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The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.
The word guardian (v. 24) is translated from the Greek term paidagogos, from which we derive the word pedagogy, meaning “the art or science of teaching.” A pedagogue was a slave put in charge of a freeborn child. He was like a chaperone or babysitter who bore responsibility to care for, train, and discipline the child. This protective custody was temporary, lasting only until the child reached legal adulthood.
Paul used this term to describe the role of the Law in God’s plan of salvation. The Law didn’t change the promise, and it didn’t provide a means of salvation, but it did function as a kind of “guardian” until Messiah’s coming, teaching about sin until Christ’s mission of redemption enabled our full adoption as God’s children (v. 19; Rom. 7:7–12).
Despite the role of angels (see Ex. 3:2; Acts 7:38, 53) and the mediatory role of Moses in bringing the Law to Israel, this covenant had only one side or party—God. It depended solely on Him, not on Israel, though they did have responsibilities and suffer consequences (v. 20). That’s why God’s law and God’s promise were not opposed to one another. Salvation did not and indeed could not come by the Law (v. 21). The pervasiveness of sin made that impossible. The Mosaic Law could take custody and reveal that we were imprisoned by sin, but it could not permanently break the power of sin (vv. 22–23). God gave the Law as a guardian until Messiah arrived, and He alone makes possible full freedom and salvation and righteousness (vv. 24–25).
In other words, keeping the Law will never save us. Our only hope was for God Himself to save us, which He did through His Son, Jesus Christ!
Apply the Word
Because salvation depends on God, not us, we need not be in doubt about whether we’re going to make it. If we’ve trusted in Christ, we’re redeemed! This idea is called assurance of salvation. As Jesus Himself said: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).