Summary: This sermon contrasts life under the Old Covenant with the freedom found in Christ under the New Covenant.
GOD'S WAY TO FREEDOM
We can imagine how terrible it is to be in prison. Here many freedoms are taken away. Having to support the prison system is an economic drain on the taxpayer even though they provide jobs. Though some prisons have modern conveniences, many of them are places we would not want to stay. To be placed in some prisons would put us among rapists, murderers, homosexuals, robbers, child abusers and molesters and others who have committed felonies of various natures. Many in prison become victims of such people. They are raped, robbed, molested and sometimes even murdered. Then there are the reports of guards raping female inmates. Our society is set up in such a manner that one who commits a major crime may very well find themselves in such a place. After a trial by jury and an appearance before a judge, sentence is passed on the one who has committed the crime. It will be jail for a certain period of time, some probation and perhaps a fine. Once the person enters that cell, many of the freedoms they had on the outside are taken away. No longer can they go anywhere they want or do the things they might enjoy doing. We could think of all the things we could not do in prison that we take for granted each day. They are enslaved to a degree as punishment for their crimes.
In like manner, the Bible says people are enslaved; in prison if you will. Our sinful nature enslaves and puts us in prison because we cannot help but carry out the desires of that sinful nature. The law we break may not be the law of our given society, but it is the law of God. God has established rules he expects individuals to obey. Our sinful nature places within us the propensity to rebel against these laws. The only way God accepts us is if we perfectly obey these laws. Since we cannot do this, we become prisoners of our own making. We are in a hopeless situation. The good news is the grace of God, shown in the Calvary cross episode of Jesus Christ his Son, can deliver us from such a terrible plight. The way this takes place is through faith, and this is the only way.
The Galatians knew this. In fact, they accepted Paul’s message that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. However, the Judaizers came in teaching they must work for their salvation. Now many of them were backtracking. They were now trying to earn what was free. They were trying to perfectly obey what they did not have the power in themselves to obey.
Now if the law puts a person under a curse as Paul previously states, what was God's purpose in giving the law. If faith was always the only way a person could come to Christ, why the law? Why would God give something he knew we could never obey? Paul answers this question in these verses, and at the same time reminds us once again that faith is God's way to freedom from the sin that entangles us.
I. UNDER THE LAW IS BONDAGE
Paul speaks of being kept under the custody of the law. He was a Jew just like those he now found himself confronting. He had experienced living under the covenant of the law but was now living under the covenant of grace. He then uses two figures to represent the law and the effect it has on unbelievers. They are prison and guardian.
Prior to the time God revealed his plan of salvation in Jesus Christ, people were in a spiritual prison. Paul says this was before faith came. Listen to what Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans; “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:18ff)
He later writes; “When unbelievers who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” (Romans 2:15)
Paul is saying that whether a person is a Jew and therefore is familiar with the Law of God or a Gentile who has never heard of the law of God is immaterial. Both are responsible to God. The Jews may have had the written law of Scripture, but the Gentiles had the inward law of conscience. Until a person admits they are in this prison unable to free themselves, they will never appeal to God for salvation. The law becomes their prison. If they will not appeal to God for grace, he will judge them on their obedience to his law, written or otherwise. Of course, all will fail this test of obedience apart from the grace of Christ.