We are in by grace and we stay in by grace. We rely on God’s promises and not God’s law to save us. We must never forget how offensive this gospel is. We need to find creative ways to tell it.
Let me remind you of the Cinderella story. Cinderella’s stepmother was mean, as were her two step sisters. Cinderella was reduced to being a slave. Then one day the fairy godmother dressed her up for the ball, where she danced all night with the prince. They fell in love, but as she had to be back by midnight, she left her glass slipper behind. The prince searched high and low until he found Cinderella. Eventually they marry and live happily ever after.
So much you have undoubtedly heard before. But now let me tell you the untold Cinderella story, “Cinderella Part 2”.
Cinderella was kind enough to allow her cruel step mother and selfish sisters to live in the palace. She was a good, good girl. Then one day a preacher came into the kingdom. He preached that a person is put right with God by faith in Christ alone: that no one was so bad that they could not be forgiven, and that no one was so good that they don’t need to be forgiven.
The wicked stepmother and stepsisters were convicted by the Spirit of their many sins. They humbly received Christ as their Lord and saviour, and were overjoyed about the good news that they had come to believe.
Cinderella was more than happy for her stepmother to come to Christ. However, the preacher then told Cinderella that she too was not good enough for God. Cinderella was furious. After all that she had gone through, and after everything she had done for her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, she was furious. She truly felt she was good enough for God. She didn’t need to have Jesus die for her on the cross. So on judgement day, the Stepmother and stepdaughters were welcomed into the kingdom, while Cinderella missed out.
When I told that story to one of my daughters, she so upset with me that she kept following me around the house saying, “That is not true dad, is it?
In the part of the story that I added, Cinderella was offended by and upset at the gospel of grace. She did not understand that she needed to be clothed in Christ just like her stepmother and stepsisters. She wanted to be united to her sisters on the basis of her mercy, and not on the basis of Jesus’ mercy.
If people can’t be justified by the law, why then did God give the law? Was it a late change in the rules?
In Genesis 12, God had promised Abraham, a 75 year old Iraqi pensioner, that he would be the father of a great nation. But by Genesis 15, Abraham still had no kids. So God re-issued the promise of children to a very old Abraham. God said to Abraham, “look at the stars of the sky” and said to Abraham, “So shall your offspring be.” Abraham believed God, and he was reckoned as righteous (Gen 15:6), and then God turned the promise into a covenant or pact with Abraham. Abraham was told to get a series of animals and to cut them in two. As the sun set, Abraham fell asleep, and only God passed between the animals. Importantly, God was saying that if he doesn’t keep his promise, then may what happened to the animals happen to him! And then Paul used the example of a covenant in the law of his day, Galatians chapter 3 verse 15:
Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. (NIV)
Once the covenant was solemnly executed by God, it could not be reversed or changed. God had made a covenant with Abraham, and God doesn’t make promises that he doesn’t keep. It’s locked in! The law cannot and will not undo those promises.
Now Paul gets us to look closely at the promise. Notice how the promise of blessing was made to Abraham “and his seed” singular, not “seeds” plural. Galatians 3:16-17:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. (NIV)
The promise was given to Abraham and to his seed, singular, who was Jesus. Jesus came 2000 years after. The promise by-passed the law, and the point is that God’s blessings will only come by trusting in the promises of God in Jesus, and not by the obedience to law.
The law and promise are team mates playing in different positions. It’s not like NSW verses QLD. Rather, the gospel and the law play different roles on the same team. Sure, each came about in different ways. The promise came first hand by God alone, and the law came third hand—from God, through Angels, to Moses, and then to the people. The Old Covenant law is not anti-grace. The law was given for God’s people to live in light of grace, which leads to our next point.
Paul gives two reasons why the law was given. The law was given because of transgressions, Galatians 3:19:
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. (NIV)
God’s law revealed the heart of sin in the heart of humans. Elsewhere, Paul says that he would not have known that coveting was wrong if God’s law had not said, “You shall not covet”. All 613 commands of the Old Testament law marked out every aspect of life for the people of Israel. The law drew a line in the sand and told Israel right from wrong. But the law did more than that. And here is the surprise—that God’s law arouses sin. The law didn’t prevent sin—it provoked it. In fact any law does that.
You and I both know the law of the state—Don’t text while driving. You and I both know that there is a serious fine and demerit points for texting while driving. You and I both know that 80% of people have texted in the car while driving.
Israel is the classic case study of the limits of the law. Of all nations of the world, God personally gave his covenant law to just one nation at Mt Sinai. Yet, Israel ended up worse than all the nations of the world! Sin uses God’s law to incite more sin. Tell someone what to do, and they want to do the opposite.
You may know my own test of this. One day my wife Sandy came through the door with bags in hand from shopping. I said, “Sandy, whatever you do, don’t read page 8 of the Blacktown Star.” She went straight to the paper, turned to page 8, and said, “What don’t you want me to look at?” God knew that when he gave the law, it would increase rebellion. And the defect was not in the law but in us. So when the law meets us, we either reject the law and live in rebellion or embrace the law and live in self-righteousness.
As a result, God’s law is built to drive us to Jesus. God also gave the law as a guardian for his people Israel.
Picture Israel like a child and the law like a guardian waiting for Israel to grow up. The law also restrains sin through penalties and sacrifices, Galatians 2:23-24:
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (NIV)
The law also provided direction and restraint for Israel. The law instructed the young teenage Israel how to live. But it could not give Israel a new heart. The result was that Israel was in permanent adolescent rebellion, until the day when God gave them his Son and his Spirit and a new heart. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
Here is an example. Think of a couple who fall in love. They make promises to each other, formalized in a marriage covenant on their wedding day—for better or worse. This is like the Abrahamic covenant. Time passes and the marriage goes sour. Each brings their quota of sinfulness to the marriage. They have hit a brick wall. After three years they end up going to the counselor. The marriage is so broken that the counselor gives them a tight list of ‘dos and don’ts’. He is to buy flowers each Friday. She is to let him play Xbox for two hours each week. Neither are to mention the in-laws. This is like the giving of the law 430 years after the promises to Abraham. The marriage was still based on those wedding promises, but the counselor’s plan served as a guardrail for a limited time.
Eighteen months later, the wife is seriously sick with cancer, and with only weeks to live, her husband gives her his kidney and bone marrow. This act of sacrificial love unleashes a new love, building this marriage on grace.
This is just like the coming of Christ, and what he did for us. Now the couple no longer need the counselor. The husband is sending flowers because he wants to. She is now playing Xbox with him and letting him win. They don’t need to any longer follow the list of ‘dos and don’ts’ as their counselor. And in the same way, we no longer need to go back to the law as our guardian or counselor. And with a new heart, the law of love is now at work in the couple.
But what did not change was that their relationship was always based on their marriage promises, and this is just like the fact that the law of Moses never cancelled having to trust the promises of God given to Abraham.
That is how we become children of God and children of Abraham. We no longer go to the Old Testament law as our guardian. Now that Christ has come, we are justified by faith.
So how do we think about the law? Paul will say that we are under grace and not under law. If we are led by the Spirit we are no longer under law. We are not under the Old Testament law of God but we are under the law of Christ which is fulfilled by love.
My student ministers gave me an image of an index finger pointing, but actually this hand points in three directions. This teaches the three directions in which the law points. The thumb pointing up points us to how God’s law reveals God’s holiness. The three fingers pointing back point us to the fact that the law exposes our sin. The index finger points us forward to Jesus, and that we need a savior.
If the law undresses us and exposes our nature, then faith in God’s promises clothes us with Christ. Galatians 3:24-27:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (NIV)
Our union with Christ means that we are clothed in Christ. ‘Baptized’ here is code for faith. By faith in Christ we have been justified. By faith in Christ we have received the Spirit. By faith in Christ we are children of God and one in Christ. And now a radically new community is formed. Galatians 3:26-29:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NIV)
We are all one in Christ. People wonder why we have such diversity at MBM. There are seventy different cultures represented here—whether young or old, poor or rich. They say, “Do you have social programs?” We have some, but that is not it. Do you have ministry to refugees and ESL? Yes, but that is not it. Do you have a translation booth? Yes, but that is not it? We preach justification by faith and mean it, which means that whoever you are--male or female, Jew or non-Jew, slave or free, all are welcome in in Christ. Gender, race, and class are irrelevant. Each of us equally stands together at the foot of the cross. We are all undressed by the law and found to be enemies of God. But we are also all clothed in Christ by faith, and are found to be as righteous as Christ himself.
In first century Roman culture, everyone knew their place. Every person in society knew who was above them and who was below them. I remember being invited to speak at Richmond RAAF base by a guy at church who was a captain in air force. Every person there knew their rank. Everyone knew who was above them and below them. Those below always saluted those above them first. You could not pass one person without knowing who was greater or lesser in rank. We all have our own version of ‘ranking’. We know who is cooler or smarter or fitter or prettier or better or richer—but we in Christ are all one.
When it says “neither Jew nor Gentile”, you don’t lose your ethnicity. When it says “neither male or female”, you don’t lose your gender and become asexual. In Christ we are clothed in his righteousness. The Jew cannot look to the non-Jew and say, “You’re not circumcised—I’m sorry, I cannot eat with you. I love that our meal today in honour of our missionary couple the Custodios will also reminds us that, as different as we all are, we eat together as one in Christ. It’s why the western Christian world was the first culture to remove slavery, the first culture to give women the vote, the first culture which allowed racially mixed marriages, with the husband and the wife coming from different cultures, because marrying a Christian is more important than marrying within my culture. The church transformed our culture and the world, and as they say, the rest is history. Actually, the rest is his story, and our story.