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.
~ Galatians 3:15-20
Pastor Paul, now brings it down a little and describes this exchange in a way they can better understand. With a contract that you or I would make, say for a mortgage or even a marriage, once it has been signed by all parties, it cannot be changed. This is the same with the covenant that God made with Abraham.
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
~ Genesis 12:7
See that? No plural, only singular – “Offspring“. Through the line of Abraham, through Isaac (Abraham’s second son, the child of promise) and through Isaac’s second born son, Jacob (by God’s sovereign choice), then a long line of individuals we have Mary who became the mother of Jesus Matthew 1:1-17. What Paul is describing here is the true recipient of the covenant that Abraham ratified with God and that recipient is Jesus, not his genetic descendants. Now, the law, which came through Moses on Sinai, was delivered to the people 430 years later and it cannot change the already standing covenant of grace.
A covenant of grace? What’s this? While this subject really deserves its own blog post (or series of posts) I will briefly (seriously) cover the separate covenants that that God has cut with man since the dawn of time. Covenants of grace are acts of God upon us whereas covenants of works are acts that we must adhere to or maintain for God to do something for us.
The first covenant is called the Adamic covenant and it is broken into two parts – the Edenic covenant (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:16-17) and the full Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:16-19). The first explains our relationship with God in the garden of Eden: Man is created in God’s image, we have dominion over the earth and the animal kingdom, we are to reproduce and inhabit the whole earth, mankind is vegetarian, eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is bad. Next was the Adamic covenant which basically lays out our punishment that comes from Adam and Eve breaking the Edenic covenant. First we learn that Satan will constantly struggle with us, and that that we will have marital strife, the soil will be cursed so that it won’t automatically bring forth plants necessary to life and that there will be hard work necessary to live off of it. Thorns and thistles will cut our hands and ruin our clothes, we will struggle to survive, there will be pain in childbirth, and, most sucky of all, death will come for every living thing. Sounds fun, huh? This, however, is not a covenant of works, but is instead a covenant of grace because God promises in Genesis 3:15 to send a messiah who will free us from this life of toil and destruction. The implication is that our faith in God will deliver us from the consequence and guilt of our sins. See that? Sounds like the gospel, huh? That section of scripture is referred to as the “proto-gospel” or the “first gospel”.
Next we have the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:1-17) which is a covenant of grace as God promises not to flood the world again and he allows us to eat meat. Then we have the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-9; 15) which is another covenant of grace. God promised to give him a land for his “offspring” which he will maintain forever, and that his “descendants” (spiritual descendants) would be innumerable. The next covenant is the Mosaic covenant (Exodus 19-24 where God codifies the 10 commandments and the sacrificial system. As a neat aside, as you read through the Pentateuch (1st 5 books in the Old Testament), you read that the sacrificial system was already in place as far back as Cain and Abel as a “covering” of their sins and not for forgiveness. Why? Because they were to trust in the promised Messiah to bring reconciliation between man and God. Next was the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:5-16) where God enacts a covenant of grace whereby He promises to create for David a “house” and “kingdom” that will never end – that is fulfilled in David’s descendant – Jesus. Finally, the New covenant comes in (Jeremiah 31:31-34 as a covenant of grace where God promises to put His moral law (the 10 commandments) in our hearts (ingrained into our subconscious) and provide for the first time forgiveness from the guilt and consequence of our sins. God also promises to come and live with us, just as He lives in our lives now, but in the future we will live with Him bodily where we can worship Him forever. Who fulfills this one? Jesus!
Well, that was fun. See? Didn’t even use a whole post on it. Alright – back to the text! Our inheritance, not an inheritance of land, but one of salvation and a heavenly reward, does not come to us by the law. It comes through God promise through His covenant with Abraham – a covenant which cannot be annulled or changed. So, why do we have the law? Because we, like sheep, are stupid. We need laws, that is, until the New covenant was put into place. Jesus fulfilled the old Mosaic covenant and it is therefore dead and gone. No more temple sacrifices, no more priests, heck – no more temple. Jesus is our high priest, king, and savior. He fulfills all of the roles that the Mosaic law emulated through the civil, ceremonial, and moral law. The only things that carry forward are those that are restated in the New Testament. Jesus fulfilled the whole of the law so that we don’t have to, and by His life, death, and resurrection, we are freed from the curse that the law placed upon us.