God Provided a Mediator


I.  The Priority of Promise (3:15-18)

A. Even in human contracts, or perhaps a human will, when it is finally ratified, no conditions can be added. The legal standing of the will takes precedence over personal objections or additions by which other parties may seek to amend without the approval of the parties originally interested in the contract.

B. Even so, God has made a promise to Abraham and to his “seed.”

  1. Paul points out (verse 16) that word is singular, and, though it includes the sons of Israel in the physical promise, and all believers in the spiritual blessings (see verse 29), the ultimate fulfillment of this promise is found only in Jesus Christ.
  2. The faith by which righteousness comes is in Christ alone. The removal of the universal curse of sin is in Christ alone. The blessing to the nations, therefore, comes in Christ alone. The seed to whom all the promises refer is summed up in Christ.

C. When Law was given, therefore, 430 years after the promise was made to Abraham (verse 17) , it did not introduce a new set of requirements that placed a condition on the certainty of the promise. An unconditional promise arises from reasons in the mind and purpose of the “promiser,” not from any subsequent set of circumstances which might accrue to the one to whom the promise was made.

D. God made an unconditional promise to Abraham. Though this promise brought about a series of relationships and other covenants that included conditions, none of those rendered the original covenant with Abraham unworkable. They simply indicated all the conditions that would be fulfilled by the final “seed” through whom the promise to Abraham would be perfectly fulfilled.


II. The Relation of Law to Promise. If God’s promise to Abraham was unconditional, why did he impose the Law upon the physical descendants of Abraham?

A. First, Paul points to the reality of transgression. That which made the promise necessary was the presence of sin. In order to make clear the aspects of the moral law written on the heart against which all mankind had rebelled and against which all were consistently transgressing, the Law was given to Israel the elect nation through whom Messiah would come. The terms upon which the promise would be fulfilled were set forth clearly in the Law, but would not affect the freeness of the promise to Abraham.

  1. How was this given by angels? Angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). This passage reveals that they had a part in communicating the law to Moses.
  2. Who is the mediator through whose agency this came? It seems that Moses was the mediator. He received the Law and brought it down to the people. He gave a detailed review and reassertion of it in the book of Deuteronomy.
  3. Why is the singularity of God mentioned? Since God is one, and knowledge of the Law comes through a mediator, then the fulfillment of the Law also will come through a mediator. God is one party, and the other party must be represented by a mediator. If the communication of the Law itself came through a mediator in light of the overpowering holiness of God (Exodus 19), how much more will the fulfillment of the Law for a sinful people need a Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

B. Thus, Paul emphasizes that the Law is not contrary to the promises of God.

  1. There never was a time when the Law was not operative (Romans 5:13, 14), and the first promise of life came in the context of perpetual obedience to a command (Genesis 2:16, 17: disobedience would bring on immediate death; perpetual obedience would, therefore, avoid death in all its forms and imply the eventual confirmation in eternal life.
  2. Through righteousness life is imparted. As with Adam, perfect righteousness merits eternal life. Now that transgression already is a reality, no law can be given that will reverse the presence of transgression and thus the Law was not given to impart life. If a law had power to alter a person’s moral disposition and status as well, then God would not have put himself to the expense of giving his Son to gain life.
  3. Throughout Scripture, however, we learn that everyone is shut up under sin (22)
  • The historical narrative from Genesis 3 through Revelation 22 shows that we are unrighteous and filthy. Before the flood “the wickedness of man was great in the earth,” and “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” After the flood, when Noah built an altar before the Lord, and his family was the only family alive, The Lord said, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21). “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still.” (Revelation 22:11).
  • The propositions of Scripture testify in no uncertain terms and in many turns of phrase that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,”(Romans 3:23) and that “there is none righteous, no not one,”(Romans 3:10), and that “the world loved darkness rather than light because its deeds were evil.” Indeed, “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19).
  • If all are sinners, as the law confirms, then the oral guilt of sin must be cared for in the same way in every person. That way, graciously given by God in accordance with the original promise to Abraham, is by faith in Jesus Christ. All who believe, irrespective of their relation to the ceremonial law and even in light of their consistent course of disobedience to the moral law, find the promise fulfilled in Christ.
  1. The Law served, therefore, as a guardian and as a schoolmaster (23, 24)—serving as the one to show our guilt and need of intervention, and as the other to point us to the one who could rescue us.
  • As a guardian the law would not let us out of captivity to its demands for perfect righteousness and established the fact than its demands would only be met by faith.
  • On that basis, the Law taught us to expect this deliverance from guilt and the meeting of the demands in the person of another—the Christ sent by God. “In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear.” (Isaiah 54:14).
  1. Our being under a guardian and tutor has now given way to Sonship (25, 26). Faith in Christ shows that the Law’s task has been done. The law does not linger to claim a part in justification, but turns us over to Christ in whom alone we find justification, and no only so, but reception into the family of God to become an “heir.”
  • The ordinance of baptism testifies that even as the water covers your entire body, so by faith have you been covered with Christ and his perfect obedience. Not one whit of our person remains exposed to wrath, for, like baptism fully engulfs us, so Christ’s righteousness clothes us leaving no place for God’s wrath to rest. Baptism is the visible picture of our lives being hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).
  • Now, differences of religious background, social status, or gender constitute no barrier to the freeness of salvation in Christ (28). A guilty man may be justified by the same blood and righteousness as a guilty woman. A Jew may be justified, and indeed, must be justified, by the same blood and righteousness as a guilty Greek. A guilty freeman may, and must, be justified by the same blood and righteousness as a guilty slave. The temporal status is not eliminated in this life, but neither does it hinder perfect unity and equality in Christ.
  • To belong to Christ is to belong to the sphere in which the promise to Abraham is fulfilled (29).


III. A Summary of the Argument

A. Paul shows how the elect are under the same condition in their natural state as everyone else (1-3).

  1. Paul uses an earthly example that the heir of a massive estate does not receive it while he is in his minority. He has no more authority over the estate than does a slave of the same household.
  2. Even so, those on whom God had placed his favor to bring to sonship (Ephesians 1:5 – “Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself”), labor under the preparatory phase, the rudimentary principles, of God’s plan until Christ comes. On a large scale, this reality constitutes the division of history into BC and AD. The people of God no longer are identified by ceremonial laws and rituals, but by faith in Christ and evidences of a heart changed by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, every individual has the same division in his or her history—BC and AD.

B. Paul shows how the incarnation of Christ, the “fullness of time,” broke the bonds of the time of anticipation (4-7).

  1. God sent forth his Son.
  • This work of the incarnation was an element of the eternal covenant of redemption in which the Father’s part is to send his son. This demonstrated the great love that the Father had for those among his creatures whom he had elected to be his sons (See Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9, 10; Galatians 1:4).
  • The Son is the eternal Son of the Father, co-equal in essence, co-creator, co-sustainer of the world and eternally the one who is the personal expression of God’s nature and redemptive love (Hebrews 1:2-4).
  • The Son’s part in the covenant was to come in our nature so he could work in our stead. To do this, he must be born of a woman. This miracle of incarnation is described in Luke 1:35, in which we see the work of the Holy Spirit, the operation of the Father, and the miraculous location of the Son in Mary’s womb.
  • As a human like us, Jesus had all the demands of the Law on him personally. As our substitute, he also had to shoulder its curse for us to be forgiven. He obeyed all of its righteous demands in establishing a positive righteousness by which we are justified; he died under its curse (Galatians 3:13) by which we are forgiven.
  1. This work completed redemption from the demands of the Law. Because he was “made under the Law,” its demands have been satisfied by him.
  • All of its ceremonial aspects (circumcision, sacrifices, priestly arrangements) have been fulfilled by him and those parts of the laws no longer place their burden on us and thus they are without any further need of execution.
  • The Law as a covenant of works for the purpose of eternal life has been fulfilled by him, so that he “who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God does not have life . . . but the wrath of God abides on him.” (1 John 5:12; John 3:36)
  • The Law in its power of condemnation has been removed in Christ by his work and in Christ only.
  1. In redemption, we also receive the adoption of Sons.
  • As a matter of Christ’s unity of person in the incarnation, our humanity in him has achieved the status of Son of God. Now by our union with him, we too are sons of God through redemption.
  • Even as Christ as the Son of God in his incarnation received the Spirit without measure (John 3:34, 35), so now that we are adopted as Sons by redemptive union with Christ, God sends his Spirit into our hearts bearing witness of God as our Father.
  • As he has shared our humanity for redeeming us through his blood, so he gives us his Spirit that we might share his sonship. The Spirit vindicated him in his sonship (1 Timothy 3:16), and now witnesses to our sonship by his sanctifying presence.
  • Now being sons, all the riches of heaven, the presence of God and the enjoyment of his glory constitute our inheritance (1 Peter 1:3, 4).
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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