Freedom from Law

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 2/14/2021

If someone were to ask, “What is so unique… so amazing… so liberating and life-giving about Christian faith?” . . . what would you say? It’s true. Christian “faith” is terrifically liberating!

But what isn’t so liberating is religion. Our world is filled with religion. There are Muslim varieties, Jewish, Eastern. There are also secular varieties of religion. Self-help programs and other soul-crushing regiments. There are also flavors of “Christian” religion. With religion the vernacular/language/lingo changes, but they also take the exact same approach and deliver the same basic results.

But Christian “faith” is far different than Christian “religion.” Religion is performative. Take for instance the story of the Rich Young Ruler. In Matthew 19:16 he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what good [things] must I do [perform] to have [earn, inherit] eternal life?” In Matthew 19:17 Jesus immediately tweaks the premise of his question. He says, “Why do you ask me about what is good?” There is only One who is good.” But since he asked, Jesus tells what is required. “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

“But oh” the religious person proudly says, “Which ones?” And again Jesus plays along, Matthew 19:18-19, “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.” To which the religious again boasts, Matthew 19:20, “I have kept all of these since I was a child. What do I still lack?”

The curse of religion is you never have peace. You can never do enough. You always lack. The scales of judgement are always found wanting. Jesus tells the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:21, “Go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich young ruler went away sad and demoralized, grieving. The reason religion kills is because it demands every single droplet of all the goodness you can muster plus more! With religion there is never any peace, nor rest, nor joy just an ever accumulating burden piling up upon your shoulders until you feeble soul gives way and fails.

Earlier in Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus makes this offer: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If its “Religion” your seeking, Christian Religion is as rigorous/ demanding/ impossible as any other. But if its “faith” you’re seeking, the Christian “Faith” is the most restful, joyful, gentle, light, liberating, amazing, life-giving of all! AND DO YOU KNOW WHY?

I’m really glad you asked. I hope you will know the answer and never ever forget it! Christian faith is liberating because its based on a “promise” not a “performance.” Our whole faith rests on God keeping His promise. It doesn’t rest on our works, on our efforts, our law-keeping, nor our performance.

Many years ago, I joined these rallies of men known as “Promise-Keepers.” They got me excited about being a Christian man. Fulfilling my duties and obligations as a true Christ follower, as a man, as a husband. And such is the appeal of religion. Pride. For in religion where is does our confidence lay? It lay in the “promise keeper” (me, my performance, I’m the headline, making myself good). But with Christian “faith” where does my confidence lay? Not in me the “promise keeper” (making myself good) but in the “Promise Maker” (The One who alone is faithful, and good, and who alone can make me good).

I fear that most of you may never realize the true freedom you have in Jesus Christ! Galatians 3:1, “You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” Paul returns to this again and again. Jesus Christ suffered and died. He broke his body and shed his blood to atone for your sin. He satisfied what God’s justice demanded of sinful man. Jesus publicly took your curse. But now your seeking to justify yourself (to tip the scales of judgement, to achieve God’s favor) by religious performance?

Galatians 3:2-6, “I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing? 5 So then, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law? Or is it by believing what you heard— 6 just like Abraham who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness?” God sent his Holy Spirit to take up residence in your body… to dwell within you by faith… to do miraculous works… to sanctify your life and make you holy like Jesus. God filled you with his Holy Spirit power! But now you are single handedly going to assume the burden?

Galatians 3:7-9, “You know, then, that those who have faith, these are Abraham’s sons. 8 Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and proclaimed the gospel ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. 9 Consequently, those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.” God promised that he would bless ABRAHAM… God promised he would bless ALL NATIONS… God is the subject. God is the One and Only “Good” and “Faithful” Promise-Maker and Promise-Keeper. THIS IS TRUE FAITH! Faith putting confidence not in self, but in something external to self, in GOD!

Faith shifts the burden from self to God. Yes, our justification by Jesus blood. Yes, our sanctification by Jesus’ Holy Spirit. Yes, our glorification into eternity from death to life, at the end of the age, becomes not a burden to “attain” but a promised fulfilled by God and therefore a free gift to be received!

In Galatians 3, Paul declares our complete freedom from Law-based Religion. Let me enumerate four key ideas. First, Our Christian Faith is a Fully Paid Promise.

Galatians 3:10-14, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, Everyone who does not do everything written in the book of the law is cursed. 11 Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith. 12 But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them. 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. 14 The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

The religious person is cursed because they always come up short before God. “Sorry not good enough. The religious standard (the bar) is that you have to do “everything” written in the book of the law! You don’t get to pick and choose. You don’t get to be selective. Partial obedience is insufficient. It’s a total proposition--all, everything, perfection, not one hit of a commandment broken.”

Now, if that doesn’t sound like good news, religion never is. But what is good news is a promise. God “promised” Abraham that Christ would fulfill on his behalf (through faith) what we couldn’t fulfill for ourselves. Christ would fully pay whatever price God’s justice demanded. What a BLESSING!

Second, Our Christian Faith is a Legally Binding Promise.

Galatians 3:15-18, “Brothers and sisters, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to a validated human will. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ. 17 My point is this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously established by God and thus cancel the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise; but God has graciously given it to Abraham through the promise.”

This is an amazing. God’s Will, God’s original covenant with us Gentiles, was “inked” back in Genesis 12 with Abraham—430 years before the Law. Once a will is “inked,” it is a legally binding promise. Not judge, no descendent, no human being has legal authority to invalidate someone else’s will (especially not God’s). God made a promise to Abraham, through Christ, and God is keeping his Word.

Third, Our Christian Faith “WAS” a Temporarily Deferred Promise.

Galatians 3:19-26, “Why, then, was the law given? It was added for the sake of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. The law was put into effect through angels by means of a mediator [Moses]. 20 Now a mediator is not just for one person alone, but God is one. 21 Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if the law had been granted with the ability to give life, then righteousness would certainly be on the basis of the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise might be given on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. 24 The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. 25 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.”

We will see this later in Galatians 4. The Law, given to the Jews, under Moses, was a temporary measure put in to affect until such time as Christ would come. The Law foreshadowed, and anticipated Christ. The Law declared God’s good/just/righteous requirements, until such time as God fulfilled his promise in Christ. The Law was a like a legal guardian, a schoolmaster, who watched over God’s children and disciplined and guided God’s people in holiness until such time as the Righteousness of God (In Christ) appeared and atoned for sin. When Christ came he fulfilled the exact requirements of Law and Prophets on our behalf.

The Law couldn’t make us righteous, no more than a mirror on the wall can make us look good. The Law only revealed our imperfections (our sin). The Law made us ache and long for God to fulfill his promise that much more! God justify me, forgive me. God sanctify, clothe us, cover our sin, make us holy. God gives us our eternal inheritance.

Last, Our Christian Faith “IS” a Freely Available Promise.

Galatians 3:27-29, “For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”

The flow of Galatians 3 is quite curious. It’s faith, faith, faith. . . promise, promise, promise. But then “baam” out of left field, “baptism.” There are those who wrongly draw a sharp line between faith and baptism. There are those who imagine faith and baptism are antithetical to one another, that baptism is a kind of “work” or “performance” or “religious achievement.”

It should be pointed out that baptism isn’t something “we” do. Baptism is something we receive, its something “done” to us and for us. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter declares God’s promise to pour out his Spirit on all people. In Acts 2:17a, he says, “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” Peter also declares God’s promise to Abraham to send forth a seed, a son of Abraham, Jesus of Nazareth, to save man from sin. Peter says in Acts 2:22-24, “This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know. Though he was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him. 24 God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.”

Peter concludes his sermon in Acts 2:36 saying, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Acts 2:37-41, “When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” 41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.”

It's only a work to try and achieve, and earn, and inherit. It’s not a work to repent, and believe, to receive and accept, to be baptized, to be forgiven, to be clothed. Baptism is one of only two “passive” commands in all the New Testament. “To be Filled” and “To Be Baptized” is to surrender and allow God to have his way. God do what you promised from justification, sanctication, to eternity. Remember the definition of a Christian in Galatians 2:20? “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Baptism isn’t a work, it’s a surrender, it’s a death. I lay my life down that Christ might take it back up and make my life his own. I die, the rest of this life, God have your way.

Scripture Verses

Galatians 3:10-26; Matthew 19:17-29; Matthew 11:28-30; Acts 2:17-41

Worship Playlist

King of Glory by Passion

Way Maker by Passion

Another in the Fire by Hillsong

Study Questions

1. Why do you think God first gave us the law as a guardian until Christ (vs 24)? What does a guardian do?

2. Christ came so that we could be justified by faith. How does this work and why is this necessary?

3. Why is Jesus the only one who could possibly act as our mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:3-6)?

4. Read Hebrews 11:8-12. Share a time when you lived by faith like Abraham.

5. Read Colossians 2:6-8. How does our faith change our status?

Apply It!