Adult Sabbath School Lesson Study Outlines

Skip Navigation
Get these Sabbath School lessons by e-mail! Subscribe to the Bible Study of the Week mailing list:

 Subscribe in a reader

Lesson 6: The Priority of the Promise *

Introduction: Have you ever been in a situation in which your belief is challenged by someone who you think might be right? At first you feel annoyed. Than you begin to feel bad that you have been wrong. Then you look at the whole situation again to be sure that you have the right view. Our Bible study this week reminds me of this. Paul tells us boldly that Abraham was saved by grace, not works. But, then Paul's opponents raise a fierce argument: if the plan of salvation was faith alone, why would God later give us the Ten Commandments? How does that make any sense if the Ten Commandments are not God's current plan? Let's jump right into our study of the Bible and see if we can figure out who is right!

  1. The Contract Argument

    1. We left our study of Galatians last week with Paul pointing out that the righteousness by faith relationship Abraham had with God is now available to us. Great news! Let's continue by reading Galatians 3:15. What kind of argument is Paul making? (He is making a legal argument. This is an argument based on contract law.)

      1. Okay lawyers, what is Paul arguing? (Contracts are enforceable just as they are written. Abraham's contract with God (salvation by faith alone) is a valid, enforceable agreement.)

      2. Is Paul's legal theory correct? Is it possible to set aside legal contracts? (Generally, no. Not legally. If you have a valid contract with someone, you can go into court to enforce your contract.)

    2. Read Galatians 3:16-18. Notice that Paul now calls what Abraham received a "promise." Are promises legally enforceable? (Not unless you give consideration. That means "not unless you promise to trade something of value." If you promise to give me your car, and I promise to give you $20,000 dollars, we have an enforceable contract and not an unenforceable promise.)

      1. What consideration, if any, did Abraham give God?

      2. Apparently, there is much dispute over the way that Paul interprets God's promise to Abraham (see, e.g., Genesis 12:3) and particularly the word "seed." I'm going to leave that dispute alone, because Paul restates his argument in a less controversial way in verses 17-18. Is it true that a later contract offer does not invalidate the earlier agreement? (Yes. If you and I have agreed to the terms of a contract, you can offer to change the terms, but I do not have to agree.)

      3. What is Paul's theological argument? (That if the contract "negotiated" by Abraham was that if he believed he would receive salvation, then God cannot change this contract later to say we must obey the commandments to have salvation.)

  2. The Counter Contract Argument

    1. Read Galatians 3:19. Let's "read between the lines" and try to figure out, based on Paul's rebuttal, what Paul's opponents were arguing. What do you think was the counter argument of Paul's opponents? (If faith was the agreement between God and humans, then why would God later give His law?)

      1. Are Paul's opponents making a pretty good argument? (We can understand it two ways. We just discussed one understanding - if we really have a contract, as opposed to a mere promise, we can enforce the original contract against God. A second way to look at this is like a new law. In the United States, if you have an older law and a newer law, and there is a conflict between the two, the newer law controls.)

      2. Let's look at this second argument - that God gave a later law (at Sinai) which changed the earlier law (given to Abraham). How accurate are the factual assumptions made in this counter argument?

        1. Read Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:8-11. Did the Sabbath commandment begin at Sinai? (No.)

        2. Read Genesis 4:8, Genesis 4:10-12 and Exodus 20:13. Did the prohibition on murder begin at Sinai? (No.)

      3. Do Paul's opponents have an obvious factual problem with their argument? (Yes. If what was given at Sinai existed before Abraham was born, then this argument has a huge problem.)

      4. Remember that there must be a conflict between the older and newer law for the newer law to control. Is there a conflict between righteousness by faith and the law given at Sinai?

        1. If you answered, "yes," how were sins forgiven in the sanctuary system?

          1. Did people have to do push-ups when they sinned?

          2. Did they have to pay a fine?

          3. Did they have to promise not to engage in the same sin for a year? (No. They offered an innocent lamb. This was is not "works." It pointed back to the agreement with Abraham and forward to what Jesus would do to win grace for us.)

      5. If we can see these flaws in the arguments of Paul's opponents, do they have any reasonable argument? (They must be arguing, "Why did God make a big deal of the law hundreds of years after He made His grace agreement with Abraham?")

        1. What answer does Paul give to this? (Galatians 3:19 - Because of the amount of sin ("transgressions").)

    2. Let's step back a moment. How much do you think the Israelites knew about their God after hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt? (Probably not much. This makes the "transgressions" comment in Galatians 3:19 make sense. The people of God were not only sinning, they had no idea about God's standard for conduct. God needed to let His people know what He considered to be sin.)

      1. If God made a contract with Abraham that he was saved by grace, when God's law was known to Abraham, what does that say about the relationship between faith and law? (It reinforces the idea that our agreement with God is salvation by faith, and not by keeping the law. But, it also says something important about the law.)

      2. Is God's law important to Him and to us? (It is. If grace, without any reference to the law, was the contract between Abraham and God, then God would have no need to introduce the Ten Commandments (and the rest of the law) at Sinai to people who knew nothing about the law.)

    3. Read Romans 3:19-20. How does this text fit the situation of God's people at Sinai? (It is exactly what we have been discussing! God uses His law to made us conscious of our sins. How would we recognize sin without the law? We would be bragging about our righteousness if we did not have the law to silence us.)

    4. Read Romans 3:21-24. How do we become righteous? (By faith in Jesus. By believing Jesus.)

    5. Read Romans 3:25-26. What part does the Old Testament sanctuary service play in this? (Paul is using the picture of the sacrificial system to explain Jesus' work. This is the unity that we find at Sinai, not the conflict you would need to say "God instituted a new law at Sinai which supercedes the old grace agreement with Abraham.)

  3. The Mediator

    1. Let's go back to Galatians 3. Re-read the last part of Galatians 3:19 and add Galatians 3:20. We find another legal term: "mediator." What is a mediator? (Not a lawyer who represents one side. Instead, a mediator is supposed to work with both sides to reach a resolution to the conflict between the two. To get both sides to agree to a solution.)

      1. This says a mediator and angels put forward the law. Does the law act like a mediator between God and humans?

        1. What has the law done for God?

        2. What has our knowledge of the law done for us? (The commentaries are in conflict about what verse 20 means. A common suggestion is that Moses is referred to as the "mediator." But, I see that the law functions as a mediator at two important points in time to bring us together with God. First, the law shows us God's love. God died for us to meet the demands of the law. Second, the law is a standard - a standard that we cannot meet. The law brings us to accept Jesus' offer of grace - out of gratitude to God, and our helplessness in the face of the law. What could bring us closer to God than that?)

        3. How does the law affect our attitude towards obedience? (Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." John 14:15. How true this is! If we respect Jesus' sacrifice, we see that the law must be important to God. Otherwise, God would have ignored the law and saved Jesus from a horrible death. God's love in dying to satisfy the requirements of the law helps us to respond in love by determining that we will live, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a life that pleases God. Now we can see ( Galatians 3:20) why "God is one," for His system for salvation is "one.")

    2. Friend, if you have not fully accepted righteousness by faith alone, will you accept it right now? Why not ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins, and to save you by His grace?

  4. Next week: The Road to Faith.
* Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
Back to Top | Home