Why Then the Law? Part 2
Last week I mentioned that this is the half-way point in the letter that Paul wrote to the Galatians and that this is also the apex of Paul’s argument against those who were trying to undo Paul’s message of the Gospel.
This is such an important section of the letter because there was so much confusion about the topic of the Mosiac Law particularly because Paul had considered the Gentile Christians the people of God right along with the Jewish Christians. And one thing led to another for the zealous Jewish Christians who believed that the Gentile Christians could BECOME a part of the real people of God if they did the things that identified the Jews as the people of the God. Be circumcised, eat kosher, observe the Sabbath.
Paul’s point all along has been that being made right with God (justification) could not come through relying on the law, but it came because God promised it would come through Abraham’s offspring who is Jesus Christ. And if the Gentile Christians gave in to the Judaizers, they would be nullifying God’s own covenant, making God a liar.
So, the Jews demanded to know; Paul, if a right standing with God comes because of God’s promise (by grace), then why did God give the law anyways?
So Paul dissected the ins and outs of the Mosiac Law. He gave them the purpose, the scope, how it was transmitted, and how it functioned. I think the analogy is helpful for us so I’ll just refresh us on a medical analogy and then we will look at the second function of the law.
The Jews were called to be the carriers of the blessing that was promised to the offspring of Abraham. But even though they were supposed to be the carriers of the medicine that the world desperately needed (Jesus), the Jews themselves had the same disease, they were in need of the same medicine. So God added the law to function as a scanner that would reveal to the Jews that they were infected with the same disease as everyone else in the world. And that through this LAW scan they would recognize their need for a Healer, a Redeemer. So God temporarily quarantined the Jews (apart from the Gentiles) until Christ came.
But as we learned last week, it was even worse than that. The Law negatively functioned as a sort of prison, keeping not only the Jews, and not even only Jew and Gentile, but the law imprisoned everything under sin. And God did this for a reason. We wonder why bad things happen. And it’s easy to wonder that and it’s easy to even give a vague response to children, or unbelieving people because we don’t want to make God look bad. But make no doubt about it, bad stuff happens in the world because the world is in a prison—the negative effects are everywhere. Anywhere you don’t see those negative effects is only because God is merciful.
So the law functioned as a prison and the law functioned in another although similar way.
What is the second function of the law?
What is the second function of the law?
So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Other translations use the words “tutor”, or Young’s Literal Translation says, “child-conductor.” And in Paul’s day most families had a live-in au-pair or maybe what we call today a nanny, although they weren’t only a babysitter, but they were brought in to the home (many times as slaves) to ensure that the children kept in line.
When a child is small it can seem as if all you ever do is say, “Don’t do that. Stop that. No-no. Don’t go there. Don’t say that.” So the law was like that constant nagging. Yet, all of that nagging (as we parents know) is necessary to bring the child to an understanding of their own need for maturity. Until you can begin to make decisions that reveal you know that touching the blazing hot pan of cookies is going to hurt, I’m going to stand over you and make sure that you don’t touch the cookie pan.
And his point in using this metaphor is to show the Jews how God intended the law to function as a nanny who looked after them during the time of their childhood which was from the time of the law until the time Messiah came. Just as parents don’t intend for their children to always need the nanny, God did not intend for the Jews to always need the law as a way to keep them in line.
So, if you can recall two weeks ago how we talked about the different scenes in the grand story the “era of the law” happens during the third scene (Abraham and the Covenant People Israel). It runs from the time that God gives the law in Exodus all the way until Christ came. When Christ came he brought the age of faith. This doesn’t mean that salvation by ever by works of the law, though. We know this because Abraham was justified by faith as were many others (.) What that means is that the entrance of the Messiah brought on a swelling movement where you have not only Jews giving up all to follow Christ, but you even had Gentiles that were leaving all that they knew to follow Jesus.
And this is the age we live in. It’s astonishing that today there are gathered millions of Christians all over the world that have given up allegiance to all other people and things to follow a Jewish man that was killed by a Roman Empire over 2,000 years ago. How is this possible? Because the Holy Spirit of God awakens the seed of faith in our hearts (that’s what theologians call regeneration) and that seed of faith grows and swells in the heart of totally sinful and undeserving people to believe that Jesus really is the Son of God and that what He said in antiquity is actually happening in our midst today. That’s what Jesus brought with him.
The law was intended to be a type of guardian until Christ came. Again this deals with the temporal nature of the law, but from a theological perspective Paul’s not just dealing with a date on the calendar. You see, with Christ (Messiah) came NOT only the Healing that mankind needed to rescue the soul from sin’s bondage, with Christ came a new age; the age of the reign of Christ. And while the reign of Christ is certainly not in full bloom, it has nonetheless begun with His own bodily resurrection.
So what Paul is saying through this verse is that the function of the law was to be a nagging and condemning nanny until the Messiah came. So that when the Messiah came, he would bring a swelling movement of trust in himself.
And I’ll be brief in this, but you know the feeling. If you’ve ever been under Bible teaching that is stifling and nagging and condemning, and then you hear Bible teaching that is focused on the need for faith that is motivated by mercy and grace, all of the sudden it is literally freeing. It’s almost as if at first you’re waiting for the teacher to say… “Gotcha!” It’s almost too good to be true.
The Second Function of the Law was to be a Guardian Until Christ Came
The Second Function of the Law was to be a Guardian Until Christ Came
A guardian, nanny, tutor, even parent has the goal in mind that one day and gradually they would instruct themselves out of a job. Their job was to instruct unto maturity. The law’s job was to instruct until maturity. You will notice that Paul refers to this maturity in two ways; he says the coming of Christ as a way of describing maturity, and he says, the coming of faith to describe maturity. So what is maturity? The maturity Paul speaks of is Christ himself. He is the true Israelite. There was only one mature Israelite, and that was Jesus Christ.
Yes, I am using the past tense, “was to be” and “until Christ came” because that is how Paul speaks of the second function of the law. In fact, Paul goes a step further and he says,
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
You read that right. Jews are no longer under a guardian. Paul says, “we” because the Jews were the ones who were placed under the watch and supervision of the guardian. Because of the swelling movement of faith because of the arrival of Christ, the need for a nagging and condemning nanny is not necessary.
Why is the law functioning as guardian not necessary?
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
There is that beautiful phrase that is overlooked so often, “for in Christ Jesus” — Paul’s point: you don’t need to become a cultural Jew in order to be a part of the covenant family of God, for you are “In Christ Jesus” and He is the faithful Israelite that successfully fulfilled the vocation of the covenant by bringing the blessing of God’s love to the families of the earth and taking upon himself the curse that the families of the earth had accrued their our sin.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Paul now adds force to what he has just said by reminding them of their own entrance into the family:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
He does this further as he once again rehashes their own experience in baptism
The old entrance into the covenant family was through circumcision, the new entrance into the covenant family is faith that is publickly demonstrated through baptism. Unlike in today’s evangelical world where we almost discourage baptism, the NT world did not see a distinction between faith and baptism. Baptism is almost always optional today whereas in the NT the one never came without the other with the exception of the thief on the cross.
Is baptism important?
Today, we ask everyone to bow their head and close their eyes, and just slip up their hand if they want to accept Christ. God forbid that other people know that you want to admit your own sinfulness and your allegiance to Jesus. Today, you can sign your name on a card and be given full assurance of eternity with Christ. This is foreign to the NT.
In history and in many other countries around the world today, baptism still signifies that you have died to yourself, you’ve died to allegiance to all other religions or gods, and you are not ashamed to show others that you believe in the risen Messiah, Jesus Christ, who is our King!
What Paul is saying is that—that baptism represents your admission into the covenant family, there is no need for additional customs, or rituals, or ceremonies, because in Christ:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Your seat at the table of God is not based on your Jew-ness, your freeness, your maleness, or your moral-ness. Your seat at the table is based on the faithfulness of Jesus. Had He not been faithful to the mission the Father gave him, had he not been faithful to go to the cross, had he not been faithful, we would still be under the law, we would still be lost and hopeless.
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
What does it mean to “be Christ’s?”
To be Christ’s is to belong to Him. To belong to Him is to relinquish my desire for independence from God and in exchange we receive true freedom that is in Christ.
And if you belong to Christ, then no matter what race, gender, or status you have now, you are spiritually Abraham’s offspring and that means you are an heir according to the promise.
It’s interesting what we might think that means. What is it to be an heir? What is the inheritance? Well, we have to know what was promised to the Son. What did the Father promise to the Son that we are now co-heirs of?
We will answer that more fully next week, but does your mind immediately think of an ethereal, cloud-like existence? Glowing with white robes and perfectly shaped bodies? You might not realize that the inheritance that Paul speaks of is far better than that.
As we close. So, the question we’re led to ask as 21st century Christians, living in Sacramento, CA:
What is my relationship to the law?
What is my relationship to the law?
Do I have to follow the law or not? Is the law relevant at all to my life now? Is there a difference between which laws we should or shouldn’t follow?
Do I have to obey the law? Is really not the question that is going to unlock much for us this morning. But, what we did answer today is certainly that the law’s function of being a prison, and a condemning nanny is over. The law cannot give life, nor can the law condemn the Christian any longer. That would be like cutting a scene from the beginning of a movie and randomly pasting that scene at the end of the movie. It is an attempt not only to go back in time, it is to go back to a time that was absent of Christ.
Paul says that the Jews were under the guardian until Christ came because with Christ came the age of faith. How do those two contradict? The law’s condemning function is over and in exchange what we have is the age of faith:
Here’s how this plays out - The problem is deeper than outward behavior, so to use the law simply to point out bad behavior is to return to the function of the law that has ceased. Instead, we see what the Scripture’s say and instead of saying “That’s right and that’s wrong” we ask, “What are you believing?”
So what we need to discern is “How does the NT deal with the law?”
The law still functions like a scanner revealing man’s sinfulness and constant need for Christ
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Jesus illustrates how the law can function properly in the story of the rich young ruler. The young religious ruler came to Jesus with a question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” There is nothing that leads us to believe the young man was being sneaky or disingenuous. But Jesus doesn’t answer the man in the same way you or I would, but that’s for another time. Jesus responds to the young man’s question with a question—and we can discern from the response what the problem was. So, Jesus asks him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus presses in a little further and says, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother’.”
What can we take away from this interaction so far? Jesus has given him quite a bit to think about. For instance, does the man understand what he’s saying by calling Jesus good? Does the man even know what true goodness is?
And what about the fact that Jesus has said that “No one is good, except God alone”? Do you realize that this means that you also are not good? And then as a way of getting him to measure his life up against God’s character instead of what other people in town are like, he reminds him of the second table of the law. What Jesus intends the man to feel is the results of the scan. Are you going to come up healthy or sick? And the man responds with “All of these I have kept from my youth.” What does he mean? He’s not uneducated, he knows that what he is saying is that he hasn’t broken the commands to love his neighbor, which clearly reveals that this young man doesn’t recognize his need for Christ. He’s essentially saying, “I am good, because I have obeyed the law.”
So Jesus connects with the uppercut that puts the young man out cold: Jesus says, “Okay, one thing you still lack. (He doesn’t tell him what he lacks, by the way but we can read between the lines) Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Is Jesus advocating for “works of the law” for salvation? What Jesus is doing is using the law to scan his heart and with that scan reveal his condition. It is apparent from the prescription that his young man had made an idol of his wealth and any threat to that idol was going to be batted away, even if it meant the absence of what he came to ask for, eternal life.
What Jesus wants this man to see is that Jesus is good because Jesus is God. SO, instead of this man relying on his riches, he needed to rely on the Creator of the Universe who alone is worthy of our hearts and our lives.
2. The law still reminds us that it is God’s will for mankind to love God and neighbor
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
There are many passages in the NT that say similar things, but lets just look at this one for a moment. Paul is making the point that the sum total of God’s will for man is “love God and love neighbor.” That doesn’t change. The Ten Commandments expand on those two laws - five towards our relationship to God and five toward our relationship with our fellow man.
So, how can the law be used to remind us of this? Well, again Jesus does it so well when he refutes the religious leader (in ) that asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him a similar question, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The man said, Love God and Love your Neighbor. Jesus said, “You’re right, do this, and you’ll live.” And the man retorted, “Well, who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responded with the well-known story of the good Samaritan. What was his point? Jesus used the beauty of the law to show people that God’s will has always been for us to love our neighbor as ourself.
See the problem with most of us is that we don’t understand how the law still functions. We only know how to use the law to condemn ourselves and each other. Let me illustrate:
Tim Brown is one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game. In his book, “The Making of a Man” he talks about his struggle with immorality. He struggled with the temptation until one day, the Gospel took root in his heart and he decided that he wasn’t going to give in to the temptation any longer. Not too long after a women stopped him in his hotel, soliciting herself, but instead of giving in to the temptation Tim Brown kindly replied to the young lady, “I can’t, I’m spoken for.” When the women heard this she was immediately embarrassed and said, “I didn’t know you were engaged.” Tim responded by saying, “Oh, no. I don’t have a girlfriend, I belong to Jesus.”
What was behind that statement was the law, “Do not commit adultery.” But what Tim saw in that command was way beyond, “Thou Shalt Not Have Sex with anyone but your wife.” What Tim saw and what we who live in the age of faith can see is that sex is not a dirty word, it is not something that condemns and brings shame. God created sex and he created it to be enjoyed inside of the marriage covenant. Tim was loving his neighbor by not engaging in sexual intercourse with that women because it not only affects his view of her, but it affects her view of herself. People who struggle with sexual sin (whether virtual or actual) we must be confronted with the law not to stand condemned, but to remember that vocationally we are to love our neighbor as ourself.
So we as Christians and families and as a church need to think through how the law can actually be used rightly as we seek to live in freedom without abandoning the good purposes of the law.
Search and 5 and discuss the different laws Paul speaks about. Which functions of the law does he use?
Ladies and gentlemen, I quote from the apostle in again:
So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Let us reflect on what is good and right and holy as we come to the table this morning. But instead of being condemned by the law, may we rejoice in the good purposes of the Scriptures. May we be brought near to the holiness and perfections of Jesus and may we be reminded that because of what Jesus has done for us, we can live our lives empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God and love our neighbor.
Gospel Fellowship Discussion Questions:
Gospel Fellowship Discussion Questions: