Galatians 3:23-29 But no one named Jesus.
I have made an amazing discovery. I have an undergraduate degree in biblical studies, a Master of Divinity, and a Doctor of Ministry, and I have found that everyone seems to be an expert in theology. They are experts in their theology and its guardian, Don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts mindset. I agree with them in this, everyone has the right as a spiritually free, morally free, and cognitive free being. Each person has the right to determine what they believe be it truth or error.
The Scriptures are the foundation for this sermon and these verses carry a lot of theology. A lot of theology is interpreted in different ways. Believing I have God’s guidance I will try to share the insights and directions I perceive.
I wish to start with the statement, “before faith came.” Obviously, to Paul, faith is more than simply believing. Paul is making a theological statement to define faith as something tied to an event. I believe Paul is defining faith as Jesus. Paul personifies faith with the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of God the Son. Jesus was the coming faith that would be revealed.
In this passage, there were some words that immediately caught my attention, captive, imprisoned, law and guardian. I believe these words give us a spiritual platform in which our lives can be radically changed. The first two words are words of oppression of control and limitation. Paul calls us captive and imprisoned. What are some of the ways we are imprisoned? We are imprisoned in time. We are imprisoned by mortality, finiteness, ignorance, and arrogance. We are often imprisoned by our own delusions and deceptions.
Since we are captives and imprisoned, Paul says there is a guardian (some translations have disciplinarian, which I believe is a better translation in this case). It is logical that a captive, an imprisoned person would have someone to watch them, guard them. The word guardian is a translation of the word παιδαγωγὸς. We get our word pedagogy as the function or work of a teacher as a noun and, teaching as a verb. The teacher is to be the Law.
The word law is often associated with courts, police, government that seek to maintain the rules, and laws, to have order in society. In our time, outside of religion, law is a social control device. Paul viewed the law much differently. To Paul, the Law was to be a gift that was more in line with the spirit than the letter. The chosen people had made the mistake of putting emphasis on their interpretation of the letter of the law. This is a grave spiritual mistake. The evil one knows the letter of the law and will use it in any way possible to pervert the purpose of God.
The purpose of the Law given to Moses by the Lord was to define parameters of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The Law teaches us what these parameters are. The Law tells us this is the way the world has been created by God and what God expects from us in God’s creation.
The Law sets the standards. The Law is a guardian because it guards the standards by which we are judged. We are accountable for our behavior. The Law defines what that behavior should and should not be. However, when the spirit of the law is put behind the interpretation of the letter, a confining religion of legalism draws smaller and smaller circles of tolerance in interpretation. This Law cannot save only condemn. Faith takes the place of the guardian, the Law. Jesus takes the place of the Law, not to end the law but to restore it to its purpose and to give us a new perspective on God’s will. Jesus said, “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.” (Matt. 5:17 ESV)
The Law leaves every human being without excuse. Jesus gives each of us the opportunity not to need an excuse. Yes, we human beings violate God’s law, each and every one of us. However, the law belongs (as we do) to God. The offense is against God. Therefore, God makes the final determination as to our state, condemned or forgiven. It is God’s right to provide for our forgiveness. God does so through love, love given in God’s Son, Jesus. Through Jesus, we no longer must worry about the consequence of failing and instead seek the joy of obeying. This puts the Law in a completely different category, from guardian to guide. Our status changes from offender to the adoptee. We become sons of God through faith in Jesus.
Paul goes on to tell us through Jesus we then are baptized, and immersed, into Christ and thus we can “put on Christ.”
Baptized into Christ. This is the work of God. We use water as a symbol of the reality that surrounds us and offers us a new way to live, die, and ascend to our purpose, living eternally with God, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Why does Paul say that we, “Put on Christ?” Verse 27 says that we have put, clothed with, or put on Christ like a garment. How in the world does that happen? We cannot literally put Jesus on like we would a suit of clothes. The image created of putting on clothing has to do with purposefulness. People do not get dressed by accident. Putting on clothing has to do with thoughtfulness. Most people think about what they are going to wear (notice I said most). Putting on clothing covers us, can protect us, and helps identify us. When we are seeking to appear as Jesus we do not look like the enemy. In baptism, we are buried as our own self and raised to walk as a new self. The Scripture says to us, “And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24 ESV) and “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col. 3:10 ESV). Faith is putting on Christ.
And then there is verse 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.” This is what I hear this verse saying, “Our gender, our race, our social status does not matter in what we are to become. What we are to become is to be transformed into a unity in Christ.”
What a noble goal. What a wonderful desire. But do we really believe it? Do we want to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus? Take so time with that question.
In a phone survey, self-identified born-again Christians from all over the country were asked the question who do you most admire? Who would you like to be like? Some said I would like to be like my dad. Others said they would like to be like their mother or some other relative. Many mentioned sports figures, or people in the entertainment industry. There were a lot of different answers.
The last verse we focus on says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” If we only could really grasp what that promise means, if we could just see where this promise would take us perhaps we might be a bit more active and focused on our faith.