Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (NIV)
1. What were the promises spoken to Abraham and to his seed? (See Genesis 15-17.) Ishmael was already born when God confirmed his covenant with Abraham by instituting the rite of circumcision. Why was it so significant that God said he would keep his covenant through a child Sarah would bear and not through Ishmael?
2. Paul explains that the law was given 430 years after God covenanted with Abraham. What do you think the law was actually for, if not the means of attaining the promised blessing? (See Romans 3:20) What did Paul mean when he said, "It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come"? What does this statement tell us about how long the law would be in effect?
3. Paul points out that the law was put into effect through a mediator who represented more than one party. Who were the parties represented in that covenant at Sanai? Who was the mediator? Why does Paul make a point to say, "A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one"? How does the way God gave the law differ from the way God made his promise to Abraham? Who were the parties involved in making the covenant with Abraham? (See Genesis 15:9-19.) What makes God's covenant with Abraham superior to his covenant with Israel?
4. Paul states that the law is not opposed to the promises of God. He also makes it clear the law could not impart righteousness or life. If the law is not life-giving, then in what sense is it in harmony with God's promises? What role does the law have in our being "prisoner(s) of sin"? Paul said, "But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised might be given to those who believe." How does our status as sinful prisoners under the law lead to our receiving the promise by faith?
5. In this difficult passage Paul is explaining that God's promise of blessing preceded the law. He's also making it clear that the law was temporary and that God's promise of blessing can never be changed or annulled. What difference does it make in your life to realize that God's promise of grace has always been yours, and the law is now obsolete?
6. Before we accept Jesus, we are all prisoners of sin. Even after we accept him, we sometimes feel that we are still prisoners in certain places in our hearts or in our experience. In what places in your life do you still feel like a prisoner? What bondage to you need Jesus to break?
7. Paul says, "So that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe." What thing(s) in your life seem resistant to faith? What pain do you need to surrender to Jesus? Ask him to fill your heart with trust and with the life of his Spirit.
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