If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Galatians chapter 3, verses 15 through 29. Paul says,
Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ. 17 And I say this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God and cancel the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
19 Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. The law was put into effect through angels by means of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not for just one person, but God is one. 21 Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly be by the law. 22 But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. 24 The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.
25 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.
If you’re like most folks, you’re probably kind of a cynic. You don’t expect much of anything out of anybody because you’ve played that game before and it didn’t really work out. You’ve been let down by more people than you’ve got fingers to count. Next week we’re talking in depth about the fact that God becomes our Father in Jesus Christ – he adopts us, and we become his children and he ceases simply to be our creator and our ruler but becomes our Father, with everything that comes along with it.
And that’s a glorious reality, and an indescribable blessing, but a lot of us will have trouble seeing it that way. To paraphrase the author Donald Miller, calling God our “Father” has become a real PR problem, because getting compared to your father might draw all the wrong connections. Statistically, somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five percent of Americans hear the phrase, “God is our Father” and, because of their life experiences, what they’re actually hearing is “God is that guy who knocked up my mom and then left when it got hard.”
They hear “God is the guy who spent my youth making me feel ugly and small and worthless.” They hear, “God is the guy who taught me I can’t trust men no matter what they seem like up front.” You know what I’m talking about? If you’ve existed for any length of time in this world, you’ve probably come to distrust nearly everyone and everything because you’ve been let down or victimized by most of the folks you’ve given the chance to, and especially the ones who were supposed to love and protect you.
You hear that Christ is your “friend” in John 15, and, because of your life experiences, what you’re actually hearing is that “Christ is that person who’ll use you for what you can give them and then leave you when it turns out you have needs.”
You hear in Hosea 13 that God is like a “Mother bear,” or that Christ is like a “Mother hen,” in Matthew 23, and, rather than hearing that God is deeply nurturing and fiercely protective over you, because of your life experiences what you actually hear is that God is like the mom who found every insecurity lurking in the back of your mind and then picked at them until you couldn’t stand her anymore and you couldn’t stand yourself, and you couldn’t stand the sight of your own body or the sound of your voice and you couldn’t fathom that anybody with any sense could ever love you because your mom and your friends and your dad and your everyone drilled it into you that you’re unlovable and worthless and disposable and more a liability than a human so when I or the Bible or anyone says that God is your Father or brother or friend or guardian you can’t bring yourself to hear it as good news because it’s never been good news to have those things beforehand and that voice in your head carries over to now and says, “God will leave you like everybody else,” “God will grow tired of you like everybody else,” and “God will rough you up like everybody else,” because that’s what everybody does, at least to you, and God’ll be like that, but bigger, and worse, and forever.
So there might be a quiet, nagging voice in your head that refuses to believe that God will ever actually be faithful to the promises he’s made to you. And if any of what I’ve just said describes you, it’s unlikely that I can “talk you into” believing anything otherwise – that’s deeply ingrained, and it’s not something you just snap out of – but I want to open by saying it out loud: God will be faithful to the promises he’s made to you in Jesus Christ.
And as complex as today’s passage looks up front, that is exactly what Paul is getting at, here.
As you might remember from earlier in Galatians, Paul is facing off with a group of early “segregationists” in the churches in Galatia. In Galatians 2:12, Paul refers to them unaffectionately as the “circumcision party.” Paul goes out of his way in Galatians 2:4 to demonstrate that they are not just “Christians who are wrong about some stuff,” they are agitators. Their goal is not to correct our theology, their goal is to confuse it.
They didn’t love Jesus, they just hated Gentiles, and when they saw that Jewish believers and Gentile believers were congregating together in the churches in Galatia, they put their heads together and started, essentially, a “fake news” campaign designed to convince the Jewish Christians in Galatia that all Gentile Christians needed to submit to the Mosaic Law or go home.
That’s a lot of info, so I’m gonna run back through it: Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to try and bring the churches in Galatia back to a place of relative sanity after some heretics from a group called the “circumcision party” convinced them to kick out any Gentiles who wouldn’t get circumcised, cut non-kosher foods out of their diets, and take up the entirety of the Mosaic Law that we find in the first five books of the Bible.
That might sound kind of extreme from our vantage point, today, but – do not raise your hands – how many of the men, here, would keep coming to Mount Zion if the rest of the church locked arms and said, “If you want to come back next week, you’d better call the doctor and schedule a circumcision?”
It’s very similar to the way that in New York City in the 1960s, the civil engineer Robert Moses rebelled against the mandatory integration of public facilities by researching what sorts of things would generally drive African Americans from using them. So after formal segregation had been outlawed, he tried to maintain, kind of, a de facto segregation by driving African Americans away from using the public facilities they were now entitled by law to use.
Very much the same thing is at work here: The “circumcision party” wants to “Robert Moses” the churches in Galatia. They wanna get rid of as many Gentiles as they can, so they hatch up a plan to convince the Galatians that they’ve got to obey every last line of the Mosaic Law, right down to getting circumcised as adult men. Paul’s opponents say that if you want to be one of God’s people, the way to get there is through obedience to the Law.
But, for Paul, that would mean that God had abandoned his promises to us. Paul tells us that if we are still “under the Law,” then God has abandoned his promises to us, and if God has abandoned his promises to us, then God has abandoned us.
His thought-process is kind of all over the place, but it makes perfect sense when you step back and get a wide angle view: Paul points out in verse 17 that God’s promise to redeem us came 430 years before the Law. God promised Abraham that he would redeem his people, and there was no written Law to obey when God made that promise. God’s promise to redeem us was exactly that – it was a promise.
It wasn’t a “deal,” it wasn’t a “negotiation,” there was no “I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine,” it was a one-sided promise by God for us, that God would redeem us from our Fallenness. It was like a contract where God took on all of the responsibility, and all of the risk, and all of the costly sacrifice that goes into it, and so God’s promised rescue comes entirely by God’s glorious mercy and there’s no hint throughout the Old Testament that anything else would ever be the case.
But that leads to a pretty obvious question: Paul says in verse 19 “Why then was the Law given?” If God promised to save us back in the days of Abraham, and the Law had nothing to do with saving us, then what’s the point of Leviticus? Right? I had a guy tell me exactly that one time – we were talking through the book of Deuteronomy, and he interrupted and said, “If none of this stuff saves me what’s the point of learning about it?”
But Paul tells us exactly what the Law was for: He says the Law was meant to “guard us” until the salvation God had promised could come. If you look at verse 19, the Law was given, quote, “because of transgressions.” The laws you see in those first five books of the Bible weren’t given to the “unsaved” so they could “get saved,” they were given to the “already-saved” because of the depths of our sin. Paul says that God gave us the Law because he was faithful to his promises.
Like, if you remember the story of the Exodus, the Israelites settle at the base of Mt. Sinai, and while Moses is up on the mountain with God they melt down their jewelry and make an idol to worship. That’s a red flag. Israel is free from their physical slavery to Egypt, but they’re very much still embroiled in their slavery to sin, and so God lovingly gave them a Law that would restrain their sin, verse 24, kind of like a babysitter.
Your translation might say “guardian,” or “caretaker,” or any number of things, and all of those are correct. The Law was given, 1) to restrain our sinful tendencies, and 2)to, kind of, reeducate us. Like we said back in our Ruth series, God’s Law is kind of like a “reeducation camp.”
That’s a weird comparison, let me explain: We live in a Fallen world, and our Fallen world distorts everything that’s good, and right, and holy – you know what I’m talking about? And if you live in this world, you will pick up the world’s tendencies, and so while God created us for peaceableness, the world distorts our tendencies toward violence. God created us for faithfulness, but the world distorts our tendencies toward deception or manipulation, or greed, and so on and so forth. The Law is like a teacher, or a pedagogue, or a guardian, because it restrains our old sinful tendencies and teaches us new tendencies, verse 24. God’s Law is like a “reeducation camp.”
But he also says that the Law has “imprisoned everything under sin’s power,” verse 22. The Law has shackled everybody in. The Law has knee-capped you. By giving us the Law at Mount. Sinai, God has forced us to reckon with our own sinfulness by showing us a vision of God’s design for humanity. You know what I’m talking about?
A lot of people carry on the destructive patterns that their parents exhibit for them. A lot of people grow up hating their dad for the way he treated their mom but proceed to treat their future wives or girlfriends the same way. Right? There’s a cognitive dissonance that goes undealt with. And a lot of times when you meet somebody who broke that cycle of destructiveness and abusiveness, what they tell you is that they saw somebody else who shattered their illusions about what’s normal and acceptable.
They saw a marriage that was genuinely self-giving, genuinely mutually-submissive, genuinely loving and kind and Christlike. And that was the first step toward breaking their illusions, breaking the cycle that the world has bestowed on them. To quote an author named David Dark, something has to “exorcise” us. Something has to “wake up the human inside the robot.”
It’s not enough just to “see” a healthy alternative, but it’s often the first step that instigates getting the help they need, and the Law is like that.
Verse 22, it “imprisons everything under sin,” if you can look past Paul’s endlessly abstract prose, here, the Law forces us to reckon with the sheer depths of our own brokenness, it forces us to recognize how self-evidently destructive and unacceptable our tendencies and patterns are by showing us, through a glass dimly, a faint vision of God’s good design for us.
That was a lot of info, but the short version is that the Law doesn’t replace God’s promises to us, it “ushers us into them.” God’s Law is a “Guardian.” And as our “guardian,” it carries us safely to the foot of the cross.
But Paul also tells us in verse 25, that we are “no longer under [that] guardian,” we are no longer “under” the Law, because we are all now sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the point of verses 16 through 18, we “inherit” the promises of God through Jesus. We become sons and daughters of God through Jesus. God gave us the Law to serve as a “guardian” until Christ came, and now Christ has come, and we are no longer under that guardian – because God has been faithful to his promises to us in Jesus Christ. Because Christ is the salvation that was promised in the Old Testament.
Christ is what saved Abraham, Christ is what saved Moses, and David, and Christ is what saved Ruth and Naomi, and Elijah, and Jeremiah, and he is your salvation – if, as Paul spells out, you recognize your brokenness as you fall short of God’s good Law and you throw yourself on his mercy in faith.
Because when you throw yourself on Christ’s mercy in faith, verse 27, you are “baptized into Christ,” and when you are baptized into Christ, Paul says you “put on Christ like a garment.” And when you put on Christ like a garment, you aren’t just you. When you “put on” Christ, God treats you like you’re the faithful Son that Jesus was; He deals with you like you’re the faithful “Law-keeper” that Jesus was.
If you had a killer Sunday School teacher growing up, you probably heard that when you’re “justified” by Jesus, it’s “just as if you’d never sinned,” in God’s eyes, and that’s true, but to be even more specific: It’s not just that you’re treated “just as if you’d never sinned”; when you “put on Christ,” God treats you “just as though you’d always obeyed.” He treats you just as though you’d always lived in perfect obedience to his good design, from your first breath to your last. When you “put on Jesus,” God deals with you like the 15th Psalm is about you: It says,
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred
Who may live on your holy mountain?
one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
Like Abraham, God “credits you” with the righteousness of Jesus, and you inherit all the promises of God along with him. God has been and will be faithful to his promises to you in Jesus Christ. No matter how you’ve been let down in the past and will be let down in the future by the people who are supposed to love and protect you, God will be faithful to his promises to you in Jesus Christ, and his promises are staggering. He will not abandon you. He will make you “dwell in his sacred tent.” You will “live on God’s holy mountain.” Your “walk will be blameless.” God will make you “righteous,” and truthful, and generous, and trustworthy. You will be everything God has promised to make you in Jesus Christ.
So as we worship the Lord through song in a moment, I will be standing at the altar. If you would like to talk through what it would mean to put your faith in Jesus Christ, to become sons or daughters of the God we’ve been lifting up this morning, I’ll be available to talk, or pray, or listen.