Sunday School Lesson for June 22, 2003
Background Passage: Galatians 3:15-4:7
The Purpose of the Law (3:21-29)
Having argued so fervently for salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, Paul could have easily been misunderstood to be teaching that the Law of God was no longer valid for believers. In fact, it is quite likely that his theological opponents charged him with abandoning the Torah and discounting the regulations of the Law. Here in our lesson passage, however, Paul will show with unmistakable clarity that the doctrine of justification by faith “cannot possibly lead to antinomianism; it is instead the doorway to holy living” [Cole, 148].
First, Paul claimed that the Law of God was not “contrary” to the “promises” made to Abraham (v. 21). The apparent charge of his opponents, that his gospel was opposed to God’s earlier revelation, was met with the strongest of denials—“May it never be!” As stated earlier (v. 19), the Law’s purpose was to reveal the sinfulness of men and their desperate need for a Savior. It’s primary function, then, was to “bring to humanity a clearer knowledge of the character and demands of God which would, in its turn, bring a deeper consciousness of sin” [Cole, 150]. In fact, Paul made it clear that the Law could never “impart life.” A person would never be saved by adherence to God’s laws simply because no one could ever actually keep the Law. Contrary to the false teaching of the Judaizers, true “righteousness,” as we have seen, comes by faith not by works.
Secondly, Paul stated that the “Scripture has shut up all men under sin” (v. 22). The fact is, there are no righteous people, anywhere! The Judaizers, who believed they had earned God’s favor, were far from achieving the level of righteousness the Law demanded. Remember Paul’s argument in Romans 3:10-20. There he appealed to the Old Testament (primarily Psalms) to prove that there is no one who is righteous (3:10), there is no one who is truly seeking after God (3:12), and there is no one who really fears the Lord (3:18). All men everywhere are condemned before God as lawbreakers! This is the bad news of the gospel that prepares the way for the proclamation of the good news that salvation comes freely and graciously through Jesus Christ “to those who believe” (v. 22). Keep in mind that, according to Jesus Himself (Matt. 9:12-13), it is the ones who are ‘righteous’ (in their own estimation according to their own laws) who will not be saved. Those who refuse to see themselves as sinners before a holy God “have no claim on Christ; it was to save sinners that He came. Seen from this angle, even the condemnatory function of the law is all of grace” [Cole, 151].
Once more, Paul made the point that the Law was not sent by God as a mechanism for salvation. Rather, it kept all men “in custody” until “faith” should be “revealed.” That is, the law had a ministry of preparation. This is made even clearer in verse 24 where we learn that the Law is the “tutor” (a word meaning ‘escort’ or ‘custodian’) that directs us toward Christ “that we may be justified by faith.” We might better understand this specific function of the Law if we think about how it displays our complete inadequacy to stand before God. As sinners, we have no place in His holy presence (cf. Psalm 24:3-4). We deserve nothing from Him but judgment. Our very best works fall far short of His infinite glory. Yet, it was for such sinners that Christ came to die. However, before we are ready to receive His grace, we must first be thoroughly convinced that we are helpless and hopeless before Him. This is where the Law serves us. By exposing both the holiness of God and our utter sinfulness and moral depravity, the Law drives us to our knees in humble dependence upon God’s mercy. In this position, we are then ready for faith to “come” (v. 25). The key point of verse 25 is that once the Law has done its preparatory work and “faith has come,” we are “no longer under a tutor.” That is, once the “faith-principle is operative, there is no room for the principle of law as a means of justification” [Cole, 153].
In this remarkable section of chapter three, Paul takes the doctrine of justification by faith alone to its practical end. Whereas men persistently seek to segregate and stratify themselves into various classes and categories—Jews, Gentiles, lawbreakers, and law keepers—the gospel brings true unity in Christ by tearing down such barriers. All who believe in Christ alone “are sons of God through faith” (v. 26). God has only one family—one covenant people—and entrance into this family is gained solely through the person and work of Jesus Christ. If this is true, then other facts logically obtain:
· First, all distinctions of race, class, gender, and ethnicity evaporate. God does not regard men as “Jews” or “Greeks,” “slave nor free man,” “male nor female” (v. 28). Such categories are meaningless as far as salvation is concerned. In Christ, all are “one.” This highlights the new identity one receives in salvation.
· Secondly, all who believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation are “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (v. 29). As Paul repeatedly made clear, there is only one covenant people, one holy nation, and one true Israel. It is the church of Jesus Christ that He purchased with His own blood. Thus, every believer in Christ is a beneficiary of the Abrahamic promise and, in this sense, a real son of Abraham.
Verse 27 explains how all of this is possible. Those who have received Christ by grace through faith, or have been “baptized into Christ,” have been “clothed” with Christ’s very righteousness. Here Salvation is linked to baptism—the act of being immersed in water. This indicates the total identification the believer enjoys with his/her Savior. Faith joins the repentant sinner to the righteousness of Christ Himself, and Christian baptism symbolizes this essential union and subsequent transformation. Those who are “in Christ Jesus” (v. 26), are regarded as holy by the Father since their sin has been shielded by the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. Those who believe in Christ are, therefore, simultaneously justified and sinners. We are declared to be saints before God even though we remain sinners (justification). Yet, over time, will be molded and shaped by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s moral character (sanctification).
The Blessings of Sonship (4:4-7)
These verses detail how those who have fallen short of God’s Law may come into a relationship with Him. Much like he did in 3:13-14, Paul intensely focused upon the work of Jesus Christ, the one who has “redeemed us from the curse of the Law” (3:13). In verses 4-7 of this chapter, the apostle set forth a dramatic picture of the spiritual transformation—from slavery to sonship—of those who have believed in Christ. Here, we find out how God brought about such a radical change in those who believe.
· First, at the right moment in history, “the fullness of time,” He “sent forth His Son” (v. 4). This provides us with an answer as to why Jesus came when He did. Simply put, it was the right time—the time chosen by the Father in eternity past. We may assume that it was the precise moment in human history when all the world conditions were perfectly aligned for the birth and ministry of the Savior and the initial spread of the gospel. In addition, this verse stresses that Jesus of Nazareth, the one who would live among men and ultimately give His life on the cross, was the eternal “Son” of God.
· Secondly, the redeemer sent by God was fully human—“born of a woman” (v. 4). Note the interesting juxtaposition of the words “Son” and “born.” Here we see the mystery of the incarnation and the assurance that the divine Son of God was also a real man. This focuses our attention upon the fact that the eternally timeless God, in the person of Christ, entered human history in order that He might bear the curse of sin for us by literally dying upon the cross.
· Thirdly, Jesus came and lived “under the law”(v. 4). As a Jewish man, Jesus submitted to the Law of Moses. This is a critical fact as we remember Paul’s stress upon justification by faith alone. By living under the regulations and demands of the Law—perfectly fulfilling each of God’s righteous requirements—Christ merited our salvation for us.
· Finally, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection accomplished the redemption of “those who were under the Law” (v. 5). Whereas the Law brought only condemnation before God, Christ’s perfect life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection secured our spiritual redemption and liberation. By keeping God’s Law for us we have been fully set free from the penalty of sin and from all systems of self-justification [Cole, 162].
The one word Paul employed in this section to summarize the blessing of salvation is “adoption.” Those who have believed in Jesus Christ have received the gift of “adoption as sons” (v. 5b). In Christ the repentant, believing sinner is no longer one under condemnation, completely alienated from God and life itself. He or she has been adopted into God’s family and now enjoys the unique privileges associated with a new status and identity—“no longer a slave, but a son” (v. 7). The fact of our sonship in Christ is confirmed by the ministry of the Holy Spirit—the very “Spirit of His Son”—whom the Father sends forth “into our hearts” when we believe (v. 6). The Spirit enables us to understand and enjoy our new relationship with God who is known to us no longer as Judge but as “Abba! Father!” (v. 6).
Finally, through the faithful ministry of Christ, the one sent at just the right time, we become an “heir through God” (v. 7). Amazingly (and quite disturbing to his opponents!), Paul taught that both Jews and Gentiles alike share in the blessings of the covenant nation (cf. 3:28-29). All believers, regardless of ethnicity, are covenant children and full heirs of all the promises and blessings of God.
One: The Law and the Christian—In light of what Paul has written, how should the believer view the Law? Is there a place for the Law in the daily life of the New Testament Christian? How does the Law aid our sanctification and growth in holiness?
Two: The new you—Who are you . . . really? How does God view you now that you are a believer in Christ? What is your status before Him? Do you feel that there are times that He loves you less or more, depending upon what you do or do not do?
Three: Your new “family” of which you are now a part—Think carefully about how this passage challenges you to recognize the new family that you are now part of. How, then, should Christian unity be displayed to the world? Consider how and with whom we fellowship, socialize, and worship.