Galatians 3:23-29: 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Recently, one of our missionaries hosted a Christmas outreach gathering. Along with me, there were Hindu and Muslim leaders who presented their views of Christ and Christmas. Hindu leaders shared how Christ was a great teacher, a path of light, a moralist, and one among many gods, hence worthy of celebrating at Christmas. To Muslims, he was one of the greatest prophets, born of a virgin, not God but a miraculous man. To them he is the promised Messiah who would come back to live a normal human life, marry a woman, have children, and die; therefore, to them, Christmas is the celebration of an extraordinary prophet and Messiah who will come back to die.
The problem I saw with both religious views on Christ and Christmas was the purpose and reason why Christ had to come in the first place. The reason would be what led to Christmas, which is the birth of Christ. And the purpose would be what the birth of Christ was expected to accomplish.
I shared that Christ fulfilled close to 400 Messianic prophecies and trusting the Spirit, I just read the scriptures from Luke 1:26-33:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
This is from New Testament, but without the Old Testament, one cannot understand this proclamation of Jesus’s birth, and even then, we need help from the Holy Spirit.
In verse 28, “O favored one” is translated in NIV as “you who are highly favored” because the Greek word there is χαριτόω (charitoō) which comes from χάρις (charis), grace. The angel told Mary that she had been made an object of favor, the grace of God. This is precisely why verse 29 says, “29But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”
We as a church have been growing through the book of Galatians, a book about the gospel of grace. Grace is the free gift of God, and that’s all we need to be accepted by Him. He offers it to all mankind through Christ. This amazing gospel of grace through Christ troubles Christians and non-Christians. And the truth is, like Mary, we cannot discern it on our own we need the Holy Spirit to explain it to us.
The Word of God, in Galatians 3:23-29, explains how the progressive revelation of God’s plan of salvation for all mankind stretched over thousands of years and was finally completed in Christ and revealed in the Gospel of Christ that makes us the object of God’s grace, so that we can know the reason and purpose of Christmas.
Christmas is the good news of great joy that by grace through faith, God has fulfilled His promises to Abraham and through Abraham to all nations, that through his offspring, namely Christ, the whole world can have access to salvation.
If Christmas is about Christ, and Christ is about the cross, when we take Christ out of Christmas and the cross out of Christ’s completed work, we reject God’s grace, we make Christmas meaningless, and the Gospel of Christ hopeless.
Last night, at the Christmas Eve service, we briefly answered three questions: What is the Gospel? What does the Gospel do? Why does the Gospel matter? Here, I will expand on those three questions with a focus on the cross, to learn how God as the Promise Keeper secured the salvation of the world by revealing the Gospel of Christ in which God had to take on flesh, to die on the cross to secure our salvation. I want to show you three truths about Christmas that show how it is all about grace.
God Is the Way Maker
The first truth about Christmas that the Gospel of Christ reveals is that God is a way maker. In verses 23-24, Paul says “23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Here “captive” is translated from the Greek word phroureo which means “to keep” or “to guard;” in its negative connotation, it could be seen as a prison guard, but in its positive application, it reveals the character of a shepherd that protects his flock from outsiders. The word “imprisoned” is from synkleio, “shut up together.” This goes along with the idea of a shepherd protecting his sheep: the best way he can protect his flock is by shutting them up in a sheep pen while guarding the entryway to keep them safe.
If we assume that Paul’s defense of the law in verses 19-22 extends to verses 23-24, then what Paul might be saying is that before the Christian faith came, God gave the law to fence His flock in to a). protect them against the danger of ungodliness and the danger of straying from God, and to b). prepare them for the Gospel until Christ has come and the Gospel is revealed, so that they may readily believe in Christ and by receiving the Gospel they can be saved and declared completely justified through faith in Christ, never to be held guilty again. That is grace, a gift and favor.
The Galatians needed help understanding this. My Hindu and Muslim friends do not understand this; unfortunately, many Christians do not understand this. Therefore, they continue to attempt to please God with their good works in the hope that their good works will outweigh the bad works, but when the standard of good is so high that our righteousness is seen as dirty rags, then no amount of good is good enough. The other day I could not wear my white shirt because it had a spot on it. Under work-based salvation, one spot of sin is enough to declare us unworthy.
Just as a broken scale never works and needs to be replaced, Christmas, the birth of Christ, was the new scale of grace by which humanity will be measured for eternity. Church, God, is the way maker, and through Christ, God made the way for all humans to be saved through grace, so do not fix the broken scale; abandon it, and receive the Gospel of Christ.
God Is the Chain Breaker
The second truth about Christmas that the Gospel of Christ reveals that God is a chain breaker.
By this, I mean not only did God in Christ provide the way to escape His just wrath, which all sinners will face unless they receive Christ, but Christ also broke the chains of slavery to sin and the work of the law.
Galatians 3:25-27 says, “25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Faith has come and made the law in-active for salvation.
The word “guardian” is paidagogos in Greek. It means a leader and teacher of a child. In ancient times, a guardian watched over a child until he reached maturity. Even though it was temporary, the role was significant in shaping a child’s identity and upbringing. Once the child reached maturity, the guardian was no longer needed. Paul gives the example of a guardian to show that one may retain respect and affection for the law just as a child brought up by a guardian will always have that respect and affection, but that should not bind him to the law, whether out of habit or obligation. Now that faith has arrived, believers must operate under the faith principle and not the principle of the law, as the Judaizers were promoting.
The principle of the law preaches a very different gospel, which is no gospel. It says, believe, obey, and be saved, but the faith principle says, when you believe in Jesus, you will be saved, and as a result, you will obey. Believe, obey, and be saved puts the focus on man by way of obedience but believe, save, and obey puts the focus on the savior. Verse 26 assures that in Christ, we are all children of God. It’s interesting because my children remain my children even when they are disobedient. I may discipline them, but they will always be my children. By the way, when it says sons of God, in Greek, it actually means adopted sons of God, so, God, through Christ, broke the chains of slavery to sin, and the law and set us free in Christ to make us His adopted children. Once they are made children of God, they remain children, even when they disobey. There is the Christmas miracle that no one talks about.
God Is the Promise Keeper
The third truth about Christmas that the Gospel of Christ reveals about grace is that God is the promise keeper. Verses 27-29 say “27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
In verse 26 the emphasis on “in Christ” is the reason for our adoption as children of God, and in verse 27 the emphasis on “baptism into Christ” is symbolic of how the adoption is completed to start a new relationship with God. When we go underwater, we symbolically die to the old self, and when we come out of the water, we rise to new life in Christ.
Note three things here:
a). This put the responsibility on man in obedience to the Lord and in collaboration with the Holy Spirit to show that you are saved. This phrase “putting on Christ” brings forth what Judaizers were looking for: morality, which is the outward expression of the change one experiences inwardly.
b). Since Christ fulfilled the law, by putting on Christ, we, too, fulfill the law.
c). Once we receive the Gospel of Christ, we are baptized in Christ, which makes us one in Christ, and when we are in Christ, there are no differences based on gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or anything else.
Finally, Paul closes chapter three by showing that God kept His promises to Abraham, but the reason for that promise goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15, when God promised that the offspring of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent. Jesus the Messiah is the offspring of the woman and also the offspring of Abraham. From Adam to Abraham to Moses to David, the whole redemptive history moved toward this very movement, when God the Son was born, and the good news of His birth was given to the world. That moment did not make Him Lord or the Son of God—He was always God—but it made Him a man who could die for the sins of man and be the biological descendent of Abraham to whom the promise belonged.
To my Hindu friends, the question is, why did the world need another teacher, a moralist, a god, when already there were so many Hindu gods, gurus, philosophers, and Sanyasi, the Hindu religious men who renounce the world by performing their own funerals and abandoning all claims to social or family connections.
To my Muslim friends, the question is why would an extraordinary being, the Messiah, come back only to live an ordinary life and die a meaningless death? All the founders and heads of all religions discovered their purpose as they lived their lives. Christ was born for a reason, and His birth had a purpose that was announced and expected thousands of years before Christ was born.
What our Muslim and Hindu friends need is exactly what everyone else needs, a clear understanding of the purpose and reason for which Christ had to come in the first place. Since no one could save themselves with human effort, God Himself came to save us to offer us salvation in spite of the fact that we sin.