There are always some of us who struggle in our conscience. We desperately want peace, yet we are constantly assaulted. It seems that no matter what we do, no matter how to try to sort it all out, it never works (or at least never remains). We may be described as those with a "tender conscience" or the "scrupulous." No matter what the reason behind it all may be, the Word of God has something to say to us as humans that bears upon our situation.
Turn with me to Galatians 3, if you would.
(21) Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
(22) But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(23) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
(24) So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
In the NASB, twice in this passage we see the English phrase "shut up," which has become the namesake of this blog entry. What I want to look at is really what the Law of God is meant to show us. Is there a purpose to it? Yes, Paul says it is to "shut up." It is, as the ESV above says, to "imprison." It is to seal us off with no way out.
If a law had ben given that could give us life (righteousness, a firm and total acceptance before God), then the avenue of Law-keeping would certainly be the correct path to take. "But," he adds, the Law imprisoned us all under sin, holding us captive. How so? By teaching us something very important. The Law was our "guardian" or "tutor" for the purpose that what? That we be justified by faith.
This is where we must focus. Follow what Paul is saying here, and elsewhere. The Law means to teach us an important lesson. It means to teach us that the way of our own efforts, our own good doing, our own obedience, our own works, our own strivings, labors, digging, scraping is completely dead, "shut up," sealed off. It is an impassible wall set before us. We can beat upon it with our fists all we want, we can lay a ladder against it and try to climb, but it only becomes higher, wider, deeper, blacker the more we do. This way is closed. Dead end. Take every claim you try to have upon God -every single one- and trash it because it avails not here. The way you pray, the goodness of your thoughts, the strength of your faith, how fervently you repent, how sincere you are in your religiosity, how much you perceive you love God, how often you go to church, etc. It is all nothing.
If you are of the stripe of those who often have a wounded conscience, this is the beginning of good news. It tells us that all of those things we are anxiously trying to hold on to and get right have absolutely no value in this realm. The way is sealed off. Anxiety, terror in conscience, stems from the perception of something lacking in us -something that we need to get straightened out somehow. The lesson presented here is contrary to our nature. We want to know what is that one thing we need to do to make all the anxiety go away, to make everything right. Instead, the lesson is that we truly do lack, just as we feared, that it is worse than we imagine, and that it is absolutely impossible for us to affect any improvement in our situation, even with a little assistance. The way of accruing an account of our own righteousness is shut up, closed, sealed off. Thus, rather than providing a clearer path down this route, an instruction, a thing we can fix, the Law instead shrowds the way in thick blackness and fog, sending thunderbolts before us -not to enlighten, but to crush, to terrify, and to make the way impassible and hopeless. The panic we feel will only rightly increase if we tread this path longer, for it is meant to do so!
This means two things. First, it means "give up." Let the hopelessness of that situation sink in. Only when it does will the second have great meaning. Give up on all of those things you are clinging to and laboring for. The way is "shut up." It would be better for you to try and reverse the spin of the earth, for you would have more hope in doing so. We must fall down and admit defeat. It is the best defeat there is. Why?
Second, it means that, when we finally learn the lesson of the Law, when we give up and have absolutely no claim on God's mercy and favor, when we have learned that there is absolutely no hope at all, save that God should decide to be completely merciful to one so blackened, one so unworthy, one who is so intenting on buying what cannot be bought, then Christ is present to us. All other ways are sealed up, yet then Christ, a door of light in the darkness, is opened. We have no way to atone for our sins, yet He is the One atonement. We have no merits of our own to stand firm in God's favor, yet He is our righteousness and redemption. Everything we lack is found in Him. The answer is presented, gratis.
So then, I may lay all of those foibles aside, all of those void and vain things, those claims, and rejoice in the fact that they do absolutely nothing -yet God has sent His Christ who has absolutely everything I need. That is the purpose, that is the lesson...
"...in order that we might be justified by faith." (v.24)
One might see the word "might" and think that this indicates uncertainty. However, this is only an English attempt to convey the meaning of the Greek, which is one of purpose. Some translations render it "would be," some "should be." The meaning is the same. In other words, the reason the Law sealed us up like this is so that we would give up on every other avenue and rest, by faith, in Christ. There is sweetness in our hopelessness, for only then is our true hope known!
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." (Gal 3:10-11)
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:21)
yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:16)
(4) Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
(5) And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
(6) just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
(7) "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
(8) blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
Who is the blessed man? He is the man who gives up on every claim upon God and just listens and believes Him. He has an unshakable foundation, the merits of Christ alone. Oh, the beauty of that simple trust in the One who gives life, who justifies the ungodly, who spares the sinner and dons him with robes of righteousness! Let us learn this beautiful lesson of the Law, and let us learn it daily and learn it well.