“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?”(Gal. 3:21, ESV).
Sensing that his comments might lead his opponents to conclude he had a disparaging view of the law or that his comments about the priority of God’s promises were just a veiled put-down of Moses and the Torah, Paul asks the very question they were thinking: “Are you saying the law contradicts the promises of God?” To this Paul responds with an emphatic, “No!” Such a conclusion is impossible, because God is not opposed to Himself. God gave both the promise and the law. The law is not at odds with the promise. The two merely have different roles and functions in God’s overall plan of salvation. 1
These people believed that the law was able to give them spiritual life. Their views probably arose out of a mistaken interpretation of Old Testament passages likeLeviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 6:24, where the law directs how life should be lived by those abiding in God’s covenant. The law did regulate life within the covenant, but they concluded that the law was the source of a person’s relationship with God. The Bible is clear, however, that the ability to “make alive” is a power exercised by God and His Spirit alone (2 Kings 5:7, Neh. 9:6, John 5:21, Rom. 4:17). The law cannot make anyone alive spiritually. This does not mean, however, that the law is opposed to God’s promise.
Seeking to prove the inability of the law to give life, Paul writes in Galatians 3:22, “Scripture has confined all under sin” (ESV). In Romans 3:9–19, Paul draws from a string of verses extracted from the Old Testament to show just how bad we are. The passages are not strung together in a haphazard manner. He begins with the heart of the sin problem—the selfish attitude that plagues human hearts—and then moves to verses that describe sin’s pervasiveness and finally its universality.
His point? Because of the extent of sin and the limitations of the law, the promise of eternal life can come to us only through the faithfulness of Christ in our behalf.
Though the law cannot save us, what great benefits does our adherence to it have for us? That is, what practical good have you experienced in your own life through obedience to God’s law?