FAITH AND LAW Galatians 3–4
“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” (Gal. 3:21–22).Faith and law live at opposite ends of town.
The Galatians’ own experience (3:1–5) and Abraham’s example demonstrate that salvation is by faith and not Law (vv. 6–14). Law never abrogated promise as the key to God’s dealings with man (vv. 15–25), and in Christ believers become sons of God (v. 26–4:7). The Galatians’ perplexing return to “religion” (vv. 8–20) was abandonment of freedom for spiritual slavery (vv. 21–31).
Understanding the Text
“You foolish Galatians!” Gal. 3:1–5 The word Paul used here does not mean mentally deficient. It means inept! These folks had normal intelligence and plenty of evidence, but for some inexplicable reason they didn’t put two and two together! Don’t think that the Bible is as “hard to understand” as some claim. The Bible isn’t a puzzle that people have to struggle to solve. It is a clear, unmistakable revelation of God’s will, purposes, and gifts. Only if we fail to apply ourselves to study, or to think about what we read, will we find ourselves in the position of those “foolish Galatians.” “Before your very eyes” Gal. 3:1–5. Paul listed three facts that should have enabled the Galatians to see through the Judaizers’ false gospel. First, Christ has been “clearly portrayed as crucified.” Paul stripped the Gospel of inessentials, and focused on Jesus. Failure of the Judaizers to give Christ the same place in their system should have alerted the Galatians at once. This is still the test of any teaching. What place does Jesus crucified have? If there is no central role for the Saviour on a cross, then the teaching is false. Second, the Galatians’ own experience should have alerted them. They were given the Spirit when they believed—not for keeping the Law. Why, when their initial experience with God was rooted in faith, would they expect Him to change now? Politicians seeking reelection used to argue against “changing horses in midstream.” Paul does too. If faith has got you this far, why get off faith and try a different mount now? Third, God’s present work among the Galatians was in response to faith, not to their obedience to Law. God works among us today through faith, not through legalism. What Paul was really doing is expressing shock and amazement. Yet throughout church history there have always been those who try to remake Christianity into a religion of works and Law rather than of faith and grace. Don’t be surprised when you come across it today. But don’t be taken in, no matter how pious its proponents may seem. Believing, or observing?
|Faith (Abraham)||Law (Curse)|
|Faith (Covenant)||Law (Transgression)|
|Faith (Sonship)||Law (Slavery)|
Paul contrasted his Gospel of a grace that comes through faith with the Judaizer’s demand for a return to Law. In a carefully reasoned argument Paul showed why Gospel and Mosaic Law are contrary to each other, and why the Galatians must opt for the Gospel of a salvation won and experienced by faith alone. “Consider Abraham” Gal. 3:6–9. From the very beginning God has related to men by faith. Abraham, the father and prototype of the chosen race, was justified by faith. Those in his line must have a relationship with God which rests on faith. Paul quoted Old Testament references to Gentile salvation (v. 8) to show that God always intended to bring Gentiles into Abraham’s family line. Since Gentiles can’t go back and be born again as Jews, this could only be done through a faith like Abraham’s own. God did make Israel His chosen people. But even as He selected Abraham, He was thinking of you and me! “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything” Gal. 3:10–14. Faith is inclusive, and brings everyone with Abraham into relationship with God. Law is exclusive. It rules everyone out! Take a balloon, blow it up, and use a felt-tipped pen to write on it the 633 precepts of Old Testament Law identified by the rabbis. Then take a pin, and prick just one of those precepts. You’ve not broken just one commandment, you’ve broken the whole thing! This is the point of Deuteronomy 27:26, which Paul quoted here. Keep the Law, and yes, you’ll be blessed. But break even one command, just once, and you come under the Law’s curse! If you turn to legalism, you must accept the Law’s obligation to keep it perfectly. All the time. How glad we can be that Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” Jesus paid the price that frees us from the penalty Law-breaking entailed. And He also freed us from legalism, which continues to curse mankind with its demand for perfection. “Law, introduced 430 years later” Gal. 3:15–19. God’s promise to Abraham was made centuries before Moses gave the Law to Israel. That promise was confirmed by covenant: a legally binding instrument. Adding the Law didn’t invalidate the covenant, or nullify the promise. To suppose that Law replaced faith as God’s way of relating to His own is to suppose that God doesn’t keep His Word! The Law, which casts a searchlight on our sins, makes us realize how desperately we need the salvation that God makes available through faith. “But God is One” Gal. 3:20–21. There’s a beautiful truth here. Moses served as a mediator in giving the Law, for he stood between God and mankind, representing both. But this wasn’t good enough for God. So in Christ God Himself became the Mediator. Through Jesus we deal directly with God, and are welcomed into His presence. “No longer under the supervision of the Law” Gal. 3:23–25. All English transcriptions obscure what was a powerful image in the first century. The Law, Paul said, was a paidagogos. This was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks as a “child-attendant” who supervised underage children. While underage, even though a child might be heir to the family estate, he had to obey the orders of his attendant. Law was just such a paidagogos for Israel before Jesus came. The Jews were “locked up” by the Law, not as prisoners, but so they would be kept out of trouble! While the Law was unable to keep Israel from sinning, it did keep that people together and preserve their identity until Jesus, the Seed of Abraham through whom the promises to all humanity would be kept, arrived. Paul’s point was that, now that Jesus had come, we no longer need to be locked up! We can be set free! For, brought into intimate relationship with God through Christ, we can now be trusted to live truly godly lives! One reason Christians sometimes feel a need for restrictive laws is that we recognize and fear our potential for sin. But God wants you and me to recognize the potential we now have in Christ to live dynamic, godly lives! When we rebuild the cage of Law, we don’t lock up our old nature. We lock up the new self God wants us to become. “Until Christ is formed in you” Gal. 4:8–20. American Indians used to wind infants tightly in cloths, and strap them to a carrying board. But when the children grew, they were released. Only release from the binding wraps of legalism can enable us to grow—and Christ to grow in us. “The women represent two covenants” Gal. 4:24–25. Paul’s extended analogy continues to the way of Christ with a religion of works and Law. The correspondences here are:
|Hagar, the bondwoman||Sarah, the free|
|Ishmael, a natural birth||Isaac, a supernatural birth|
|The Old Covenant||The New Covenant|
|Earthly Jerusalem||Heavenly Jerusalem|
The point of the analogy remains the same. Christ brings us freedom. And it is freedom that we must claim.
Sons of God(Gal. 3:26–4:7)
Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures all marked a specific time when a child entered fully into adult responsibility. The Jews fixed the time at age 12, the Greeks at 18, and the Romans permitted the father to fix the time. Even in Rome though, the formal ceremony in which the child became an adult, was marked by a sacred family festival, the Liberalia. The father presented his son and acknowledged heir with the toga virilis, and the proud son put off the clothing that had marked him as a mere child. How moving the ceremony was: the father proudly embracing his son, the boy both triumphant and a little frightened at his new responsibilities. A minor child, in the eyes of the law, was no different than a slave. He made no significant decisions. He had no freedom. But with formal acceptance as an adult, all that changed. He was now responsible. He was now free. To Paul, salvation is God’s Liberalia. It is a joyous festival of freedom. It is the moment when God puts His arms around us, acknowledging us as His sons and heirs. And, in place of the Law, God puts around our shoulders the cloak of His Holy Spirit, the toga virilis which we wear constantly as a symbol not only of our freedom, but of our allegiance to our Father above. No longer limited by law to a slavelike existence, we are ushered into a freedom that demands we take responsibility for our choices. A freedom that means that as an adult member of the family of God whatever we choose to do will bring honor to the family name. Don’t be afraid of the freedom God has given you. Rejoice in it! And use it, to bring honor to Him.
Don’t fear freedom. Use it to serve God.
“There are two freedoms—the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where a man is free to do what he ought.”—Charles Kingsley