The Divine Pedagogy


One thing that may puzzle some people, is why, after the fall of Adam, God waited for literally thousands of years to provide the remedy to our sin problem. We know that Christ is the only remedy for our fallen state — and yet, God waited for so long to provide this solution. Why did God do this?

Why the long and arduous history of Israel? Why the law? Why the sacrifices? Why the priests and Moses and the tribes and all that stuff?

This is actually a really good question, and one that requires an answer from Paul himself! In Galatians 3-4, Paul is combatting a teaching that the Mosaic law, with all of it’s ceremonial and civil commands, gives life, or saves. Paul repudiates this pretty harshly, explaining that it is only Christ who saves, and to lean upon the law is to reject Christ himself.

Of course then, the question arises as to the reason or purpose of the law. “If the law can’t save, then why would God give it?”, an opponent of Paul might ask. This question is directly related to our question: why this whole history of Israel (which includes Moses and the law and sacrifices etc), if only Jesus saves?

Paul gives a profound answer. And in essence, what Paul says, is that law, and the history of Israel, was God’s means to preparing and tutoring mankind for the coming of Jesus. It was a sort of like a preparatory school, to get humanity ready, as it were, to receive Jesus. In Galatians 3:24, Paul calls the law a “pedagogue”, or a tutor, which taught basic principles to humanity. He also compares mankind to children in Galatians 4:3 (“in the same way, when we were children…”). And what Paul is attempting to explain here, is that post-fall humanity, was not only in a state of fallenness, but also in a state of infancy, or immaturity, and had to be “schooled”, as it were, in order to understand Christ.

Frank Sheed says of Paul’s explanation here, that “by [Adam’s] sin, mankind threw away the maturity God had conferred upon it, started it off with, so to speak. It had gone after a childish dream and must now go through all the pains of growing back to the maturity it had lost” (Theology and Sanity, pg 187).

So mankind was in a sort of childish, immature state, after the fall. And God could not send Christ at that time — why? — because they would not have received him, nor would they have understood him! With that in mind, Paul says that God gave the law to Israel, with all of it’s civil and ceremonial rules, to teach mankind divine principles, which would in time prepare them for the coming of Christ, with the end goal that mankind “might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:5).

How did the law teach mankind? Paul says that the law was a sort of “ABC’s”, or basic building blocks, for relationship with God. The law taught the moral character of God. The sacrifices taught the penalty of disobedience. The priesthod taught the principle of mediation, and so on. In other words, the law was, in essence, elementary school. Philip Ryken explains further:

To follow [Paul’s] analogy through, the Old Testament law was like elementary school for the people of God. The Jews had specific rules to govern their conduct, what the writer of Hebrews called “regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation” (Heb 9:10). When it came to worship, the Jews had to go to a particular place and offer particular sacrifices in a particular way. Keeping all these requirements was like being in grammar school, tracing the ABCs that were first written by the hand of God.

Eventually, schoolchildren outgrow their elementary education. They master the alphabet and move on to composition. In the same way, God raised his people on the law to prepare them for the gospel. The Puritan William Perkins thus described Israel as “a little school set up in a corner of the world; the law of Moses was, as it were, an ABC, or primer, in which Christ was revealed to the world…

Those Judaizers had been telling the Galatians that the law was a graduate school for the gospel. But Paul insisted that being under the law was actually a sign of spiritual immaturity. For the Galatians to go back to the law would be like a Ph.D. repeating kindergarten to work on his alphabet. (Galatians, pg158)

The law, then, was a pedagogue, or a tutor, which gave context and prepared Israel (and the watching world) for Christ! And apparently this divine pedagogy took thousands of years. And, as Paul says, “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:5). Paul says, that there was a fullness of time, a time when God’s tutelage was complete — and that was the right time to send his Son.

Frank Sheed explains this verse further:

Mankind did, in some way clear to the eye of God and half-clear to the eye of man, grow up. The fullness of time came… We seem to see, though it would be absurd to pretend in such a matter that we could be certain, that the Law had done for the Jews all that it had in it to do. Trained by the Law and hammered by their enemies, they had come to a splendid point of development…

But the preparation was not only of the Jews, nor the fullness of time only a matter of their coming to maturity. For the Gentiles, too, the time was at the full. The history of the human race is one story from end to end, not a collection of unrelated short stories. The history of the race, says St. Augustine, is the story of one man. It was the race that fell in Adam, it was the race that was to be redeemed: in between the race had to be made ready… For Jew and for Gentile [then], it was the fullness of time. Christ came that all things might be re-established in Him. (Theology and Sanity, pg 188, 205-06, 209-10)

So then, we might say the mankind had matured (if we keep the imagery Paul gives), or graduated, and was ready to understand Christ. God was, as St. Irenaeus says, a Divine Pedagogue, a Divine Tutor. He says in his Against Heresies,

[In the time of the OT, God] took His people in hand, teaching them, unteachable as they were, to follow Him. He gave them prophets, accustoming man to bear His Spirit and to have communion with God on earth. He Who stands in need of no one gave communion with Himself to those who need Him. Like an architect He outlined the plan of salvation to those who sought to please Him. By His own hand He gave food in Egypt to those who did not see Him. To those who were restless in the desert He gave a law perfectly suited to them. To those who entered the land of prosperity He gave a worthy inheritance. He killed the fatted calf for those who turned to Him as Father, and clothed them with the finest garment. In so many ways He was training the human race to take part in the harmonious song of salvation.

God, the great trainer, the great tutor, prepares mankind to receive Christ!

Where do you boast?

boast jesus

As Paul closes his letter to the Galatians, he sums up his entire letter, in a way, in Galatians 6:11-14.

In this entire letter, Paul has been trying to contrast the difference between the true gospel, and a false gospel (Gal 1:4-10).

The reason is because there were some false teachers who had come in, and were preaching a gospel of “Jesus-plus-something-else”. Essentially, these false teachers were saying, “Yes, Jesus helps you get saved, but you must also work for your salvation. You must also earn it. You must do something to earn your stay“.

And Paul was writing to combat this false gospel, with the true gospel, which says that the only reason Christians are saved is because of Jesus plus nothing else. Jesus is a Christian’s only hope.

And at the end of his letter, in Galatians 6, Paul wants to finish by pointing out the ultimate difference between a false and the true gospel. In other words, what is at the heart of a false gospel verses the true gospel? What is at the foundation?

And in essence, what Paul says is that the difference between the two is what you boast in. Or, to say it another way, what is your ultimate security? Where is your ultimate worth found? Where is your identity and self-image found?

Paul says that the ultimate “boast” of a false gospel is found in what you do. He says in verse 11, that the false teachers only desired to “make a good showing in the flesh”. And what he means by this is that the false teachers believed that their entire worth, their boast, was in what they did. They believed that all of God’s love was predicated and conditioned on something that they did. And so their entire mission was to make a show. Their whole goal in life was to do well, to make themselves look good on the outside. To follow all the rules. To be a “good” Christian person. And they did this, because their gospel said that their entire worth was bound up in it. Their entire destiny was tied up in how good they acted for God. If they did well, God would accept them. If they did bad, God would be upset with them. Their whole identity was founded on that.

In contrast, Paul says that the ultimate boast of the true gospel is in what Christ has done. Paul says in verse 14, “but far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And what Paul means by this is that the true message of the gospel says that a Christian’s worth is not bound up in what they do. If it were, every person would be doomed to hell, because “by works of the law no person [can be] saved” (Gal 2:16).

Instead, a Christian’s entire identity is tied up in what Christ has done on their behalf. For the Christian, God’s love and acceptance for them is no longer based on what they do. It is no longer based on whether they are good or bad. It is no longer based on how holy they are. Rather, the security of the Christian is based solely on how holy Jesus is. It is based on the perfect work of Christ. Because in the gospel, Jesus obeyed where we should’ve obeyed, and was cursed where we should’ve have been cursed. And because of this, Jesus’ identity is our identity. And so, the Christian’s boast is found in the cross, and in nothing else.

Tim Keller, from his commentary on Galatians, expounds on this, saying:

Ultimately, Paul says, the heart of your religion is what you boast in. What, at the bottom, is the reason you think you are in right relationship with God?

If the cross is just a help, but you have to complete your salvation with good works, it is really your works which make the difference between your being headed to heaven or not headed to heaven. There, you “boast in your flesh” (v. 13), your efforts. What an attractive-sounding message: to be able to pat yourself on the back for having reserved a place for yourself in heaven!

But if you understand the gospel, you “boast” exclusively and only in the cross. Our identity, our self-image, is based on what gives us a sense of dignity and significance — what we boast in. Religion leads us to boast in something about us. The gospel leads us to boast in the cross of Jesus. That means our identity in Jesus is confident and secure — we do “boast”! — yet humbly, based on a profound send of our flaws and neediness.

… [The gospel leads me to realize that] I am saved solely and wholly because of Christ’s work, not mine. He has reserved a place in heaven for me, given freely to me by him. I “never boast” — I take no credit for my standing with God — “except in the cross”; what Christ has done is now something I “boast” in.

Where is your boast? Where is your security? Is it in Christ alone, or in something that you do? The difference is the difference between the true gospel and a false one.

Why then the Law?

why thelaw

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul had entered into a discussion on the function, and the purpose of the law. Apparently some Jews had been teaching these Galatians that obedience to the Mosaic Law was necessary for salvation.

For Paul, this was spiritual suicide. He said in Galatians 3 that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse”, because “cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the law” (3:10). In other words, trying to be justified by the law is impossible, because the law demands perfect obedience (abiding by all things). And because all men are enslaved to sin, anyone trying to obey all things written in the law is attempting the impossible. They are committing themselves to a standard that they will never live up to, even fall constantly short of. Paul concludes by saying that “no one is justified before God by the law” (Gal 3:11).

Of course, a question naturally arises from this whole discussion: why did God give his law? If the law does not and cannot save anyone, then what is its purpose? Why would God give a standard impossible to meet? What was his purpose in giving it?

Paul takes up this question in the next section of Galatians 3. Paul himself asks, “why then the law?” (Gal 3:19). He answers by saying that the law “was added because of transgressions until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” (Gal 3:19). Now, what does Paul mean by this? And in what way is the giving of the law connected to the coming of Christ (the offspring)?

James Boice answer this question, saying,

On the surface the [verse] is ambiguous. The phrase [“was added because of transgressions”] can mean either that the law was given to restrain transgressions (which is the natural function of law) or that the law was given to make the transgression known, even in one sense to encourage them or to provoke them to a new intensity. In view of Paul’s choice of word “transgressions” rather than “sin” in this context and of his discussion of the purpose of the law elsewhere, the latter is the only real possibility. In Romans, Paul argues that “through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rom 3:20) and that “where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom 4:15). The point is that though sin was in the world before the giving of the law, sin was not always known as such. The law reveals sin as sin. Hence, it may be said that it is the law that turns sin into transgression — transgression of law — and even accentuates it (Rom 5:20). In this act, law performs the function of showing man’s need of a Savior.

In other words, the law makes us aware of our sin. Paul himself says in Romans 7:7, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet'”. The law functioned in making Paul aware of his covetousness. In this way, the purpose of the law is to make us aware of our own transgressing of God’s commands. And in making us aware of our transgressions, it makes us aware of our need for a Savior.

Phillip Ryken adds,

When [Galatians 3] says that the law was “added”, it literally says that the law came in by a side road. The law feeds into the promise [of the gospel]; it is the on-ramp to the gospel highway. [The reason for this is because] the more we know the law, the more we see our sin, and the more we see this, the more we confess that we need a Savior. “The law was given”, wrote Calvin, “in order to make transgressions obvious, and in this way to compel men to acknowledge their guilt”. And it is only when we see our guilt that we see how much we need Jesus. The law is the law so that Christ can become our Savior.

In this way, the law came alongside the promise of Christ. The law was never opposed to the promise of the gospel. Rather, the burden of the law serves to make sinners more and more aware of the exceeding sinfulness of their sin! And then, it leads sinners straight to the gospel, in which the whole curse of the law is lifted and placed on Christ.

Born Under the Law

christ under law

One of the most profound truths of the gospel, is that Christ not only took the penalty of our law-breaking, but he also fulfilled the law on our behalf during his life on this earth.

Christ himself said as much in Matthew 3:15, that he came to “fulfill all righteousness”. Christ said this just before he was baptized. John the baptist, rightfully noticed that Jesus didn’t have to be baptized, because he was perfectly righteous. Yet, Jesus didn’t do it for himself — he did it to fulfill a righteousness that we did not have. Paul also expounds on this fact. He says in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus came at God’s predetermined time, and he was “born of a woman, [and] born under the law“. This is a profound verse. As God the Son, Jesus was the very revelation of the law. His very character helped shape the very giving of the Mosaic Law. As such, this means that Jesus was not forcibly subject to the Mosaic Law, as humans are. Mankind is part of God’s creation, being created in his image; and therefore we are held accountable to reflect his character and righteousness through obedience to him. However, Jesus is already the very radiance of the Father (Heb 1:3), being the second person of the Trinity, and therefore already contains the righteousness demanded in the law. So Jesus never had to submit to the law. Instead, Jesus willingly, voluntarily, humbly, subjected himself in the incarnation to full obedience to the Law.

And Jesus didn’t do it for no reason, or for show. Jesus subjected himself to the Law, in order that he might “redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:5). In other words, Jesus came to fulfill the law’s demands on behalf of sinful men, that they might be counted righteous. He took the full weight of the burden of the commandments, not for himself, but for us. And all that we might be delivered from the curse of the law (Gal 3:10-14). Jesus was perfectly obedient, as a disciple of the law, that we might be counted as righteous disciples of the law. As Paul says later in 2 Corinthians 5:21, that we might become “the righteousness of God” in him.

Martin Luther says of Galatians 4,

Christ, a divine and human person, begotten of God without beginning and born of the virgin at the appointed time, came not to make a law, but to feel and suffer the extreme terrors of the law and to overcome it, so that he might completely abolish it. He was not a teacher of the law but an obedient disciple of the law, so that by his obedience he might redeem those who were under the law. He was the one acted upon, and not an agent, in respect to the law. He bore its condemnation and delivered us from its curse.

Luther makes a helpful distinction here that many misunderstand. While Jesus did teach the law, this was not his main purpose in the incarnation. In other words, Jesus was not just “a good moral teacher”, as many say. Jesus himself denied this claim. His main mission was to deliver those who were under the law. And he did this by obeying its demands perfectly, and by dying under its curse — this was all done for us. Luther finishes his section on this verse, saying, “to teach the law and to perform miracles are particular benefits of Christ, [but are] not his main reason for coming into the world”. Christ came to to deliver us from condemnation, and he did it through representative obedience and vicarious death.

Phillip Ryken expounds on this principle further, saying,

[Christ] was born “under the law”. By his birth he was required to keep the whole Torah, which he did with total perfection. Jesus kept the whole law for his people. He was circumcised on the eighth day, as the law required. He never broke even one of the Ten Commandments. He followed the biblical pattern of worship. He went to Jerusalem to keep the feasts. He celebrated Passover. He did everything the law required.

Jesus even died under the law. For God’s Son, coming under the law included accepting the death penalty his people deserved for breaking it. This is what Paul explained in chapter 3[:13], when he said, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for  us”. When Christ came under the law, he also came under its curse. He not only kept the whole law for his people, but also suffered the punishment due to their sins.

Oddly, many believe that Jesus was opposed to religion. This isn’t really true. Grace and religion (earning God’s love through strict obedience) may be opposed. But this is only because Christ was the perfect law obeyer. He was the perfect Jew. He was the one in whom God was “well pleased” (Mt 3:17). And because of that, we are under grace. Because by virtue of faith in Christ, we receive his perfect obedience and death to the law, thereby being redeemed from the curse of the law.

The Curse of the Law

tim keller

In Galatians 3:10, Paul tries to explain to the Galatian church the long-lasting of effects of trying to live “under the law”. What is the outcome of trying to earn God’s love, as opposed to having it given to you in Christ? Paul says, “for all who rely on works of the law are under a curse”. Now, what does Paul mean by this?

Tim Keller, in his Galatians commentary “Galatians for You”, explains:

The result of living by the law is that we are “under a curse” (v. 10). This “curse” has two aspects. Theologically, anyone who says: I can be saved by obeying the law must then be prepared to really look at what the law commands. To love God wholly, we would have to obey the law wholly. To be blessed by God instead of cursed by Him, we would have to look at the law and satisfy its every demand. And that cannot be done. Objectively, attempting salvation-by-law-observance means we are cursed.

This means that, psychologically, everyone who is seeking to save themselves by their performance will experience a curse subjectively. At the very least, attempting to be saved by works will lead to profound anxiety and insecurity, because you can never be sure that you are living up to your standards sufficiently, whatever they may be. This makes you over-sensitive to criticism, envious and intimidated by others who outshine you. It makes you nervous and timid (because you are unsure of where you stand) or else swaggering and boastful (because you are trying to convince yourself of where you stand). Either way, you live with a sense of curse and condemnation.

Why grace could never be “made up”


A large part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians comprises arguments for why Paul’s gospel is of God, and not of man. Apparently some had accused Paul of making up his gospel of free grace (Gal 1:11) for the purpose of pleasing man (1:10). Some thought that free, unearned, salvation was too easy! So they figured that Paul was making salvation free in order to win a crowd.

Paul spends the bulk of his letter (1:10-2:21) trying to prove that his gospel is in fact not of man, but actually direct revelation from God (1:15-16).

One of the first arguments that Paul provides, is that his gospel could never be “made up”, because humans are by nature religious. Paul says in verse 14 that he could never think up grace himself, because before he was saved, he was aggressively “advancing in Judaism”. In other words, Paul was too busy trying to work his way to heaven to concoct this concept of grace. He was too immersed in trying to earn God’s favor to think up the gospel of Christ.

And I believe that this is true of anyone. Grace is not a concept that is natural to us. Humans by nature like to build their resumes. We naturally want to work for what we get. To us, for someone to receive what they didn’t pay for, is offensive. And the reason is simple: they didn’t earn it, so they shouldn’t have it.

Grace is by its very nature, is offensive to us. But in fact, this is the way that God has chosen to work. He chooses to love us, not because of any merit within us, but simply because of the lavishness of his mercy. This is what Paul says in Galatians 1:15-16: God “set [Paul] apart before he was born“. God’s love was set on Paul before he had done anything “good” to earn it! God’s love was directed toward Paul before he had even known who God was. This is the nature of grace. It is unmerited love. Grace has no consideration for deservedness or lack thereof. And this is why it is offensive. We want to earn it! We want the credit! Yet grace gives God the credit. It gives God the glory (Gal 1:4). Because God does all the work in Christ to bring us to himself.

Ryken, in his commentary on Galatians, says this of Paul’s arguments:

Not surprisingly, the religions that human beings invent always end up glorifying human beings. There is some law to keep, some teaching to follow, some ritual to perform, some penance to endure, or some state of consciousness to achieve that will bring salvation. One way or another, we can climb up to heaven and reach God.

Christianity is different. What distinguishes it from other world religions is that it actually comes from God. The one true gospel is not man-made, which is why it gives glory to God. The good news of the cross and the empty tomb could come only from God because it is about what God has done to save us through Jesus Christ. It does not teach that we can reach up to heaven; it teaches that God has come down to earth. In Christ, God has entered human history and the human heart.

…As Luther put it, “The knowledge of Christ and of faith is not a human work but utterly a divine gift”

Why the Gospel is Offensive


I’ve been studying Paul’s epistle to the Galatians lately. Paul wrote this book to combat a false gospel which had broken out in the church. It was a gospel which preached salvation by works of the law as opposed to Christ alone. It was a gospel which demanded obedience to God in order to be saved. Paul wrote to correct this mindset, and free them (Gal 5:1) from the bondage of legalism. He wanted to them to get the full-orbed theology that is salvation by grace alone. Paul preached a gospel which said that salvation is free because Christ “gave himself for our sins”, and substituted himself for us (Gal 1:3-5). It was a gospel which said that Christ has done all the work, and therefore, we don’t have to do any work. Christ wins our salvation for us.

However, Paul came up with some issues when combating this false gospel. Paul’s reputation was coming under fire by people who were trying to discredit him. Some of Paul’s opponents had accused him of preaching free salvation in order to win “the approval of man” (Gal 1:10), not to serve God. In other words, they accused Paul of watering down his message in order to gain a following. They supposed that Paul made entrance into salvation easy in order to appease his crowds. He wanted them to like him, and so he made the gospel easy to obey.

However, when you think about it a bit more, the biblical gospel of grace, of free salvation, is not all that easy. Yes it is a gospel of grace. Yes, it is a salvation won by the merit of someone else. But it is also a gospel which presupposes man’s utter depravity in sin. It is a gospel which, while preaching freedom, also preaches man’s total bondage to sin (Rom 8:6). It is a gospel which despairs of all of man’s goodness. In this way, then, Paul’s gospel is not easy. It is not a crowd pleaser. And actually, Paul points that out. He asks in Galatians 5:11, if my gospel is such a crowd pleaser, “why am I still being persecuted?”. And in fact, Paul was persecuted severely for the gospel he preached.

Now why is that so? Well, I think it’s clear. It’s easy to be saved. But it is equally hard to admit your need for salvation. As Paul says, before we can be saved, we must be “found to be sinners” that need grace (Gal 2:17)! And it is hard to admit your need for grace.

As Martin Luther said, commenting on this truth:

[Paul] is saying in effect, … By my preaching I do not seek human praise or favor but rather desire to set out the benefit and glory of God…[For] we condemn human free will, strength, wisdom, and righteousness and all religion of human devising. In short, we say that nothing in us can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins. We preach that we obtain grace only by God’s free mercy, for Christ’s sake… This is not preaching to gain human and worldly favor, for the world can abide nothing less than to hear its wisdom, righteousness, religion, and power condemned; to speak against those mighty and glorious gifts of the world is not to flatter the world but rather to provoke its hatred and indignation. If we speak against men or against anything linked to their glory, we must expect cruel hatred, persecution, excommunication, murder, and condemnation…

I show that people are sinners, unrighteous, wicked, objects or wrath, slaves of the devil, and damned, and that they are not made righteous by what they do or by circumcision, but only by the grace of Christ. Therefore I provoke people’s deadly hate, for… they would rather be praised as wise, righteous, and holy. So this is proof enough that I do not teach human doctrine

The gospel is truly offensive. But it is all the same free! What a paradox!