Three weeks ago we began journeying through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We began by seeing in chapter one how Paul focuses on the good news of Jesus as the basis for a new relationship with God. The following week we looked at the second part of chapter one where Paul describes the dramatic change that happened in his own life through the gospel. It reminded us that the gospel changes lives, filling us with hope, peace and joy in the freedom that faith brings. Then, last week, we began to explore what the freedom of the gospel looks like. We saw in chapter two that the gospel frees us from spending our lives trying to please other people or to look for approval from others because we have God’s approval through faith in Jesus.
As we move into chapter three, Paul contrasts the differences between living under God’s law and firstly living in faith, and secondly living in God’s promises. Throughout this chapter, Paul focuses on Abraham to show us that God always intended his people to live in the freedom that comes through faith in his promises instead of being enslaved by the law.
Towards the end of the chapter, in the verses we have before us, Paul uses a graphic image to help us understand the purpose of God’s law. He talks about a pedagogue – a slave in the ancient household whose job was to take care of the children of the household. This pedagogue had a strict set of rules for the children to follow and would discipline them severely if they broke any of them. The pedagogue’s task was to teach the children what was wrong and right so that when they grew up they would be able to live responsibly in the freedom they had as mature, adult members of the household.
Paul is teaching us that this is the purpose of God’s law – not to be an end in itself, but to prepare us for a mature life as adults in God’s family through faith in Jesus. Paul writes, ‘The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith’ (v24). In other words, the law is there to prepare us for the coming of Christ to show us that we need him and the freedom he brings through the gospel. The law’s task is to show us we are actually slaves to sin so that we can find freedom through faith in Jesus.
This can present us with a couple of problems. The first is that some never grow out of the pedagogue’s care. I know too many Christians who are still looking for someone to tell them what to do, to give them rules to live by, or who live in the guilt that comes with the law. They have not encountered the freedom that God gives through faith in the gospel. Others try to run away from the law like children trying to get out of going to school. We can try to evade what God wants for us in our lives, ignoring Jesus’ command to love or the 10 Commandments for example, or not taking seriously that there are right and wrong ways to live. A particular problem in our culture is that we don’t listen to what God wants for us and we ignore his law.
Both of these approaches to the law are problems for us because they mean that we don’t allow the law to bring us to Jesus. If the purpose of the law as a pedagogue is to lead us to Christ, then, if we remain under the law or try to evade its demands on us, then we fail to encounter Jesus as our loving Saviour along with his grace and freedom. Paul points us to the freedom that comes through faith in God’s promises through Jesus. The concluding verses of chapter 3 state that through Christ we become valued children of God, clothed in the righteousness and goodness of Jesus, united with others in our relationship with God and with each other, no matter what difference may have divided us in the past. Through faith in Jesus, we are heirs together of Abraham, receiving all the blessings that God promised to him in Genesis as the mature, adult children of God.
The language Paul is using in verse 6 when he call us ‘children of God’ is technical, legal language for the adult heirs of the person who owns the household. There is a stark contrast between the juvenile children under the care of the pedagogue and the mature, adult children who are heirs of the Father. Instead of having someone walk with us to tell us what to do, adult children of the Father are given the freedom and responsibility that comes with maturity.
As Paul continues into chapter 4, he writes that now, through faith in Christ, God regards us as his mature, adult children. We don’t need the law telling us what to do as a pedagogue teaches children because God has written his command to love on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 10:16), and we can live in the freedom that we have as God’s mature, responsible, adult children through faith in Jesus. We still need to take God’s law and commands seriously in our lives, always remembering that their purpose is not just to teach us how to live, but always to point us to Jesus so we can find true freedom through faith in him.