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Liberated from Legalism pt 16 [8-15-22]

I've never liked the cliché, "Curiosity killed the cat." Curiosity can be a good thing. In its basic form, curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something. It fills the gaps in knowledge. It is often counterintuitive. Curiosity motivates one to seek knowledge or understanding that one would not usually expect. Curiosity is essential to being contrarian. If you oppose or question conventional wisdom, then you've got a curious streak in you. I'll leave cats to do what cats do. If curiosity can keep me from being a sheeple, then I'll take the risk.

What is the primary question category of a curious person? The big probing questions are who, what, where, when, why, and how. I think one of the most important is why. Granted, a child asking why over and over again can get quite annoying, but it serves a valuable purpose. How else are they going to learn things or gain a better understanding of things? Why seeks to get to the heart of the matter.


Today's passage begins with a why question. Verse 19 begins with the rhetorical question, "Why the law?" Paul was inviting the Galatians to think about this question with him. "Why the law?" If the universe was created by a personal God who does all things according to His purpose, then it's a good thing to ask why questions. "Why then the law?"

Now, I understand that not everybody cares about certain why questions. Perhaps even the one Paul poses in verse 19. I get it…the law was there… we no longer have to follow it…so let's move on. We're not like those foolish Galatians.

But here's the deal. Here's the point Paul made with the Galatians, and because it's in God's Word, it's a point we need to give heed to. The why of things can be important to understand. For example, if you don't know why the traffic light is red, you could be in trouble. If you don't know why there's a warning on certain cleaning solutions, a child could get poisoned. A young man plunged to his death at "Pictured Rocks National Seashore" when he stepped over a trail barrier. It's crucial to know why it's there. You get the point. In many areas of life, asking why could save lives and/or


As we've established through this series, the false teachers had been telling the Galatians that the way to get a righteous life was by keeping the law. And the Galatians accepted it without questioning it. So Paul said, "Why then the law?" In other words, if they were too weak to question the false teachers, then Paul was going to lead them to it. "Why then the law?"

Here's the ground we're going to cover answering that question.

First, God has, over the course of over 1,000 years, from Moses to Jesus, held up Israel as a mirror in which to see our brokenness. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We're the same kinds of sinful people, just with better technology. In His Word, God shows us the depth of our own rebelliousness. And we see there are roots of sin that need to be dug out.

Second, we can say we treasure Jesus Christ and worship him above all others because of the grace that opened our hearts to receive him. As Jesus said in John 15:16, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." We are saved by grace alone, meaning rather than obedience to the law removing our heart of stone, it is God's grace which gives us a heart of faith and love. As Paul said in Romans 5:20, "Where sin abounded, grace much more abounded."

Third, we are called to stir up the sediment of sin, manifested in so many horrible ways, that we allow to settle in the bottom of our hearts. When preaching on sin, my goal is to stir things up. It's only when faced with the horribleness of our sin that we can truly see the wonderfulness of Christ's death on the cross. It's only when we see the crisis that we can fully understand the solution. Amen?

So let's come back to a thoroughly distressing conversation about our sin.

What is the purpose of the law? Here's something you might want to write



In other words, the law was never meant as a way for us to justify ourselves. God gave the law to expose the evil power of sin. As John Calvin wrote, "The law was given in order to make transgressions obvious, and in this way to compel {us} to acknowledge {our} guilt."

The first answer to Paul's question, "Why then the law," is echoed in the first half of Romans 5:20:

Now the law came to increase the trespass.

"The law was added because of transgressions," says the second half of Galatians 3:19. And not added to punish transgressions. But the law was added to produce transgressions.

To properly frame that notion - the law was added to produce transgressions - we have to remember what sin is. We are not sinful because of the things we do or don't do. The sinful things we do or the sinful failure not to do the right things are symptoms of our sinful nature. It's not like if it weren't for those pesky sinful things we do we'd be without blemish. The things the Bible calls sin are symptoms of our wretchedness. Are you with me on that? We're not horrible human beings because we do sinful things. We do sinful things because we are horrible human beings. That's a huge difference. Especially when it comes to the false teachers, the law, and the cross of Jesus Christ.

I love how Martin Luther explained it:

The Law with its function does contribute to justification - not because it justifies, but because it impels one to the promise of grace and makes it sweet and desirable. Therefore we do not abolish the Law; but we show its true function and use, namely, that it is a most useful servant impelling us to Christ…for its function and use is not only to disclose the sin and wrath of God but also to drive us to Christ…Therefore the principal purpose of the Law in theology is to make men not better but worse; that is, shows them their sin, so that by recognition of sin they may be humbled, frightened, and worn down, and so may long for grace and the Blessed Offspring.

Here's something else you might want to write down:

The law can prove that we are sinners, but it cannot make us right with God.

In another place, in Romans 4:15, Paul says, "For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression." Again, as the law exposes our sinful nature, the question is, where does that knowledge, the knowledge of our rebellion against God, where does that lead us? Does it lead us to trust in ourselves? That's the narrative pushed by the false teachers. Does it lead us deeper into sin? "If it feels good, do it!" That's the narrative pushed by our culture. Does it lead us to question whether any of this really matters? That's the narrative pushed by skepticism. Does it lead us to say that none of this really matters since God is love, and so, in the end, everyone is saved? That's the narrative of the progressive. Where does the knowledge of our cosmic treason against God lead us?

For Paul, knowledge of our sin leads us into the arms of God's grace and mercy. As he says in verse 22, "But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." It's only when we feel the crushing weight of our sin

that we fully understand our need for a Savior.

Here's a way to think about all of this.

I am hypersensitive to poison ivy. I see a picture of it and I break out. I am such a wimp. Last month, I was about three feet away from some that my wife was pulling up. Yep. That night, the rash reared its ugly, splotchy head. The rash revealed the effect of the urushiol in the poison ivy on my skin. The rash was a symptom of my body's reaction to the poison. So it was off to the Urgent Care clinic the next morning.

If you react to poison ivy like me, you know the routine. It's a shot of prednisone followed by a regimen of prednisone pills over the course of many days. It's a good thing to nip it in the bud.

Now, you take the shot and you fill the prescription and you dutifully follow the directions because the doctor knows it's the best way to treat you. But what if you threw the prescription in the trash? You would be in open rebellion against what the doctor knows is best for you, for you to get better. Really, the analogy also works with a prescription for an antibiotic because you have an infection. Rejecting the prescription makes your invisible rebellion into a visible disobedience. In other words, your response to the doctor's prescription shows whether or not you trust the doctor. Therefore, in the presence of our sin, God's prescription of faith in what His Son did on the cross reveals any hidden sin of mistrust and rebellion against that gift. In that, the Galatians were on the verge of failing miserably. Pursuing the law in order to earn God's favor is an absolute rejection of the cross.

I read something the other day that I thought spoke to the big picture of where we're at in Galatians, as well as where we want to be in our faith:


That's the problem with uncurious and unserious people, right? They miss the opportunity to know and treasure the full measure of the meaning of the cross.

Why then the law? What is the point of Galatians 3:19-22? What purpose

does it serve in the Body of Christ? It is a hard teaching. And that's just the point. Not until the law has bruised and battered us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until the law has enslaved us will we yearn for Christ to set us free. We need the law to point us to Christ. Not to save us, but to point us to our need for a Savior. It's only until the law shows us the horribleness of who we truly are that we will be able to see the free gift of grace and mercy that God has given us in the gospel.


To the Glory of God Alone!

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