Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law. being kept as prisoners until the coming faith could be revealed. – Galatians 3:23 NET
There is an interesting thing happening in what Paul is saying in these verses. We know that he is talking about faith and juxtaposing it against any kind of merit-based salvation. Paul is contrasting the faith required to believe in Jesus and accept Him as your Savior and the false gospel of works being taught by the Judaizers. But if we’re not careful we could easily turn faith itself into a kind of works that is based on our own human effort. We can make it all about OUR faith and wrongfully conclude that it is still about us having to DO something to merit salvation. Then we can end up in scary places, comparing the amount or degree of our faith as compared to other Christians. We can wrestle with the size of our faith and wonder if our faith is large enough, strong enough or sincere enough. But in verse 23 Paul states, “Now before faith came…” I think it strange that he would be talking about the faith of the Galatian Christians. He tells them that they were being held prisoner under the law “until the coming faith would be revealed.” Is Paul saying that they were prisoners until they could muster enough faith to believe? Has the ball been in their court all along and they just didn’t have enough faith? More and more New Testament scholars are making the determination that the faith Paul is talking about is the faith of Christ, not faith in Christ. When Paul says, “Now before faith came,” he is speaking of the faith of Christ, or better yet the faithfulness of Christ. It was Christ’s faithfulness to God and His faith in God that qualified Him to be our sinless substitute on the cross. He was completely faithful to the law. He never wavered in faith or doubted the plan of God for His life. He was obedient to the point of death. His faith in God was so great that He willingly gave His life, knowing that God would raise Him up three days later. It is the faith and faithfulness of Christ that set us free, not our own limited faith.
Take a look at verse 24: “Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ…” Our subjection to the law was in place until Christ came. He is the one who set us free. It is belief or faith in His faithfulness that is the point here. In verse 25 Paul says, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Now that Jesus has come and lived a perfect life of faith, faithfully keeping the law of God and obediently following the will of God, He has satisfied the just penalty that God had imposed on mankind. He has provided a way for us to be made right with God. We can be declared righteous, not based on anything we have done on our own, but simply by having faith in the faithfulness of Christ. We must believe that what He has done has been effective and requires nothing more from us. In verse 26 Paul says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” While our faith certainly plays a role, it is the object of our faith that must be the focus. It is the faithfulness of Christ that gives our faith its power. Paul seems to be saying that if the Galatian believers put their faith in the wrong thing – like circumcision – it will be ineffective. What gives our faith its saving power is the faith of Christ, exhibited in His death on the cross. It is not the size, but the object of my faith that matters. Prior to Christ’s coming, a Jew could put as much faith as he wanted in the hope that obedience to the law could save him, but it would never happen. The Pharisees had faith in the law. They had faith in their own ability to keep the law. But their faith was misplaced. It was all about them, when Jesus told them that it had to be all about Him. Our faith must be in the faith and faithfulness of Christ. It is what He has done that saves. It was He has accomplished that sets us free from the law. In verse 27, Paul tells us that we have been clothed in Christ. We now wear His righteousness, not our own. It is that fact in which we place our faith. I stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and do not have to depend on my feeble attempts to manufacture righteousness. Apart from Christ, all my best efforts are as filthy rags in God’s eyes. But thankfully, I don’t have to place faith in my efforts, but in the faithfulness of Christ alone.
Father, never let me mistakenly make all this about my faith. It is not the degree of my faith that counts, but the object. Don’t let me try and take credit for anything I do. It is all because of what Christ has done for me. It is because He was faithful that I can even have faith. He has provided me an object in which to place my faith that can actually deliver. Thank You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men