A BIBLICAL THOUGHT—1
“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. 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. 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. 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.”—Galatians 3:15–18
In many of his letters Paul discusses the issue of who is a true Israelite—especially after the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. While many still believed that adherence to the law and being in the right lineage granted them the title, Paul argues that that objective criteria is simply not enough. In this text, Paul speaks about the role of the law in the journey of faith of those who follow Jesus.
He argues that before the giving of the law, 430 years before, everything God did for humanity was based on a promise: the promise that through Abraham all nations would be blessed. And this promise preceded the law. So, everything God did from the calling of Abraham onward, was to begin a relationship with people that would eventually reach every single living person on earth, through the promise that all nations would be blessed. So if this was the case, what was the role of the law before Jesus, and what is the role of the law after Jesus?
Let’s continue reading what Paul has to say in Galatians: 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. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 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. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 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. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:19–29, emphasis supplied)
My dear reader, if you read the text above quickly, I recommend that you read it again! Do you realize the power and depth of these words? The law was given to Israel so they would be conscious of what was harmful—both to the individuals who submitted to the law, and to those around them. But the law did not impart life! It just showed us how to live. And this was to be so until Christ, the living Word, showed us a better way, a visual way, a clear path in the true fulfillment of the law. This fulfillment is ultimately realized through love—through His love and sacrifice for us, and through our response in love. In fact, Paul makes this point explicit in Romans 13:8 when he writes, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” When we look to Jesus, and live as He lived, we are living the true life God willed for all humanity.
So Paul says that before Jesus, the law was to be a “guardian”—a guide that led us to Jesus Himself. This word is also translated “tutor,” and scholars believe that the word “tutor” referred, in ancient times, to slaves who would take care of their master’s children in their absence. So before Jesus, we needed a supervisor, a guide. But after Jesus, as we look at Him, and as we live a life that is a reminder of His life, suddenly, everything the law required is lived out through our emulation of Him! As we live as Jesus lived, we will live a life of joy, love and peace toward one another. This is why He said that we would be recognized as His followers through love. So in Jesus, everything that separated us from one another—religion, ethnicity, or gender—is done away with. In Jesus we are all under the promise, and through faith, we have salvation and peace. This has been the will of God since the beginning: blessing to all nations!
My dear reader, may you look to Jesus and see in Him a pattern for life. And as you read about Him, as you walk with Him, as you hear His words, may you also become a living reminder of who He is in your own life. May your life be a living reminder of Jesus, and a proof that the promise of Abraham is good, true, and real. May your life in Christ be the true fulfillment of the law through love.
A BIBLICAL THOUGHT—2
“What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”—Galatians 4:1–7
In the previous biblical thought we reached the epicenter of the power of the gospel. Jesus paid it all, and now, through Him, we live as equals before God. As we live in Jesus, everything the law required meets its true fulfillment and we find the true freedom the gospel offers all humanity: the freedom to love because we are loved, the freedom to forgive because we are forgiven, and the freedom to serve because Jesus served and serves us today and always.
As we read chapter 4, we must realize that Paul continues explaining who truly belongs to Israel and what the sacrifice of Jesus has accomplished. In the previous chapter he compared the law to a prison and a tutor. Now Paul uses the imagery of inheritance and adoption. Before Jesus we were no better than slaves, serving under rules and commands that kept us in bondage. Through Jesus we received freedom and now we are no longer slaves. Now we are considered sons and daughters of God, and we have received the promised inheritance from the Father.
When Jesus was baptized He heard a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved son.” Up until that point Jesus had done nothing to “earn” or “deserve” this love. God simply pronounced the objective reality: Jesus was a beloved Son. This proclamation echoes through the ages, and reaches us even today. Once we realize we are loved regardless of what we did or do, we understand the power of divine love. God loved us while we were still sinners, and when we embrace this truth and live by faith in it, the Spirit will continually confirm in our hearts that God is “Abba, Father.” Even those who hide their fragility and vulnerability under a cloak of righteous deeds and visible performances know, deep down, that they need a Father—a Father who knows everything, yet who loves us and cares for us. It is the Spirit who creates this need and realization in us.
And if we indeed embrace the fact that we are loved, regardless of what we did, do, and will do, if we indeed look at God as a loving Father, we will see all around us the faces of brothers and sisters who were also adopted by God. Whether they realize it or not, they are beloved children as well.
So, my dear reader, may you live in the joy of this freedom, knowing that we do not have to please God with many works of penitence, or performances, or prove anything, because Jesus paid it all. We are no longer slaves; now we are sons and daughters of God and we may go to Him knowing that in Him we have a loving Father who knows every single detail of our life, and who walks with us. And as you see in the face of God the face of a loving Father, may you look at your neighbor and see a brother or sister who was bought by the blood of Jesus to live a life of true freedom in love.
Tiago Arrais, PhD, is a district pastor in Santa Fe, NM, USA.