5 October 2012

Galatians 3:15-22

"The scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." (v. 22)


In today's passage Paul continues to persuade the new Christians of Galatia that their renewed lives rest on faith in Christ alone, and not (as some are forcefully suggesting) on any other marker of the old covenant with his people Israel. In the previous passage, he has introduced a long-forgotten promise to Abraham (Genesis 12), showing how that is being fulfilled now through the Spirit of God working among them. God's word (like someone's last will and testament) is trustworthy and not to be overwritten. The promise - that Abraham's family would bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3)- came before the law (and even the covenant of circumcision, introduced in Genesis 17). This law was to enable Israel - being humans and prone to sin - to live as God's covenant people, and mark them out as such. It was a necessary container for them - as the bearers of the blessing were still weighed down by their own failings. But the original Promise still remains. 'Law' and 'Promise' are not at odds with each other, but have different purposes in God's plans.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant, where God would put his law "within them" and "write it on their hearts" - he spoke of a new relationship to come between God and his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And when the Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 2) this opened the floodgates on that new relationship. The new covenant has come through the cross and the Spirit. Through the one perfect "offspring" (v. 16) (Jesus Christ), God promises are being fulfilled.

The talk of "offspring" or "seed" is confusing, since in the Genesis story God claimed that Abraham's offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5); and here Paul claims that God is referring to only one - 'seed' rather than 'seeds' (when 'seed' and 'offspring' are collective nouns themselves). Perhaps the best way to read this is that 'in Christ', in the 'one'Messiah, God brings into being a united "seed" - a single family united in faith - rather than several families divided by ethnicity or background. God the creator, after all, is One.

The law of God in the Bible still has a purpose to instruct and steer us in moral matters, and to remind us where God's people went wrong. It is by no means void, but it never brings life;, it doesn't bring that right relationship with God, and it cannot make us alive to the plans God has for us: that is the work of the Spirit, coming through faith in Christ alone.

To Ponder

  • How do you understand the difference between the 'old covenant' and the 'new covenant'? What difference does it make for you?
  • How important is it that we still read and try to understand the Old Testament?
  • How do you think God's holy words to us in Scripture and the Holy Spirit work together for the believer? Can you think of time in your life where one or the other was more important or 'real'? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!