Unbound, Unchained, Unbroken
Week 6 | Galatians 3:15-25
Lisa Scheffler, author
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Hiroo Onoda is probably not a name you’re familiar with, but his story is both fascinating and tragic. Onoda was a Japanese Army intelligence officer stationed in the Philippines during World War 2. The first time he saw a leaflet announcing the end of the war in 1945, he and his comrades assumed it was Allied propaganda and continued engaging in armed skirmishes with locals. After a year of hiding in the mountains, leaflets were dropped with a message from former Japanese commanders, ordering their surrender. They didn’t believe they were genuine.
Eventually, his companions either surrendered or died, but Onoda refused to come out of the jungle. In 1974, nearly thirty years after he first arrived in the Philippines, Onoda was discovered by Norio Suzuki, a Japanese adventurer and explorer who came to look for him. Suzuki tried to convince the former officer that the war was long over and it was time for him to come home. “Onoda-san,” Suzuki reportedly said, “the emperor and the people of Japan are worried about you.”
Onoda insisted that because he was a loyal soldier, he would remain true to his duty until he was relieved by his commanding officer. The Japanese government located the officer (who by then was an old man working in a book store) and sent him to the Philippines. At last, Onoda consented to go home to Japan.
The Allied victory in World War 2 changed the course of entire nations, but it changed nothing for Hiroo Onoda. For decades, he refused to accept this new world. He was being welcomed home, but he couldn’t let go of the past.
As we saw in part one of our Galatians study, the Galatian Christians had been influenced by a group of Jewish Christians who also refused to believe that the world had changed. Christ had come and the war against sin was won, but Paul’s opponents couldn’t accept the victory and still wanted to wield the law as a weapon in their fight for righteousness and God’s acceptance. They struggled to believe that all a person needed was faith in Christ, with nothing else added, to be made right with God. In Christ, they, and all the Gentile believers, were welcomed home. Some of the Jewish Christians couldn’t let go of their past.
We are in week 6 of our study of Galatians, and we will continue to see Paul press the Galatian Christians to return to the gospel he first preached to them. In this passage, Paul will help us understand how we should view God’s law in light of our faith in Jesus and how God’s covenant with Abraham also includes us.
For people doing a “read the Bible in a year” plan for the first time, January goes pretty well because Genesis is full of gripping stories. The first half of Exodus is the same. But then, most people hit a speed bump mid-way through Exodus when the law is given. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better when they get to Leviticus, the book that derails many a Bible reading plan. The problem isn’t the Bible, it’s that as modern readers we aren’t always sure what to make of all regulations and sacrifices. What do we do with the law? Do we follow it? Ignore it? Follow parts of it? If so which parts?
If we’re confused, imagine what the Jewish Christians must have felt like. They’d grown up following the law. Observant Jews taught it to their children. It was a part of their daily life, and even more importantly, helped define who they were. Jewish Christians had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, but were struggling with how to understand the law in light of his death, crucifixion, and ascension. Many couldn’t accept what Paul said and were living in the past. They were confusing the Gentile Christians and trying to drag them back to the old ways. Paul won’t stand for it. In the passage we’re looking at this week, he’s dealing with questions about the law directly.
As you read the passage for the week, try and follow Paul’s reasoning. There are some tricky sections that we’ll delve into as we move through the week, but for today, decide what you think his main arguments are.
A good tool to help follow an argument, is to look for words that indicate a connection (and, for, so, so that, then), words that indicate a contrast (but, however) and those that show cause and effect (because, if/then, therefore, thus). Pay attention to those words as you read through the passage and see if they help you trace Paul’s logic.
15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.
21 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. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus might be given to those who believe.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
How do you think Paul feels about the law? For Paul, is it a positive or negative thing? Why do you think that?
For Paul, going back under the Mosaic law with all its rituals and rites would be living in the past. Holding onto the law as a means of making you right with God is to act like the soldier who refused to believe that the war was over and it was time to go home.
Jesus paid the price and won the victory. While we are not yet experiencing all the benefits of sin’s defeat, we can trust that they are ours. Whatever we are holding on to that is drawing us away from faith in Jesus needs to go. The promises of God are ours, guaranteed.
When God made his covenant with Abraham, we were part of that plan. In your prayer time this week, remember the promises of God. Promises of forgiveness, a relationship with the Creator of the universe, and eternal life with him. Promises that come from life in the Spirit — joy, love, faith, peace, hope and so many more. Meditate on that. Write a prayer of praise to God for all his promises that have been fulfilled in Christ and add to it each day this week.