Galatians 3:23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. 24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. NLT
“Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law…until the way of faith was revealed.” Protective custody comes with a handy list of rules that are both restraint and relief. Sometimes it’s a relief to have that list to check your spiritual position and at other times those rules only feel like a prison sentence.
The way of faith has been revealed. Restraint served it’s purpose and obeying rules did provide some relief and comfort, but… We’ve been released! Released from that protective custody for a greater purpose: to be “united with Christ,” and each other!
Christ alone is our promise of blessing and redemption from a life sentence “under guard” to this sentence of life: “I have been crucified with Christ.a”
John15:25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ [ESV]
The reference to “is written in their Law” without a footnoted citation left me searching commentaries to unravel the obscurity of that phrase. Here are some notes I made searching for clarity that became my food for thought.
• Jesus as command-giver vs mankind as command-keepers
• fulfilling the law through merit or mercy
• divine destiny
• finally this quote from an obscure commentary by Philip Schaff a “The very law of which the Jews boasted, and into which, from imagined reverence for it, they were continually searching,—in that very law they might see themselves. In such a connection of thought might it not he [Jesus] be called ‘their law’?”
√ The first note I checked off without question was, of course, the divine destiny of Jesus. That is a foundational tenet of our faith as Christians.
√ Then I went on to considering the difficulty of yielding to a command-giver when you’re a command-keeper living in a highly merit-based system. That is a foundational dilemma of human nature.
√ Finally the quote from Schaff reminded me of this foundational truth from Jesus himself in Matthew 5:17
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” [NLT]
√ Proof: ‘They hated [Jesus] without a cause.’
aPhilip Schaff (January 1, 1819 – October 20, 1893) a Swiss-born, German-educated Protestant theologian and a Church historian who spent most of his adult life teaching in America. He also served as president of the committee that translated the American Standard Version of the Bible, though he died before it was published in 1901
MSG 8-11 It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, lif, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I’ve been put in charge of by this great God.
This is probably the toughest “first” chapter so far for me. I struggle with the use of the law. I want to understand the law as a standard for correction that results in the victory of restoration not a cattle-prod of control but when push comes to shove that’s pretty hard to live out. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “hate the sin but love the sinner.” That’s the ideal. That’s easy to believe but that’s also where all the confusion about the use of the law comes into play.
I found this quote in a commentary: “The demands of the law exceed our ability, and the knowledge of our sin that comes from these demands leads us to repentance.” That quote revealed some truth to me about my use of the law. My limited ability to understand the use of the law is as big an issue for me as it is for that sinner. The reality is the sin the law reveals in someone else has an impact on me. My response to the law and that sinner makes their sin my issue. God has planned for the law to correct the sinner, but wait…there’s more. The revelation of their sin that’s meant to lead their sinful heart to repentance and the use of “that moral guidance and counsel needed” that “exceeds” my ability…is meant to change my heart too. The law is not “us versus them.” Repentance for the inability of my heart to empathize with the needs of another heart is the victory God desires from His law. Lord, work that victory out in me too please.
NLT [New Living Translation] Romans 7:9 At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, 10 and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. 11 Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. 12 But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.
I bet you’ve had the experience of speaking with a customer service agent at some point. Hopefully you weren’t speaking to me all those years ago when I was supposed to be a helpful assistant to a frustrated caller. The law is like a good customer service agent. That’s what came to my mind when I read this passage from Romans 7. There’s help available whose purpose is to supposed to solve a problem but a successful outcome depends on who you talk to.
My story is a perfect example of v11 “Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me.” I answered the phone, I obeyed the rules of the job, I was concise and I was accurate in what I said. The end result having done everything that was required of me was I hung up from that call proud I had so politely put that caller in his place. “So I discovered [and so did that poor caller] that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead.”
The law is a really good customer service agent. The right agent who gives concise and accurate help that’s all explained in the user manual [the Bible] can solve a lot of frustrating issues about operating a life in obedience to Christ.
Romans 2:13 Hearing the law does not make people right with God. It is those who obey the law who will be right with him. 14 (Those who are not Jews do not have the law, but when they freely do what the law commands, they are the law for themselves. This is true even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that in their hearts they know what is right and wrong, just as the law commands. And they show this by their consciences. Sometimes their thoughts tell them they did wrong, and sometimes their thoughts tell them they did right.)
It was only when I pasted these three verses into my digital journal that I noticed the close parenthesis at the end and realized the enclosed explanation was twice as long as the sentence it was clarifying. That simple fact seemed like a Biblical object lesson for me to think about.
Being right with God is more complicated than just knowing what the law is. Obeying the law isn’t a matter of separating the have’s from the have not’s at all. Instead, God makes a connection to what he’s written in the heart. “They [those who do not have the law] show that in their hearts they know what is right and wrong, just as the law commands.”
The object lesson: “Right with God” is the complicated relationship between being obedient to what the brain knows about the law and the obedience of the heart desiring to freely respond to it.