From Jail Bird to Song Bird
Text: Galatians 3:22- 29
Proposition: God’s incredible plan is to reveal that because of sin we are all jail birds longing for a freedom that is only to had in Christ.
Introduction: Have you ever been to a remand center? Have you ever been to a prison to visit someone? It’s a strange experience as you the freeman walk into a place of lock down, the scrutiny of guards, the foreign sounds of buzzers that open doors, the place of being under observation. Even though you are just visiting you are not free to do or to move when or where you wish. For those who are inmates there is an enforced conformity… what you wear, what you say, when you eat, where you sleep, even how you think. The intent is to control you and in extreme cases to dominate you, even to subjugate you. The stated intent is to teach you but the relationship between the teacher and the student is a strict one and at times a severe task master. I paint this picture of confinement because that is the picture that Paul paints when he talks about sin. In similar ways sin enforces conformity, controlling us, even at times subjugating us so that we are not free to even think as we should. In that sense all were under the confinement of sin, you could even say we were all once jail birds to sin. Have a look at Galatians 3:22- 29 with me.
I. The Cause and Extent of Sin’s Captivity.
When Paul begins to describe the reality of sin in the world he begins by using the metaphor of sin being like a jailer who keeps us under his control. Look at how he puts this in verse 22, “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Scripture makes a lot of statements about the cause and extent of sin. Psalm 130:3 says, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” In Romans 3 Paul uses a variety of Scriptures to show the extent of sin, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” The opinion of Scripture is that we are all confined, locked up, imprisoned, all under sin. In the next verse he shifts the metaphor a bit, “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.” That phrase ‘kept under guard’ moves from the image of sin as a prison guard to the Law being a protective custody guard. Again the last part of each verse looks to a time when we would no longer be in any form of captivity but be free through faith in Christ. But hang in there with me for one more metaphor.
Look at verse 24, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Sin incarcerates us, the Law is protective custody that eventually shifts to become our tutor. In the culture of Paul’s day the tutor was often a slave entrusted with the directing of the young men to their daily disciplines. The image of the tutor was one who was unrelenting and at times severe in the way he gave directions to the ones under his charge. The Law was a legalistic structure that had the main purpose of showing us that we cannot be perfect, we can’t keep all the Law all the time. So the Law was meant for good but only in the sense that it was used to expose the depth and extent of sin in all. The tutor used strict discipline and rigid enforcements, an enforced obedience that still fell short of real freedom. Paul’s point is that if God’s promise to Abraham, given 4 centuries years before, brought the righteousness of God to Abraham by grace through faith, why would we want to hang on to the Law and the legalism it demands when it only imprisons, guards and tutors us but leaves us short of the freedom in Christ that God intends?
Lest you think that legalism is only about religion, the ten commandments or observing religious traditions think again. The essence of all legalism is that it draws attention to us, not God. Legalism is all about self -worship, not worshipping God. Legalism can even be us adding our own rules to God’s commands and treating our demands as equal to His. With this definition Atheism can be a form of legalism, secularism can be a form of legalism, athletics can be a form of legalism and on and on. In short legalism lies within the depths of every person’s sin nature. It’s been said that ‘the ironic thing about legalism is that it doesn’t make you want to try harder, it makes you want to give up, to be defeated’. So what Paul is saying about legalism is not just to address some strict religious sect, it’s a condition resident in us all and its why Jesus Christ came. Legalism is all about falling short of the glory of God. Jesus came to take away the sin of the world, the very sin by which we too fall short of the glory of God. The incredible good news of the Gospel is that there is a way past this, a truth greater than this, a life infinitely superior to this. That way, that truth and that life is intended for you in Jesus Christ. That discovery of Christ will kick open the prison doors, it will end the protective custody of the Law, it will dismiss the tutor as you move forwards in Christ in something that we can only describe as … Freedom, it is the transformation of the jail bird to a song bird. Let’s look at what freedom means.
II. The Cause and Extent of Freedom in Christ.
Every time that Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their rigid efforts to control others it was by explaining to them the principle of grace. In the story of the prodigal son, perhaps better called the prodigal God, it’s grace that wins the day. The younger brother who blew it all was a failed legalist, the older brother was a thriving legalist. Both are addressed by their father with words of grace that bring restoration and an invitation to freedom. So freedom in Christ begins with that understanding of grace, that it comes as a gift not as a wage. Then freedom in this amazing grace does an incredible thing, it absolutely levels the field. Look at verse 28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If there is no competition, no opponent that you need to be better than, no one that is worth more than the other then freedom becomes a statement of identity. To grow in the freedom Christ has given and to learn how to think as He would, walk as He would, do as He would and sin will no longer be your master.
The cause of our freedom is the cross of Christ, a place where grace went deeper than sin. What have you done that was your choice and for which you feel shame? What have you thought daily and for which you feel defeat? Grace goes to the root of that wound. What have you believed about God that in a perverse way has shaped what you now believe about yourself? Grace goes to the truth, revealing a God who not only loves but is love. The truth, this truth, will set you free. Jesus once looked into the eyes of a weeping Mary and Martha and said, “…I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:26) Jesus once looked in to the eyes of Nathanael a man stuck in unbelief and said to him, “…Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” (Jn 1:50) Jesus once healed the eyes of a man who was born blind and then He looked straight in to those eyes and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” (Jn 9:35) My point is simple, every one of these experienced a freedom from something, everyone received that freedom by the grace of God, everyone was eligible for that grace because when Jesus asked, ‘Do you believe Me?’, they said yes. This morning it’s time for your ‘Yes’. It’s time to have the prison door swing open, to say good by to the severe tutor of legalism and law, to say good by to your efforts of covering over guilt, shame, anger and ruin. It’s time to say ‘Yes, Lord I believe!’ The cause of freedom is the cross, the body and blood of Jesus for you and I. The extent of freedom is measured by the expansive grace of God … to all who would believe in Him.