Galatians 3:24-25 – “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,”
Some understand “the law” in verse 24 to mean ‘God’s instructions given through Moses’. Immediately after that, Paul says we “are no longer under a guardian” because of faith. Without additional context, one might conclude that faith lifts any need to obey God’s instructions. But does the ‘guardian’ in this passage refer to God’s instructions or some other aspect of the law?
If you’ve not already read the section detailing different meanings of the word “law”, I recommend reviewing that list before proceeding. The meaning of the word changes depending on connected words and surrounding context.
If we go back only two more verses, we find this law and guardian to be associated with captivity.
“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:22-26)
The imprisonment is “under sin”. We see this in Romans 6 also when Paul speaks of being enslaved and dominated by sin.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law [subject to the penalty for violating the law] but under grace [no longer subject to the penalty for violating the law].” (Romans 6:3-14)
Paul went on to argue that freedom from slavery to sin results in obedience “from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed”.
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18)
Freedom = obedience from the heart
Slavery = anything less than obedience from the heart
Paul gives a consistent message to the Galatians. The instructions from God are connected because they test the heart. But the instructions themselves don’t enslave. Clinging to sin from the heart enslaves. Freedom comes when the heart (our will and desire) is replaced by God’s Spirit.
Here’s my version with commentary.
“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin [by revealing that we were slaves to sin], so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law [we were held captive by the wages of sin], imprisoned [by death] until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law [which revealed our captivity to sin and death] was our guardian [the law informed us of our enslaved status and pointed to our need for Jesus to save us] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [because once freed from the eternal death sentence for breaking the law, that aspect of its job was accomplished], for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:22-26)
The guardian is not the law of God itself. The guardian is the aspect of the law that revealed our enslavement to sin and our need for Jesus to set us free.
On the guardian from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:
“The name carries with it an idea of severity (as of a stern censor and enforcer of morals) in 1 Corinthians 4:15, where the father is distinguished from the tutor as one whose discipline is usually milder, and in Galatians 3:24f where the Mosaic law is likened to a tutor because it arouses the consciousness of sin, and is called παιδαγωγός εἰς Χριστόν, i. e. preparing the soul for Christ, because those who have learned by experience with the law that they are not and cannot be commended to God by their works, welcome the more eagerly the hope of salvation offered them through the death and resurrection of Christ, the Son of God.”
David poetically eluded to this aspect of the law also.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalms 19:7-11)