Liberating letters (May 15)

Uniform Lesson for May 15, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Galatians 3:18-29

Truth be told, freedom is not the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of growing up in the church. Growing up as a minister’s kid, church seemed to bring lots of restrictions to my life: What I could and couldn’t do on Sundays; what I could and couldn’t read or watch or participate in during the week; even what I should or shouldn’t drink once I was an adult. Yes, I could understand the law as a disciplinarian from whom I yearned one day to be free. But understanding the law as a gift? That was difficult. If the law is a gift, why would one yearn to set it aside? Let’s bring these questions to our study of Galatians.

God as a promise keeper

If Paul is clear about one thing it is that the God of Scripture is a God who makes promises. God made promises to Abraham long before God revealed the law to Israel on Mt. Sinai — 430 years before according to Paul’s count (Galatians 3:17). Therefore, it must have been Abraham’s faith or trust in God’s promise which gave Abraham life, not the rules of the law that came later. Any and every inheritance we might gain as God’s children comes from God’s promise, not our keeping of the law.

If this is true, what is the purpose of the law? Here Paul enters an argument regarding the law that is primarily negative in its connotations. The law – or Scripture as Paul more broadly describes it – convicts us of our sin. We are imprisoned under the power of sin and unable to set ourselves free (v. 22). The law restrains and guards us from evil, as a prison guard might keep an unruly population of persons under control and free from harm (v. 22). As Romans 8 describes all of creation groaning under bondage, so all of humanity is groaning under bondage to sin until the true offspring of Abraham, Christ Jesus, appears.

As long as human beings observe the law as a way of gaining life, the law becomes a means of imprisonment and restriction. This is how I experienced church as a young person. However, once we see and trust that life comes from God’s promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ, then the law is freed for a further purpose and God’s promises are opened to all.

The third use of the law

Some members of the Galatian congregation decided that circumcision should be a requirement for entry into membership in the fellowship of Christ. This gave the law the power to make one alive, versus simply convicting or restraining one from sin (v. 21). Paul would have none of this. Once Paul’s focus was back on God’s promise, and our faith in that promise now fulfilled in Christ, another role may be opened for the law as one can see elsewhere in Paul’s writings. This is a third use and a more positive one. According to The Study Catechism, the law finally “teaches me how to live a life which bears witness to the gospel, and spurs me on to do so.” It’s a guide to gratitude given for our well-being, and is now received and experienced as “a charter of liberty for all who would love, know, and serve the Lord today.” The law and the church which strives to follow it can now become a community less concerned about our boundary keeping and more overwhelmed by God’s promise keeping, a promise now open to all.

For all are one in Christ Jesus

Undoubtedly, the most familiar part of this Galatians passage occurs in verse 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.” But maybe, having come to this verse the longer way around, we may be able to hear this good news afresh. Our liberation from boundaries between human beings occurs only after we have been liberated from bondage to sin. How? By being clothed in the righteousness of Christ (v. 27). Through Christ, we can trust in the original promises of God that all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). We all become Abraham’s offspring by faith and become “heirs according to the promise” (v. 29). Now that is truly liberty for all!

For discussion:

How have the Scripture and the law become a means of liberation instead of bondage for you?

 

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