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The DEEP

The Point of the Law

Right and wrong.

Galatians 3:15–20 (ESV)

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

This is classic Pauline reasoning. He starts with a strictly logical point. All covenants are, by nature, permanent. The covenant with Abraham predates the law by more than four centuries. The law does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God.

Paul closes this loop by pointing out that the promised inheritance couldn’t have been conditioned on the law because then it wouldn’t be a promise.

But then what’s the point of the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made (that is Christ).

In other words, the law clarified our transgressions. Without the law, we might be aware that we’re not following God, but we couldn’t say exactly how. Now we can.

Without the law, our need for a savior wouldn’t be so obvious.


This is an essential part of Christian doctrine. It isn’t legalism for the law to define right and wrong. Legalism is when our obedience to the law determines salvation.

Forgiveness depends on having something to forgive. Without the law, there’s nothing to forgive—or at least nothing that’s clear to us.

Thus, we should respect the law and pay attention to it. The ceremonial parts are gone, but the moral law is the foundation of our civilization.

The big problem with things like circumcision is it makes people feel like they’ve arrived. That’s poison. The last thing Christians need is to be satisfied with themselves. Note Paul’s anguish in Romans 7:18–20.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (ESV)

Our constant failings should drive us to the cross afresh every morning.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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