Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.
Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. But 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.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
From what Paul has said to date, it might seem that he has been undermining the Torah. If neither ‘promise’ not ‘inheritance’ comes from the Torah, what is its purpose? Are those who accuse him of being an enemy of the law right? If not, Paul has to produce some pretty persuasive arguments to the contrary.
So to make his point clear, he uses a metaphor which would have resonated with his Greek hearers. He describes the Torah as a paidogogus (disciplinarian). The job of this trusted family servant was to care for a young boy and ensure that he behaved properly. Once his charge reached adulthood, his services were no longer required. What the Torah does, Paul suggests, is to guide the people of God into the kinds of behaviour that will enable them to maintain freedom once they are set free.
The Galatians would have got the point. The Torah plays an important part in the process of salvation. But it does not in itself give life. That happens through faith in Jesus Christ, in whom God’s people find right status with God.
In Christ, believers put on a new identity. Baptism is decisive. And the community of the baptised is marked by radical equality. No longer is there any distinction between Jew and Greek. And all who belong to Christ are children of Abraham and heirs of God’s promises of blessing. This gives us pause. Where children, women and men are oppressed in today’s Church, are we still ‘in Christ”?
Gracious God, ruler of our hearts, you call us to obedience and sustain us in freedom. Keep us true to the way of your son, that we may walk in the path of your kingdom. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen
The Revd’ Fleur Houston is a retired URC minister and a member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC.