Sermon for Sunday June 23rd, 2019, the First Sunday after Trinity

 

The Lessons: Ps. 42; 1 Kings 19:1-16; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

The Text: Galatians 3:23-29

The Topic: The role of faith in our salvation

INTRODUCTION

I make no claim to being a good golfer, but I love to play golf and watch golf, and on good nights I even dream golf. So when I was invited to attend the Masters Golf Tournament, I was thrilled. A pass to the Masters is the golfer’s holy grail. Mine came via pro golfer Scott Simpson.

Off we went to Augusta National Country Club in Georgia where golf heritage hangs like moss from the trees. I was a kid in a candy store. It wasn’t enough to see the course and walk the grounds; I wanted to see the locker room, where the clubs of Ben Hogan and Paul Azinger are displayed.

But they wouldn’t let me in. A guard stopped me at the entrance. I showed him my pass, but he shook his head. I told him I knew Scott, but that didn’t matter. “Only caddies and players,” he explained. Well, he knew I wasn’t a player or a caddie. Caddies are required to wear white coveralls. So I left, knowing I had made it all the way to the door but was denied entrance.

God has one requirement for entrance into heaven: that we be clothed in Christ.

When someone prays, “Take away my [sinful] rags and clothe me in your grace,” Jesus, in an act visible only to the eyes of heaven, removes the stained robe and replaces it with his robe of Righteousness.

Jesus put on our coat of sin and wore it to the cross. As he died, his blood flowed over our sins and they were cleansed. Because of this, we have no fear of being turned away at the door of heaven.

— Max Lucado, “Back Door,”
Christian Reader (May – June 2000) [1]

The role of faith in our salvation is crucial to it. “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe,” Galatians 3:22 reads. Now “all” translates the Greek for “all things,” so that we can know clearly that there is nothing we can do by ourselves to win salvation or achieve it. All of us are guilty of sin, and the only thing we can do to be accounted righteous by God is receive salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The metaphor of verse 22 is that of a prison, the prison of sin. It is from this prison that Christ has set us free. Before the coming of faith, people were kept under the dominion of the law, until faith was revealed, or the possibility of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to set us free from sin. “For the law,” as St. John comments (John 1:17, KJV), “was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Though “the law is holy and the commandment is just and holy and good” (Romans 7:12, KJV), yet sin took its opportunity through the law, and man, by sinning against the law and against God, incurred guilt and died spiritually (Romans 7:11).

GALATIANS 3:23-29: THE LAW LEADS PEOPLE TO FAITH

It is important to note how Galatians 3:23 conveys the idea of people being in custody under the law before the coming of faith. St. Paul had in mind the Jewish law, and the sacrifices required to atone for sin. Of this law, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews concluded:

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.

(Hebrews 10:1-2, KJV)

This custody under the law, to which all people and their actions were once subject, was only temporary, since St. Paul does not say, “We are being held in custody under the law,” but rather that we were in such custody, being “shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (Galatians 3:23b, KJV). This means that we were imprisoned temporarily until the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel that calls for faith in him. Until Jesus Christ died on the cross to redeem the world from sin, there was no escape from the prison of guilt on account of our breaking God’s commandments, nor from God’s just sentence of death for the sinner.

God’s law was not only a prison to man until the coming of faith, but also a custodian. The Greek word used for this in v. 24, paidagogos, referred to a slave whose duty it was to lead a child to school and have charge of his conduct while at school. When the child became a man, his slave custodian was no longer needed. The effect of this metaphor is to show that God’s Law given by Moses, and revealed in the Old Testament had the salutary purpose of both teaching us God’s standards for all our behavior, and leading us, through our growing awareness of how short we fall of those standards, to Christ himself, so that we might be justified by faith in him (Galatians 3:24). In modern terms, we might say that God’s Law is our tutor, leading us to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by making us aware of God’s moral standards, and by leading us to acknowledge our need for salvation through Christ because of our sins. For a particular school teacher or tutor is not needed forever by the same person, but only until he can take his education further with the help of others and by doing his own research.

THE DIFFERENCE FAITH HAS MADE

Now that faith has come, St. Paul continues, we are no longer under the schoolmaster of the law. Instead, all Christians are children of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26). Faith and grace alone have brought about this great change, this great deliverance from the bondage of sin of which we stood convicted by God’s law. All who have been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, have clothed themselves with Christ spiritually (Galatians 3:27). We who have been baptized into union with the Lord Jesus Christ, bear his identity, and, since he has fulfilled God’s Law in his life, we have in us his Holy Spirit leading us into obedience to God’s Law by conforming us more and more to the character of Christ. The Law of God, which was external for the Israelites was meant to become internal, directing their thoughts, words and actions. But now through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, Christians have God’s Law written on their hearts (as prophesied for all God’s people in Jeremiah 31:33).

Adoption as God’s children through believing in Christ brings the unity that Christ’s identity gives to all who believe in him, so that now, even the old divisions both of Jewish law and all other law are transcended by this new identity we have in Christ as God’s children. The divisions between Jew and Greek, or Gentile, between slave and free, between male and female are transcended by the spiritual unity given us by the Lord Jesus, and this Christian identity makes Christians the spiritual descendants of Abraham and heirs who will inherit all that God has promised in his kingdom.

CONCLUSION

How great is the role of faith in our salvation! Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has brought us forgiveness of sins, deliverance from bondage, and eternal life in him, together with unity in Christ with all the rest of God’s people. The divisions in society listed in v.28 are only some of the divisions that can possibly exist, but they were the major ones in the first century A.D.

How does our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ help us to overcome divisions in Church and society today? How can our faith in Christ enable us to practice the unity with other Christians to which He calls us?



[1] p. 167, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

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