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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Galatians 3:19-25 by Robert Dean
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 32 secs

The Inferiority of the Law; Gal. 3:19-25

Emotion is never evaluated in terms of subjective impressions. People can go to may churches where they have no true doctrine, and have a lot of good singing, have a lot of emotion, and they leave and say, Oh that was just so uplifting! We've all been in situations like that. And we can leave and say, Well what did I learn? How was I advanced in my spiritual life at all? In what sense did I give or show obedience to God by learning and submitting to His Word? The essence of the Greek and Hebrew words for worship has to do with submission to authority. We submit to God's authority by learning His Word, its mandates for us, how He has instructed us, and we submit our volition to that. That is why the study of God's Word is the highest form of worship, because in studying God's Word we learn how God wants us to think, to have the mind of Christ, and that is through the teaching of Scripture. So we have to learn before we can apply. Jesus said about worship: "those who worship Him [God] must worship in spirit and truth," i.e. Bible doctrine, the Word of God. He doesn't mention singing. Although that is a part of worship it is not the criteria for worship. One of the modern trends today is to define worship as singing. The worship leader is, therefore, someone who leads the singing; he is no longer the pastor-teacher who is communicating the Word of God, and yet that is where the core of worship takes place at any given time in relationship to the teaching of the Word of God and our response to the Word of God. Jesus doesn't say worship is by means of the Spirit and singing! He said it is by means of the Spirit and truth/doctrine. The first element in worship is the filling of the Holy Spirit.


One of the most difficult concepts for any of us to understand truly and wholly and fully is the concept of grace. This is a concept that very few Christians have understood over the years and it is one of the problems that we see with the Galatian believers. The problem with law, the problem with legalism, the problem confusing morality with spirituality, is not a problem that begins with our day today but is a problem that has plagued the church from the very beginning. That is why Paul penned this letter to the Galatian believers. He was incredibly concerned because of where they were going in their thinking and their confusing of morality with spirituality and their confusing of works as a means to salvation and as a means to the spiritual life. Very few people have clearly understood this distinction. 

What we learn from these next verses in this chapter is that the spiritual life that God has provided for the church age believer today is phenomenal. The vast array of spiritual assets that God has provided to us under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit is unique in all of human history. Never before has an individual believer had so much available to him in terms of divine power as he does today. And this didn't just happen accidentally. What we have seen is that this began in the Old Testament; it was originally promised by God. This is why the study of history is so important. Only when we come to history as a believer, do we understand that history is not just random events that happened in history but is literally "His story," the outworking of the plan of God for human history. It has a purpose, a direction, and a goal. If we do not understand those facets, the purpose of God through history which is to save mankind, the goal of history which is the Messianic kingdom; and if we don't understand the mechanics which involve two critical issues, sin and grace, then we will never truly understand what is going on in human history. It all revolves around a very special covenant which God gave to an Old Testament man by the name of Abraham. We call that the Abrahamic covenant, given in seed for initially in Genesis chapter twelve, and then  later in Genesis chapter fifteen it is specifically given to Abraham when God cuts a covenant with him. The Abrahamic covenant is further expanded in three subsequent covenants: the real estate covenant (which defines the property that God is going to give to the descendants of Abraham), the Davidic covenant (God promised to David that there would be an eternal King on his throne that would be his descendant), and then there would be a blessing, the new covenant developed in Jeremiah chapter thirty-one. Jesus Christ established the new covenant on the cross. The blessing in the Abrahamic covenant, expanded in the new covenant, was the promise of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

     Galatians 3:19 NASB "Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made."

The purpose of the law in summary was to restrain sin in Israel—"until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made." The law was given to restrain sin and evil in Israel until the Messiah came. Other passages tell us the law was given to point out sin, but that is not the point that Paul is making here. Romans 3:20 says that through the law comes the knowledge of sin. Paul is making the point that the law was given in order to restrain sin and to protect the nation until God brought about the coming of the promised seed. So from 1445 BC until the coming of Jesus Christ in the incarnation and His spiritual atonement on the cross as a substitute for our sin the law ruled in order to protect Israel through whom the Messiah would come in order to provide stability to that nation and in order to perpetuate that nation until God could fulfil His plan and purposes in sending a saviour. So why the law then? It was added because of transgression in order to restrain sin. It was obviously temporary in contrast to the Abrahamic covenant which was unconditional and forever. 

The law was given  "because of transgressions, having been ordained." The word for "ordained" is diatageo [diatagew], and here it is the aorist passive indicative which means ordained or given direction. "Ordained" is one of those fuzzy Christian words that people are never clear about exactly what it means. So it is better to translated this: "it was given under the direction of angels." So one thing we learn about the Mosaic law here that we don't learn from Exodus is that God originated it and it was given through the mediation of angels and then Moses and then the people. So there are two mediators in this passage: angels through the mediation of Moses "until the seed would come." So we see two things here about why the law is inferior: a) It is temporary and will be abrogated by a later covenant—the new covenant; b) There are inferior mediators—creatures: angels and Moses. 

Galatians 3:20 NASB "Now a mediator is not for one {party only;} whereas God is {only} one." What is a mediator?

1.  A mediator is a go-between, someone who intervenes between two or more disputants in order to settle or reconcile differences. Who are the disputants? On the one hand there is God and on the other hand there is man. God is perfect righteousness; man lacks righteousness. How can there be a solution to the problem because there is a sin barrier erected between God and man, and that must be resolved? 1 Timothy 2:5 NASB "For there is one God, {and} one mediator also between God and men, {the} man Christ Jesus."

2.  A mediator is not for one party only. When God ratified the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 they took the sacrifices related to the covenant and laid them out on the altar. Normally the two parties in the covenant would walk together between the sacrifice to signify both were involved. God caused a sleep to fall on Abraham; God walks through—one walks through. A mediator is not for one. God alone made these unconditional promises in the Abrahamic covenant. In contrast, because the Mosaic covenant is a temporary and conditional covenant it demanded temporary mediators—the angels and Moses. This means that the Abrahamic covenant is superior to the Mosaic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant includes the promise of blessing based on faith. The Mosaic covenant which was to Israel, when it promised blessing, it was based on obedience to the Mosaic Law because it had to do with national blessing. It did not have to do with salvation or the spiritual life.    

Galatians 3:21 NASB "Is the Law then contrary [against] to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law." This second objection is strongly denied by the apostle Paul. Is there an inherent contradiction between the promises of God and the Mosaic Law? This is the second objection someone might raise. Paul absolutely rejects every inference that somehow there is an internal contradiction between the Law and the promise of God. He is going to explain why. The law was not given for salvation but to restrain sin until the Messiah came. We come back to the basic issue in this entire passage, and that is righteousness. How do we gain righteousness? How do we acquire a righteous standing before God? There are only two answers that are ever given in all of human history: a) that you have a righteous standing before God because of what you do; b) that righteousness is imputed on the basis of faith in Christ. "For if a law had been given…" This is any law (anartharous construction in the Greek). "… which was able to impart life…" Here he emphasises by using the word "life" the relationship to +R, perfect righteousness, that there is an inherent relationship between the concept of eternal life and the possession of perfect righteousness. "…then righteousness would indeed have been based on law." In the Greek this is a second class condition, which indicates "if any law had been given" but it is impossible, it wouldn't happen. It indicates a negative here. The third inferiority of the Mosaic Law: it cannot impart life.    

Galatians 3:22 NASB "But the Scripture has shut up [imprisoned] everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." The main verb is the aorist active indicative of sugkleio [sugkleiw]. It means a little more than what we find in the English translations of this verse. It is used in Luke 5:6 to describe capturing fish in a net. It literally means to confine, to hold, to imprison. So we get a totally different picture in our mind when we say that Scripture all men under sin. What does that mean? That means that God gave the Scripture here in context which refers to the Mosaic Law. When we understand what the Law says it sets down all of the mandates and we have to obey every single one of them. No one ever could, and that demonstrates that everybody is a sinner. They are imprisoned by these mandates and their inability to solve the problem. How do you escape the prison of sin? When you are in a prison you have no freedom, you are left with no options; there is nothing you can do to get out of prison on your own. The Scripture has imprisoned all men under sin. "…so that (purpose clause) the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." What this is saying is that when you realise that you are imprisoned by sin and that there is no way out, then and only then is when you realise that the only way to get out is if someone from the outside lets you out. That is understanding grace.

The purpose for the law, then, is to show there is nothing man can do to ever acquire the perfect righteousness of Christ. Therefore we have seen in vv. 19, 20 that the law was not given as a path to salvation but to restrain sin until the coming of Christ at the first advent. The second thing we have seen is that the law is not consistent with the promise to Abraham, vv. 21, 22. That was given in order to bring those promises to fulfilment. The third thing that Paul says about the law here in this passage is in vv. 23-25. That is, that the law at the first is a pedagogue, a tutor to restrain sin and to lead Jews to Christ, to the Messiah, until He came.   

Galatians 3:23 NASB "But before faith [in Jesus] came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed." What does he mean, before faith came? In the Greek "faith" is the noun pistis [pistij], but here it is anartharous, i.e. there is no definite article. When the definite article is missing in Greek it emphasises the quality of the noun. That is going to throw us back to what he has just said in v. 22. Rather than repeating the whole phrase Pal just uses the word "faith" because faith is the issue in justification. What he is really saying here is: "But before the promise of faith in Jesus Christ came." That is the subject of that clause. Who is the "we" here? It is the Jews who were kept un prison under the law. This is the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, the promise to Jew and Gentile—universal salvation for everyone. 

Galatians 3:24 NASB "Therefore the Law has become our tutor {to lead us} to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." It points the way just as a tutor worked in the child's life to prepare him for adulthood. The law worked in the nation Israel to point the way and to prepare them for the Messiah. "… that we may be," purpose clause. Why is this particular verb in the subjunctive mood? Because it emphasises potential which is dependent upon each person's individual volition. It is up to the individual to make a decision about Jesus Christ.   

Galatians 3:25 NASB "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." What faith is he talking about? He is talking about that clause we saw back in v. 22, the promise by faith. That is, blessing to the Gentiles by faith alone in Christ alone, for God promised back in the Abrahamic covenant "through your seed all nations will be blessed." He is now saying that that promise by faith in Jesus Christ has come—in the incarnation—in order that we Jews are no longer under a tutor.

Not even Jews are under the Mosaic Law anymore. So when these Judaizers had come into Galatia and taught that you have to go back under the law and be circumcised and have to follow the law, they were so wrong because they were not even under the law anymore. Once the promise is fulfilled the law is abrogated for everyone, Jew and Gentile.


1.  God made promise to Abraham that through his seed, i.e. Jesus Christ, the entire world, Jew and Gentile, would be blessed.

2.  That seed is Jesus Christ.

3.  Jesus paid the price for sin—the sin penalty. This is the concept of redemption, the payment of a price.

4.  The curse of the law was bondage, to demonstrate that man had no option for salvation other than someone else doing the work.

5.  That work was done completely and totally by Jesus Christ on the cross.

6.  The law was added 430 years after the promise n order to protect the nation from criminality and idolatry until the Messiah came.

7.  Once the Messiah came He fulfilled the law. He fulfilled the promise, established the promise and the law was no longer necessary.

8.  The law was inherently inferior because it was temporary and mediated through inferior mediators.

9.  The promise is superior because it is permanent and mediated through the second person of the Godhead in hypostatic union. There is only one mediator. Jesus Christ was the mediator fulfilling that unconditional role. Just as God alone walked through the sacrifices, Jesus alone, who is fully God, pays the penalty for our sins—not in His deity but in His humanity. Because he is perfect true humanity He can die as our substitute. But because He is also undiminished deity His sacrifice has infinite value, so He could die for the entire human race.

10.  10. The result. We are saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, and as a result we receive the unparalleled blessing and assets of the unique spiritual life of the church age. Part of that comes with the baptism of the Holy Spirit—a much misunderstood doctrine and a vital doctrine.