Galatians 3:15-22: 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.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
During the holiday season, many businesses offer deals. I am extremely skeptical about anything free because I don’t think anyone gives you anything free. There is always a catch—unless you are talking about salvation which is the absolutely free gift of God.
T-Mobile recently ran a promotion for children’s smartwatches: if you pay $10 per month, you’ll get a “free” watch; otherwise, it is worth about $200. Last month was Arius’ birthday, so we got him a smartwatch to text and call him.
Last week, Arius was attending his friend’s birthday and he lost his watch at the trampoline park. Sarah and I tried our best to find the watch, but we could not. We spent over an hour emptying the jump pit but could not find the watch.
On Monday, when Sarah called T-Mobile about the situation, they said that since you have lost the watch, either you pay the original cost for the watch, which is about $200, or continue to pay $10 per month for 24 months. We had no other choice, because we signed a contract, and now we are bound by it. The party that breaks the contract pays the penalty, because once a contract has been ratified, no one annuls it or adds to it.
We have seen in Galatians 3:1-14 how Paul proved from the Old Testament that the Gospel of grace was preached to Abraham: he received the free gift of salvation and was justified by faith and not by the law. Now, everyone desiring to be saved like Abraham must put their faith in the redeeming work of Christ alone who paid the price to set us free from the bondage of sin.
Our text today, Galatians 3:15-22, describes why God gave the law. It was believed by some Galatians to be one of two things: the means to salvation or a supplement to it. Neither were true.
Here, Paul explains it through the promise of inheritance, but he differentiates between the two covenants: the Abrahamic and Mosaic. He argues that the Abrahamic covenant is about the will and the contract between God and Abraham, which has been ratified so that no one annuls it or adds to it. The law (the Mosaic covenant) cannot annul it or add to it either.
Paul shows that God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional and solely based on God’s faithfulness because of His promise, but the Mosaic covenant was conditional and demanded man’s faithfulness because of the law.
In the Abrahamic covenant, God said, “I will,” because it’s His promise. In the Mosaic covenant, God said, “Thou shall” that is the law. God can never fail, but man will always fail.
Unlike the law which obligates man’s performance, responsibility, and obedience, the promise of God is centered around God’s plan, His grace, His sovereignty, and His commitment to bless and not curse. God’s promise was to bless Abraham and, through him, all nations come with the promise of an inheritance that has been ratified so that the law cannot annul it or add to it.
Unlike Paul’s opponents that glorify the covenant of the law at the cost of disowning the covenant of promise, in our text, Paul carefully explains why God gave the law and its significance until the fulfillment of the promises—the promised one, the light to the world—Christ arrived.
Paul divides his argument into two parts. Part 1 in verses 15-18 shows that the law did not annul God’s promise; the second part in verses 19-22 shows that the law illuminated God’s promise and made the promise necessary. Part 1 we will cover today. Come back next week for part 2.
Now, the Israelites believed the promise of the inheritance belonged to them and them only because they were the descendants of Abraham. Paul shows us how the promise of the inheritance to Abraham is not limited to Jews, but how through him, it belongs to all nations because it was not just about the land or people, but about a spiritual inheritance in Christ.
Irrevocable and Unilateral Covenant
The first truth about the promise of the inheritance to Abraham and through him to all nations is that it was an irrevocable and unilateral covenant by God.
Paul first compares this covenant with human covenants in verses 15-16: “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.”
The word that is used in the Greek text for covenant is διαθήκη (diathēkē), which specifically refers to a contract or a will. Here I want you to see how a covenant as a contract is irrevocable, and in this case also unilateral by looking at Genesis 15.
Starting in Genesis 15 verses 9-10 we read, “He [God] said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he [Abraham] brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.”
What is going on there? This kind of blood covenant was a well-recognized way to seal a promise in Abraham’s time.
The idea was this, let’s say my fellow pastor and I made a blood covenant that when his Honda reaches 75,000 miles, he will sell it to me as it is for $10,000. We will both walk the path between the slaughtered animals, saying, “may this be done to me if I do not keep my oath.” Once we both have walked, the promise becomes binding; I cannot back off if his engine breaks down, and he cannot back off if the market value skyrockets.
What is unique about the blood oath that God made with Abraham is that in verse 12 Abraham fell asleep, and then in verse 17 God alone walked between the dead animals – with no participation from Abraham.
The unilateral nature of this covenant is explained in Hebrews 6:13-17. You or I can swear on something higher, that is, God. But what can God swear on? There is nothing higher.
Verse 16 says, “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath.”
What is the application for us here? Have faith in His power and promises. Just as Abraham can do nothing because God said He would do everything to fulfill His promises, we can do nothing but trust and obey. God is faithful in fulfilling His promises.
The Law and the Covenant
The second truth about the Promise of the inheritance to Abraham and through him to all nations is that it was superior to the law, for the law cannot invalidate the covenant given by God.
Galatians 3:17 says, “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.”
Two facts Paul presents here, a). the law cannot annul the covenant of promise because God ratified it long before the law was given; b). The law and promise are incompatible because one demands work, and the other is received by faith. Faith supersedes the law, and promise supersedes anything the law requires. We have already seen how διαθήκη (diathēkē) translated here as covenant functions as a contract, but now I want us to see how it functions as a will. Notice the word inheritance in verse 18. In Greek, it comes from two words kléros, an heir, and nomos, by law.
In all cultures, a will somehow universally deals with inheritance, which is for an heir by law. Though Abraham was the primary beneficiary of the promise, or will, the promise was for his future offspring. Notice, in verse 16, Paul argued that the scriptures did not make the promises to the plural “offsprings” of Abraham but a singular offspring, who is Christ. Paul switched from the general application of the promises to all children of Abraham to one particular descendent; the promised one, the light to the world, Messiah Jesus, for through Him, all who have faith will receive the inheritance because he would fulfill all the demands of the law.
This is what was intended in Genesis 3:15: God said, “And I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He [singular, referring to “her seed”] shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”
The inheritance in verse 18 is the inheritance of salvation. From the beginning, salvation was offered in and through Christ alone by faith alone and grace alone. At the fulfillment of this promise, 1 Peter 1:4 explains the eternal nature of the outcome and says that having been born again in Christ, we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
All earthly possessions eventually rust, and decay, for nothing is eternal but Christ. Do not pursue an earthly inheritance. Fix your eyes on Christ, your inheritance, the author of your salvation. You may say, but pastor, let’s be real, we’ve still gotta live on earth, and we cannot always be in the clouds.
My friend, I am being real. How do you know that you have more than a breath and this very moment? Then why do you worry about tomorrow? Why do you work hard for what you do not have, running yourself down with worry, anxiety, and depression to keep what you do have for a rainy day? That is not living by faith. Have faith that He will provide and care for you on this side of eternity as well.
One of the authors I read in studying this passage said, “Israel’s inheritance of the Abrahamic promises comes only in Christ, only together with the Gentiles, and only by faith.” This truth needs to be believed and shared that there has never been salvation outside of Christ, not now and not ever before. So, believe and share with others that God’s promise of inheritance which is the promise of salvation and eternal life to and through Abraham, is for all believers in Christ.
The Bible says we have received the inheritance in Christ because no one can earn an inheritance—only receive it. Today the advent candle is a reminder of this inheritance in Christ that He, the light of the world, has come. However, billions live in darkness without the message of salvation and the inheritance of eternal life. For those of us who have received Him, the light of the world, He should shine through us, and others should be gravitating to us because Jesus said, in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Church, proclaim that the promised one, the light of the world, has come, and He is our inheritance. He is our salvation.