Reflections – Galatians 3:21-24

“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:21-24)

Have you ever despaired over a certain sin you committed, convinced it was too horrible for God to forgive? Christians shouldn’t go about life doubting God’s ability to forgive, be we certainly should always be contrite and repentant when we sin against God. The Christian life is a constant struggle between our identity in Christ and our sinful nature. Even on our best days, when we put forth every conscious effort to live as Christ lived, we still don’t reach the perfect standard that God has given us in the law. No matter how much we struggle, our sinful thoughts and desires are a part of us until we are taken home to Christ (Romans 7:18-25).

Paul, in his epistles, writes fervently and emphatically about the importance of justification by grace through faith. This is the central doctrine of Christianity, and it is where Christians place all of their hope. The certainty of our salvation does not depend on us. If it did, we certainly would not be able to justify ourselves before God. Rather, our hope of salvation rests on Christ and his saving work. God did this by placing the burden of sin and death on His son, Jesus Christ. As Paul tells Christians in 2 Corinthians 5:21 –

For our sake God made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

 

Christ died so that we would be released from our captivity to the law and sin. The law is not a means with which we can justify ourselves. The law’s true purpose is to point us to Christ, as said in Galatians 3:24 above. The ESV translation uses the word “guardian” to describe what the law does for us. The KJV translation uses the word “schoolmaster.” Combining the characteristics of both a guardian and a schoolmaster makes an accurate depiction of the original Greek word used, paidagōgos Strong’s Concordance describes a paidagōgos in this way:

“Among the Greeks and the Romans, [the term paidagōgos] was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.”

 

This word gives a very accurate portrayal of how the law works. All humans, because of their sinful nature, are under the strict supervision and oversight of the law. Before one is brought to faith, he is chained to the standards of the law and is condemned before God. In this way, the law shows us what we can never live up to. It shows us how we are not free from the law (and sin) unless Christ has freed us. The law gives us the picture of what Christ’s life and death fulfilled. When we sin, and in turn see how sinful our hearts truly are, the law drives us to repentance and draws our hearts to Christ’s crucifixion.

Ultimately, the gospel of Jesus gets the final word in our salvation. If we think we can justify ourselves through the law, then why did Christ die for us? Paul states this very plainly – “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:21)

When we compare our sinful selves to the perfect standards of the law, we don’t come even close to perfection. But Christ became perfection for us. His perfection has made us heirs to God’s kingdom, for which we wait humbly and faithfully.

Don’t Dull the Sword’s Edge

Whenever I hear of a new church that I don’t know much about, I usually look up their website to find out what they believe. Whether it’s non-denominational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or any part of the spectrum, the primary points of confession on their websites are almost always the same. Briefly, it usually goes like this:

•We believe in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created all things.
•We believe that Jesus Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, led a perfect life, died an atoning death, rose from the dead, sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead.
•We believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in each Christian, giving them faith, and allowing them to lead a godly life.
•We believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, being the sole authority of the Church.

The beliefs of each specific church usually starts to diverge after these primary points. Some of them believe that Christians having the ability to speak in tongues and prophesy. Some of them claim that their church is filled with miraculous healings and revivals. Some of them talk about the turning point when a Christian “makes a decision for Jesus.”

Even if you dig deeper in their official teachings, many churches tend to fill their public confessions with vague statements that have some wiggle room for interpretation. American churches tend to be afraid of commitment to any specific doctrine, because they want to be all-inclusive and facilitate everyone’s opinions. It is not necessarily a terrible thing when churches are vague or very general in their summary of beliefs. Sometimes it is necessary to be concise when giving a brief overview of what a church confesses. However, a vague and weak statement of confession, both when written or publicly proclaimed, is an indication that a church is avoiding that harsh realities of Scripture. A confession of beliefs that is void of any controversial teachings tends to be the most attractive. The ambiguity of doctrine and the preaching of “feel good gospel” is what makes non-denominational churches so attractive to many.

This lies in stark contrast to the reality of Scripture. The harsh truth that so many Christians fail to admit is that everyone is a sinner who is intrinsically opposed to what God has to say. Contrary to what members of the church growth movement have to say, unbelievers don’t resist the Church because it’s stale or old-fashioned or hypocritical. In reality, unbelievers resist the Church because they are enemies of God by nature. Even Christians, before they are brought to faith, were bound to sin and unbelief under the law. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 –

“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

 

We live in a world that makes every effort it can to resist the harsh truths of God’s Word. Popular music, hip pastors, and a softer message can’t make people a part of the Church. That power is reserved solely for God’s Word. The Word of God is the only thing that can renew a sinful heart and plant the seed of faith. Romans 10:17 reaffirms this truth – “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Word is the only means by which the Spirit works faith – and that Word must be taught and proclaimed in its entirety, including the truths that stand completely opposed to our society.

To be fair, some churches must do a better job of applying the gospel. The law cannot soothe a guilt-stricken heart. It only multiplies the guilt ten-fold. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can give the guilty conscience peace and reassurance. This doesn’t mean that the law has no place in our churches. The law must be proclaimed from our pulpits and our confessions so that it may fulfill its purpose – to kill the sinful nature in order that Christ may raise it again, blameless and holy in God’s sight. “We were once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and we died” (Romans 7:9).

There is no gospel without the law. If humanity is not dead in sin, then there is no reason for forgiveness. The law has to be upheld in its entirety – if not, the gospel has lost its meaning. And in proclaiming even the harshest convictions of the law, the gospel becomes that much more beautiful. If the world is convicted of more sins, including the ones that are held highly in society, then the grace of God abounds all the more for the forgiveness of these sins.

It’s disappointing when churches don’t understand this reality of Scripture. So many churches believe that by watering down the law they can draw in more people. This might even work at first. But if we don’t fully realize our sinfulness, how can we know the gospel? It’s simple – by preaching the fulness of the law, we can administer the fulness of the gospel. There is no sin that the gospel cannot overcome.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 2:4-6 (ESV)

Is the Old Testament Important?

(This is more or less the prompt on which I’m supposed to write an essay for theology class. Figuring I could kill two birds with one stone, I thought I’d share my answer to this question right here.)

The Old Testament ought to be the subject of careful study and meditation for Christians. It chronicles the acts of God towards the nation of Israel. It records an extremely detailed (sometimes monotonous) history of the Jewish people. It is unique in the fact that the historical accounts are recorded with meticulous accuracy. At first glance, much of the Old Testament seems irrelevant to modern Christians. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss its value and usefulness.

It’s true that the New Testament is the most important proclamation of the Gospel that God has given us. It clarifies the promises that God made in the Old Testament. It reveals to us the identity and actions of the Messiah. However, without the Old Testament, the New Testament would hardly have a foundation to build upon. So much of the New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old – it completes the entire narrative of God’s love towards all people.

The Old Testament gives us much of the needed information we need to understand the New. In it, God reveals the creation of the earth, His covenants with Abraham and Moses, the Messianic prophecies of the prophets, and how He brought His plan of salvation into action.

The book of Genesis reveals to us why we are sinful and naturally enemies of God. It tells us how the first man, Adam, brought sin into the world through his disobedience. This event is referenced by Paul many times throughout the New Testament. One such example –

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
Romans 5:12 (ESV)

The written account of the Fall of Man provides the reason we need a savior. In a sense, the first few chapters of Genesis set the narrative for the entire Bible. Not only do we see the origin of sin, we also see the very first promise of God’s plan of salvation:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

God gives the promise of the Messiah in the first book of the Bible. The rest of the Biblical narrative explains the means by which God accomplishes His plan. The rest of Genesis chronicles the covenants God made with our fathers in the faith. To Abraham, He promised that all nations would be blessed through his offspring, Jesus. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, which would become the name of His chosen nation. We see how this nation grows and develops. We see the times they obey and disobey God.

In Exodus, God reveals the Mosaic covenant, the laws through which He would bless Israel. The giving of the Law is very important to all Christians – it shows how sinful we are, and describes what Jesus has fulfilled for us with His perfect obedience to the Law.

In the books of the prophets, God speaks of sending a Messiah who will suffer for Israel and all people. It gives us a clearer picture of who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for us. These prophesies give us exceeding confidence that Jesus is the Messiah.

There is a whole wealth of information to be found in the Old Testament. It is a beautiful account of God’s love and faithfulness. For these reasons, God blesses us and works faith in our hearts as we read His words in the Old Testament. Ultimately, it points us forward to the work of Christ on the cross. As Jesus tells us –

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Matthew 5:17 (ESV)