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01 October 2019

The Law is part of the gospel.

Galatians 3.21-29.

Legalists and libertines alike miss the point of the Law. For legalists, it’s rules we have to follow lest we compromise our salvation. For libertines, it’s rules we no longer follow because grace nullifies them—and in fact following them compromises our salvation. Follow them, don’t follow them; either way we get accused of heresy.

Both groups have a bad habit of misquoting Paul, James, Hebrews, and Jesus himself to support their positions and justify their behaviors. It might help if we actually read the bible, right? So let’s.

Galatians 3.21-29 KWL
21 So “the Law versus God’s promises”—never say that!
If the Law gave living power, righteousness might come from the Law.
22 Instead the scripture locks everyone up under sin—
so the promise of faith in Christ Jesus can be given to believers.
23 Before faith came, we were guarded by the Law,
locked up till the revelation of this faith.
24 Thus the Law became our introduction to Christ, so we could be justified by this faith.
25 After faith came, we’re no longer in need of an introduction.
26 By this faith in Christ Jesus, you’re all God’s children;
27 whoever among you was baptized in Christ, now wear Christ.
28 There’s no such thing as Judean nor Grecian, no such thing as slave nor free,
no such thing as masculine nor feminine: All of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 If you’re of Christ, you’re Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Whenever Paul used the term μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghéneto, “it ought never be” (KJV “God forbid”), he was usually quoting something false he’d heard Christians say, and saying Christians ought never say such things. Get this idea out of your heads! But since translators usually don’t know how Roman-style rhetoric was practiced, they don’t realize Paul was quoting bad theology, and phrase it as if Paul was posing rhetorical questions, then rejecting them:

Galatians 3.21 NIV
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

It also informs us this is a bad idea, but not quite in the way Paul did it. Close enough though.

So we’re meant to reject this idea the Law isn’t part of God’s plan. Or is, as dispensationalists describe it, the old plan—which God ditched and replaced with a new plan, namely salvation by grace instead of works. Salvation has always been by grace, as Paul taught earlier in this chapter. We trust him; he saves us. It’s how things have always been. It’s why Paul kept using the Old Testament for his proof texts.

But the Law was never the basis for salvation. It’s how a saved people are meant to live after they’ve been saved. It’s how the Hebrews were to live once they were no longer Egyptian slaves; it’s how Christians oughta live now that we’re no longer sin’s slaves. And what it also did, as Paul explained here, was prepare us for Christ Jesus’s first coming. Because it teaches us what God expects of his people, it exposes us as sinners—and shows us why we need salvation. Why we need to trust God to save us—because we can’t possibly save ourselves!

The coming of faith.

Too many Christians confuse πίστις/pístis, “faith,” with “the Christian faith,” by which they mean our religion, the things we believe and the rituals we practice. So whenever they read this passage, here’s what they think it means:

Galatians 3.22-27 KWL
22 Instead the scripture locks everyone up under sin—
so the promise of [a religion based on] Christ Jesus can be given to believers.
23 Before [our religion] came, we were guarded by the Law,
locked up till the revelation of [our religion].
24 Thus the Law became our introduction to Christ, so we could be justified by [our religion].
25 After [our religion] came, we’re no longer in need of an introduction.
26 By [our religion based on] Christ Jesus, you’re all God’s children;
27 whoever among you was baptized in Christ, now wear Christ.

And thus good ol’ faith-righteousness saves us: We’re going to heaven because we believe all the correct things, plus we read our bibles and go to church and pray and eat Jesus wafers. We practice our faith, so we’re good.

But that’s just a variant of legalism. It just swaps out the Law’s set of rules for a different set of rules. One put together by men, I should add. (And when I say “men,” I don’t mean “people”; seldom do they let women have any say in these rules.) At least the Law has the merit of the LORD’s primary input: Our churches’ rules tend to be our interpretations of what Jesus and the apostles taught, but of course we can get them wrong, and too often have. Or we got ’em right, but we do them without grace and love, and the end result is just as awful as when the Law is followed that way.

Nope; we’re not rejecting a religion based on Law because we can only be saved by a religion based on Christ. Religion doesn’t save! It’s important we have a religion, but it’s wholly inaccurate to think it saves people, any more than to think the Law saved people. That’s not what they’re for. Both of them point to Jesus, pave the way for Jesus, instruct us as to why we need Jesus. Till we have our own personal relationships with Jesus, they lock us up, Ga 3.23 so to speak—they usefully draw boundary lines which keep us away from grievously sinning against God, and doing things we’ll horribly regret once we get to know him.

Because y’notice how a lot of pagans don’t wanna get to know God, specifically because they know they’ve committed grievous sins. Nothing God can’t forgive, of course. But these pagans don’t know God well enough to realize he forgives all… and often can’t forgive themselves, and figure they kinda merit unforgiveness and hell. Karma’s harsh. It’s why, even though we have no business enforcing the Law, it’s still good to make people aware of it: God expects better of humanity.

But once we put our trust in God—which is properly what faith means in this passage—we no longer need the Law to function as our introduction to God. We know God. We’ve been sealed with his Holy Spirit. We should be able to read the Law and recognize his intentions, justice, and compassion for his people—and not seek loopholes in it like Pharisees, but follow its spirit like Jesus teaches.

Distinctions eliminated in Christ.

When the first Christians declared their trust in Jesus, they were pretty quickly taken to water and baptized. When Paul wrote Galatians, they still baptized people the very same day, if not the same hour, they first confessed Jesus. Baptism was still equated with conversion.

Over time—and it didn’t take long—baptism got delayed till everybody in the church was sure these newbies were really dedicated to Jesus. Among Evangelicals, it tends to get delayed till the newbies are sure; but either way it’s no longer simultaneous with coming to Jesus.

The result? Confusion. We read passages like this, where baptism is equated with conversion—

Galatians 3.26-27 KWL
26 By this faith in Christ Jesus, you’re all God’s children;
27 whoever among you was baptized in Christ, now wear Christ.

—and think, “Wait, in order to be saved, we gotta first get baptized? I thought we were saved by grace, not works.” No you silly Christian: The writers of the bible assumed you’d’ve been baptized the same day you came to Jesus. If you weren’t, that’s on your church for turning it into something else—either something more, or something less, than a marker of when our new life in Christ begins.

But when that new life in Christ begins, like Paul said, we now wear Christ. We’re God’s children. We’re Abraham’s spiritual descendants, who are justified by our faith same as Abraham was. We get access to all God’s promises to his people in the bible—some of which are in the Law, and don’t just apply to Hebrews, but to everyone.

Christians like to quote verse 28 to emphasize how Christ eliminates racial, economic, and gender barriers:

Galatians 3.28 KWL
There’s no such thing as Judean nor Grecian, no such thing as slave nor free,
no such thing as masculine nor feminine: All of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The problem is Christians haven’t eliminated racial, caste, and gender barriers. Some of us put ’em front and center in our theology and church practices. Racially segregated churches, where people of color (or no color) aren’t welcome. “Complementarian” churches, where women aren’t given a voice, ’cause men don’t love them like Christ loves his church: Ep 5.25 Jesus lets his church have a voice, and lets us lead all sorts of ministries; but the men of these churches sure don’t.

As for caste barriers—represented in the Roman Empire by slave versus free, represented in monarchies by nobles versus commoners, represented in classless societies by the wealthy versus the working class—yep, there are definitely different churches for different castes. The comfortable go to one; the needy to another. You know where these churches are in your city.

These differences are supposed to be eliminated and flattened by Christ, but we his followers suck at doing it. Our culture overrules our Lord too often, and our churches are heavily compromised by our concessions to our customs. It’s gonna stun a lot of these people when Jesus returns to sort these things out: The last will become first and vice-versa, and here they thought they were already in the correct places. But egalitarianism is what’s supposed to already be happening, and it’s an embarrassment to both devout Christians and our Lord that it’s not… even in the most legalist or libertine of churches.

When we actually see it happening—when we see people loving one another regardless of caste, color, or gender; when we see people pursuing God’s revealed will instead of guesswork, and enacting it with compassion instead of strictness—we see what God’s kingdom is meant to look like. We see what Jesus declared is the gospel: “God’s kingdom has come near.” Mk 1.15 If we’d only practice it.

Apostles.