Third Sunday after Pentecost – Epistle

by Crossings

Unguarded Faith
Galatians 3:23-29
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Lori A. Cornell

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.


Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Disciplined
Reading Galatians, you might get the impression that the Apostle Paul is prone to hyperbole. Certainly our situation can’t be as bad as Paul indicates. Nor can the law be so harsh as he implies (a prison? a guard? in v. 23). We–especially we Christians–are free people, who serve the law by choice, right? And, if we misbehave, the law is simply there to remind us of the straight and narrow. Why wouldn’t we want to cooperate with the law, since it serves the greater good? Why wouldn’t we approve of the law’s work, if it creates order and justice? We are disciplined by our own choice, after all, and the law helps us stay that way. And, when we fail to show discipline, the law kindly sets us back on course.

The sad truth, though, is that none of us loves a disciplinarian. And God’s law was added to our lives to curb of our trespasses (3:19). Oh, sure, we can look back on times when we’ve been disciplined, and appreciate the lessons we’ve learned. But we hardly love the disciplinarian. Instead, while we are being disciplined, we writhe and grumble and resent every moment.

Step 2: Advance Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Imprisoned
God’s law is the harshest of disciplinarians, says Paul (v. 24): demanding that we do good, and judging us for falling short of God’s expectations. And we are incensed to think that God could be so unreasonable as to expect that we should actually meet his standards rather than our own. How could God be so unfair, we wonder, when we are trying to do our best? Such high standards are not only discipline for us, they are a prison–a cell to which we can never hold the key. Because “trying to do our best” is precisely our problem: we put our trust in ourselves–in our ability to fulfill God’s law or please God. And our trust is misplaced, for “no one is justified before God by the law” (3:11).

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Sentenced to Death
Not only are we not justified by keeping the law, but when we try to keep the law with the idea of pleasing God, we are unjustifiable. In fact, as Paul puts it, “the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (3:22). God refuses to have us second guess him, or hedge our bets with our own works of righteousness. So God consigns everything that isn’t Christ to the category of “sin” or “unrighteousness”–including our best intentions and virtues. And when we treat them as a worthy substitute for Christ’s righteousness, we are stopped dead in our transgressions. Cursed, Paul says (3:10). The automatic sentence is death.


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Pardoned
“Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” says Deuteronomy 21:23 (quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:13). Jesus too was cursed by the law. He transgressed the world’s authority and he was condemned. But God, who wrote the law, chose to subvert his own work for the sake of righteousness. And so God raised his world-forsaken Son from his three-day prison–defying the laws of nature, society, and religion. God did it so that we might no longer be subject to the law’s final sentence: “the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came,” Paul declares (v. 24). What is more, because Christ replaced the law as our guardian, we are children of God (v. 26)–not debtors, but sisters and brothers to our Savior.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Free Children and Heirs
Baptized into Christ, we claim Christ’s death and resurrection for ourselves. Because Christ overcame sin, death, and the devil for us, we lean on his righteousness. And, leaning on him, we are “justified by faith” (v. 24) and “heirs according to the promise” (v. 29). We are “clothed” in Christ–which means that without Christ (we know) we would be found naked (2 Corinthians 5:3); but, because of his righteousness, we trust that we are right with God and have a place in God’s family.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Unguarded Disciples
We are heirs of the promise. In Baptism, Christ’s legacy is now ours. But this inheritance, unlike most, is better spent than stashed away. So we take it into the world (in Word, sacraments, and service) to distribute. We do not make distinctions according to race, class, gender, etc. (v. 28). We are all one in Christ, and the message is not ours to guard but to share. So we boldly declare that (attractive as it may seem) the law condemns, but the righteousness of Christ means pardon and peace for us with God.


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