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God gave the Law through Moses, not so that men would be justified by works for 1500 years, but in order to teach His heirs about His righteous character. That Law, once revealed, made the heirs accountable to it, even as children are held accountable by the house rules of their parents or by the rules of the Tutor. The heirs were yet children and imperfect. So, “because of transgressions,” God gave them the Law to train them in His ways.
Paul's question, in light of these judgments, comes in Gal. 3:21, 22,
21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be. For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe [those who have faith].
The Law forced us to recognize that no man could ever achieve righteousness by his own will. His death-ridden nature, inherited from Adam, made it impossible for anyone to perform perfectly from birth. It was God's intent to prove this to us so that we would all be forced to go through the other door of salvation—the Faith door of the Promise given to Abraham.
Since the days of Adam and Eve, his entire household has been under arrest for falling short of the glory of God. Even the single law, “Do not eat of this tree,” was found to be impossible to keep. So the law has kept the world in custody to the present time.
23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
The Law arrested us for criminal behavior, and being held in custody under a life sentence, our condition was hopeless until the key of Faith opened the door of our prison.
24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.
What has this “tutor” taught us?
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
When we have learned the four great lessons from our tutor, we receive the key that unlocks the prison doors and sets us free from the tutor. Does this mean, then, that we are now free to sin? Some have taken this to mean that Faith is a license to sin (transgress the Law). We know that this is not what Paul meant, because he condemned such thinking in Romans 6:1, 2, saying,
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin [transgressing the Law] that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
We were not released from the prison of self-righteous effort just to continue living in sin. Grace did not put away the Law, as if the righteousness of God suddenly changed to allow murder, theft, and covetousness. Far from it. Faith has set us free from the tutor in that we no longer depend upon our own righteous works as a precondition to inherit the promise of God.
Jesus Christ performed the Law perfectly as a sinless man. He did what no other could do. As an ”unblemished” Passover Lamb (Ex. 12:5), He qualified as the antitype Lamb that would set us free from the House of Bondage. The original bondage was in Egypt; the greater bondage that God had in mind was the bondage of sin and our self-righteous but feeble efforts to achieve the promise by our own strength.
The Law was not only our taskmaster, but also the revelation of our promised inheritance. Under the Old Covenant, the Law was a righteous tutor but also was our prison warden holding us accountable for our sin. Under the New Covenant, Jesus Christ brings us the promise of the Holy Spirit, who takes that same righteous warden-tutor and places him in our hearts by faith. The Holy Spirit writes the Law in our hearts, giving us the righteous character that we could never achieve by our own strength.
27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
And finally, with the dividing wall discarded, all may now approach God equally, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free man, male or female. God's equitableness and impartiality have been restored. Man's misinterpretations of the mind of God have been corrected. For that reason, Paul concludes, if anyone belongs to Christ (i.e., as His body), that person is an heir of the promise, Abraham's seed.
Galatians 4:1-3 says,
1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.
Paul was showing the divine plan for the Old Covenant time frame. The Israelites were children in their understanding of the character of God. Though they were heirs of all things through Abraham, they were in need of training.
So also it is with all of us. God called Moses to mediate the Old Covenant for the heirs. Its purpose was good, not evil, for it was designed to show the children how to live equitably with each other, treating each other with love and with equal and impartial justice toward all. Ultimately, the righteous standard was given also to define the righteousness of Christ that would be our inheritance by the time we matured spiritually.
So even in the days of Moses, faith was still required for salvation. Moses was just the tutor of the will of God, that is, the mind of Christ. This was known to Moses, David, and all the prophets, for faith was their way of life. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). They heard God and were obedient to His voice.
Hence, the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk recognizes this, saying, “the just shall live by faith” (2:4). The difference between them and us today is NOT that we have faith and they did not. The difference is that they saw only a shadow of things to come, whereas we are now able to see a much clearer picture. Their faith in Christ was based upon animal sacrifice, whereas today the True Sacrifice has replaced the types and shadows.
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons [huiothesia, “Son-Placing”].
Paul is appealing to the Galatians by reminding them that they are supposed to be grown up now. Paul had labored in their midst already. They had come out of the bondage of religious attempts at self-perfection. They had found righteousness through the New Covenant.
Yet the Judaizers had caused them to return to the path of bondage, as if they had regressed in their maturity. Having grown up earlier, had they now returned to being minors under tutors and managers?
6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
The Galatian problem itself reveals something that is very important. It is possible for us as individuals to progress or regress in this area of Sonship. In fact, we see much of the Church today regressing into “Christian Judaism,” largely through the influence of 19th century Dispensationalism, but more recently through the “messianic” movements and Christian Zionism.
Hence, there are two types of “children” in the Church today, the daughters of Sarah and Hagar. Hagar’s children support a Jewish Kingdom centered in Jerusalem, where Christ is high priest of a Levitical Order. Sarah’s children work for the establishment of New Jerusalem, where Christ is the high priest after the Order of Melchizedek.
Paul's appeal is that we are to grow up and begin to act like Sons, rather than slaves. He appeals to Hagar’s children that they should follow his own example of conversion, forsaking Mother Hagar and claiming Sarah. Only in this way can they receive the promised inheritance from Abraham.
Before we get too far from Gal. 4:4, I want to comment on Paul's statement that Christ came “born of a woman, born under the Law.” The reference is obviously to his mother, Mary. She is a very good illustration, because she conceived Christ by the Holy Spirit while the Old Covenant was yet in effect—and yet she exhibited great FAITH. She was one of Moses’ prize students, for she had learned the mind and will of God. Luke 1:38 says,
38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Born under the Law, she was a “bondslave.” Yet her statement reveals her New Covenant faith as an individual. Paul has much to say about this later.