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Galatians 3:19-25: Ex-Con’s for Christ

God’s Law imprisoned all men with no way of escape, keeping all of us effectively on “death row,” waiting to receive our just punishment of death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Without Christ we are desperately in need of a pardon (in this case, from God). Liberty is the only thing on the mind of the inmate, and God is the only One who can provide that liberty. “The Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God's promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:22 NLT).

In the church at Galatia there were those who were guilty of mingling grace and works. They were teaching that in order to be a Christian, they had to believe in Christ by faith, but also had to observe rituals, of circumcision and Levitical law. Paul even suggests that they have been “bewitched,” (3:1) by the Judaizers. So Paul writes to correct this problem in hopes of giving them liberty in Christ apart from the Law.

Peter Marshall prayed before the United States Senate, “Lord Jesus, Thou who art ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make us all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved, but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Help us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right.”

If the Law can’t save, and if humankind can only be saved by believing, not by good works, then why did God give the Law in the first place? Why all of the regulations in the Old Testament and the 613 additions to the Law by the Pharisees that governed virtually every area of a Jewish person’s life?

“The law has never saved anyone, and it never will. God did not give it to redeem us from sin but to show us our need of salvation. That's why the apostle Paul called it “our tutor.”

“In an unforgettable sermon, evangelist Fred Brown used three images to describe the purpose of the law. First, he likened it to the small mirror dentists use. With the mirror they can detect cavities. But they can't drill with it or use it to pull teeth. The mirror reveals the decayed area or other abnormality, but it can't fix the problem.

Brown then drew another analogy. He said that the law is also like a flashlight. If the lights go out at night, you use it to guide you down the darkened basement stairs to the electrical box. When you point it toward the fuses, it helps you see the one that is burned out. But after you've removed the bad fuse, you don't insert the flashlight in its place. You put in a new fuse to restore the electricity.

In his third image, Brown likened the law to a plumb line. Builders check their work by using a weighted string. If this plumb line reveals that the work is not true to the vertical, the plumb line cannot correct it. The builder must get out a hammer and saw.

Like the mirror, flashlight, and plumb line, the law points out the problem—sin, but it doesn't provide a solution. The only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the law. Only He can save.” —D. C. Egner, Our Daily Bread

Verse 19a: “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.”

The Law was a temporary measure, put in place to control sin until the promised Seed should come, who would bring God’s promised blessing to the world.

The Judaizers in Galatia believed since God gave the Mosaic Law after He gave the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Law took precedence over the Abrahamic Covenant as the basis of salvation. In Galatians 3:15-18, the Apostle Paul showed that the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional and in operation 430 years before the Mosaic Law was given, and it does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God. For the Galatians, and us all that God has promised was given to Christ, the Seed of Abraham, and all of that is ours by faith.

“What purpose then does the law serve? If salvation came through faith even for Abraham, why did God bring in the Law 430 years later? What was the purpose of the Law? Paul says the Law was, “added Because of transgressions.” “What he means is that where there is no law there is no sin. A man cannot be condemned for doing wrong if he did not know that it was wrong. Therefore the function of the law is to define sin, not by having to measure up to a set of rules which the covenant of law demands.” –Barclay

Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law.”

Romans 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Verse 19b: “…and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.”

Apparently, angels were representatives of God when this covenant was made, when the Law was given.

Psalm 68:17 AMP, “The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them as He was at Sinai, in holiness.”

Acts 7:53 NLT, “You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

“The Old Testament makes no mention of the presence of angels at the giving of the Law; but it was a common opinion among the Jews, that the Law was given by the instrumentality of angels, and arranged by them; and Paul speaks in accordance with this opinion. “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward” (Hebrews 2:2). The sentiment here is, that the Law was prescribed, ordered, or arranged by the instrumentality of the angels--an opinion, certainly, which none can prove not to be true.” –Barnes

Verse 20: “Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.”

“Where there is a mediator to a covenant more than one party must be involved. That is why mediation takes place.

“I think Paul probably meant that a mediator (here the angels, Galatians 3:19) is necessary when two parties make an agreement in which they both assume responsibilities, as in the reciprocal Mosaic Covenant. However a mediator is not necessary when the covenant is unilateral, as when God made the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant.” –Constable

“But in the case of the promises to Abraham there was no mediator. It was like a will, or an irrevocable settlement. God said, and it was done. Only God was involved, and God is One. So that covenant with Abraham was a purely divine transaction, totally unalterable and irrevocable, and thus far superior to any other. For God is the unchanging God (Malachi 3:6), the One in Whom is no variableness, nor shadow resulting from His moving His position (James 1:17). He does not alter in what He has promised.” –Pett

Verse 21: “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.”

Swindoll says, “You can almost hear the Judaizers shouting the question…’Is the Law then against the promises of God?’ Is God contradicting Himself? Does is right hand not know what His left hand is doing?

Paul’s answer is an unequivocal, “Certainly not!” Or as some today might say, “Are you kidding me? No way!” If one could be saved through the Law then Jesus death was nothing more than a horrible, ruthless Roman execution and a tragedy!

Jesus came to fulfill the Law! “You must not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to complete them” (Matthew 5:17 Phillips). “For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:4 NLT). “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12).

Verse 22: “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Someone refers to believers as, “Ex-cons for Christ.”

Paul is probably quoting from Psalm 142:2, “For in Your sight no one living is righteous.”

“Confined,” in Greek is, sugkleio meaning “shut in on all sides or trapped as a fish in a net.” The same word is used in Luke 5:6, when the disciples were getting a valued fishing lesson from Jesus, “When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break.”

“Scripture in its divine utterances regarding the universality of sin, is spoken of as a jailer who shuts all up in sin as in a prison. The function of the law was therefore to convict of sin that men might turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation.” –Wuest

“The jailer is the Scripture—a lawful authority, for the Scripture is not the word of man, but of the Spirit of God. If the Scriptures shut you up in sin, you are shut up by a lawful authority, against which you cannot rebel (Ed: Oh, you can try to rebel, but you will not succeed!). God has done it; God’s own voice has declared you to be a prisoner under sin. No authority is more powerful than that of Scripture, for it is not only true, but it has force to support it.”–Spurgeon

1 Kings 8:46 “…for there is no man who does not sin.”

Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.”

Isaiah 64:6 NLT, “We are all infected and impure with sin.

When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.”

Romans 3:23, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

1 John 1:8-10, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

“Whether through the written law of 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 he despairs of himself and his own sinfulness, he will not come in humble faith to be filled with Christ’s righteousness. A person who says he wants 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 be free from it. He cannot truly want the new Christ-life of righteousness without renouncing the old self-life of sin.” –MacArthur

Verse 23a: “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.”

“Kept under Guard,” in Greek is phroureo, meaning, “to pay attention to something, the action involved in guarding or protecting. To keep by guarding, blocking every way of escape, to keep under lock and key.” Phroureo is a military metaphor speaking of a fortress with strong walls being guarded by a battalion of soldiers.

“The law was a jailer who held in custody those who were subjected to sin, in order that they should not escape the consciousness of their sins and their liability to punishment.” –Wuest

Verse 23b: “…kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.”

God’s Law hemmed in all men, in a sense keeping all men in prison with no way of escape, keeping all of us effectively on “death row,” waiting to receive our just punishment of death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Like a criminal on death row, desperate in need of a pardon from the Governor (in this case, God), the Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin (using the Law), the Father offered a pardon (giving us grace), and Christ effected the pardon by His death and resurrection. Our part was simply to accept the pardon, the redemption provided by the precious blood of Jesus. “…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18,19). He Alone can set us free from the sentence of death!

“Well do I remember when I was ‘imprisoned’ in this fashion. I struggled and strove with might and main to get out, but I found no way of escape. I was ‘imprisoned’ until faith came, and opened the door, and brought me out into ‘the glorious freedom of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21). The only thing that could bring us out of prison was faith. Our duty is to show men how the way of human merit is closed. We must shut them up to simple faith only, and show them that the way of faith is available.” –Spurgeon

When Jesus comes the tempter's power is broken

When Jesus comes, all tears are wiped away

He takes the gloom and fills my heart with glory

For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay.

So men today have found the Savior able,

They could not conquer passion, lust and sin;

Their broken hearts had left them sad and lonely,

Then Jesus came and dwelt, Himself, within.

–Oswald J. Smith–

Now, Paul develops this idea further, he changes the picture again from the law as a judge and the law as a jailer to that of a tutor.

Verses 24: “Therefore the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

”Tutor” or “schoolmaster” are not necessarily the best translation of this word which is translated from the Greek word, paidagogos, meaning, “a boy's guardian, custodian, or legally appointed overseer, authorized to train (bring) up a child.” Today we would call him a “nanny,” doing what was necessary to promote the child’s development. The paidagogos was typically a trusted slave who would act as a mentor and disciplinarian until the child came to the age of maturity in their culture. The King James version, translates the word “schoolmaster.”

‘The custodian was not a teacher, but a slave whose special task was to look after a child. He exercised a general supervision over the boy’s activities, and it was his responsibility to bring him to the teacher who would give him the instruction that befitted his station.’ (Morris)

When the child has grown, he doesn’t do away with the ‘The simile of the schoolmaster is striking. Schoolmaster’s are indispensable. But show me a pupil who loves his schoolmaster.” –Luther

“Paidagogos is a very common term for a disciplinarian who carried a rod and whacked the boys when they didn't conform. That's exactly what the law does. The law is a paidagogos. Paul says, ‘It is the paidagogos to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.’ The Jew would say, ‘You're saying the law has no purpose if everything is faith. What good is the law?’ The law is a lot of good. The law carries a big club and whacks away at us, disciplining us, severe discipline. It readies the heart, under its tutelage, for eager acceptance of the freedom of the gospel of faith. You know, I'm sure one thing a boy would want to do would be to grow up and get rid of this paidagogos. What a day when he experienced freedom! That's exactly what the law is to do; it is to drive you to freedom through the gospel of faith.” –MacArthur

Verse 25: “But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”

Before faith entered the scene, all of mankind was under arrest by the Law, and incarcerated, now through our faith in Him, the jail doors are opened and our paidagogos has been retired. Since Christ has come, the reign of the law has ended for those who believe. We are free, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36). “Galatians 5:1 NLT, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law” (Galatians 5:1 NLT).

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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