“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.”
Paul raises yet another question about the law. If the preceding verses are true, does this imply that the law and promise conflict with each other?
Is the law then against the promises of God?
Paul, in this question, makes explicit what the Galatians were thinking. They thought that Paul disparaged the law in his previous arguments. Did God give the law to frustrate grace?
It is inconceivable to think that the promise and the law are in disagreement. God gave both the law and the promise, but for different purposes. God is not at war with Himself!
For if there had been a law given which could have given life,
The purpose of the law is not to give life but to show the need for salvation. The purpose of the law is to show us our sin, and the purpose of grace is to save us from sin.
No external rule can internally impart eternal life. “Could have given life” means to make alive, cause to live. This is a causative term. The law cannot generate life. It cannot produce eternal life.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).
truly righteousness would have been by the law
The word “truly” expresses what is actual as opposed to apparent. Hypothetically, if the law could give eternal life, it can provide us with the righteousness of God. The Greek “if” in the first phrase (“if there had been a law…”) answers this hypothesis– it is not true (second class condition).
The difference between grace and law was not apparent to the legalists. God intended a fundamental difference between the two. The law does not pretend to give eternal life, so there is no conflict between grace and law.
Grace and law do not disagree with one another because they serve two different purposes. It is not the purpose of the law to produce eternal life; that is the purpose of grace. Grace is no more opposed to the law than the surgeon’s scalpel opposes healing.
The law cannot give eternal life; only grace can do that.
The law demands perfect righteousness, but it cannot give eternal life. It did not have the wherewithal to provide everlasting life. Some people look in a mirror but do not profit from what they see because they do not wash their faces. Law proves to us that we are sinful. It cannot make us accept the grace of God.
We obtain eternal life, not by the law but through the righteousness of Christ.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:20-22).
God gives eternal life to those who trust in Christ’s death to obtain forgiveness for sin.