The question is this: if God promised Abraham righteousness, justification, indeed, eternal salvation in Jesus Christ over 430 years before the law was given (Ex. 12:40); if the inheritance of eternal salvation in Christ is not by the law, but because of God’s promise; if the law cannot disannul or add certainty or fulfillment or blessing to God’s promise in Christ, then why was the law given?
This question runs parallel to questions arising from what happened in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden. Why did Adam and Eve not eat of the Tree of Life? Why did they instead eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? The answer to these questions reveal man’s heart, God’s eternal purpose in Christ, and the fulfillment of His promise to His people in Christ.
The law was added because of transgression. Although the promise was given and its fulfillment sure, man was sinful. In his sin, he will not give God the glory. Man wants some glory for himself. Man is not satisfied to trust a Savior and His salvation unless he can make some contribution to give greater confidence to himself that he will be a partaker of blessings from God. Thus runs man’s nature. This is the mind of the flesh. Man naturally gravitates to his flesh, the law and works. He is more confident in these, because he can see and touch them; he can control the outcome, at least in his deceived mind he thinks that he can. Whenever God’s requirements are set forth, or whenever God describes the character of those who are blessed and the character of those who miss blessings, natural man gives his answer. “The sturdy dreamers answer, ‘To the death we’ll follow Thee!’“ Israel expressed it thus when God was about to give His law: “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8). If man can remain in control, even partially, to ultimately control the outcome; if he can contribute something; if what he is and what he does, or what he is capable of doing, perhaps only his good intentions, are factored into the equation, then he gains two things in his vain mind: first, a greater sense of security; second, satisfaction upon reflection of his contribution. Thus, man trusts in his own heart and seeks his own glory. But, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways, saith the LORD” (Isa. 55:8).
God’s bare promise is sufficient. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Christ cannot fail (Isa. 42:4). God cannot change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). The LORD will do all His pleasure. He has spoken it; He shall also bring it to pass (Isa. 46:10). His counsel is immutable (Heb. 6:17). Nevertheless, for the consolation of His people, God confirmed His promise by an oath (Heb. 6:18; Gal. 3:17). And yet, Christ came to save sinners. The righteous have no need of salvation. We must hear the Gospel as sinners. “Where there is no law, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15; 5:13). Therefore, by adding the law, man’s sin became apparent to man (Rom. 3:19); righteousness by man’s obedience became a hopeless cause (Rom. 3:20); man’s inward corruption was exposed, became evident and apparent (Rom. 1:29-32; 3:10-18; Psalm 14:2-3; Jer. 13:23; Job 25:4; Gen. 6:5; Eccl. 7:29). In short, “The law entered that the offense might abound” (Rom. 5:20).
Thus, ungodly sinners, impotent sinners, sin-plagued, hell-deserving and hell-bound sinners who cannot recover themselves or bring one good thing to God, find their need of a Savior. The law makes the promise good news to sinners. Only sinners can hear the Gospel. Only sinners find the Gospel good news (Matt. 9:12-13). Moreover, the law foreshadowed God’s grace to sinners in Christ in all of the sacrifices and throughout the prophets (Lev. 16; Isa. 53; Hosea 13:9,14:1-8; Micah 7:18-20; Habakkuk 2:4).
The Garden of Eden provides the pattern that unfolds throughout time. The Tree of Life is in the midst of the garden. But there also is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But what is that? It represent God’s holy law. “For by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19). It represents salvation by works. “Thou shalt not eat of it” (Gen. 2:17). “By the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight” (Rom. 3:20). It is "the ministration of death." “In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17; 2 Cor. 3:6-7). Eating expresses partaking with satisfaction and in dependence for life. Deceived, man thought he could eat, depend on, come to God, know God, and enjoy greater blessing by living on the principle of law: relying on personal obedience for righteousness before God in some form, even as small as eating a piece of fruit. But in eating, by depending on the principle of law and works, man became guilty, he was separated from God, from life, from knowing God, and thus became a slave of sin. Sin abounded in him. His very nature became enslaved to sin because, contrary to God’s command, he depended on the law for righteousness. "Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law" (Rom. 9:31-32). “They that are after the flesh,” living on the principle of law and works, “do mind the things of the flesh” (Rom. 8:5). Thus, “The carnal mind,” the way man thinks when he is of the flesh and lives by law-works-righteousness before God, “is enmity against God. It is neither subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7-8). As long as we live in dependence on what we do, what we can do, what we are, what we can become, etc., we cannot please God; sin is our master; we are the complete slaves of sin and under the bondage, a “debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:13; Jer. 17:9).
What is the answer? It is Christ! It is God’s promise! It is Christ’s obedience! It is Christ’s satisfaction to God for the sins of His people by His own sufferings and death in their place under the wrath of God. The command is, “believe the Gospel!” That is, find Christ and Him crucified, who He is and what He accomplished, to be all of your salvation and satisfaction to God, your acceptance with God, your righteousness, your life, your all (1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 10:4; Philip. 3:8-9). Seek to be found in Him alone. Look away from all you naturally know and trust. Hear the Gospel, the good news! God is holy. He cannot look upon sin. He only accepts the perfect obedience of His Son (Rom. 9:31-32; 10:1-4). He has thus provided Himself the Lamb (Gen. 22:8). Christ has finished the will of God (John 19:30). He purged and cleansed His people from all their sins in His death on the cross (Heb. 1:3;10:1-23). He obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). His obedience is their righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). He has perfected forever all whom He sanctified in His one offering (Heb. 10:10,14). God alone gets all the glory (1 Cor. 1:31; John 17:1-4).
Everything we naturally think leads us to scramble to find a reason in ourselves for hope, evidence in ourselves for improvement, basis in ourselves for confidence. Even looking to see what God has done in me is mistaken. A favorite question my friends used to ask me when I was much younger was, “What’s God doing in your life?” I don’t know! But I do know what He has done in Christ. And I do know this: that all that God is doing in my life is showing me that Christ is all. Who He is and what He has done and is now doing for His people is what God has been doing in my life from all eternity.
Do you find Christ and Him crucified to be the “Tree of Life” to your soul? Do you see that your eternal life, your standing before God, your righteousness, the cleansing of your sin, and all blessings from God are given to you only in Christ (Eph. 1:3-ff)? Do you find this principle now within you, that all you thought to accomplish, perhaps all you think you had accomplished, is revolting, repugnant, even garbage to your spiritual senses, and that your only confidence, your only true joy, and all your peace is Christ and Him crucified? It’s what God thinks of Christ alone that satisfies and gives life to sinners (Ex. 12:13; Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 1:30; Jer. 50:20; Num. 23:21; Jer. 23:6). If Christ is thus your confidence, then you have eternal life (1 John 5:9-12).
Christ has come. The law has been honored, because He, the Lawgiver and Judge, has fulfilled it in love to God and for His people. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24-25). We are no longer under a schoolmaster. We are no longer under the law. We are under grace. We eat from the Tree of Life. We depend on Christ (Gal. 2:20). We live on Christ (John 6:33-35; 51,53-58). We are satisfied with Christ and Him crucified for sinners (Gal. 6:14; Philippians 3:7-10). The Gospel is always “news” to us: it is never old; it is always new. When we hear it, it is as if we are hearing it for the first time, because we are sinners, condemned, helpless and hopeless in ourselves. We can bring nothing from ourselves. In every requirement, and for every sin, we must look to Christ alone. To know God, to please God, to come to God, we look to Christ alone. May God give us ears to hear this Gospel in our heart and ever rejoice and admire Him for His purpose of grace!