The Incredible Freedom Given in Christ
The Law gives birth to a new life–Galatians 3:23-29, part 2
The word “freedom” conjures up all kinds of discussions today. Many opinions are expressed about political freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of expression–and if you’re older, freedom of movement. In a world that strives to remove God from our consciousness, moral freedom is the goal. But those who submit to Christ and follow His Word, spiritual freedom is a dividing line. On the spiritual freedom front, there are two main options.
OPTION #1–SALVATION BY HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT Aware of their sin, there are those who seek to earn their salvation by living good or through religious acts. Then each time they fail, they go to confession, make an offering, give a sacrifice, say certain prayers, and beat themselves up so that God somehow will no longer be angry at them. Option one includes penance, pleading, petitioning and self-punishment.
OPTION #2–SALVATION BY DIVINE ACCOMPLISHMENT Aware of our sin, we cry out to Christ to awaken our hearts. If He does, our sin–all of it, past, present and future–is totally forgiven, since Christ took the punishment we deserved on the cross. He covers us in His righteousness so our standing before God is resolved forever and He transforms us so we have a new heart that wants to follow Christ and obey His Word. Option two includes never having to try to earn God’s favor, since it is already given.
Which option is most appealing to you? Which one makes you the most free? Obviously, turning to Christ brings freedom. But can you imagine having that freedom, but then turning back to the slavery of works, Law, human achievement and religion? How foolish would it be, once forgiven for all your sin by Christ through faith, to return to a system where you work for your salvation and give daily penance for your sins again. That’s crazytown. But that is exactly what the Galatians were trying to do.
They’d been washed, made new, and forgiven of every sin they had ever committed and will ever commit, by turning to Christ by grace through faith. Yet now they are trying to add living by Jewish tradition, following Jewish ceremony, and keeping the Law to their free faith and making themselves slaves again. So now at the end of chapter 3, Paul says, “No, you are free–don’t go back to slavery. Remain living under Christ in option two and never return back to the religion of option one.” Take your outline and open your Bible to read what Paul says in verses 23 to 29 and let’s read it together.
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
Last week, Paul reminded his Galatian churches that the Law was given to expose our sin—that salvation is unconditionally given by God to His children by grace through faith. That the Law can’t give you salvation, but it can reveal your need for salvation and actually drive you to cry out for salvation, because the Law shows you your sin. The Law makes it obvious you rebelled from God. You deserve judgment. You see it clearly.
And now in verses 23 to 29, Paul proclaims that freedom only comes by being in Christ. Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith alone brings freedom from the slavery of religion. You need this passage, because your spiritual wellbeing is dependent upon you remembering what Christ did for you, and how Christ alone made you free. You are free from condemnation, but so much more–you are clothed in Christ, made family, immersed in Christ, one with one another, equal before God, and given an eternal inheritance which cannot be taken away.
So brothers and sisters–stop wailing in self-punishment like you belong to some other religion. Stop feeling left out, different or distinct when Christ has made you belong. Stop choosing to doubt, when Christ continues to prove He keeps His Word. Stop being attracted to the world’s riches, when you’re as wealthy as the King Himself. Paul begins by reminding you where you were before Christ, then what Christ did for you.
1 REMEMBER when you weren’t free under Law
Paul opens with two illustrations in verses 23 and v24–the first one is the prison system in verse 23, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.” In this analogy, the Law is a warden who keeps you locked up in sin’s penitentiary. Paul is personifying the Law as a jailer over guilty, condemned sinners on death row, awaiting God’s judgment. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You and I are the inmates, the Law is our prison guard who has us in a prison cell. The Law, with all its penalties, chains us and punishes us. Paul just taught in verses 19 to 22–the Law exposes our sin and we are in bondage to our sin, and we can’t get free of sin on our own. We can’t stop the pain, remove the consequences, or be delivered from sin’s eternal judgment through our effort. We’re kept in jail, verse 23, “in custody”. If you’re not in Christ, you’re not free from sin and its punishments. Look at this passage two ways–
You were in a helpless and hopeless condition before you met Christ. The Law showed you your sin–your sin condemned you with no hope of self-salvation. Paul is reminding you in verse 23 of where you were without Christ. Never forget, Christian. The Lord wants you to remember who you were without Christ. Like Titus 3:3 through 5, “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
Paul reminds you it is crucial to remember what you were and what Christ did for you every single day. Religion can fix your outside, but only Christ can transform your inside. Religion can make you look good, but only Christ can actually make you good. Remember what Jesus Christ did to make you free. Recall the freedom you have, since all your sins, every last one of them, have been paid for. Immerse yourself in the complete and total forgiveness for every sin you will ever commit. Remember what Christ did for you every single day—recall it, say it out loud, tell Him thanks. It is crucial you remember you were condemned, now forgiven–a slave, but now free.
Now being in prison isn’t always bad–Paul was in prison and it saved his life from plots to kill him, and that may be part of the focus here as well. With Israel . . .
The Law kept the Jews under its protective custody. The Law was watching over them, keeping them safe, while helping them remain orderly and moral until the Law could lead them to Christ. The Law, like a guardian, refuses to let you go until it safely hands you directly over to Christ. This is what Paul means in verse 23, “But before faith came”—meaning, before Jesus came and provided salvation. Only saving faith unlocks the door of the prison where the Law (and its exposing our sin) keeps men in chains as prisoners.
Then verse 23, “being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.” Paul is looking at the coming of Christ historically and for each believer’s salvation, individually. Faith in Christ alone releases people from bondage to the Law–whether that is the written Mosaic Law, or the Law written in your heart that you know intrinsically. Recall your imprisonment from the Law and sin. Freedom only comes by being in Christ.
2 Let the law LEAD you to freedom in Christ by faith
The second illustration Paul gives comes from the child’s nursery in verse 24. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” A tutor is the Greek word pedagogue. In Greek homes, this was typically a slave who was appointed to serve as a child’s protector until adulthood. In Greek families, this slave would be the constant caregiver and supervisor for a child, starting at age six through late adolescence.
The tutor was usually an old and trusted slave who had been with the family for a long time—one whose character was certain. He oversaw the child’s moral welfare and it was his duty to see that he acquired all the qualities essential for true manhood. Part babysitter, part chaperone, part disciplinarian and part probation officer–ancient drawings depict the tutor holding a rod or a cane to deal out consequences when the child stepped out of line or didn’t give enough effort. In fact, tutors were often so strict in their discipline, that children under their care yearned for the day when they would be free from their tutor’s custody–like high school seniors.
The tutor was not a teacher, but it was his main job to get the student to the teacher, at school, then back again to home after school. To and from school, the tutor would carry all the children’s educational tools like tablets, stylus, books or scrolls, and musical instrument, along with tacks for other student chairs and a straw for spit wads (not really that last part–that was just for me). Once at school, there was a special room where the tutors waited for their young students until their lessons were finished–again, they were not the teacher, they were the guards, guides, protectors and disciplinarians. The tutor watched over the children’s behavior at school and at home, and measured their progress.
Now in the plan of salvation, the Old Testament Law is the pedagogue, the tutor that raised the Jewish nation from childhood through adolescence. The Law was not the schoolmaster, giving them the means of salvation. No–the Law was for discipline, to expose sin, to guide them to Christ for salvation. The Law told God’s people what to do–then it punished them for failing to do so. The Law was all in preparation–getting God’s children ready to enter into maturity. And like any ancient tutor, the Law eventually worked its way out of a job. When a child came of age, they no longer needed constant supervision.
So Paul is telling the Galatians that the Old Testament Law functioned like a tutor for Israel–not as the way of salvation, but to prepare them to turn to Christ for salvation. The goal of the Law was not to provide salvation, but to lead a man to Christ. The Law cannot bring anyone into Christ’s presence, but it can take him into a place where he might see his sin, and as a result long for a Savior. In other words, it was the function of the Law to bring a person to Christ by showing them that by themselves they are utterly unable to obey the Law.
The sole purpose of the Law was to be God’s divinely appointed tutor so that like a tutor, the Law would lead people to Christ–verse 24, “that they might be justified.” The Law shows you and shows me, we are greedy, lustful, lying, untrustworthy, defiant sinners who are in desperate need of a Savior. And now, after a person submits to Christ by grace through faith, there is no longer any need for the external ceremonies or rituals to act as guides or disciplinarians–why? Because believers are now driven by new inner persons, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and a new nature. We don’t need those external ceremonies, because we are new people in Christ, who want to follow Christ and who want to obey His Word.
The Law, in a ceremonial sense, is done away with. In a moral sense, we find much of the Old Testament moral law rewritten in the New Testament–it’s called the royal law, the law of the King, and the law of love, which is now pursued by internal hearts desiring to please our Lord. Before Christ came, the external rituals and ceremonies pointed to Christ. And the sacrificial system, like killing lambs, clearly pointed to a final sacrifice.
All of the Law pictured the once-for-all perfect and effective sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world. When that perfect Christ comes into a believer’s heart, those previously imperfect pictures of Christ have no more purpose or significance. And Paul reminds us that salvation in Christ came through faith, not by Law–by grace, not by good works. It was Christ who did the work to save us, making us free.
3 Salvation by FAITH provides you with freedom from the Law
Turn to Christ by faith, and you no longer need the tutor, meaning the Law. Verse 25, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” When a boy ceases to be a child and reaches young manhood, he no longer needs constant supervision–then he is released from his tutor. He is no longer under them, but is allowed to go his own way. In the same way, the Law was only needed until the coming of Christ. That’s what Paul means in verse 25, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
All Old Testament believers gained salvation the same way Abraham did, by grace through faith alone. Old Testament believers trusted in a coming Savior. The true object of their faith was Jesus, and when He came on the scene, when faith had come, the time for Law was over and the era of faith alone had begun. In a true manner, the Old Testament Law was meant to keep Israel safe until the coming of Christ to save us from our sins–to provide salvation by grace through faith alone.
And what was meant for Israel on a national level was meant for us on a personal level. The Law shows us our transgressions and imprisons us in our guilt. But verse 25 teaches now the harsh, scowling tutor (the Law) has retired, and we are no longer under his exacting demands. Rather, we are under the gentle instruction of a gracious teacher–one who would take the punishment we deserved for our sin, then cover us with His perfect righteousness in justification, providing freedom. That’s far different than the harsh tutor called the Law.
Christ says in Matthew 11:29 to 30, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Christ did all the work to save us and bless us. Christ is a gentle, humble master. Faith in Christ brings freedom–not freedom from obedience, but freedom to obey, to please the Lord, to walk with Him, to find rest, to be free of heavy burdens, to enjoy His presence, to know intimate love and to experience joy that is made full. You are free.
Yet shockingly, the Galatians were tempted to move away from the freedom of grace to the harshness of Law. So Paul now reminds them about the many amazing, undeserved, blessings that only come through salvation by grace through faith.
First Enjoy the freedom of being FAMILY, not an enemy
Verse 26, “For you are all [what?] sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” God is the Father of all men as their Creator, but God is only the spiritual Father of those who by faith in Jesus Christ receive adoption into His family. John MacArthur puts it this way, “Apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, every human being is the enemy of God (Rom. 5:10), called ‘children of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3) and like the self-righteous Pharisees, each and every unbeliever IS a child of the devil (John 8:44). No one belongs to the Father who does not belong to the Son.”
Jesus didn’t mince words when he said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” And Paul says this sweet family relationship can only be gained by faith in Christ. Verse 26, “through faith in Christ Jesus.” Only faith can make you a child of God. Only placing your life in Christ’s work can bring you into sonship with God the Father. Only belief in Christ can make you family. John 1:12, “As many as received Him [Christ] He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
Later in Galatians, Paul says in 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” At salvation, the Holy Spirit indwells you, and then Romans 8:16 teaches–“the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” In other words, the first thing God gives the believer is Himself, in the form of His indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit, in turn, assures us we belong to the Father.
In fact, we are so close, so intimate, so personal, and so family–God uses the term Abba. Abba comes from the Aramaic word for father and can be translated daddy or papa. It was the warm, intimate term of endearment used by children of their dads. The Holy Spirit brings you into personal, intimate relation with your heavenly Father, whom you can approach at any time and under any circumstance, knowing He lovingly hears you and cares for you right now–not like religion, which keeps you in terror.
The Galatians were tempted to abandon this incredible level of intimacy for the distant and impersonal God embraced by keeping the Law and following religion. Because you are all sons of God, you can come with absolute confidence before His throne of grace, Hebrews 4:16, “to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.”
Second Enjoy the freedom of being IMMERSED in Christ and made to look like Christ
Verse 27, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Baptized here is not water baptism, but Spirit baptism (dry). We know that because Paul equates this baptism with being clothed with Christ. Like you are covered with water in water baptism, you are covered with Christ in Spirit baptism–covered as if it were clothes, clothed with Christ. Baptism is used here in a metaphorical manner to speak of being immersed in Christ–placed into Christ by the spiritual miracle of union with Him in His death and resurrection. You died with Christ and you rose with Christ, because you are in union with Christ.
This is a great mystery most of us can’t fathom. In a spiritually supernatural way–in a way that transcends time and space, a person who places his trust in Christ is crucified, buried, and resurrected with his Savior, baptized into Christ. Like 1 Corinthians 6:17, “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him”—so when the Father looks at you, the sinful believer, He sees His sinless Son. Wow. Positionally before God, you have put on Christ, His death, His resurrection, and His righteousness.
And it is only faith in Christ which creates the union baptism symbolizes–never performing the Law. The Law doesn’t immerse you in a personal God–the Law immerses you in impersonal rules. The Law doesn’t bring you close to Christ–but the Law shows you how far you are from Christ. The Law doesn’t make you look like Christ–the law makes you look religious. But like a scuba diver, faith in Christ immerses you, surrounds you, soaks you in Christ. And like clothes, you now have the eternal label–not Gucci, Prada, Dior or Armani, but Christ. Clothed in Christ.
A simple definition of a Christian is a person who is verse 27, “clothed … with Christ.” Followers of Confucius, Buddha, Mary or Mohammed are never said to be clothed with those leaders whose teachings they follow. But there is no such thing as a Christian who is not clothed with Christ. You’re with Christ and Christ is in you, and you wear Christ.
Clothed means 1) your primary identity is Christ. Clothing typically reveals our gender, social class and national group. Being clothed with Christ means we identify with Christ. Clothed in Christ 2) demonstrates our relationship to Christ. Like clothes protect us from cold and harm, so Christ protects us in this world. Clothed in Christ 3) motivates us to live for Christ in all things. Since we love him, we seek to imitate Christ in all things. You and I have been united with Christ through salvation–it’s so intimate.
Third Enjoy the freedom of ONENESS with all believers with no distinctions
In the Church, there is no difference between members–we all are children of God. In verse 28, Paul says the distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female are wiped out. This is shocking. Get this–in the Jewish morning prayer, which Paul repeated during his entire pre-Christian life, a Jew would thank God that, “Thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” Paul takes that prayer and reverses it. The old distinctions were gone–all of us are one in Christ.
Verse 28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Verse 28 means all those who are one with Jesus Christ are one with each other. This verse does not deny that God has designed racial, social, and sexual distinctions among Christians, but it affirms that those distinctions do not imply spiritual inequality before God. Plus, this spiritual equality is totally compatible with the God-designed roles of headship and submission in the Church, society, and in marriage.
In Philippians 2, it is clear Jesus Christ Himself, though fully equal with the Father, assumed a submissive role during His incarnation. God is one, but different roles. We too are one, but only one thing can wipe out the edgy distinctions and separations between people–when everyone is a debtor to God’s grace and all are in Christ, only then will we all be one. It’s not the force (nor the politics) of man, but the love of God which alone can unite a divided world.
In verse 28, Paul focuses on the existing distinctions of his society that drew sharp lines and set up high walls of separation between people. In the first century, many believed that Jews, free men and males in general, were better than others. But the Gospel destroys that kind of proud thinking. The Gospel has radical social implications. The Gospel means I am a Christian first, before I am anyone or anything else, including family. The Gospel means all the barriers that separate me socially (like culture, race, class, gender) are all destroyed.
Keeping the Law to be saved promoted competition and division when trying to be good enough to be acceptable to God. But the Gospel destroys all competition for Christ’s acceptance or affection–salvation comes as a gift by God’s grace, and has nothing to do with what you’ve done or how you’ve lived, or your race, sex, class, family or country. Each of you in Christ are now one in Christ. We function according to God’s plan, but we are equal before God. We do follow God’s design for men and women. We do listen to the mature in Christ. We do submit to God-created authorities–but in Christ we are one. The person who becomes one with Christ also becomes one with every other believer.
Fourth Enjoy the freedom of being given an INHERITANCE, through Christ, in Abraham, because of salvation by grace
Verse 29, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” You don’t have to be a Jew, Galatians, in order to become a child of Abraham. To be saved, you come to Christ by grace through faith alone. Paul makes it clear, you Gentiles do not have to become Jews. Do not return to the Law as a means of salvation, or add the Law to grace. You should not be pressured to become Jews in order to be saved by grace.
No, you just need to belong to Christ–then you’re related to Abraham. In Christ, you are part of God’s true family–a family born by faith, not works. Not all children of Abraham are God’s children–you are not saved by being a Jew. You are made into God’s children and part of Abraham’s lineage when you come to salvation the way Abraham did–and that is by faith, his trust and belief in Christ. So if you belong to Christ, verse 29 says, you are one of Abraham’s descendants and a fellow heir of the promise of salvation which comes to all who turn to Christ through faith.
Stop listening to those who want to load on the Law to salvation by grace. Stop listening to those who want to force you to become Jews first to be saved. Never give up all the blessings of being in Christ, verses 23 to 29–no condemnation, becoming family, being immersed and clothed in Christ, being one with each other with no distinctions, and here in verse 29, being heirs according to the promise.
The false teachers understood God intended to establish one people in history, that would last for all eternity–but they were wrong about the entrance requirements. They told the Galatians they could not become children of Abraham until they became Jews. Paul’s response is, they were children of Abraham already simply by turning to Christ. All it takes to become one of God’s heirs is faith in Jesus Christ. When Gentiles come to faith in Christ, they become part of the only family God has ever had.
A Are you a member of the FAMILY?
If you are not sure who you are, it must be because you have not yet found your true identity in Jesus Christ. Perhaps you have never come to Him in faith, trusting Him to save you from your sins and make you a child of God–to make you family. You can’t do this by Law or by your efforts. No one ever works his way into a family–the highest position one can achieve simply by working in a household is the servant.
A servant may live with a family. A servant may do the family’s laundry, cook the family’s meals, clean the family’s house, and feed the family’s dog. A servant can do all those things for decades without ever becoming a member of the family–why? The only way to become a son or a daughter is by adoption. This can be granted only by the will of the father–it can never be gained by the works of the servant.
And the good news–when it comes to God’s family, the Father is willing to adopt anyone who believes in his Son, Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:5, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” Those who are in Christ know exactly who they are. We know who our Father is, for we are His sons and daughters by faith–the family of the Most High God. We know who our siblings are–our brothers and sisters in Christ, no distinctions. Are you truly a part of God’s forever family? Cry out to Christ to give you saving faith today.
B Do you want to know the LAW?
People need to know God’s Law. You need to hear the Law taught, so you can see your sin, face it, and either turn from your sin in repentance to Christ in salvation, or turn from your sin in loving obedience in sanctification. This is why the Church, and this pulpit, must call a sin a sin–whatever the sin may be. Of course, people don’t want to hear this. General folks don’t want to be told that lust, greed, lying, indifference, selfishness, hate, anger, pride, gluttony, and injustice are sins.
Whenever anyone suggests there is such a thing as sin, they immediately become defensive. They complain that Christians are being judgmental. Some are–but the real issue is when it comes to obvious sin–sinners do not want to be judged by God for their sins. Hear God’s Law, and allow God’s Law to drive you to Christ. And Christian, allow it to make you dependent.
C Are you embracing your POSITION in Christ?
A good father gives everything he is, and everything he has, to his children. God, who has the most to give, is the best Father of all. Thus, there is no higher status a human being can ever achieve than to be called a son or a daughter of the Most High God. And that is you, believer–He cares for you. He holds you safe. He is growing you. In fact, our Father loves you so much, He refuses to let you go your own way or do your own thing.
Through trial, God is shaping you into the best version of you–like Christ. Hebrews 12:7b, “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” Whatever you are going through, the Lord is driving it for your good and His glory. And best of all, God has promised each of His children a full share of His infinite and eternal inheritance. As God’s children, you are fellow heirs with Christ–you get what Christ gets.
Remember what awaits you in Heaven will make the very best people and events of this life seem like how most kids view eating vegetables, or adults view getting cancer. This life will be a forgettable blur compared to your life with Christ in Heaven.
D Do you live out our ONENESS in Christ?
Verse 28 reminded us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female.” We each have different cultural backgrounds, race, national heritage, social standing and gender. We are different people. God made us different. Gender goes back to Genesis 1, race and national identity to Genesis 11, different social standing since mankind filled the earth. Those unique differences are part of our creation.
Our God-given gender has implications for unique spiritual responsibilities in the home and in the church, but that difference never threatens our fundamental equality in Christ. God calls men to exercise servant leadership as husbands and to function as elders and deacons in the church, while he calls women to submit to this leadership as wives and as members of the church, while teaching, discipling and training the women. But it is a mistake to think of our service as men or our submission as women in terms of status or value or significance–for in Christ, there is no status.
Profound wisdom comes from godly women–especially in our church (many of your wives). Do you believe it, value them? Do you live that out? Do you honor and respect women as equals and one in Christ? How about those from different nations, those of different races, those who are poor or rich? Those barriers are gone, my friends. Make certain you truly live as one in Christ.