21Is the law then contrary to the promise of God? May it never be! For if the law was given that was able to give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22But the scriptures imprisoned everything under sin, in order that the promise by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ would be given to those who believe. 23Now before the coming of faith, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So the law was our guardian until the coming of Christ, so that we would be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the guardian. 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you are of Christ, you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. 4 1I say as long as the heir is under age, he is no different than a slave, though he is lord of all, 2but he is under guardians and trustees until the time set by the father. 3In the same way we also, while we were under age, we were enslaved under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to set free those under the law, in order that we might receive adoption as sons. 6Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a sons; if a son, then an heir also through God.
Now we approach the positive power of Paul’s argument; he has heretofore exposited the negative results of dependence on the written code of the Law for righteousness. A couple of pericopes back, he referenced Habakkuk 2.4, in which the people of God were promised that the “righteous will live by faith,” and we recall from translation of that passage in a previous devotional that many scholars see the Hebrew word in question as “faithfulness,” rather than just “faith.” When Paul employs the phrase ἡ επαγγελια ἐκ πιστεως Ἱησου Χριστος in verse 22, I have translated it “the promise based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” as do many expositors. It was not the Galatians’ own faithfulness that resulted in this promise of God—but the faithfulness of Christ. And therefore it is not by faith one’s ability to “obey” that one is justified, but faith in Christ, Whose very faithfulness secured that promise. There are essentially two strands in Jewish thought in the Old Testament: the law, which points to our sin, and YHWH’s expectation of a response by faith. One draws us down, the other lifts us up. As Schreiner points out, we cannot by rules and laws change our nature or produce life. Ancient church father Fulgentius reminds us that law without grace can expose disease—but cannot heal. Instead, the Law acted as a sort of teacher, since God is the Master Teacher Who is always teaching. The word used in verse 24 is παιδαγωγος, from which we get our English word “pedagogue.” The study of pedagogy is the study of teaching. The definition of the Greek word is actually “one who provides instruction for informed and responsible living.” The Law, then, was simply teaching mankind about the holiness of God, and continually pointing to the fact that man was incapable of that holiness. Theodoret reminds us that “the law prepared us for faith,” and John Chrysostom rightly affirms that there is no further use for the guardian/teacher once the inheritance has been granted. After all, as Paul points out in verse 4.1, we are all born enslaved to sin. That “teacher” showed the Galatians the bad news about themselves, and reminded them of their enslavement to sin. But the faithfulness of Christ had secured the promise of God to Abraham for them: they were now reckoned not as children being brought up by tutors, but full heirs of God’s promise. The Galatians are thus reminded that God’s purpose in redemption has always been to bring his people to a full realization of their personal relationship with him as sons and to a full possession of their promised inheritance. Thus, reverting to the law’s customs would be as absurd as the grown man moving back in with his pedagogue. The believing Galatian is no longer enslaved to the elemental forces (στοιχεια) of the world, but is now adopted as a son of the living God. And one consequence of this reconciliation with God is a reconciliation with each other; in 3.26-29, Paul points out that the Galatians exist in new relationships because of Christ’s faithfulness. There is no longer to be any distinction in social standing or status between Jew and Greek, slave or free, or male or female. Despite the bigotry and racism of the surrounding pagan culture, the people of Christ are to exist in the Church as brothers and sisters, adopted by God. Thus we see that the need to divide and subjugate is a function of faithlessness, not faithfulness.
This is powerful stuff. God originally gave the Law to show man his sin—and God’s own unapproachability. The Law reminds us that God is a holy God, and we are a sinful people. Regardless of our efforts at obedience, we are still fallen and depraved. Think of the Pharisees and their strict adherence to the Law: they knew the written code better than anyone, had “built a fence around it” to keep others from transgressing it—and they had become more odious in Christ’s eyes than the pagan Gentiles who begged for His mercy. It’s not that the Law is evil—it was given by God, after all. Rather, it’s that the Law, now that it is fulfilled, is no longer necessary. The customs, feasts, and codes are babysitters that guarded our humility and pointed us to the true Father, but now that the Father has sent the Son the Law is nothing. Keeping facets of the Law for religious purposes now is just as absurd as a grown man moving back in with his tutor. For this reason, it is crucial that we understand that our obedience doesn’t move the needle with God. Rather, God moves the needle….and our response to Him in obedience is even a gift from Him. We are responsible for ZERO percent of our righteousness. Every bit of it is granted by Him.
What a relief to know that I’m not responsible for my eternal standing with God! Truth be told, there wouldn’t be a day go by in which I didn’t screw that up somehow. I still run into Christians who believe that I’m not as “Spirit-filled” as they are because I don’t adhere to their code of conduct, but Paul’s teaching here challenges this view. We can talk about the process of sanctification AFTER our justification, and how it takes place in the community of faith and is a joint project in which we cooperate with the work of the Spirit to grow us. But that is a far cry from “Christians don’t do this,” or “Christians don’t say that,” or “Christians don’t watch this” or “Christians don’t drink that.” Faith traditions that teach this sort of thing—primarily centered in Puritan-evangelical traditions—have need to go back and re-read Galatians, because they are the modern Judaizers. If we truly believe that the Spirit is fully God, then why don’t we trust the Spirit to grow others around us? Why do we feel that these folks just won’t grow without our input, our lists of prohibitions and codes of conduct?
Let’s dial back our legalism today. Love one another, spur one another toward deeper relation with God Almighty through the Person of His Son Jesus Christ. And live in the freedom that Christ has purchased for you—the true righteousness that is based on HIS faithfulness, not yours.