2016 11 13 pm Galatians 3:15-18 Westminster Confession Ch. 7 Art’s 1-4 The Comfort of Covenant

The mistake of the Galatians was to add obedience to the law to faith in Christ. We see why this is wrong and how we can make the same mistake today.

Westminster Confession Chapter 7 Art’s 1-4
1. The distance between God and the creature is so great that, even though rational creatures are responsible to obey him as their Creator, yet they could never experience any enjoyment of him as their blessing and reward except by way of some voluntary condescension on his part, which he has been pleased to express by way of covenant.
– ‘Voluntary condescension’ is what happens when someone ‘high up’ freely chooses to ‘come down to the level’ of someone ‘down low’ General/Infantry. King/Subjects
2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works in which life was promised to Adam and, in him, to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
– ‘Posterity’ means future generations
3. Since man, by his fall, made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was then pleased to make a second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace. In it God freely offers life and salvation by Jesus Christ to sinners, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give his Holy Spirit to all those who are ordained to eternal life, to make them willing and able to believe.
4. This covenant of grace is sometimes presented in the Scriptures by the name of a will or testament, with reference to the death of Jesus Christ (the testator) and to the everlasting inheritance—with all that belongs to it—bequeathed in it.
Text – Galatians 3:15-18 Read Galatians 3

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
For those of you who don’t know, and especially for you boys and girls, a Will is a set of instructions about what happens to everything that is yours when you die. Once you have things like a house or a car, or when you marry, it is a good idea to prepare a Will. And so long as you do this properly, whatever you write down in your Will is what happens.
 So, for example, when the US comedian, Jack Benny, died in 1974, he left instructions in his Will that a florist would deliver a long-stemmed red rose to his wife every day for the rest of her life. So every day, for 9 years, his widow received a red rose. That’s what it said in his Will, so that’s what happened.
 And in 1928, a person died and left instructions in a Will that ½ a million pounds be put into a trust and used to pay off Britain’s national debt. Well, that trust is now worth 350 million pounds and it gets larger every day. The problem though is that the details of the Will were very specific; the money could only be accessed when it was enough to pay off the last bit of the national debt. And Britain’s national debt is currently 1.5 Trillion pounds and rising! So the trust just sits there, untouched, earning interest year by year. Despite many attempts by the government and charities to access the money, that money cannot be touched, because that is how a Will works – what it says is what happens.

And it is the way that a Will works that is a key part of our text today. And we are going to see that it explains something very wonderful about God and about salvation.

But before we see that, we need to understand the CONTEXT of these verses.
 The problem in the congregation in Galatia was that some Jewish believers were teaching that salvation was by faith and by keeping the Law of Moses. So if you were not circumcised and you did not observe the Jewish feasts, for example, then you were not saved. In 2:12, these people are referred to as “the circumcision party.”
 But Paul says that this is quite wrong: Look at 2:16, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”
 So as we come to Chapter 3, Paul begins a series of arguments designed to prove that we are saved by faith alone, not by works. And one part of his argument is ABRAHAM. Referring to the covenant promises that God made to Abraham that read about earlier, Paul says in v6, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
 Now, none of the Jews in Galatia denied the importance of faith. Of course Abraham believed God! But, after Abraham came MOSES. And with Moses came the nation of Israel. And to the nation of Israel, God gave the law. And so, as they reasoned it, the law added something to or even replaced the bare promises of God. Relationship with God now required doing or obeying as well as believing.
 And it is this idea that Paul addresses as he continues his argument. He wants them to understand the right relationship between covenant and law; he wants them to see that it is not law, and it is not law (high) then covenant (low), and it is not law and covenant (together), it is covenant (high) and then law (low).
 And it is equally critical that you and I also understand this today. You see, the moment we think that salvation has anything to do with our obedience, we make the same mistake as these Galatians. So we too need to be reminded of the wonderful freedom that flows out of the grand truth that we are saved by faith alone. We need to see the just how important covenant is in the Bible and its implications for the Christian life.

And he does this by speaking about the PERMANENCE of the covenant and the PARTY to the covenant. And then we shall see what all this means for the covenant PEOPLE.

I. So first of all, we see the blessing of God’s covenant as we consider the PERMANENCE of the covenant.

A. And we see this in the illustration, or the “human example,” of a Will that Paul uses in v15. We read there about a “man-made covenant.” Now, a covenant is an agreement between two parties that includes promises and obligations and the consequences should the promises be broken. But the specific version of a covenant that Paul has in mind is a Will. We see this with the reference to “inheritance” in v18. And the full name for a will is a WILL AND TESTAMENT. When people go to a lawyer to draw up a Will it will say at the top, this is the Last Will and Testament of … And the Greek word used in v15 can be translated either as ‘covenant’ or ‘testament.’ This is why Art. 4 of our Westminster chapter spoke about God’s covenant sometimes being called a Testament. But covenant is preferred here because more than just a Will and Testament is in view when it comes to God’s dealings with His people. The point of the illustration though is that a Will and Testament is permanent; it is set in ‘legal concrete,’ if you like. As we saw in those examples I cited earlier, what is set down in a Will is what happens.

B. So Paul’s illustration is AN ARGUMENT FROM THE LESSER TO THE GREATER – As it is with a “man-made covenant,” with a Will, so it is with God’s covenant with Abraham. God promised Abraham an inheritance. And then we read about that ceremony involving animals cut in half and the smoking fire pot and flaming torch that passed between the pieces, by which God’s covenant was ratified. So the IMPLICATION of Paul’s illustration is that nothing, not even the law, ends or adds to God’s covenant. And he then SAYS EXACTLY THIS in v17, where we read, “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.” God’s covenant is permanent. God’s covenant abides. Nothing adds to or ends God’s covenant.

II. But as Paul continues to explain and explore the blessings of the covenant, his next point is about the PARTY to the covenant. Verse 16 says, “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.”

A. Now, those of you who know English well might be wondering if this is a bit of a dodgy WORD GAME that Paul is playing. You boys and girls will know that to make a word plural you put an ‘s’ on the end, right? One cat, many cats; One book, many books. So if you follow this rule, one child would be offspring, and more than one child would be offsprings, right? Wrong  As someone once joked, the English language has more exceptions than rules  The word ‘offspring’ is what we call a collective noun. Another example is sheep. You have 1 sheep and 100 sheep, not 100 sheepS. And it is the same with offspring – you have one offspring and 100 offspring, not 100 offspringS. And this isn’t a Greek/Hebrew thing either. Sometimes offspring in Hebrew/Greek means one person and sometimes it means many people. So is Paul playing a dodgy word game here? No he is not. He is making a very important point in terms of the story of salvation.
1. To be sure, there is a ‘many’ aspect to the word “offspring.” And we shall say more about this when we come to talk about God’s covenant people.
2. But there is also a ONE aspect to the word ‘offspring.’
a. It was way back in the Garden of Eden that God first made His covenant promise. Speaking to the serpent, He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God’s covenant promise back there in Genesis 3 had one person especially in view – the Lord Jesus Christ. He would be the one who defeated the devil. The duty of Adam and Eve now was to look forward to and long for and believe in the One promised by God.
b. And the same is so with God’s promise to Abraham here: “Offspring” has one person especially in view – The Lord Jesus. Just look at v8 where we read that God “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.” With His promises, God was pointing Abraham forward to Christ. The special offspring is Christ. The true party of God’s covenant is Jesus Christ.
c. In fact, if you look at v19, where it talks about the law “being added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made,” it becomes plain that not only was God’s promise to Abraham especially about the Lord Jesus but in actual fact God’s promise was ultimately made to the Lord Jesus. And once we understand this, once we understand that God’s covenant is ultimately a promise made to Jesus, then the unbreakableness and the unchangeableness and the importance of the covenant becomes even plainer! The Father will not and cannot end or change or break a promise to His Son!
(1). In John 6, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me … This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me.” Before the creation of the world, the Father promised the Son a people – a bride – the church of all ages. And God’s words to Abraham here are a kind of an earthly glimpse of that eternal and heavenly covenant.
3. And you know what? Abraham understood this! He knew that there was more to this promise than a piece of land that one nation would one day inherit. Hebrews 11 tells us that “by faith Abraham … was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God … And so from this one man … came descendants as numerous as the … sand on the seashore … they longed for a better country – a heavenly one.” By faith Abraham believed in the ONE who God promised, Jesus Christ, and that in Him he would receive a heavenly inheritance as one of those the Father has given to the Son.

III. So now we are ready to see what all this means for the covenant PEOPLE of God. Now we are ready to consider the implications of all we have seen for you and me today.

A. God made a promise to Abraham. He said, believe in Jesus Christ and you shall receive a heavenly inheritance. So Abraham believed then and received his inheritance then. Salvation is all about promise – Justification, being made completely righteous, eternal life in heaven, the Holy Spirit – God living permanently with you and in you, these have to do with God’s promise. The mistake of the Jews of Galatia was to think that salvation had to do with a connection to MOSES through the LAW. What they needed to understand was that God’s covenant people are those who are connected to ABRAHAM by FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST!

B. And congregation, we emphasize this point because if you read the Bible, you cannot miss the law. What shorthand title do we give to the first 5 books of the Bible? The Law of God. Then we have the history books where the emphasis is on whether or not Israel was obeying the Lord. In the poetry of the Psalms and Proverbs we read again and again about the beautiful and delightful law of God. And then the prophets prosecute Israel because of her disobedience to the law. And then Jesus comes and He points out the great commandment, and He says things like, “Your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees,” and “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” And the Epistles too have lots to say about sexual immorality and stealing and anger and gossip, etc. And if you listen to a sermon in a church or hang around Christians for any length of time it wont be long before you hear mention of what we should be doing and what we should not be doing. But we can only see the law in its proper place if we understand the priority that is God’s promise. There is an enormous distance between this Creator God and us, His creatures. And this distance is made even greater by sin. But God has stooped down and made a covenant of grace. He says I promise to forgive you and give you my Holy Spirit and eternal life if you will believe in my Son, Jesus FULLSTOP. All of the commands, all of the instructions, all of the law, they come on the other side of the fullstop. They have nothing to do with being forgiven, and receiving the Spirit and eternal life. They are what you want to do because you ARE forgiven and because you HAVE received the Spirit and because eternal life is yours!

So all we need to do now is think about the mistake of the Galatians and ask how we might be in danger of making the same mistake.
 For the Galatians thought that God’s covenant people were those who TRIED TO OBEY THE LAW. But verse 10 is plain – no one can obey the law: “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” And you would be making the same mistake today if you thought that you were in covenant with God because you go to church, twice, and tithe, and sing loudly, and are on the babysit roster AND send Christmas shoeboxes to needy people overseas!!
 And the Galatians thought they were God’s covenant people because they were CIRCUMCISED. But Ishmael & Esau were circumcised, yet the Bible is clear that they were not among God’s covenant people. And you would be making the same mistake today if you thought you were in covenant with God just because you were once BAPTIZED. And this is a trap and a danger and a very successful tool of the devil. He likes us to think, “I’m set, because I got wet!’ so now I can live and behave how I want.
 But what have we read? Galatians 3:9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:22 So that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Galatians 3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
God is a covenant God. His promise is believe in My Son Jesus Christ and you shall receive the forgiveness of your sins, the Holy Spirit, and a heavenly inheritance. And if you believe, then you are among God’s covenant people. Amen.