Galatians 3:23-29 When we think of Moses on
we think about the Ten Commandments. But
there were many, many other laws given there as well--hundreds of laws that
spoke to every aspect of the Jews’ lives as individuals and as a nation. Mt. Sinai
There were laws about food and clothing and relationships and money and social justice and worship. God gave these laws to the Jews and demanded that they be obeyed-- and the penalties and punishments for breaking these laws were harsh. This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote that:
…before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
The Jews were hemmed in on every side by God’s law just like a jail cell hinders the movement of an inmate—and that was its God-given purpose—to keep them close together until he could set them—and all men-- free.
Those rules and regulations were never meant to be a permanent way of life—but only a temporary measure until Jesus came into the world to live and die and deliver the world from the bondage to sin and death.
The person and work of Jesus is the “faith” that Paul was talking about here in this verse when he says: before faith came. He is not talking about the faith with which we believe. That had always been the way to life with God.
Four hundred and thirty years before the law was given to Moses at Sinai, the Bible tells us that Abraham believed God and God counted it as righteousness. But here Paul is talking about the faith THAT IS believed—the content of saving faith which is Jesus Christ: his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
The purpose of the rules and regulations given at Sinai was to guard the Jews as a people until God revealed the Savior in his Son Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that:
…the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
That word “guardian” that Paul uses here has a very specific meaning. In the ancient Greek and Roman world, a servant would be appointed by a boy’s father to watch out for him. This servant would walk him to school and back home again. He would make sure he wasn’t hanging out with the wrong crowd. He would teach him manners and how to behave in polite society and correct him when he did wrong.
He was his guardian—but only until the boy reached adulthood—for then he no longer needed a guardian. The servant had accomplished his purpose when the boy took his rightful place in the father’s house as a full grown son.
Those hundreds of laws and precepts and rules that God gave at Sinai to govern the life of his ancient people—regulating every facet of their lives—served as a guardian over them until Christ came.
But those ceremonial and religious and political laws of the Jews were never meant to be an end unto themselves or a permanent way of life—they only existed so that the Jews would be preserved as a people until Christ came, as Paul says, so that we might be justified by faith.
. Here Paul moves from the faith that is believed—the content of faith—to the faith with which we believe—what we trust in.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the content of the Christian faith and when we believe it—when we put our faith in it and build our life upon it--we are justified in God’s sight—that is, we are declared righteous in his sight and we take our place in God’s family as his sons. Paul wrote:
…now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
The rules and regulations and precepts of the Jews that governed every facet of their lives have no place in the life of a Christian—whether they are Jew or Gentile. That kind of guardianship has come to an end with Christ.
So it is with every new rule or regulation or precept that some Christian group mistakenly wants to impose on us for our own good. To tell a Christian what day of the week they can worship or that they cannot eat meat-- or what color their buggy has to be—or what they should do about their children’s education-- is a return to Judaism and the dead works of the law.
The Bible says that we are justified by faith APART from the works of the law. In other words, our right standing in God’s sight and our relationship with him does not depend upon keeping all the rules and regulations and precepts that God gave to the Jews-- or the rules some misguided Christian wants to impose on us. Instead, our place in God’s family comes solely through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son.
He kept every rule, regulation, and precept God gave to Moses at Sinai. Already at the very beginning of Jesus’ life we see him keeping the covenant God made with Abraham as Jesus is circumcised in the temple, shedding the same blood with which he would forgive the world’s sins at the cross.
Jesus’ circumcision was the beginning of a lifetime of holy obedience to his Father’s will for our sake—so that through faith in Jesus his obedience could become our own and we could be counted as sons in God’s family.
Just a few verses after our text, Paul said: When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. This is the purpose of God’s redeeming work in this world—that we would be restored to what God created us in the beginning to be: his sons.
It’s interesting and important to note that Paul is not inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the word “children” but the word “son.” It’s not because we are not God’s children (we are!) but that we are “sons” describes our status as full-fledged mature members of God’s family, with all of the rights and responsibilities and privileges as God’s only-begotten Son Jesus.
That’s Paul’s point—that through faith in God’s Son-- we who are God’s adopted sons can expect from our heavenly Father exactly the same blessings as he gives his only-begotten Son. That is how important it is to have faith in Jesus!
But how did we receive that faith in Jesus that makes us a part of God’s family? That came through the power of the Gospel proclaimed in Word and Sacrament. Paul wrote that: … as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
The Bible teaches that every person who has been baptized with water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—has been baptized into Christ’s death and raised up in his resurrection so that we would walk in newness of life until that day we pass into everlasting life.
The picture that Paul uses in our text is that of someone putting on Christ like a garment-- and that is exactly what happens in baptism. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ—his death becomes my death—his holiness becomes my holiness—his resurrection, my own eternal life—and all of this through faith in him.
This righteousness of Christ is that wedding garment that Jesus said all must wear to enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom.
Christ’s righteousness is the white robe that all of the saints wear as they worship around the throne of the Lamb in heaven—people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages—having just one thing in common with one another—the one thing necessary to stand in God’s presence: the robe of Christ’s righteousness they have received in Holy Baptism and put on by faith. Paul wrote that, clothed in the righteousness of 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.
There are six billion people on this planet—each of us different from the others—different races, different genders, different places in society. There are many billions more who have lived and died—all of them different from one another. Perhaps there will be many billions more to come. But there is only one Man who is perfectly holy and righteous in God’s sight—and that is God’s own Son Jesus Christ.
When we were baptized into Christ, his life became our own-- and we were clothed in his perfect holiness and righteousness-- and so through faith in him we also stand before Almighty God in exactly the same way as Jesus does right now—with the blessing of the LORD and his bright, beaming face shining upon us.
And as God’s adopted sons we can count on the same glorious future as his Son Jesus enjoys right now. Paul wrote: …If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. So that there is no doubt in your mind…
The grammatical construction in the original reads this way: If you are Christ’s—AND YOU ARE!—then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promises. There is no doubt about it! Baptized into Christ, clothed in his righteousness, believing in Jesus—you are sons of God and you will inherit everything God first promised to Abraham—everything that Jesus earned for you in his life, death, and resurrection. The Bible says that is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
We have a renewed and restored relationship with God. We don’t have to worry what his attitude is towards us because we know what it is towards Christ: love and blessing.
We have the gift of the Holy Spirit--giving us joy and hope and peace despite whatever the world throws at us.
We have the abiding presence of Jesus who has promised to be with always—speaking to us in his word and feeding us with his body and blood.
And we have an eternal life in God’s presence to look forward to and a new heaven and new earth where sin and suffering and sorrow have no part.
The Good News for us on this first day of a new year is that we are God’s sons through faith in Jesus and a great and glorious future awaits us. Amen.