Galatians 3:19–25 (NKJV)
19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.Galatians 3:19-25 (NKJV)
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Paul gives a brief, concise explanation of why the law was given. The law was given because man was sinful, and needed to be made aware of his sin against God. The law enumerated the many evil deeds of mankind, and showed humanity the deep need for righteous living, forgiveness, and healing. It made man aware of their need for a Savior, a mediator between God and man, the Promised One who would make a way for forgiveness and salvation for sinful humanity. The law did not work against the promises of God. If the law could have provided a way for man to be righteous, there would have been no need for Christ to come to earth, live, die, and rise again. The law showed men and women that they were bound by sin and needed the promise, faith in that promise that would be revealed. The law is described as a tutor, helping human beings everywhere to know their need for Christ. The law brings sinful men and women to the foot of the cross so that they might be justified by faith in Him. Once that faith has been activated and grace has been applied, the tutor is no longer in control.
Discussion such as these bring great hope and grace, but must be interpreted in the greater context of the Word of God. To say that the law was wrong would be an error. God has a standard of holiness for His people, and elsewhere commands His followers to pursue holiness, “without which no man shall see God.” However, the law is not the means to that holiness; God’s grace is that means. With that in mind, one should seek for God’s grace, and expect that His grace will lead mankind into an obedience to God’s will that will closely match the requirements of the law, without the law being the means, only the goal. Whereas men thought the law would make them righteous by their strict adherence to it, the truth is actually that only grace makes one holy. That grace also will lead righteous men and women to a lifestyle that will reflect the holiness of God.
Two groups of people lives in error in the early church. Ascetics felt the need to deny the flesh completely, and thought of the body as a necessary but unworthy vehicle to get them through this life and into the next, They denied the body of food, hygiene, and pleasure, seeking to make the body suffer in order to make their spirit somehow more holy. This is a thought process much like the strict orthodox adherents to the law. Live out the law to the letter and be seen as holy. The Libertines were on the other end of the spectrum. They also felt that the body did not matter and would not keep them from heaven, but instead of denying it, they lavished it with pleasure. They ate the finest rich foods, imbibed in much strong drink, has illicit sexual relationships, and thought that none of that would affect them spiritually. This thought process resembles the hyper-grace movement of today that sees no need to fight against sin in one’s life, because grace covers it all and God understands. Somewhere in between these two extreme interpretations of grace lies a balanced approach to living in grace without fear, and living in legalism, hoping to please God. Live holy. Seek to please God. Understand that God’s grace is full and free, but God does not wink at sin and overlook our debauchery. Instead, God is calling us higher. Rise up without fear, and live a life that glorifies God.