Today on Renewing Your Mind… This week we're exploring R.C. Sproul's sermon series from the book of Galatians. In chapters 1 through 3, Paul makes clear that there is only one gospel, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And as we pick up our study in chapter 3, verse 15 today, Paul will go back to the Old Testament to explain the purpose of the law. As we saw the last time together that Paul was dealing with the very difficult conundrum of the relationship between the covenant that God made with Abraham, and then centuries later he made the covenant with Moses, or the covenant of Sinai, in which we received the Ten Commandments and a whole host of other laws in the holiness code. And on the surface it would seem that they are somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, the Abrahamic covenant gives salvation through the promise of God that is received by faith, and yet we see with the law of Moses that blessings and curses are held before us with respect to our works.
And so Paul was asking, what's the difference? Did God in fact have a plan B? Did He change His mind from the covenant promise that was by faith given to Abraham and then decided that no, we'll establish a way of salvation that comes by the works of the law? But God doesn't have a plan B.
He never has a plan B. He doesn't need to have a plan B or C or D. But God in His perfect knowledge and understanding and plan for salvation only has one plan, and it is the plan of justification by faith through grace and because of Christ. And so now Paul continues to expound on this issue when he had said the reason why we have the law given by Moses is that it was added because of transgressions. And as we look briefly at that, we saw that it wasn't as if it was only during the time of Moses that people began to sin. Obviously, sin reigned from Adam to Moses, as Paul declares to us elsewhere and says that the soul that sins shall die. And so we have always known the law inwardly in our hearts through our consciences, and we know when we have sinned.
And the reason why everybody dies from Adam to Moses is because we have sinned, and we have sinned against the law that God has revealed at least inwardly. So why does He say then that the law was added because of transgressions? Well, I think it's clear that what had happened was that in the history of mankind, sin has become so abominable and so distressing that God added the law to make it absolutely clear that there is only one way of salvation. Calvin and Luther had so much in common, but one of the points that we often miss that they disagreed about was the use of the law for the Christian.
The emphasis that Luther gave was what he called the use of cylindricals. That is, the primary function of the law was to arouse us from our smug situation where we are asleep in our sin. Calvin went further and talked about what was called the threefold use of the law. And before I look at that, I'd like to do something I don't do very often, and that is I'd like to read a small quote from Calvin because he says at the beginning of his famous work of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, so there's a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between our knowledge of ourselves and our knowledge of God. He says ironically and paradoxically that we don't really understand who God is until we first understand who we are, following on the footsteps of Augustine. And then he goes on to say that we don't really know who we are until we first search an understanding of who God is.
And in the very early chapters, in fact chapter 1 of the Institutes, he makes these comments, and I think they're so powerful that I'd like you to listen carefully. He says, on the other hand, it is evident that man never attains a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. He goes on to say this later on, if at midday we look down to the ground or look on the horizon on a horizontal basis, if we look at the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight. But when we look up to the sun and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the earth is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence of the sun as to oblige us to confess that the acuteness of our discernment is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus it is in estimating our own spiritual qualities. As long as we don't look beyond the earth, we're quite pleased with our own righteousness, with our own wisdom and virtue.
We address ourselves in the most flattering terms and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God and reflect what kind of being He is and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, wisdom and virtue to which as a standard we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us as a false show of righteousness will suddenly become polluted with the greatest iniquity. And he concludes by saying, hence that dread and amazement with which Scripture uniformly relates how holy men were struck and overwhelmed when they beheld the glory of God.
Look at the record of biblical history. As long as people judged themselves by themselves and among themselves, they were content with their own righteousness. But one glimpse of the holiness of God causes utter disintegration of our personality as we are struck by terror. So as Paul reflects on this and the function of the law, Calvin went on to talk about his threefold understanding of the purpose of the law. And the first purpose that Calvin elaborates is the function of the law as a mirror, and it's like a two-way mirror because this mirror reflects two things. In the first instance, the mirror of the law, which comes from God. God didn't have to look at some external objective standard of righteousness in order to establish the law. All he had to do was look within at his own character, at his perfect nature. And so when God reveals His law, He reveals Himself because the law is perfectly just.
It's perfectly righteous. There aren't any imperfections or impurities or inequities found in the law of God because there aren't any inequities and imperfections found in the character of God. The law of God is the revelation of God. It's the mirror by which we look at that in the mirror we see who God is. And as soon as we lift our eyes and look at the mirror of the law of God, two things happen. First of all, we're overwhelmed by the glory of His majesty and of His perfection.
But the other problem is is that that law reveals not only who God is but who we are. We look in the mirror and the mirror doesn't lie. It reveals who we are, warts and all. It cuts through the façade. It cuts through the mask.
It cuts through the disguise that we try to hide behind and uncover. The law of God is added because of transgression, that we may see our sin clearly, indisputably. And this is what Paul is getting at here. Is the law contrary to the promises of God? And then he answers his own rhetorical question with the strongest Hebrew phrase he can find in his vocabulary. And various translators have translated his words in a different way. Some of them say, certainly not, or may it never be.
And I like the one that is translated, God forbid. What Paul is saying is the law contrary to the promises of God. Don't even think about that. That's not even remotely possible.
Certainly not. For if the law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But Scripture imprisoned everything under sin so that the promise by faith in Christ might be given to those who believe. This law reveals that we are captured in sin. We're prisoners to our own transgressions. Now before faith came, Paul said, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
So then the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now again, we have a translation difficulty. The translation I just read to you gives the word guardian, that the law is a guardian.
It's a metaphor that is being used. Some of you have the term that is being translated there, a schoolmaster or a taskmaster. And this is part of the understanding that Calvin had of the function and purpose of the law. Now when you think of a schoolmaster, what do you think of? You think of somebody that stands in front of the class and has a blackboard and piece of chalk and writes the lessons and instructions on the board.
But that's not the function of the taskmaster here or the schoolmaster here in what Paul calls the guardian in our translation. Rather the word is referring in Greek to that person who usually was a slave hired by parents to control and discipline unruly and belligerent children. Or in the classroom, it wasn't the person who was the teacher, but in antiquity there was a person who was also present in the classroom and he had this big long stick, about 15 feet long. And he would walk around the classroom and he would see who was paying attention and who was daydreaming, who was gathering wool or who was chewing gum or joking with their neighbor. And that taskmaster or schoolmaster would wrap that person on the head or on the knuckles or side to side of the head to discipline them.
But it's stronger than that in the Greek, that the schoolmaster or the guardian was the one who was designated to punish people, to get them in line. You can't help but think of the history of Israel and the situation that the Jewish people endured when they were enslaved in Egypt, and they were forced in forced labor to make bricks for the storehouses. And then in his cruelty, Pharaoh withdrew the provision of straw and, doubling the requirements for the Jews, said, I want more bricks and you can't even have the advantage of using straw. He was cruel. And the very great act of redemption there in the Exodus is when the people were groaning and crying underneath this cruelty, God said to Pharaoh, that's enough.
That's all. Let My people go. Set them free.
Let them out of prison. And this is the analogy that Paul is using here about the schoolmaster, just like Pharaoh was cruel and kept people in bondage and in prison. So the law was the cruel taskmaster holding us captive under its power. That's why Luther cried on one occasion. He asked me, do I love God? Love God.
Sometimes I hate Him. And when Oculopatius made the comment, to the gallows with Moses. And Luther's experience was that his only understanding of Christ or of God was as a cruel ruler and judge who would bring wrath and punishment to his people until he understood the purpose of the law to drive him to Christ, who alone could satisfy the demands of the law and give the promise of salvation that comes by faith. And so we have these uses. Another use of the law, comparison to the others, is that the law is a bridle. A law is given as a restraint upon people to curb their natural inclinations to sin. You've heard the expression, I don't know how many times you can't legislate morality. How many of you ever heard that? Come on.
What does that mean? Does that mean that the only function of government when they meet in session is to determine the state flag or the state bird? They have no business being involved in creating laws and passing laws about theft and honest weights and measures and about segregation, discrimination. These are moral issues. How you drive your car on the highway is a moral issue. But what is meant when you say you can't legislate morality is just because you pass a law doesn't mean that people are going to obey it. Even though every time a law is passed, it incites our desire to break it. At the same time, there's some restraint that we aren't as unruly as we would be without the restraint of the law. And then finally Calvin comes to the third use of the law, which I believe is the most important. And it's the question is, well, what use then is the law for the Christian? So the law has done its work as schoolmaster, as guardian, as the mirror, and has driven us to Christ for our salvation. Once we're in Christ, are we finished with the law? Can we just kiss the law goodbye? The question then is, what value is the law to the Christian since the law doesn't save and we're no longer underneath the law being held captive by it?
How important is it? The answer to that question, I think, is found earlier in Scripture. If we can go to Psalm 119, and we look at this lengthy phantagoric about the value of the law, we see the Psalmist say in verse 97, oh, how I love your law. Do you hear that?
Hear what the Psalmist says. First of all, here's what he doesn't say. He doesn't say, I love your law. Or he doesn't say, I love the law. It's not just law that he's in love with.
It's not the motor vehicle manual that he praises. But he says, I love your law. But I think the most important part of that verse is the first word when he says, oh, not, oh, I love your law. But it's an expression of a deep visceral affection for the law of God.
Oh, he groans inwardly. My heart is on fire because of your law. I love it. I love it that much.
It is my sheer delight. How many Christians do you hear today get on their knees and pray like that? Oh, Lord, how I love your law. We say, oh, that's legalism until we remember that Jesus said, if you love Me, keep My commandments.
If you love Me, love My law. And the Psalmist understood that. The Psalmist wasn't praising the law as a way to salvation.
He knew better than that. But he says, oh, how I love your law. It is my meditation all the day. Does that remind you of something else, the 118 Psalms earlier, the very first Psalm that was written? God is the man who walketh not among the ungodly, stand in the way of sinners, or sits in the seat of the scornful. But what? But His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in that law does He meditate day and night.
Why? Because the Psalmist loved God. And he said, God, I want to do what You want me to do. I want to please You. And in the law, I discover what is pleasing to You.
That's why I love it. Not because it can save me, not because I'm trying to rest on my good works. I've already been saved. But I'm a grateful person who for the rest of my days want to do everything that I possibly can to please my Savior. He goes on to say, how sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth, and through Your precepts I get understanding.
And then the famous words that you've heard. Your word, word and law are interchangeable here. Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light to my path, because Your law so clearly and sweetly reveals what it means to please you. I don't have to fumble around and grope in the dark to try to figure out what I should do as a Christian, how I should live. If I meditate in the principles that You have revealed to us, then I know what You want me to do.
And so the psalmist understood what Paul understood, that even though the law cannot save us, we don't despise it because it functions as a revelation to that which is pleasing to the Lord. Let me ask you, dear friends, if you're a Christian, this question should never have to be asked, but I'm going to ask you anyway. If you're a Christian, do you want to please Christ with your life? Well, He hasn't left us in darkness on how to do it. That's why the psalmist says the law is sweeter than honey, and I meditate in it once a week, every six months, Christmas and Easter, no, every day.
Every day. We started our program today talking about the law of God revealing the character of God, and Dr. Sproul so effectively wrapped up our study by pointing out how the law of God molds our character to become more like Him. That's precisely why Paul would exhort us in another letter that he wrote, his letter to the church at Ephesus, to be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us.
We're glad you've joined us today. For Renewing Your Mind, I'm Lee Webb. Dr. Sproul's sermon series through Galatians is helpful for both new believers and seasoned Christians. The gospel has come under attack today just as it did in the first century, and we need clarity like those Galatians did. Paul's letter to this troubled church is an unyielding defense of God's saving grace in Jesus Christ. To help you in studying this book further, let me recommend Dr. Sproul's commentary. He guides us through Paul's passionate letter with explanations for every verse and provides practical application. So contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we will send you the hardbound edition. You can give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org, or if you prefer, you can call us at 800-435-4343. Well, after teaching the church in Galatia about the role of the law, Paul goes on to explain justification by faith. I hope you'll join us tomorrow for Renewing Your Mind for R.C. 's message titled, In Christ.
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