22:15-19; 26:4, etc.
Most of the time, Christians tend to believe that this Abrahamic blessing is measured in natural wealth especially since Abraham was one of the wealthiest men in the East with whom nations made pacts and who grew a personal elite army capable of defeating joint militaries of some of the strongest nations in his time(Gen14:1-16), however though Abraham had physical wealth as a component of God’s blessing to Him, the blessing of Abraham discussed in the New Testament goes beyond all such natural wealth and talks instead about spiritual realities—redemption and sonship.
Notice that the blessing of Abraham that comes on the gentiles is by Christ Jesus and it is essentially about justification by faith where one is made righteous by faith in God apart from the works of the Law (Rom4:1-3,13-16) . Paul described this unspeakable gift in these beautiful words, “…that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
In the redemptive work of Christ, Jew and Gentile alike are reborn into the family of God and the Holy Spirit of God takes up residence in them as a seal of membership in the family. See Rom8:1-17; 2Cor1:21,22; Gal4:6; Eph1:11-13,4:30
Now, if justification/ redemption/ the blessing of Abraham / the promise of the Spirit is received by faith alone apart from an observance of the Law, why then was the Law given? Asked another way, if Salvation is by Grace through Faith, what then is the purpose of the Law?
The Purpose of The Law
The answer to the question of the purpose of the Law is found immediately after the question is asked in Gal3:19— the Law serves a two-fold purpose: firstly, it was added because of transgressions and secondly it was given in anticipation of the coming of Christ in whom true salvation will be found.
It should again he reiterated here that the Law wasn’t given as a means of salvation in the Pre-Christ era because by a strict definition of the purpose of the Law, the Law is incapable of saving anyone. (Gal3:11; Rom3:20). So, the Law wasn’t given for justification.
If the Law was not given to save anyone, why then was it given? Again, it was given because of transgressions. The exact meaning of this is clarified when we realise that the Law was not given merely because of the existence of transgressions. Rather, it was given to make sin known as a judicial wrong —not just a following of human impulses with no transcendental meaning or impact.
The word translated transgressions, is the Greek “parabasis” and it describes a “going over”, a “breach of a definite, promulgated, ratified law”.
Hence the Law shows sin in its true light— a violation of the definite will of God; thereby revealing that sinful acts are a violation of the will of God and that the one who sins is accountable before God. Before the law was given, sin was present in the World and people committed sins but sin is not charged against anyone when there is no law against it (see Rom5:13); so the Law comes to increase and expand the awareness of the trespass by defining and unmasking sin. Rom5:20(AMP)
Secondly, the Law was given in anticipation of the coming of Christ. The Law was meant to reveal to man his sinfulness, make him conscious of sin and God’s view of it and create in man a desire for redemption and a redeemer as he realizes his helplessness in dealing with sin.
The Law can only make one conscious of sin, hold us accountable before God and subject to His judgement; it cannot provide a remedy for sin. The universal man’s hopelessness and helplessness was personified in the experience of Paul in Romans chapter seven; the knowledge of the law defines sin and the inability to live in the will of God by our own natural human ability creates in us a cry for help that can only be answered in Jesus Christ.
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 3:25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
The Law as it were was a jailer of some sorts who kept all of humanity condemned in the awareness of our sinfulness and helplessness until the coming of Christ. It made sure none of us can think himself better than his neighbour since we are all confined under sin and also ensured no one will escape the consciousness of sin, or try to find an escape in man, religion, self, etc.
It doesn’t matter how religious a man is or cultured or civilized or educated, the Law is always there letting man know that he is still not good enough and he is still unrighteous and he is still violating the will of God and that judgement is coming.
The Law was the doorkeeper of the holding-house of sin where all of humanity is locked up ensuring we do not lose consciousness of our sin, or of our accountability to God and judgement and our need for a redeemer and deliverer.
In describing the role of the Law, the apostle used the Greek word “paidagogos” translated schoolmaster or tutor in the English Bible; however that word is used among the Greek and Romans of the household slave, the guardian responsible for the care and discipline of children till they come to maturity.
By using this term, the apostle reiterates the temporary nature of the Law, and how the Law is subordinate to faith in Christ Jesus for salvation and repeats the thoughts of the previous verses where the Law was described as the one who had charge of humanity before the coming of Christ.
The purpose of the Law has been described and its purpose is fulfilled in Christ. The Law was added to show man his sinfulness and arouse in Him the desire for salvation. The Law can only bring a consciousness of sin, it cannot remedy sin; the Law can only tell us of the need of a Savior, it cannot save.
It is only in Christ Jesus that Salvation is found, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. The Law will not save and it will not deliver. Jesus is the Savior and by Him all that believe are justified from all things from which one could not be justified by the Law.