Summary: In this sermon, we learn about what we were under the law and what are in Christ.
Becoming a Christian was for me a great liberation. At nineteen years of age, the Holy Spirit started convicting me of my sin. I became acutely aware that I was breaking God’s law. Finally, when God gave me new life in Jesus Christ, I was set free.
This is what the apostle Paul writes about in our text for today. By the way, much of the material for today’s sermon comes from John Stott and his commentary on Galatians. Let us read Galatians 3:23-29:
"23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
"26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:23-29)
The well-known Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe has written these words: “In the Old Testament, we have the preparation for Christ; in the Gospels, the presentation of Christ; and in the Acts through Revelation, the appropriation of Christ.”
He is right. The Old Testament is a preparation for Christ, with its prophecies, ceremonies and institutions that point forward to him.
There may be a further way in which the Old Testament is a preparation for Christ, and the apostle Paul may have had that in mind in the section of Galatians we are studying together today.
He has just indicated that God gave Abraham a promise in an unconditional manner. The promise to Abraham was that he would have right standing before God, and also that God would give him the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, when Moses came on to the scene of redemptive history and was given the law 430 years after the promise was given to Abraham, that law could not nullify the promise that God made to Abraham. In fact, the law could not give anything to anyone, other than a sense of sin and transgression, for the law was not given for life or righteousness (cf. 2:21; 3:21).
Therefore, if a man was to be justified before God, he could not be justified by the law. Only through the Abrahamic promise could life be found, and that promise had now found its ultimate fulfillment in the coming of Abraham’s true son, Jesus Christ.
Thus, there is a progression from the promise to Abraham through the law to the fulfillment of the promise in Christ. In a sense, then, the preparation of the Old Testament for Christ becomes the biography of every Christian man. He comes to Christ through the experience of conviction of sin brought about by the truth found in the Law of Moses.
Everybody is living either in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, and derives his religion either from Moses or from Christ. In the language of this paragraph, he is either “under law” or “in Christ.”
My favorite Bible commentator, John Stott, writes:
"God’s purpose for our spiritual pilgrimage is that we should pass through the law into an experience of the promise. The tragedy is that so many people separate them by wanting one without the other. Some try to go to Jesus with first meeting Moses. They want to skip the Old Testament, to inherit the promise of justification in Christ without the prior pain of condemnation by the law. Others go to Moses and the law to be condemned, but they stay in this unhappy bondage. They are still living in the Old Testament. Their religion is a grievous yoke, hard to be borne. They have never gone to Christ, to be set free."
Both stages are depicted here in the passage before us today. Verses 23-24 describe what we were under the law, and verses 25-29 what we are in Christ.
I. What We Were Under the Law (3:23-24)
First, let’s notice what we were under the law.
Our condition of what we were under the law can be described in one word: bondage. The apostle uses two graphic word pictures to describe the bondage we were in when we were under the law. The first picture is of a prison (verse 23), in which we were held captive, and the second picture is of a tutor (verse 24), whose discipline was harsh and severe.
A. A Prison (3:23)
Paul says in verse 23, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.”