Download Audio


Introduction to Galatians 3

April 11, 1999

Paul’s gospel of free grace and justification by faith alone is in fact the true and only gospel. He’s said that it is; he’s now going to demonstrate that it is by a biblical, theological argument that is going to take him through chapters three and four. But before we begin to examine the argument piece by piece and point by point, I wanted to pause and give you some perspective because it seems to me that it will be easier for you to appreciate where Paul is going and our understanding of that argument as it unfolds if we step back and consider the context. In particular, I want to consider with you this evening, as I have many times before through the years, the relationship between what we call the Old Testament — the first thirty-nine books of the Bible — and the historical and theological and spiritual world described by those thirty-nine books and what we call the New Testament and the historical and theological and spiritual world described by those twenty-seven last books of the Bible. It actually dovetails well with the Sunday School class being taught by Mike Pfefferle and I’ll repeat a little bit of that but in a different way I think, and in any case, many of you for other reasons are in other Sunday School classes or teaching youngsters and are not part of that discussion.

But let me begin by giving you my thesis — the statement I wish to prove. And rather than to put it in a theological way let me put it in a Hollywood movie way, as I have from time to time. Some of you have seen the movie “Dead Poet’s Society” and you may remember the scene on opening day in literature class, English poetry class, in which the teacher played by Robin Williams has his class of boys — prep-school boys — open their textbooks in English poetry to the beginning of the introduction which begins with the editors’ definition of poetry. And he has one of the students read it out and then he tells them to rip that page out of the textbook. And, of course, they don’t think he means it; you never rip a textbook, certainly never do it on purpose so they imagine that he is using a figure of speech. But he says, “No, I want you to rip the page out of the textbook.” You do not have to tell a class of high school boys twice to rip a page out of a textbook. And so they begin to rip. And he says the next page too and they rip that out.

And I’ve always imagined sometime doing this myself having you turn to the page that all Bibles have between Malachi and Matthew. Open your Bibles to that page right now; open your Bibles. I won’t rip out my page because I have notes on that page but I would tell you to rip that page out of your Bible. Because it’s the only page in your Bible from Genesis to Revelation that the Holy Spirit didn’t put there. Every other page the Holy Spirit put in your Bible. But a man, in fact, a publishing company, put that page in your Bible and what in the world is a man’s page doing in God’s book?

That’s the thesis. There are not two parts of the Bible. The Bible never says there are two parts of the Bible. There’s only one Bible and in that Bible there’s only one message, there’s only one God, there’s only one salvation, there’s only one spiritual world inhabited by those who do not believe and by those who do. There’s only one summons, there’s only one covenant. There’s only one set of promises, there’s only one future. There’s only one way to live by faith in the Son of God. And we have made a catastrophic mistake with implications no one can predict when we think otherwise as most all of us have been taught to do in one way or another, to one degree or another, in the teaching we have received in the Christian church.

This is particularly important as we begin Galatians chapter three because in effect I want to demonstrate to you this is going to be the presupposition of Paul’s argument. Let me pose the questions about the relationship between the first part of the Bible, the age of Moses or the prophets and the day in which we live and the second part of the Bible what we call the New Testament. Let me pose the question forcefully, if I can, by reminding you of some simple facts. In the NT when it talks about the Bible and Holy Scripture and the importance of the Bible to the life of the Christian and the essential role the Bible plays in that life and how much we are to depend upon the teaching of the Bible to know the will of God — it is invariably talking about what we call the Old Testament.

Because the NT did not exist. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 — All scripture is God breathed and therefore profitable for these various important things. The Scripture that Paul is talking about is largely what we call the OT. That part of the Bible that had been collected and was circulating as the Word of God in the day in which Paul was writing. Hebrews 4:12 about the Word of God being sharper than any two-edged sword. What he’s talking about when he talks about the Word of God is what we call the OT. But it was just the Word of God to the author of Hebrews. He never heard of any such thing as an OT by which was meant thirty-nine books of the Bible.

And here you have as well Paul’s characteristic method of arguing his understanding of the gospel which is invariably to quote what we call the OT but which he never does. Not, as we might have expected, given the way we have been taught about the Bible in our upbringing in the Christian church.

What Paul should have said, we think, is, to the judaizers, “Gentlemen, I sympathize, I really do because you’re right about what used to be the case. But things have changed and you have got to get with the new program. I know that change is difficult. We all find change difficult but you have got to adjust to the fact that things are not as once they were. There’s a new message; there’s a new reality abroad. And that’s what we have to live our lives by; that’s what we have to stand on for our salvation.”

Paul never says anything remotely resembling that. He says “You wicked men, the Bible has had this message of justification by faith and faith alone from the get go. You people don’t understand your own Bible. This book that you pretend to believe and to follow — it is absolutely contradicting the message that you now preach.” That’s always his approach. It’s always his argument. The Bible is with me and it’s against you, always has been, is today. And the mistake that you are making is inexcusable because it’s the mistake your forefathers made before you and the very mistake that was exposed and condemned by the prophets over and over and over again.

There’s nothing new about this issue; it’s just the old issue all over again. You’re preaching works, the prophets preached faith.

He does that in Galatians chapter 3 we are going to see. He does in Romans chapter 10 in the most striking way he puts together a summary of the gospel of Christ with OT texts and OT language. And over and over again this point is made, not just by Paul. Those remarkable verses with which Hebrews chapter 4 begins — the people in the wilderness, Israel in the wilderness, “we have had the gospel preached to us” the writer of Hebrews says, “just as they did.” It’s a very strange order. We would have expected it the other way around as if, of course, we’ve had the gospel preached to us but somebody might doubt that they had the gospel preached to them because of course they were fourteen hundred years before the coming of Christ. But that isn’t the way the author writes it. He says, “we’ve had the gospel preached to us even as they did, as if someone might doubt that we’ve heard the gospel. But nobody would doubt that they heard the gospel in the days of Moses. But it didn’t profit them.

Why? Because they didn’t have faith. And then the author of the Hebrews is going on to warn his readers — it’s not going to profit you either unless you mix that gospel with living faith.

How often in the NT also do we have in the most matter of fact way taught that Jesus Christ or God the Son was in fact the person of the Godhead with whom Israel always had to do in her life and in her history. In 1 Corinthians chapter 10 we learn that it was Christ who met with and dealt with Israel when she was in the wilderness. In Hebrews chapter 11 we learn that it was for the sake of Christ that Moses endured suffering rather than to receive the wealth, the riches, the blessing of life in Egypt. In 2 Corinthians chapter 3 we learn that when Moses came out of the tent of meeting and his face was glowing with the glory of God it was the glory of Christ that was on his face. In John chapter 12 we learn that when Isaiah fell down before God when he saw the Lord high and lifted up as we read in Isaiah chapter 6 it was because he had seen the glory of Christ. In Jude verse 5 though your Bible doesn’t say it, Jude actually wrote: “When Jesus delivered his people from Egypt.” Your Bible says: “When the Lord delivered his people from Egypt.” It actually doesn’t make any difference finally because Jude wouldn’t have meant anyone else but Jesus Christ, by the phrase “the Lord.” But I can quite understand why Jude of all people would have gone ahead and said “Jesus,” he was after all his brother. He thought of him perhaps more than anyone else would have by his first name. And he said by every standard of textual criticism, the proper reading in that verse is “Jesus” and not “the Lord.”

So, while it may be that the OT believer did not know his Savior by the name “Jesus of Nazareth” and it may be that he didn’t know that his Savior’s mother was named Mary, when he turned to the Lord his God who had revealed himself to him and his grace and his mercy to him, he was turning to the one we call Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We could go on and on and on but I don’t have the time. But that’s just a sampling of evidence that could be advanced from every side that when push comes to shove the NT never makes the distinction between before and after in the epochs of salvation that we always make and always assume. And what is more, there is this thunderous silence in the NT regarding the distinctions that we feel it ought to have made given what we understand to be the difference between the OT and the NT. Where is one verse, anywhere from Matthew to Revelation, show me one verse that says what it ought to say, namely that since the cross has already occurred, since the Holy Spirit has descended at Pentecost, since we live in the new age of the Holy Spirit, since we are no longer in the days of Moses, since all of these changes have been brought to pass by the march of the history of salvation; therefore we should live in this way. We can live this way. It will be so much easier for us to live this way.

Instead the NT tells you over and over and over again, if you want to know how to live the Christian life, do what the faithful people always did — Abraham and David and Jeremiah. And don’t do what the unbelievers did in Israel’s history or you’ll get the same thing they got from the same God into whose hands it is a terrible thing to fall because our God is a consuming fire — a statement of the NT, not the OT.

There are differences to be sure and some of them are important differences and have profoundly altered the history of the gospel in the world. But the significance of those differences has to be explained in the way the Bible itself explains them. And that, I think, is very difference from the way in which they are typically explained in the Christian church.

Now, before we go on any further let me just remind you of some of the significance of this issue. If you feel like I’m harping on this point it is because I have come more and more to feel through the years that your whole understanding of your Christian faith to a very great degree rests on the way in which you construe the relationship between those parts of the Bible

It has immense implications for everything, for worship, for example, all kinds of questions. Most everything the Bible says about worship is said in the first thirty-nine books. If those books do not speak to us with an immediate authority, if they are not the Word of God to be believed and obeyed by Christians today, then there is not very much in the Bible to direct us as to how we are to worship God.

But if those books are, in fact, the living voice of God teaching us how he wants us to worship him and we must worship him if we are to get the good from worship that he has appointed for us, then we miss great blessing for ourselves and we go terribly wrong, we must if we are not learning our worship from the first thirty-nine books of the Bible where most of the instruction in the Bible is to be found.

All kinds of individual questions: Should ministers wear robes? — not a whisper in the NT but there is an argument in the OT. Should we have worship committees? — most churches do; we get mail all the time from the PCA addressed to the worship committee. What sort of things ought we to sing? What kind of texts? Why is there only one Psalter in the Bible? Is it because we don’t need a Psalter anymore because we have the Holy Spirit and he’ll prompt us to sing the right way? Or is it because the only Psalter we’ve ever needed or ever shall need has already been given to us in Holy Scripture?

The whole question of liturgy and liturgical order and what ought to be in worship and how it ought to be performed and the meaning of the sacraments — have you ever thought about that? There isn’t a statement anywhere in the NT that will tell you what baptism does or what exactly it is for or how it works. There isn’t really anything in the NT about the Lord’s Supper either except one passage in 1 Corinthians 11 that teaches you how not to do it and why not to do it. If you want to know what the Lord’s Supper is for and how it functions in the life of God’s people, you have to study the OT. That’s the only place where it’s discussed. And so with baptism. Ethics — how do we know what is right and what is wrong? This is what Mr. Pfefferle is talking about particularly, all of that right and wrong, all of those dos and don’ts, all of that law in the OT. Is that just gone? Or does it stay there as Jesus seems to have said so plainly in the Sermon on the Mount — not one jot or tittle of the law shall fall away until all is fulfilled. I’m thankful for the law of God because in 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul says that ministers ought to be paid and he says so because you should not muzzle the ox while treading out the grain which happens to be a part of the law taken from the OT. The interesting thing is that he doesn’t say what we might have expected him to say which is “now, of course, that doesn’t apply directly to ministers, I don’t want you to think of your ministers as oxen and I don’t want you to think of the obligation in exactly the same form.” No, he assumes you are going to understand that the law of God has manifold applications and you can apply it to oxen and you can apply it to ministers and it’s not really very hard to understand how that obligations applies.

The one who works — particularly the one who does work for you ought to receive from you what is due. An even more remarkable instance is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 — I draw your attention to that because it is so typical of the way of the NT with the OT and so remarkably significant if you pause and realize what Paul has done. In chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians he’s talking about excommunication of this man who was involved in sexual sin and was living in good standing in the fellowship of that Christian church. And Paul says forget this, this is not going to happen, he’s out of here! he’s gone! And he goes on to discuss that whole issue. And then in v. 12 what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church, are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside, but finally let’s be clear about this, expel the wicked man from among you.

And if you compare that text which is taken from Deuteronomy 17.7 and some other texts, you will discover that without a word, without any complicated explanation, of the transference of application, capital punishment in the OT law has become excommunication in the NT. But, Paul quotes the law; you’re under obligation to keep that commandment, but in the form appropriate to your time and circumstance. Our ethics — is it against the law, the law of God to marry your sister? Is there anything wrong with incest? Nothing’s said about it in the NT. We all assume that incest is sinful. The only place you’re going to find that said in the law of God is in the OT code. It’s not even in the Ten Commandments. It’s in Leviticus 18.

But it’s clearly a sin and Paul judges it sinful here in 1 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 1 and regards it as profoundly sinful. And so many other things; how do we understand and maybe here most immediately and directly how do we really understand the Christian life? What does it look like? What is real devotion to God? What are its parts? What are its pieces? And are we to take from the first thirty-nine books of the Bible the tone and the tenor of our walk with God?

Things like Psalm 26, v. 1, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have lived a blameless life” and I don’t know how many times I have heard preachers tell them that that’s the kind of thing they would say in the OT but we would never say in the NT. And I don’t know how many times I’ve asked people how many in the room would be willing to say that that was true of them — “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have lived a blameless life” and nary a hand goes up. But the apostle Paul says, I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished the race, and now there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. How is it different for Paul to say “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith” than for David to say “Vindicate me for I have lived a blameless life”?

Paul also says “that which I would do I do not do and that which I would not do I do, I’m a bond slave to sin”. But then David also said, “in sin my mother conceived me”. This is not a statement of moral perfection, this is a confession of true faith in God and when you can’t say Psalm 26:1 — when that statement and that conviction is not in your Christian life — it’s not because you’re a NT Christian, because you’re half a Christian and you haven’t learned the full force and implications of the gospel and what it means to be a Christian and have a real Christian life. An elder is supposed to be a blameless man according to the NT. And so many other things. These strong masculine notes of judgement, of wrath, that we get in the OT but we sort of ignore because there aren’t too many of them in the NT but you can’t ignore them in the OT because you get chapter after chapter after chapter of the same thing. The wrath of God against this nation and then against that nation and then against this nation; and then against Israel worse than before, over and over again, the seriousness of things, the reality of divine wrath. There’s nothing of this left in NT Christianity as it is understood by the American evangelical church. And the reasons it is is because it’s a NT church, it’s not a Bible church.

Job — I remember a PCA minister complaining about a confession of sin that had been used in a worship service we both attended in which the statement was made “I abhor myself”. He was of the more psychologically oriented Christian school and he just felt that wasn’t the right kind of thing for a Christian to say about himself — “I abhor myself”. That’s what Job said when God confronted him — “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes”. Are we better than Job that we can no longer abhor ourselves? No, we worse than Job.

The sacramental view of life, the way in which in the OT everything embodied faith, all of those long passages that discomfort us when we try to make our way all through the Bible in a year — clean and unclean food, mildew on the walls of the house, and all of that stuff. That magnificent message in the OT that everything in our lives, everything in our homes, everything on our tables, everything in our beds is to be subject to the demands of God’s holiness. That’s gone away too because we’re NT Christians instead of Bible Christians.

I’ll stop there. We have to hurry on. The inconsistencies of the contemporary evangelical’s use of the first thirty-nine books of the Bible are a final illustration of the problem. We keep the Proverbs, for example, and we keep the Psalms, or at least, some of the Psalms. We keep the 23rd Psalm, we loose the imprecatory Psalms. Sometimes we keep parts of one psalm and we loose other parts in the same psalm. So we take Psalm 51 and we keep “A broken and contrite heart” — that sounds good to us but we give up “Against thee, thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight” because we think of ourselves more sophisticated ethically than the OT believer who didn’t understand that sins committed against our neighbor were also serious and produced real guilt before God. What a preposterous thing to think or say. Anybody who reads the OT from which we get the command by the way to love your neighbor as your self.

We keep parts of the law we annul other parts of the law. And by and large, so far as I can tell, the principle by which we make this decision is we keep the bits of the law we like and we annul the parts of the law we don’t. And, therefore we make ourselves our own law. We keep tithing because we think the church needs that, but we drop the Sabbath Day. We keep proverbial statements about raising your children but we drop the promise of covenanted grace, and on and on and on it goes.

Now, in conclusion, let me just say briefly, that this problem has bedeviled the church from the very beginning — how to construe the spiritual world described in the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, lived in by all those heroes of faith who are mentioned by name in Hebrews 11 and this new world introduced by Christ and the apostles.

Early on in the history of the church and its thinking, what we would call the OT, was besmirched and judged to be inferior and not worthy of attention. The great champion of that view was a second century churchman by the name of Marcian who lived apparently from about the year 80 to the year 160. He was reared in Pontus where his father was reported to have been a bishop. And he was teaching as early as the opening decades of the second century; his teaching was marked by a refusal to regard what we call the OT as a Christian book at all. He admitted that its history might be accurate, its code of righteousness might have been provisionally valid, but as a book it could not be regarded as a Christian document. He also by the way cut out portions of the NT, a perfect example of the fact that if you are going to lose parts of the OT you’re basically going to have to be willing to lose parts of the NT too because sooner or later virtually everything we don’t like of the OT will surface somewhere, in some form in the NT.

So he cut out part of the gospels, with only an abbreviated portion of the gospel of Luke, only ten of the letters of Paul, he left out the pastorals. He wrote a work entitled “Antitheses” in which he set out what he regarded to be the contradictions between the OT and the NT. His work has not survived but we can reconstruct most of its teaching from the refutations of most of his opponents notably Tertullian’s “Five Books Against Marcian”. Paul was the only true apostle in Marcian’s view, the other twelve had become false apostles and from his misreading of Paul he developed this deeply inaccurate view of the contrast between grace and law. The very subject we are considering here in the letter to the Galatians. And then he went much further; there weren’t just two messages, there were two gods — a creator who was a god of law and justice and the previously unknown god of the NT the father of Jesus Christ who is a god of mercy and a god of grace. 

The thing that I want to tell you is that in very many ways, unwitting I am sure and unintentional I am sure, American evangelical Christianity has taken a page from Marcian. And it really does, it would not say it out and out but the implications of its views are virtually that there are two gods. There’s an OT god and a NT god with an OT religion and a NT religion. So different are they in spirit from one another.

T. Bromley Oxom, the leader of the United Methodist in the 1920s and 1930s and one of the key figures in the World Council of Churches ecumenism, once made the public statement that the God of the OT was a dirty bully. And there are lots of evangelicals who somehow or other think that something is not altogether right with God as he is revealed in the OT. I hope none of us think that. That there is any difference whatsoever between the God who is revealed in the first thirty-nine books of the Bible and the God who is revealed to us in the last twenty-seven. I have a letter in my files from C.E.B. Cranfield, a great commentator of the NT, one of the most important NT scholars of our day, I think, the author of a majesterial commentary on Romans in two volumes, and he refers to what he calls the modern Marcianism of American or English speaking evangelical Christianity. There is a lot of it, but there has always been something of that strain of that teaching of even the Reformed Christian church.

John Calvin has an extended treatment in his Institutes on relationship between the OT and the NT. And he begins with an elaborate demonstration that is true in every part of the unity that binds together this single book, single message, single salvation. It is a promise of eternal life, it is a covenant of grace, and it is a single mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. And he demonstrates those points in the most solid and unmistakable, incontrovertible way.

But then he deals with what he calls the differences in administration between the covenant in the days before the incarnation and the covenant in the days following the incarnation. And he says there are five differences. First, the promise of the OT, while it was a promise of eternal life played under earthly benefits while the Lord now in the NT leads our minds directly to the contemplation of the future life leaving aside the lower mode of training that he used with the Israelites. Now is that so? Is that right? Could you demonstrate that from the Bible? Does not Hebrews 11 say that the faithful in the OT looked right past the physical promises of the land to the city above whose builder and maker was God? That they were all looking for the better country, the better resurrection. And then does not Ephesians chapter 3 verse 6 suggest that God’s eternal blessings are foreshadowed in our lives by temporal goods? Doesn’t Jesus himself say that the faithful disciple will receive — who gives up houses, fields, lands, brothers, for his sake — will receive a hundred times as much in this life and in the life to come, eternal life? What about the promise of healing in James 5, and on and on.

I don’t think you can prove that we’re more immediately heavenly minded than those who loved God and embraced his promises in the ancient epoch.

The second difference, Calvin says, is in the absence of reality, the OT showed but an image and shadow in place of the substance. The NT reveals the very substance, and then his main reference is to Hebrews which I think he has misunderstood. But there’s no doubt about that being true, to some degree. They had the types and enacted prophecies of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and the sacrifices and now the sacrifice has been made and Christ has died and he’s risen from the dead and all those things that were, as it were, enacted demonstrations beforehand of the salvation that would be in Christ have now been fulfilled in the actual death of the Lord.

But we still have our enacted demonstrations. We’re going to participate in one of them this evening. We’re just looking back instead of forward. And besides its only relatively true that argument about types and shadows. I suspect that most of us in this room when we’re explaining the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and its significance for human beings will quote Isaiah 53 before we quote Romans 3 to describe the real significance of that death and that substitution.

And then again it remains profoundly true still of the NT in relationship to the great consummation. This is the point Hebrews. Generally speaking we’re in exactly the same place or position that believers have always been — we have to live by faith in anticipation of blessings we have not yet received and will not receive until the world to come.

The third difference, Calvin said, is that the OT is literal but that the NT is spiritual and he uses the distinction in Paul between the letter and the spirit. And this is a blunder and complete mistake. The letter does not refer to the OT, the letter refers to the legalizing, denaturing of the OT and perversion in rabbinic Judaism. And spirit refers to the true embrace of the promises of God by faith which has occurred whenever — past, present, or future — people come by the grace of God to faith in Christ.

The fourth difference: OT is a bondage to fear; the NT engenders freedom and this is significant because Calvin uses Galatians 3 and 4 as proof of this and its is a distinction I think we’re going to find does not exist except when it is describing the contrast between two spiritual states. Not two epochs, not two times in salvation history, but two spiritual states in the life of human beings — the state of unbelief and the state of true faith in Christ. It’s the same in the days of the OT as it is today.

Paul’s argument, believe me, is not going to be that the OT believer was in bondage but the NT believer is free. His argument is going to be anyone who does not have living faith is in bondage and faith in Christ brings freedom just as it always has.

And then finally Calvin said that the OT has reference to one nation, the NT to all nations. Bingo. That is absolutely right and we’re the proof of that here. Only a few of us have Jewish blood coursing through our veins though who knows the mixture that has taken place over the years, but we are by and large a Gentile church and that is the great difference between now and then. So, here is the issue — what exactly is the difference between the life lived by believing men and women 500, 800, 1,000 years before the incarnation of God the Son and the life you and I live today? And the answer of the Bible is there are some differences and some significant differences, we are not Israelites, for example, we are Gentiles, by and large, and yet we belong to the church of God.

But insofar as the spiritual world that we inhabit, insofar as the life of faith, insofar as the way of salvation, insofar as the God that we serve and the Christ whom we love and trust, insofar as these things are concerned — there is really no difference at all. Its always been the same, always will be the same because our need is exactly the same need of those who lived long before.  What every man or woman needs or has ever needed is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That’s going to be Paul’s argument and we’ll unfold it in the coming weeks.