daily biblical sermons


The law was given to the Jews as a pedagogue until the time of faith, when we could be justified by faith
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, the 27th Week of the Year, October 10, 2020
Galatians 3:22-29, Psalm 104, Luke 11:27-28


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:21-29).

 

 

St. Paul today continues his teaching that the law does not lead to justification, and law keeping will not justify us. This is the key conclusion that St. Paul reaches in his letter to the Romans, when he says, “No human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

 

 

The function of the law is first of all to teach the Jews how God wants them to live. The second function of the law, which is stated by St. Paul in the quotation I just made, is that “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). In other words, first of all the law tells us what to do and what not to do to please God. Then we start failing to fully fulfill the law in some details and so when we read the law with faith, we feel guilty, because it reveals to us our sinfulness. This then leads us to seek salvation, which God himself wants to give us in Christ in the fullness of time. And that salvation is that he justifies us by Christ’s atoning death on the cross for our sins, when we put our faith in him.

 

 

What justifies us is the atonement that Christ made for us by his death on the cross, whereby he suffered our penalty for our sins for us as our substitute sent to us by God for this purpose. When we put our faith in Christ, God then counts Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as paying our debt of suffering and death that we have with God for our sins, and so since God sees that our sins have been fully paid for, he declares us righteous (justifies us). So, St. Paul concludes in Romans, “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Romans 3:28).

 

 

The question then arises what function does the law now have for us justified Christians who are justified by our faith in Christ, not by works of the law, not by our law keeping. This, then, is the third function of the law, namely, that it shows us justified Christians how God wants us now to live, and the grace of our justification now gives us the ability to keep God’s normative biblically revealed moral law, and by doing so we grow in holiness and are rewarded by God accordingly. Those that keep God’s moral law more perfectly receive a higher reward when they die or when Christ comes again (Matthew 16:27).

 

 

So we see that there are three functions of the law: 1) it shows the Jews how God wants them to live, 2) it shows the Jews (and us) their sinfulness and their failure to keep the law perfectly, and 3) it shows us justified Christians how we are now to live as “new men” who have put off the “old man”; and the grace of our justification now enables us to keep the law.

 

 

St. Paul says today, “If a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law [by law keeping]” (Galatians 3:21). But the fact is – a fact which human experience has confirmed – that the law alone is insufficient for righteousness, that is, for being justified before God.

 

 

The law was only a temporary measure to keep Israel in check while they were in their minority, still children in the faith, so that God could gradually prepare them for their Messiah and Savior who would actually justify them by his atoning death on the cross for their sins. So, St. Paul says, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed” (Galatians 3:23).

 

 

The law was like a jail keeping the Jews from getting into trouble and guiding them where they should walk, but it was not a final solution. It was only a temporary solution, while the Jews were still being trained as children in the faith. The law was given “before faith came … until faith should be revealed” (Galatians 3:23).

 

 

The faith to be revealed is the clear, explicit faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross. Faith, of course, was not totally absent in the Old Testament. Abraham had it, and St. Paul says that Abraham was justified by his faith (Galatians 3:6). This is not the full Christian faith that we have, but it was the beginnings of faith that justified Abraham in a preliminary sort of way, without a clear understanding and without the full power of justification that we have after the Savior actually performed his saving act on the cross.

 

 

Then in the next verse St. Paul switches the metaphor from the law being a prison to it being a custodian or pedagogue to teach children until they reach maturity and could be justified not by the law but by faith. St. Paul says, “The law was our custodian [or pedagogue] until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian” (Galatians 3:24-25). Now is the age of faith, which began with the coming of Christ. Before that was the age of law, which kept the Jews from getting into trouble, but did not justify them. They were justified in a preliminary way by the preliminary faith that they had.

 

 

St. Paul next speaks about the present time of faith. This is the fullness of time, when things that were only barely glimpsed in the Old Testament could now be clearly understood. In the Old Testament there was a big distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews had God’s revelation and his law. The Gentiles only had natural law, the law that God had written on their hearts (Romans 2:15), but not a divinely revealed written law, which only the Jews had.

 

 

But now that faith has been clearly revealed with the coming of Christ, all that believe in him and are baptized are justified. St. Paul says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). There is no meaningful distinction in the time of faith between Jews and Gentiles, for anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, that believes in Christ will be justified, and if he remains faithful to Christ and keeps his biblically revealed moral law, he will be ultimately saved.

 

 

If a Christian breaks God’s moral law, but repents and calls out to Christ for salvation, he will be justified anew by the atoning death of Christ. So, in Christ the Gentiles are not in an inferior position compared with the Jews, nor are slaves compared to those that are free, nor are women compared with men, for all equally receive the benefits of justification and salvation through their faith in Christ. So, these distinctions now have no meaning in terms of our standing before God, but rather we are all one. We are all “new men” in Christ. We have all “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

 

 

St. Paul’s teaching has always had the danger of being interpreted in an antinomian sense that Christ frees us from the law and from law keeping, so now we can sin all we want and suffer no bad consequences. This, of course, is an absurd falsification of St. Paul’s teaching, although different heretical groups have fallen into this throughout Christian history. Let us not be among them. Let us not be deceived by such a foolish position. Law abiding and law keeping are of the greatest importance for Christians. They are not justified by doing so, for justification only comes through faith, because of the atoning death of Christ on the cross for our sins.

 

 

But once we have received God’s justification by our faith, not by our works, because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross, then we are to be law keepers. We are to keep God’s normative biblically revealed moral law. And if we do not keep it in a grave matter, we have committed a grave sin and lose the life of God in our spirit and must repent and be justified anew through crying out to Christ for mercy especially in the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23).

 

 

I am spending a lot of time in these sermons on Galatians emphasizing that law keeping does not justify us, because I am commenting on the epistle to the Galatians, in which St. Paul is combating his opponents who are claiming that circumcision and the full keeping of the Mosaic law with all its moral and ceremonial aspects is necessary for salvation, and that by keeping the law one justifies oneself before God.

 

 

So, St. Paul had to refute this heretical teaching head on. And this is the main theme of this epistle, which we are now reading each day. So, one should not get the impression that law keeping is not important for us today, for it most certainly is, and we would ruin our lives with God if we disregarded his law and led a life of grave sin, indiscriminately following our passions and desires.

 

 

Keeping God’s normative biblically revealed moral law is the means by which we justified Christians grow in grace, in virtue, and in holiness (sanctification), for which we will be proportionately rewarded when we die, as Jesus said, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:25 NKJV).

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