Why does a God who desires His children to enjoy dignity and freedom make so much use of law? Paul explains this in Galatians 3, as we noted in the previous chapter. Law was added as an emergency measure because we needed it (based on Galatians 3:19). The law was added to be our guardian, to guide us back to a right relationship with God (Gal 3:25). A right relationship with God means we will do what is right because it is right and not because we are being ordered to. The Greek word for “guardian” is paidagogos, which means “leader of children.” The law was designed for people who behave like children. As rebellious, disorderly and immature sinners, we have needed the guidance and protection of God’s laws. Behind all those regulations, we can see a very gracious God who has used all these emergency measures for our best good. There is nothing arbitrary about them. They make very good sense and they deserve to be intelligently obeyed.
This is even more apparent when we look precisely at what our God has asked us to do, particularly in the Ten Commandments. But more than that, we must understand why we needed to be instructed by these emergency measures:
We know, of course, that the Law is good in itself and has a legitimate function. Yet we also know that the Law is not really meant for the good man, but for the man who has neither principles nor self-control (1 Tim 1:8-9, Phillips).
If you have self-control, you don’t need to be ordered to behave. But the law does not give us self-control. Rather, it is an emergency measure because we lack self-control. We need it until we can recover self-control and love and trust. Then we are able to use our freedom in the right way.
This is what Paul explained to the Galatian believers, who were prone to misunderstanding God’s use of law. Galatians 5:13-23 as a whole is a magnificent passage, but we will focus on Paul’s understanding of God’s use of law:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. . . . The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. . . .” But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:13-14, 18, 22-23, NIV).
“Faithfulness” means that we can be trusted, and “self-control” is the real meaning of the word “temperance” in the King James Version. Some people would prefer that God command and control them for the rest of eternity. That seems humble and safe, but it is also telling God that we don’t want the freedom that He has paid such a high price to protect. In light of the cross, how can we hand our freedom back and say, “no, I don’t want self-control. I want You to control me?” But God offers something marvelously better, “When you are fully under the influence of my Holy Spirit, I won’t control you. You will have recovered the dignity and joy of self-control.” Then we really will have freedom once again.