Summary: Before conversion a person is under the law and suffers the bondage that relationship brings; after conversion one is in Christ and enjoys the freedom that relationship brings.
Under the Law or in Christ?
Continuing his discussion of works of the law versus faith in the promise, Paul in our text before us tonight, now contrast the personal effects those two approaches have on people. He introduces to us the personal application of the promise made to Abraham and the covenant of works through Moses. By doing this, he describes the before and the after of one’s conversion, the character and orientation of a person’s life before he trusts in God for salvation and after God grants him righteousness because of that trust. Before conversion a person is under the law and suffers the bondage that relationship brings; after conversion one is in Christ and enjoys the freedom that relationship brings.
I. Under Law: Bondage (vv. 23-24)
• Even the most pagan person who has never heard of the true God is under obligation to keep His moral and spiritual standards and, if he disregards those standards, to face the judgment of God.
• Paul here in our text uses two figures to represent God’s law and its effect on the unbelievers.
o The Law as a Prison (v. 24)
Prior to God’s revealing salvation in Christ, men were in a spiritual prison.
The powerful words of Paul in another epistle are a good place to begin the consideration of man’s imprisonment before faith came.
Paul in Romans 1:18-21 declared, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, 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.”
In the next chapter of that same epistle Paul goes on to explain that “when Gentiles 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” (2:14-15).
Whether it is through the written law of the Scripture or the inward law of conscience, until a person acknowledges his basic sinfulness and inability to perfectly fulfill the demands of God’s law, he will not come repentantly to seek salvation.
• Until one despairs of themselves and their own sinfulness, they will not come in humble faith to be filled with Christ’s righteousness.
• A person that says they want salvation but refuses to recognize and repent of his sin deceives himself.
• Salvation is deliverance from sin, and a person cannot want to keep his sin and at the same time want to be free from it.
• You cannot truly want the new Christ-life of righteousness without renouncing the old self-life of sin.
The purpose of the law is to reveal and convict people of sin.
• Forgiveness means nothing to a person who is either unaware they have done anything wrong or is unconvinced the wrong they know has produced any serious consequences to them.
• Grace means nothing to a person who does not know they are sinful and that such sinfulness means they are separated form God and damned.
• It is therefore pointless to preach grace until the impossible demands of the law and the reality of guilt before God are preached.
In the opening chapter of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan writes:
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back, I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?”
• A short while later the man encountered a evangelist, who asked, “Wherefore dost thou cry?” The pilgrim answered, “Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment.” The evangelist then pointed the pilgrim toward a gate in the distance and to a light beyond it and a hill. With a great burden on his back and the book in his hand, the Pilgrim starred off toward the hill, crying out, “Life! Life! Eternal life!”