Saint Paul's Lutheran Church of Irvine

Reflections on “Christmas: When The Faith Came” (Galatians 3:23) presented on January 1st, 2012

Galatians 3:23 states, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” 

Exactly what did you celebrate this past Christmas? Did you celebrate release from captivity and prison? There is a good chance that that is not how you would put your Christmas celebration. And yet this is a very accurate and biblical way of describing what we should celebrate on Christmas. The wording that Saint Paul uses is fascinating. He speaks about “the faith” that came. Faith is used in two major ways (in the positive) sense in Scripture: 1) faith in the sense of our personal believing, the trust in Christ that is created by God through the Word in our heart; 2) faith in the sense of the objective truth and teaching of God’s Word. This latter concept is what the former concept is built on. That is you cannot have a saving personal faith if not for the objective faith that is given to you through the Word of Christ.

This latter sense, “the faith” that is the foundation of what we believe in which Luther spoke of in terms of “here I stand!” is something however that is wrapped in the revelation and person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In a sense, this saving faith did not come apart from the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. If no Jesus, there is no saving faith! The faith, the saving faith required the coming of Jesus Christ. Faith here — with the definite article — is “the doctrine,” or “the fulfillment of the promises of God.” And all of these refer back to the coming Seed, that is, to Jesus Himself. What Christ brought with Him was our salvation, the source of our forgiveness and eternal life. It can be said that Jesus is “The Faith” and without Jesus there is no “The Faith”! Furthermore, without Jesus, the other kind of faith (trust in the heart), has nothing to trust in for salvation. Without Jesus, there is no salvation period.

So what prevails if there is no faith and no Jesus? Answer: imprisonment and captivity. If there is no faith, we are left captive to sin, death, and the devil. We would be eternally stuck in these overpowering forces and powers. What is it like to be in prison? If you’ve never been, it is probably impossible to answer. But we’ve all seen footage of released prisoners/hostages. They are overjoyed to be free. Sometimes they will get down when they reach their home to kiss the ground! Freedom is something we take for granted, but when it is taken away and we get it back, overwhelming joy is experienced. This — on a much larger scale — is what Christmas is about.

When the faith came, when Jesus brought salvation, He brought liberation from the prison of sin, from captivity to the devil. We were set free to be the people of God. This is what Jesus brought on that first Christmas!

The old captivity under the law is specifically addressed in Scripture. Romans 10:4 states, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

This means among other things that we are called to give up the old “religion” of the law, which is the most popular religion in the world: the idea that we can make ourselves righteous and liberated by what we do. This terrible captivity of the law is so serious that people respond to it with different and desperate approaches to it:

1. Some ignore it as if the law was insignificant and in this way they never confront their spiritual prison.

2. Some mistreat it as if it was the key to their salvation and in this way become either deluted with self-righteousness or become overwhelmed with despair.

3. Some reject it and treat it as if it was no longer relevant and in this way permit themselves to sin without restraint and the prison walls just get tighter.

4. Or they fully recognize it, but they remain miserably in prison, because they fail to see what God has done to release them from prison (this is what Cain did in Genesis, what King Saul did, and what Judas Iscariot did).

Instead of taking these tracks, we are to trust in what God has done with the Law in Christ! In Christ — when He came — Jesus 1) fulfilled the Law, kept it all perfectly FOR YOU; and 2) took the Law’s condemnation for OUR SIN upon HIMSELF out of His great love for you. Because of Christ’s saving work, the faith has come, salvation has come, the prison of the law that shows sin and death has been dealt with and the end result for those who have faith is RELEASE from prison! You are no longer captive to sin. You are forgiven in Christ! The faith has come. You are saved!

Dr. Espinosa


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