Lisa Scheffler, author
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If you’re under thirty you may have never seen what I’m about to describe. For those of us who are older, we remember that every once in a while a large book with yellow pages would appear on our front step. In it was phone numbers and ads for local businesses. It was arranged by category so you could easily flip through and find anything from a dog groomer to a florist shop.
The reason younger people aren’t familiar with the yellow pages is because they were replaced by the Internet. Yet, while, the Internet made the Yellow Pages obsolete, the Internet is so much more than a Yellow Pages replacement.
It’s a crude analogy, but what the Internet did for the Yellow pages, Jesus did for the law. He not only made it obsolete, he did so much more.
In our passage from Galatians this week, Paul is helping the Galatian Christians to understand how they should view the Mosaic law. God gave the law to Israel to help them understand who he is and what he expects of his people. But following the law doesn’t save anyone. Paul is going to finish up his explanation of the purpose of the law in the passage we are looking up today.
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.
We’re going to work backward from the final verse (verse 25), because it will help us make sense of Paul’s argument. In the verses we read yesterday, Paul explained that the law was given in order to reveal certain kinds of behavior as sinful. Today he’s going to give us another perspective on the law — he calls it a guardian. What does a guardian do?
N.T. Wright likens the law to a babysitter who takes care of children. He says:
“Paul’s basic point is about the story of Israel between the time of Moses and the coming of the Messiah. During this time, Israel was still a child and needed special looking after. The fact that Israel needed a babysitter during the period of childhood did not mean that the babysitter should continue to do the job once the child had grown up.”
But Paul also uses a much less nurturing image to describe the law. He speaks of the law as a captor. It binds, holds, and constrains. “Not only does the law declare us guilty before God, thus placing us under its curse, but it also locks us up in prison, preventing our escape.”
Commentator Timothy George makes an excellent point:
“Jewish thought had developed the idea of the law as a fence, a protective wall designed to cordon off the people of Israel from the corruptions of the surrounding nations…Paul took the metaphor of the fence, however, and radicalized it by turning it into a barbed-wire prison wall. Its purpose was not to make the unjustified sinner pure and holy, to “impart life,” but rather to condemn, enclose, and punish”
Everything needed for salvation and God’s acceptance was established with the Abrahamic covenant and fulfilled in Christ. The law served its purpose by codifying what transgression against God’s will was. It acted as a guardian. But ultimately it imprisoned the people until Jesus came.
Jesus has brought us life and freedom! We can accept by faith all that he has done for us, and look forward with hope to what he will do for us in the future. Spend some time with him today! Finish your prayer of thanksgiving that you started at the beginning of the week. Praise God for being faithful to his promises to you.