Faith No Longer Needs the Law as a Schoolmaster (Thurs. Sept. 22)

The word of the day is “tutor.” When we are new to the faith, we might suppose that we must put ourselves under some strict external disciplines to regulate our life in Christ. For example, Paul’s opponents demanded that the believing Gentiles still keep the constraints of the Law of Moses. But in today’s reading of Galatians 3:23-4:5, the apostle compares the Mosaic law to a “schoolmaster,” “guardian,” or “tutor[1] who forces an undisciplined child to comply with his directives.

The Law as a Tutor

The apostle writes, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (vs. 24-25). Today we learn that we are freed from the bondage to such a custodian because we are now sons and daughters of God.

In today’s reading, Paul gives more reasons that faith, not works of the law, leads us along the path of salvation. He uses the metaphor of the paidagōgos, the Greek word from which we get the term “pedagogy” in English. Our Bibles translate this word differently because it is hard to find a single substitute for it. In the Roman Empire, slaves were assigned to train boys in rudimentary learning and proper conduct. These “pedagogues” were more than tutors of academic subjects. The tutor was the “master” who supervised the entire life of the boy. The Greek term is derived from the idea of leading an animal by a halter. Thus, the “master” ruled the boy, “ridding him from all vice,” until the youth was grown, and his good habits were developed” (NfPf1:13, vs.3:24).

Kept Under Guard By the Law

In our reading, Paul teaches that “before faith,” the law kept us “under guard” (vs. 24), the supervision of such a master. St. John Chrysostom explains, “‘We were kept’ and ‘shut up,’ signifying nothing else than the security given by the commandments of the Law; which like a fortress fenced us round with fear and a life conformable to itself, and so preserved us unto Faith” (NfPf1:13, vs.3:23).

But when was the tutor no longer needed? Paul states in our passage: “But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (vs. 25). The “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) therefore, replaces the submission to the law.

Faith Replaces the Law’s Role as a Tutor

Why should faith supersede the revered law that the People of God strove to keep for centuries? Paul’s answer in our reading is twofold. First, faith makes us “sons of God.” The Greek term emphasizes the likeness of the son to the father (Strong’s #5207). Thus, by faith, we are adopted into the family of God. And by grace, we become what God is by nature. In other words, by grace through faith, the image of God is restored in us. We are set on the path of “deification” (“theosis”), that is, union in Christ with God the Holy Trinity.

Second, in our baptism we had “put on Christ.” Now Christ lives in us and we live in Him. In so far as we abide in Christ and are one with the Holy Trinity, we have no need of an external master. But our true “Master” dwells in us.

Accordingly, Chrysostom summarizes, “If Christ be the Son of God, and thou hast put on Him, thou who hast the Son within thee, and art fashioned after His pattern, hast been brought into one kindred and nature with Him” (NfPf1:13, vs.3:25).

The Law Now Holds Us Back from Growth in Faith

So then, what becomes of the law? Chrysostom says that it was our guardian. Now by faith, it becomes our “adversary” (NfPf1:13, vs.3:25/26). Formerly, it restrained us from sin. Now it holds us back in the growth of righteousness.

The Chrysostom, “The Golden-Mouthed,” compared the law to a candle brought into the sunlight. He preached, “If a candle which gave light by night, kept us, when it became day, from the sun, it would not only not benefit, it would injure us; and so doth the Law, if it stands between us and greater benefits” (NfPf1:13, vs.3:25/26).

So long as our nature is not changed, we need the restraint of the law. But when our nature is changed and we become sons and daughters of God, then we can go on to a deeper and closer relationship to the Holy Trinity and all the blessings of knowing Him.

For Reflection

We learn from our reading today that we should not glory in the strictness of our spiritual disciplines: in prostrations, vigils, severe fasting, self-punishments, and deprivations of all kinds. So long as we put our trust in these efforts to carry us along the path of holiness, they will prevent our progress along the way. If we wonder why they are not helping us to achieve the closeness to Christ that we desire, then we should know that they are human works that cannot save us. It may be that the reason they are ineffective for sanctification is that they are meant to drive us to Christ Jesus, “who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (OSB 1 Corinthians 1:30).


[1]Galatians 3:24 & 25: “schoolmaster (KJV),  “guardian” NIV), “tutor“ (OSB)


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