Summary: We see 1) What we were, 2) What God did, 3) What God has made us
One of the hardest things about looking forward to Christmas morning is the anticipation. Especially for kids, it seems to take forever. You often get the reasonable question of “how many more sleeps until Christmas morning? Now for many of us it makes a big difference what family you visit on Christmas as to what kind of gift you would receive. I tend to get great gifts from my immediate family but if I visit extended family, I may walk away with a tin of nuts. Nuts is right!
Paul here in Galatians 3-4 discusses the elements of the spiritual family and the promise of blessing to come. Continuing his discussion of works of the law as opposed to faith in the promise, Paul now contrasts the personal effects those two approaches have on people. After showing the historical relationship between the covenant of promise to Abraham and the covenant of works through Moses and then showing the redemptive superiority of the former over the latter (vv. 6–22), he now introduces the personal application of the two covenants. In doing so, he describes the before and the after of conversion, the character and orientation of a person’s life before he trusts in God for salvation and after God grants righteousness because of that trust.
How we regard God’s law determines how we regard God. Do we see God as a cosmic kill joy, looking for ways to spoil our fun? Or do we see Him as guiding and protecting us as dear children, wanting us to be a joyous family looking forward to blessing to come?
In Galatians 2:23-4:3, we see 1) What we were, 2) What God did, 3) What God has made us
1) WHAT WE WERE: UNDER LAW: BONDAGE: GALATIANS 3:23-24
Galatians 3:23-24 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
After using the third person for most of the chapter (vv. 6–22), Paul reverts to the first person (we). In using we, he first of all identifies himself with the Jewish people, to whom both covenants were given. But in a broader and more comprehensive sense he is also identifying himself with all of mankind, Jew and Gentile. Even the most pagan Gentile who has never heard of the true God is under obligation to keep His moral and spiritual standards and, if disregarding those standards, to face the judgment of God.
Paul uses two figures to represent God’s law and its effect on unbelievers, first that of A) A prison and then that of B) A guardian.
A) THE LAW AS A PRISON: GALATIANS 3:23
Galatians 3:23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. (ESV)
As we have seen from Rom. 7:7-9 last week, the purpose of the law is to reveal and convict of sin
Before faith comes, every person is, in the deepest sense, held captive/kept in custody under the law of God and the burden of sin. Every human being lives either continuously as a captive slave chained under the judgment of God’s immutable, universal law, the demands of which he must pay by eternal death and hell, or he lives by faith as utterly free from judgment (Rom. 8:1) as a redeemed child of God under His sovereign and eternal grace.
The believer who looks back realizes that being under the law had a good effect, because it showed us our guilty helplessness, moral and spiritual bankruptcy, danger of judgment, and his need of a deliverer. The impossible demands of the law are not designed to save but to condemn sinners and drive them toward the Savior.
When Paul talks that before faith, people were held captive/In custody under the law, it refers to the nature of life where one continually violates it and is imprisoned. People are, as it were, on death row, sentenced to execution for his sin, the wages of which is death (Rom. 6:23).
Remember there are positive elements to this captivity. Paul personally experienced these. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and placed in a Roman garrison. While he was imprisoned, a group of enemies conspired to assassinate him (Acts 23:12). When this plot was discovered, the Roman Commander called out a detachment of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen to escort Paul to Caesarea. The apostle was still a prisoner but his captors actually saved his life. By placing a guard around him, they were eventually able to deliver him safely to Rome.
• In much the same way, the law kept the Jews under its protective custody. It watched over them, keeping them safe until it could lead them to Christ (Philip Graham Ryken. Galatians: Reformed Expository Commentary. P&R Publications. 2005. p. 138)