No Longer Captive to the Guardian
In theology-speak, we sometimes use a term, “salvation-history,” and by it we simply mean that process in the course of history whereby God accomplished His will to save His people. In so doing, salvation-history looks at what God was doing in particular eras as revealed in Scripture and thus attempts to get an over-arching view of things. We might say that this is what Paul was doing for us in this passage—telling us what God was doing and why He did it during that time in Israel’s history wherein the Mosaic Law was the covenant under which the nation labored.
We are still answering the question: Why the law? We discovered yesterday that God “imprisoned everything under sin,” so that, in the words of Romans 11:32: “He may have mercy on all.” Paul continues this line of thought here. He adds, “We were 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.” So then, in the broad scheme of things, in God’s history of salvation, He determined that before the coming of His Christ, there should be a time in which men labored under the law. This was to teach men his law, show them their utter inability to keep it (Romans 3:20; 7:13), and thus prepare the way for justifying men through faith in His Son who came “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), or, we might say, in God’s appointed time.
That is “salvation history.” But then this salvation history is mirrored in the histories of each and every person. As we are each born in sin (Psalm 51:5), under the law, and under God’s righteous indignation and wrath (Romans 1:18ff), we each understand what it is to be a law-breaker in need of redemption, in need of another way of salvation. It is this conviction of our sins which the law necessarily brings that drives us to the cross pleading forgiveness, cleansing, and, in short, saving grace. And when this happens, the law no longer is necessary for the believer. Oh, it is a good reference for examining oneself, but the believer now has the Holy Spirit living within—an internal law—that guides him and compels him to do that which the law requires, yes, and even far beyond. The law only dealt with externals; the Holy Spirit makes right the motivations and desires that may be summed up in the word, “love,” which was the aim of the law all along.
So the law drives us to Christ that we may receive the power (Holy Spirit) to fulfill the law summed up in the commandments to love God and neighbor.