Galatians 3:23 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. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Paul paints a beautiful picture here of a church that is united, that is one in Christ. But unfortunately, it is a picture the church has struggled to live out throughout its history. For over 2,000 years, since its very birth, the church of Jesus Christ has been polluted by sinful division. It has been polluted by a lack of unity that hampers the mission of the church. We may sing "they'll know we are Christians by our love," but at times love is not what defines the inner community of the church. Instead there is division.
Sometimes the church's division can be very subtle. There's not a big blow-up, but instead division just subtly works its way into our hearts. Someone says something, or does something, that we don't like, that we don't agree with. And that sows division in our hearts, a lack of love.
In our culture we are bombarded by messages that make life all about us, all about self – what I want, what I believe I need, what I believe I deserve. But that kind of thinking is counter to true, Christ-like relationships of love and sacrifice. The church will never be who we're meant to be if we have that kind of self-focused, self-centered mindset.
Division can be subtle, but it can also be not so subtle. In Paul’s day, there was a great division between Jews and Gentiles in the church. The division was so great that even the apostle Peter was guilty in this matter. As we see in chapter 2 of Galatians, one minute, he’s eating with the Gentiles, all is well, they’re enjoying a meal as brothers and sisters in Christ. But the next minute some Jews come along. Jews who seemingly had very strong opinions about associating with Gentiles. And Peter pulls away from the Gentiles. He pulls away and sides with the Jews who looked down on their Gentile brothers.
This took place in the very early days of the church's life, but things haven't gotten that much better in 2,000 years. I’m sure we have all heard stories, or been involved in stories, of churches with very public divisions. Sadly this is far too common, even today.
Our church, by God’s grace, is a very loving church. I’ve said, and I’ve heard many other people say, that this is the most loving church we have ever been a part of. That is a wonderful thing. It’s a true gift from God. But one potential danger for us, one danger we need to be on guard against, is that we need to be sure our love, and our unity, is not based on the wrong things.
For example, there are a lot of homeschoolers in this church. There are a lot of people with similar values in schooling and parenting. There are a lot of political conservatives in this church. And there's nothing wrong with these things. It's just who we are right now, by and large. But if these secondary matters are the things that are really uniting us, then what happens if these things change? What happens if there's a shift, and some of us start thinking differently about secondary issues? Or new people come in who think differently about these things, yet they love the Lord with all their heart? What then? Will we love each other? Will we be united?
Before any secondary commonalities come into play, we are first and foremost a church. That's who we are. And what does it mean to be a church? It means we are sinners who have been saved by grace, through faith in Jesus. And now, in Jesus, we are one. In Christ, we are one.
If any kind of secondary difference becomes a hindrance to our loving each other well, or becomes a hindrance to loving other people whom God sends our way, then we must return to this one fundamental, and preeminent bond we have: that we are one in Christ Jesus.
In our passage today, Paul aims to promote unity among the Galatian people. He wants them to see how, in Christ, the most diverse, most different group of people imaginable can be united together as one. In verse 28 he testifies that the church of Jesus Christ is full of people with different nationalities and ethnicities, different social and economic statuses, different genders, and yet despite any differences we may have, we are all one in Christ. That is where this passage ends. But in order to get to verse 28, Paul first builds an argument to support this claim.
And the argument, if I can paraphrase it, goes something like this:
- All people are sinners - we'll see that through what Paul says about the Law.
- All sinners are invited into salvation by faith - we'll see that through what Paul says about Christ.
In this text, there are roles ascribed to the Law, and roles ascribed to Jesus Christ. We see the Law described as being a prison, and a guardian of all. While Jesus is described as being justifier, and uniter of all who have faith in Him.
The roles there are important, but what's also important is the scope of those roles. There is a universality to both the Law’s roles and the Lord’s. The Law functioning as prison and guardian is true for all people. There are no exceptions. And Christ functioning as justifier and uniter is true for all people who will put their faith in Him – again, with no exceptions.
Another way you could put this is that the Law doesn't discriminate in condemning all people as sinners, and Jesus doesn't discriminate in inviting all sinners into salvation through faith in Him. Which means, that for us, there is no room to discriminate in our love for others, in our love for fellow sinners.
Galatians 3:23 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
Before studying this passage in preparation for today, when I would think of the Law, I never really thought of it as being a prison. This idea of being held captive under the law, imprisoned by the law, was confusing to me. Until recently, I never took the time to dig in, study, and understand what Paul was saying here. But one of the joys of sermon prep is that I can take that extra time. And the more that I studied, and researched, and considered this analogy of the Law as a prison, the more it seemed so perfectly fitting.
The Law was given because of sin. We saw this the last time we were in Galatians together – that the Law exists because sin exists. If there were no sin, there would be no need for the Law. Well think about prison. Prison also exists because sin exists. If there were no sin, there would be no need to imprison people. But as it stands, in a sinful world, when someone commits a serious crime, and they're convicted of that crime, most of the time they go to prison. Why is that?
Prison serves as a punishment for their crime, but prison also serves to keep them from committing that crime again. Prison is a form of restraint for sin. It is a strong deterrent to keep people from sinning, or at least, to keep people from particular sins, from crimes. If there was no threat of punishment for sin, such as prison, then sin would run far more rampant than it does today. Just like if there was no Law of God, no Law that threatened punishment, condemnation, then throughout history, sin would have been even more prevalent in the world than it already was.
Now, remember the context that Paul’s writing in. He’s writing to people who had trusted in Christ, but were now beginning to rely on works of the law for their salvation, for their justification. He writes to people who were puffing themselves up by claiming that circumcision made them more righteous. And thus they were looking down on others who didn’t follow them in that. And what does Paul communicate to them? He tells them that the Law, obedience to the Law, cannot produce true righteousness. He’s said that many other places in this letter, but he says it here with this analogy of the Law as a prison.
Let me ask you an easy question here: does being in prison make a murderer righteous? No, of course not. It doesn't have the power to do that. But prison does – in most cases at least – keep a murderer from murdering again. It does serve as a restraint against sin in that way.
Paul is saying that for all of us – whether Jew or Gentile, no matter our social standing, all of us – before Christ, were held captive under the law, imprisoned by it. Meaning, the Law served as a restraint against sin for us. But it in no way could ever justify us.
This is how Martin Luther explains it: “[A prisoner, once he is chained], he does not hate his theft and murder, but he hates the prison; if he could escape, he would rob and kill as he did before. The force of the law, and the righteousness that comes from the law, is like that. It compels lawbreakers to be outwardly good when it threatens them with death or any other punishment. We obey the law for fear of punishment—unwillingly and with great indignation. But what sort of righteousness is that?”
We can take such pride in our own obedience, righteousness, good works. But if we’re honest, how many of those good works are simply done out of self-preservation? Self-protection? Self-love? How often are our righteous deeds motivated by fear of some sort of punishment rather than being motivated by love? Love of God, love of others? We cannot boast in the Law. The Law is not evidence of our righteousness, but instead, it is a prison that keeps us from sinning the way we want to.
This leads to the second role that the Law fills. According to this passage, the Law is a prison that restrains our sin, and it is also a guardian.
Galatians 3:24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came
The NASB interprets this verse: “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ.” The picture here is of the Law keeping watch over us until a certain time. Teaching us, to make us better educated. The Law teaches us about God, and about ourselves. We learn from the Law that God is perfect, and that we are utterly sinful. In teaching us these things, the Law points us to our need for Christ. It points us away from itself, and on to Jesus. It’s meant to do this for everyone.
Feelings of guilt over sin, or other negative consequences that spring forth from sin, those things are intended to lead us to Christ, to lead us to the cross, to bring us, bankrupt and broken, to the feet of Jesus, the one who saves all who call on Him.
The Law shows us something we all have in common, which is that we are all desperately wicked sinners. We are one in our sin. That is a fundamental common bond that all of humanity has. But we can have another common bond. Despite being sinners, we can be one in Christ. Because while the law is a prison and guardian of all, Jesus Christ is the justifier and uniter of all whose faith is in Him.
Galatians 3:24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Once we were all so bent on destruction, so bent on doing evil, that we needed the Law to keep us captive so that we would not destroy ourselves or others. But now we are sons of God. All of us who have faith in Jesus.
Contrary to the beliefs of the Jews in Paul's day, there’s no such thing as first-class Christians, second-class Christians, and so on. There are no such divisions in God's family. There's no one who is more or less worthy of salvation. We are all sons of God.
This is the work of Jesus. He justifies sinners, and He unites us as one. Not because of anything in us, but only because of His free, indiscriminate grace.
Jesus' love for sinners is an example for us to follow today.
I'm excited that Lyndon will be leading us through a study of Matthew together, because we'll get to see week in and week out Jesus' love for sinners. We'll get to see how, when He was on earth, Jesus pursued people who in no way deserved His pursuit. He still does that today. In His time on earth, Jesus dove head-first into the messy lives of messy sinners. He did this, both with His closest followers, His closest friends, and with those who were outside of that inner circle.
For His twelve disciples, He chose people like Judas Iscariot. He made Judas His friend. The one who would betray Him. He chose Matthew, the despised tax collector. And He chose Simon Peter, the person who, at one point, Jesus refers to as Satan. And this same man later denies Jesus three times, right after promising that he would ever do that! And right when Jesus needed him most. Jesus made these people His friends.
Our Lord chose to serve alongside a very mixed crowd. The twelve disciples were an interesting bunch, to say the least. But then you look at the people outside that group, the larger group of people Jesus served and interacted with, they were an even more interesting bunch!
Matthew 9:10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
What was there in common between the various people Jesus spent time with? Those that He did outreach with, and those He did outreach for? There are two things: first, they were all sinners. There was not a non-sinner among them. The second uniting factor here, is Jesus Himself. What connected these various people, of various backgrounds and ways of living, was Jesus. He is the common denominator, He is the uniting force here. He brings together a ragtag bunch of sinners and calls them His own, calls them His people – His brothers and His sisters. And even those who didn't join the family of God, those who rejected God, we see that Jesus still serves them in love, He reaches out, He engages with them. And we shouldn't miss this. We shouldn't miss it, because we're called to imitate Him.
All people are sinners, but all sinners are invited into salvation by faith. Therefore, we are to love and serve all people as Jesus has.
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ 28 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. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
We are one in Christ. Every Christian has put on Christ. So when we look at each other, we don't first see male or female, or any other secondary identifier – homeschooled, public schooled, conservative, liberal, etc. We don't even first see people according to the things they've done, or haven't done. Even if those things have been hurtful to us personally, or hurtful to others we know and love. When we look at our brothers and sisters, we see Christ. We see Christ, because all of us are first and foremost identified as being in Christ.
That changes the way we view and treat one another. But that's not all it changes. If we have put on Christ, if we fundamentally identify as being in Christ, then it will also change the way we view and treat people outside the church. Because we know how Jesus treated them. I read from Matthew 9. Jesus said it is not the well who need a doctor, but the sick. What kind of people do we gravitate towards?
Don't we all have a tendency to pursue relationships with people who are easy to get along with? Who are like-minded? Who won't make things uncomfortable for us? Let me say, it's not wrong to pursue these kinds of relationships. They can be gifts of God to us. But these are not the only kind of relationships we should be pursuing.
Every person in this world was made in the very image and likeness of God. No matter how different from you or me a person might seem, they were fearfully and wonderfully made in God's image. And they're loved by Him.
Why do we treat people who resemble our image better than we treat people made in the image of God? That is a question that's so convicting to me. Why do I treat people who resemble my image, who are like me, better than I treat people made in the image and likeness of God?
If we are to put on Christ, to identify with Christ, then won't that mean living as Jesus did? Spending time with those who aren't like us, and loving them. Opening our homes to those who aren't like us. Giving a listening ear, and a compassionate heart to those who are hurting. Just like our Savior does with us.
We're going to run into difficulties. If we resolve to love like Christ does, if we resolve to pursue the kind of people Christ pursued, then we're going to have people sin against us – people inside the church, and people outside the church will sin against us. That's just what happens when you're dealing with sinners. Sinners sin. We sin. But the fact that everyone we encounter is a sinner, should not cause us to shy away.
Why do I say that? Because we, like Paul, are chief of sinners, and our Savior does not shy away from us. On the contrary, when we were at our worst Jesus came to us. He died in our place. He washed us clean. We have been justified by the Judge of all, and united in His great, and glorious name.
So will we be Jesus people? Or will we get so tripped up by our differences – differences with each other, differences with people in the world – so tripped up by our differences that we miss out on the joy of being one? Miss out on the joy of working as one to obey the Great Commission our Lord has given us?
Jesus Christ is one with us, and we are one, in Him.