The Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity, Sunday, June 19th, 2022

The Lessons: Zechariah 12:8-10, 13:1; Psalm 63; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24

The Text: Galatians 3:23-29

The Topic: Children of God by faith in Jesus Christ

INTRODUCTION

The hallmark of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is his doctrine of salvation and justification by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as opposed to salvation by obeying the Old Testament Law. Even today we cannot dismiss the teaching of this Epistle as irrelevant to our time, since there are both those who make too much of the necessity of obeying all God’s laws to obtain salvation and enter heaven and those who teach that because of salvation by faith and grace, it is not necessary for a Christian to obey the Ten Commandments.

Somehow, the Galatians had turned away from the Gospel that St. Paul had preached to them and believed that by obeying God’s law they would receive life and salvation. Under the influence of Judaizers, or Jewish Christians who believed all Christians should obey the Jewish Law, they had turned away from the doctrine of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. In Galatians 3:2, St. Paul asks them if they received the Holy Spirit by works of law, or by the hearing of faith.

St. Paul applies two significant truths to their situation.

The first is that Abraham is the father of faith in that he believed God’s promises and God credited this faith to him as righteousness (Gal. 3:6). Therefore, those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are children of Abraham, being children of faith (Gal. 3:7). To confirm the truth that God would justify people of all nations by faith, Scripture proclaimed the Gospel beforehand to Abraham in giving him the promise of God that all nations would be blessed in him (Gal.3:8).

The second truth is that all who rely on righteous deeds, or works of the law (Gal. 3:10), are under a curse, this being proved by a quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26a (Septuagint), “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10b, KJV). To support this truth, St. Paul adds that no-one is justified by law in God’s sight (Gal. 3:11), since the righteous shall live by faith (Hab. 2:4). Christians have been redeemed from the curse of the law through the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, since he became a curse for us by hanging on the cross (Gal.3:13).

What function, therefore, did the Law of God serve? It did not contradict God’s promises, but it was added to make all people aware of their transgression and sin until Christ “the seed” in whom all nations would be blessed, had come. This point was made by John Calvin in commenting on Gal. 3:19a “the law was added because of transgressions” (KJV). Calvin explained that the law was given to make transgressions obvious and so to compel people to acknowledge their guilt; otherwise, people are naturally too eager to excuse themselves if they are not confronted by God’s law (see Romans 3;20; 5:13 and 7:13). Calvin adds that the law came to arouse sleepers, and this is the true preparation for Christ.[1]

We come now to consider the verse immediately preceding our Epistle lesson for today:

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 (KJV)

What does this verse mean? It means that God, speaking through the Bible, has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that He might give His promises to all who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now there is no other reason for humanity to be imprisoned in sin but by their deliberate choice to disobey the will and the word of God. His Law requires that all who disobey be imprisoned under the power of their own sin, but His love for all mankind provided the way out of this prison into eternal life, and that way is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

GALATIANS 3:23-29: BEFORE AND AFTER CHRIST’S DEATH ON THE CROSS

At the beginning of our Epistle Lesson today, St. Paul states that before faith came, we were kept under the custody of the Law, imprisoned until faith should be revealed. What this means is that because the Law of God condemned all transgression and sin, and because all people have a natural tendency to sin, all were imprisoned, there being no effective means of expiation for their sin or of reconciliation with God. All this time, because people could not obey God’s Law, they were being kept prisoner. All this time, the Law served to teach people their need of salvation. The Law of God, then, served as a schoolmaster (paidagogos) to bring us to Christ (Gal.3:24), so that we might be justified by faith, or put in a right relationship with God, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. But now that faith has come, that is, the possibility of putting one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, and no longer imprisoned by God’s Law because of our sin (Galatians 3:25). It was important for St. Paul to demonstrate to the Galatian Christians that they were no longer imprisoned under God’s Law but set free from this prison by their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians are all God’s children through their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26), since all who have been baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). The significance of this can be understood from this illustration.

If you go to Scotland or anywhere there are a lot of sheep, sooner or later you will see a little lamb running around the field with what looks like an extra fleece tied onto its back. There are little holes in the fleece for its four legs and usually a hole for its head. If you see a little lamb running around like that, that usually means its mother has died.

Without the protection and nourishment of a mother, an orphaned lamb will die. If you try to introduce the orphaned lamb to another mother, the new mother will butt it away. She won’t recognize the lamb’s scent and will know the new baby is not one of her own lambs.

But thankfully, most flocks are large enough to have an ewe that recently lost a lamb. The shepherd skins the dead lamb and makes its fleece into a covering for the orphaned lamb. Then he takes the orphaned lamb to the mother whose baby just died. Now when she sniffs the orphaned lamb, she smells her own lamb. Instead of butting the lamb away, she accepts it as one of her own. In a similar way, we have become acceptable to God by being clothed with Christ.[2]

Because we have been clothed with Christ, all the divisions in society ultimately no longer matter. This makes all Christians, whatever their race, nationality, or economic status, whether male or female, equal before God. Since Christ is the seed of Abraham in whom all nations will be blessed, then all Christians are the descendants of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (Gal.3:29).

It is certain that Christians are not to be bound by the Law of God, but we also read that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Romans 10:4, KJV). By this we understand that Christ is the fulfilment of the law for righteousness. By putting our faith in Christ we are accounted righteous by God because of Christ’s perfect righteousness. Yet the Holy Spirit continues to work in each of us to make us conform to Christ’s righteousness in everything we think, do, or say. Our responsibility to do God’s will and obey all his commands remains, only we are no longer imprisoned by it. Instead, righteousness becomes the characteristic of an authentic Christian way of life, as St. John reminds us:

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

(1 John 3:7, KJV)

Article XII of The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England agrees with this:

XII. Of Good Works.

 

Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

CONCLUSION

How will you use the freedom you have in the Lord Jesus Christ to obey Him and do all the good works that God has prepared for you to do?


[1] p.61, T.H.L. Parker (Translator): Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries on The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965. 5th Reprinting, 1979.

[2] Peter Grant, in the sermon “In What Way Is Jesus Christ Different?” quoted on p.110, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

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