We’ve all seen the ads. The smiling models, supposedly real people just like you and me, tell their tales of what a louse and loser they were before they enrolled in the program. After just three weeks…”I lost ten pounds, I made a million dollars, I found the woman of my dreams, I…” you know the story. The “before” and “after” stories that we see on television and read about in magazines are impressive, but they can’t even begin to compare to the “before” and “after” story that we’re going to hear about today!
The before and after scenario that Paul paints for us, in such vivid colors, extends across the whole world, holds promise for every living person on the planet, and comes to the lowly and lost…who know that they are lowly and lost. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Galatians 3:23-29.
23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. 26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:23-29 NIV)
Before the fulfillment of the promise came the whole world was held as prisoners – a whole world sitting in solitary confinement. Before the promise came…
Imagine with me for a moment. If Spielberg, Spike Lee, or M. Night Shyamalan were making an infomercial for the Apostle Paul then the opening scene of “Before and After” would be set in a dank, dark, dungeon lined with rusty prison cells. A single 40 watt bulb hanging in the center of the cracked and uneven ceiling barely breaks the darkness. A symphony of instruments rises from the silence to set the mood for the moment. Deep moans and groans wail like a saxophone at the midnight hour in Deep Ellum, in the heart of Dallas. The brass section comes to life with the sounds of chains rattling on a cold concrete floor and the rhythm of prison doors being slammed behind the guilty. The camera narrows its shot to a single cell where the “three tenors of internment” wail with hopelessness and sorrow deeply carved into every note. The music and movement of the opening scene sets the tone for the director’s portrayal of the abysmal plight of humanity.
Humanities plight. Before you can ever arrive at the “after,” you must take a long, silent look at the plight, predicament, and problems of each prisoner. The plight of each prisoner is the plight of each person who is sitting within the sound of my voice this morning. As a matter of fact, the plight of each prisoner is the plight of each and every person who has ever lived.
You may think that I am exaggerating. You may be convinced that you have never been a prisoner because you’ve never worn government-issue orange or been fingerprinted. You may think that you’ve never been shackled because you’ve never heard the sounds of prison doors close behind you. You may think that I am over-reacting, but I think not. You may have never had your picture snapped in a police station, stood in a line-up, or before a Judge, but the law has already found each and every one of us in violation. The Judge of all judges has announced His sentence and we have been found guilty as charged. The evidence was overwhelming. The charges were brought and corroborated with no dispute. The jury was unanimous. It was an air-tight case. We are guilty. Guilty as charged. There will be no appeal. This is the scene Paul sets for us in the beginning of our Scripture for today. Take a look with me at Galatians 3:23.
23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. (Galatians 3:23 NIV)
Paul says that before faith came we were prisoners. The key had been thrown away and there was no defense attorney to plead our case. That, my friend, is a hopeless situation. The law found us guilty. We couldn’t keep the law in all of its requirements so we were found guilty. I want us to take a look at a couple of words that Paul uses here so that we can better understand the confinement that is suffered under the law.
The first word that I want us to take a look at is the word Paul uses for “held.” Paul says, “We were held prisoners by the law.” The Greek word for “held” means, “to guard, protect by a military guard, either to prevent hostile invasion, or to keep the inhabitants of a besieged city from flight, under the control of the Mosaic law.” The word is used four times in the New Testament. Let’s take a look at a couple of places where the word appears.
In 2 Corinthians 11:32, Paul writes about the time that a governor had an entire city surrounded and under surveillance so that he could arrest Paul. Read along with me.
32In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. (2 Corinthians 11:32 NIV)
The word is used in a positive way in Philippians 4 where Paul tells us that God will “guard” our hearts and minds if we will turn to Him in the midst of our anxiety. Read with me from Philippians 4:6-7.
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
What a wonderful promise for those of us who are being attacked by anxiety and worry about what is going on in our lives right now. Turn to Him, trust Him, rely upon Him, cry out to Him, and He will guard your mind and your heart in Christ Jesus. God will guard our minds so that we will not be enslaved and held prisoner by anxiety.
The same word is used of the law, but in a negative way, as we are told that before the promise came the law held us as prisoners. It shut us up and held us tight in its clutches always serving to remind us of our sin and our inability to meet its high demands.
In the next phrase of verse 23 Paul says that we were “locked up until faith should be revealed.” The word that Paul uses for “locked up” is an interesting word. The word means, “shut up together,” or “to enclose.” The word was used in the first century by fishermen who would catch a large number of fish in their nets. As a matter of fact the word is used in Luke 5:5 in exactly this way. Take a look with me.
5Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. (Luke 5:5-6 NIV)
Simon Peter’s nets were so full, the fish were so cramped in the nets, that the nets began to break. That is a great picture of the bind we find ourselves in under the law. We are enclosed, encircled, pressed down upon, and bound up on all sides by the law as it convicts us of our sin.
We must remember that our problem is not that the law is bad or evil. The law came from God to serve His purpose in salvation history. Our problem is that we are unable to keep the law in its entirety. Scripture teaches us that if we fail to meet every command of the law that we are guilty. We can shift the blame from our guilty conscious and blame the law, but that is like saying that geometry is flawed because we can’t pass the test.
Martin Luther spent some time in a monastery after he was converted to Christ. Luther had such a desire to be pleasing to God that he was meticulous in trying to keep himself spotless before God. Each day he would go before the priest to confess his sins during confession. Martin would pour over his soul trying to recall each and every sin that he had committed since the last time he had sat in the confessional booth. He recounted not only what he had done, but what he had failed to do so that hopefully he could walk out of the confessional with a clear conscience, no trace of sin. Luther spent so much time in the confessional racking his brain that the priest thought he was trying to avoid work.
Finally, when Martin Luther exhausted his list he would head out the door and feel clean and free…for a moment. Without fail, each time Martin would leave the confessional, before he ever got back to his duties, he would be reminded of something he had done or failed to do that he had not confessed – and the guilt would overwhelm him. The law keeps us hemmed up and penned in. The law holds us as prisoners.
Paul goes on in verse 24 to show that the law was given by God to fulfill its purpose – to lead us to Christ. Read along with me.
24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:24-25 NIV)
” The law was put in charge.” Now that’s an interesting phrase. The law was the “tutor” of God to lead us, teach us, and show us our need for the Savior. The law, according to Paul in Romans 7, pointed out his sin at every turn. Paul writes,
7What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (Romans 7:7 NIV)
If the law is a spotlight detailing our sin before our eyes, then what does that have to do with “being in charge” of us? How does the law lead us to Christ? That is a great question! First, you must understand the word that Paul uses here. The word that Paul uses is translated in different ways in different versions of the Bible. Let me give you some examples. In the New Century Version we read,
24In other words, the law was our guardian leading us to Christ… (New Century Version)
A similar translation is found in The New Living Translation of the Bible. Let me read it to you.
24Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. (The New Living Translation)
The King James Version translates the word as “schoolmaster” and the New King James uses “tutor” instead. Finally, in Dr. Eugene Peterson’s translation, called “The Message,” he writes,
Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for. (The Message)
Eugene Peterson really hits the nail on the head in capturing the true meaning of the word for “tutor. The Greek word means, “a guardian and guide of boys.” Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the upper class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.
Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 4. Turn to verses 14-15 with me and let’s take a look together.
14I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:14-15 NIV
The tutor or guardian was oftentimes harsh. He was present in the life of a child to teach him how to behave and to watch over them when they ventured out of the house. Paul is saying that you may have 10,000 who are there to scrutinize your every move and keep you in line, but you do not have many who treat you with the love of the Father.
The law, as it convicts us and shines a brilliant light upon our failures leads us to the One who alone can justify us. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise! He has come, not to condemn, but to set the captives free! Jesus’ very first public sermon contained these words,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
We could spend the rest of our lives retelling the stories of Jesus setting the prisoners free. Over and over again, everywhere He went, Jesus released those who were in bondage to every kind of prison. Zacchaeus was a tax collector who was greedy and willing to take advantage of those in his community for his own financial gain, but after he met Jesus he was set free from the prison cell of greed.
Demonic spirits had called Mary Magdalene’s heart their home until the day she met Jesus. When Jesus met Mary Magdalene the demons departed and Jesus alone had sole possession of her heart. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise! He is the freedom longed for by those who know that they are prisoners of their own sin. Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save those who are imprisoned. John wrote in John 3:17-18,
17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:17-18 NIV)
Now that the Son has come and met every requirement of the law, we are invited to believe, to trust in Jesus and what He has done for each of us. He is our righteousness. He is the payment for the sin we have committed. Paul writes in Galatians 3:25-27,
25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. 26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:25-27 NIV)
We no longer have need for a guardian or tutor to make sure that we arrive where we are intended to go – Jesus is our destination. Paul said that we are all sons of God when we put our faith in Christ Jesus. Paul is echoing the words of the Apostle John where he wrote in John 1:12-13,
12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13 NIV)
John and Paul got their Christology from Jesus who taught all of His followers that He was the way to the Father. Jesus said,
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)
I know that we live in a day when society tells us that there are many ways to God. The message is even gaining a wider audience in the Church as teachers and preachers who want to try and fit in with society teach that Jesus is our “Christ,” but God may have other ways, other roads for other people. These teachers and preachers look upon God’s Word as merely another book on the shelf and not the infallible Word of God. I don’t care about fitting in any where. I only want to please my Father and be obedient to His Word. Jesus said, “I am the way…No one comes to the Father except through me.”
For those who believe God’s Word and trust in Jesus as their sole justification, Paul says that we are “clothed in Christ Jesus.” Being “clothed with Christ” or “clothed with the Spirit of God” is a theme that runs throughout God’s Word. John MacArthur writes about this in his commentary. Listen to these powerful words.
When Gideon faced the overwhelming forces of the Midianites and the Amalekites, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon” him (Judg. 6:34). “Came upon” literally means “clothed,” indicating that Gideon was enshrouded, or mantled, with the Holy Spirit as a divine coat of armor. That is the concept Paul uses here. The believer who identifies himself with Jesus Christ through faith is divinely clothed … with Christ. That is a graphic way to describe how Christ’s life, presence, and righteous nature envelop the believer. (John MacArthur, Galatians, p. 99)
In biblical times those who were baptized put on new clothes after their baptism to signify their new life in Christ. Their new clothes were not simply symbolic, they were significant. When we are “clothed in Christ’ we not only put on the new garments of eternal life, but we put on the new garments of His way of living. Paul wrote to the Colossians and told them to take off their old way of life and put on the new. He describes it this way.
8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:8-14 NIV)
We become clothed with the virtues of Christ at our new birth, when we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The way Jesus lived is the way we are called to live, empowered by His Spirit.
We are also made part of a new family – a family in which the differences of race, class, and gender are overcome by the ties that bind us together. In our last section of Galatians, Paul writes,
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29 NIV)
There is no disputing the fact that in society there are differences that separate us. These barriers are insurmountable in society. I’m not being negative; I’m just telling the truth. For those of you who doubt what I am saying, just give me a minute to explain. We have years and years and billions of dollars that testify to the fact that government programs do not bring us together. We have every sort of “sensitivity training” known to man, but we still suffer from the deep divides of class, race, and gender. That great African American theologian, Rodney King, pleaded with us, “Can’t we all just get along?” and the answer that has sounded with resounding clarity since that day is, “No!” Society, education, government policy, sensitivity training, and sophistication hold no promise for bringing us together. Only Jesus can bridge the divides that separate people. Only Jesus can turn foes into family. Only Jesus can turn adversaries into allies. Only Jesus can transform mortal enemies into eternal brothers and sisters.
In Christ, the Jew and the Gentile, the slave and the free, men and women are loved, forgiven, and called into a bold new creation! If God has reached out to us like this while we were enemies of the cross, then it is imperative that we extend the same hand of fellowship and forgiveness to one another. There is no excuse that is big enough to separate us. There is no history of animosity that the story of His grace and mercy can’t rewrite.
You need to know that this is not a natural by-product of the new creation. What we see in society, with all of the divisions and schisms, is all too often what we see in the Church of our Savior today. Once again I’m not being negative, I’m just telling the truth. Think about it. Churches today are filled with folks who look alike, have the same interests, and seek their comfort rather than the cause of Christ. Office buildings and factories better reflect the heart of God than His Church. On Monday morning men and women from every neighborhood, every class, and every race park their cars and gather with a mission in mind. They produce a product, provide a service, or assemble under the banner of a cause. They go home each evening to their own homes and begin the same routine the next morning. On Sunday morning those who worked side-by-side with people who were so different from themselves because they shared a common vision go to their “own” church. They go to black churches, white churches, Hispanic, Indian, and Asian churches. Poor folks who don’t have the “right” clothes to wear feel too intimidated to visit the ornately decorated church on the corner. Wealthy folks feel intimidated to visit the church in the “hood” because of the stories they’ve heard about gangs, drugs, and crime. Because of these barriers brothers and sisters in Christ stick with those they feel comfortable with…and the heart of God is grieved.
How do I know that the heart of God is grieved? Is it because I am a great proponent of the politically correct teaching that we are all one and we just need to love one another because it is the right thing to do? Great idea, but there is no evidence that it is possible just because it is the “right” thing to do. Is it because the world would be better off and experience a greater peace if we all got along? Good reason, but not the best…and neither is it the biblical reason. The reason I say the heart of God is grieved is because God’s Word teaches us that when all of God’s people are gathered around His throne for the first time there will be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, or men and women. Turn with me to Revelation 7:9 and let me show you what I am talking about.
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10 NIV)
Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are called to come together, but we ain’t there yet. The great divide still exists, we are still separated, we are still huddled with those who are more like us than “them.” We need one another. The wall of division was torn down on the hill of victory, at Calvary, but we need a family reunion.
Unity comes only through Jesus, but before we can ever be united as a people we must first come to God by faith, by ourselves – we must come to Jesus who is calling us to join the family of faith united in His blood, the blood of redemption for all of His people.
Let me close by taking you back to the infomercial of “Before and After.” If you will remember that dark, gloomy scene of prisoners shackled behind bars and without hope. When the darkness grew darkest, just as the 40 watt bulb was flickering for the last time, the door to the prison house swings open and stepping through the door is the Radiance of Light. The Man in the doorway holds a key in His hand that is the key to every cell. As He strolls down the narrow hallway light dances from His finger tips and illuminates every stone, every cell, and every heart. The prisoners notice the radiance of His glory and the soundtrack of shackles, chains, and wailing is replaced with the wonder of a choir singing together, “Come Lord! Over here Lord! Thank You Lord!”
Some prisoners continue to lay upon their bunks even though Freedom has stepped onto the scene. Others rush their cell door and anticipate Freedom’s release. Before they were hopeless, they were in isolation, but after Freedom came they came together and formed a family of gratitude…those redeemed by grace. You are invited to the family.