Text: Galatians 3:23-29
Date: 15 Jul 2018
This morning I’m returning to our studies in Galatians following a short break to cover other subjects. The short passage that I want us to look at today breaks down quite conveniently into two sections. The first part in 3:23-25 talks about life before faith; whilst the second part in 3:26-29 deals with life after faith. As we have already covered some of what I have to say regarding life before faith in a previous sermon, I’ll be fairly brief so that we can spend some time considering what Paul has to say about life after we come to faith.
Paul’s use of words and repetition always fascinates me and this passage is no different. In these seven verses he uses the word “faith” five times, the name “Christ” in various guises six times, and the word “all” three times. All these are significant.
The main gist of Galatians is the argument between the Law and faith in Christ and it is an argument that we have been taking a close look at. Paul had, as always, preached the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the region of Galatia and as a result many Gentiles had come to faith in Christ. However, Paul’s good work was being undermined by the activities of “certain men from James” (2:12) who claimed that faith in Christ wasn’t enough; these new Gentile Christians also needed to be obedient to the Law and be circumcised. Needless to say this threw the Galatians into a great deal of confusion and made them question their newly found faith.
Paul’s though always taught and preached that they could not be saved by following the Law. The Law had its place but it could not bring the salvation that so many sought, and so many are still seeking today. Paul’s comment here in 3:23-24 is that the Law acted as a type of guardian until Christ came to bring justification by faith. The Law showed the people that they were disobedient and that there was no one who could ever possibly hope to keep to the entire Law. Many believed that if they did keep the entire Law their actions would bring about the much desired salvation. Sadly for them there wasn’t a single person capable of doing that and so no one was capable of ever receiving salvation. Despite all that, the Jews still believed that their standing before God was measured by how obedient they were to the Law. The Scribes and Pharisees truly believed that they were in very good standing before God since they were very obedient to the Law. However, they were very badly mistaken. In Matthew 23 we can read what Jesus felt about them when, because of their numerous failures, He repeatedly called them “hypocrites” and “blind guides”. In their attempts to be obedient to the Law they totally ignored the important aspects of their work such as looking after the people and the poor as well as the vital matters of “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
Obeying the Law also meant of course that people could earn their salvation or work towards it rather like completing the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. The Duke’s wonderful scheme has three levels of achievement in bronze, silver and gold which can be attained by hard work and application. That is not the case with salvation; you either have it or you don’t; you cannot earn a partial salvation in the hope of proceeding onto the next level.
Whilst many of the Galatians had accepted Paul’s message that salvation could only come through faith in Jesus the “certain men from James” and Cephas the Apostle had sown the seeds of doubt in their minds causing them to wonder if Paul really had been preaching the truth.
That was the situation that existed until the pivotal moment described in 3:24 where we read, “until Christ came that we might be justified by faith”. The NLT makes it slightly easier to understand when it says, “until we could be made right with God through faith”.
It is after anyone comes to faith in Christ that the big changes come. The first, and probably most important thing, is that from the moment they come to faith, believers are immediately regarded as being “children of God” (3:26). This only comes about through faith in Christ and applies to all who accept Him as Lord and Saviour; there are no exceptions. Being “children of God” means that believers also become part of God’s family; a family that is ever expanding and always loving and welcoming; a family that shares the same beliefs and faith in Jesus Christ; a family that will last for ever. Being a child of God brings about a special relationship with Him; a relationship that cannot be earned or bought but which comes about simply through our coming to faith in Christ. This truly is a special relationship since it puts us in a place of affection, close to God, a place that brings with it special care and attention from God our Heavenly Father.
Paul then suggests that “all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27). So far in Galatians there has been no mention at all of baptism and yet Paul suddenly mentions it. Why should that be? When we think of baptism we tend to think of being totally immersed in water as part of a public declaration of our faith in Christ. That isn’t quite what Paul is getting at here. Here he is suggesting that when we come to faith in Jesus Christ our faith causes us to be totally immersed in Him. That brings with it the thought that we need to be fully immersed in Him and not just dip our toe in a little or be sprinkled with a drop of Jesus from time to time. That’s not enough; we need to be totally and fully immersed in Him so that we ourselves can no longer be seen but only Jesus can be seen in us. This is the baptism that saves us; being immersed in Christ. Being baptised and fully immersed in water is a wonderful thing but does not bring about faith. By far the more important form of baptism is that of being fully immersed in Christ.
When we come to 3:28 we see one of the great truths of the Christian faith. There are, or should be, no divisions between Christians and in this verse we see God’s way of ending discrimination and eliminating barriers. Here Paul comes out with the marvellous thought that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female”. Those are all obvious divisions between people and they are divisions that are in essence broken down when anyone comes to faith in Christ. With these divisions gone we begin to see true equality in the Christian sense rather than an unbalanced equality engineered by politicians. The commentator William Barclay is quoted as saying that, in his prayers, the Jewish man would thank God that he was not born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. If that was the case then it may explain why Paul selects those three divisions to talk about.
Whilst these three groups do of course still exist, they no longer form a barrier to fellowship. God sees His children; He doesn’t see a Jew or Gentile, a slave or a free man, a man or a woman. Each member of those distinct groups still has a role to play in life and in the home even though as believers in Jesus they become one new person. When we look at these three separate groups we can perhaps put our own slant on things. As I read this verse I believe that it may well point to the need for a change of attitude on our part.
The reference to Jew and Gentile indicates that God ignores nationality and ethnicity when we come to faith; He only sees His children. It would be good if we could adopt the same way of thinking. It’s also important to note that given the context of Paul’s words removing this distinction between Jew and Gentile was vital. Despite their faith in Jesus the Jews still saw themselves as separate and distinct from the Gentiles and the Gentile believers were made to feel inferior because they lacked that Jewish background. Throughout this letter Paul has been arguing that Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in Jesus are all united in Him; there is no distinction anymore.
During the time of Jesus’ and Paul’s ministry many slaves came to faith in Christ. They still remained slaves since faith did not necessarily bring freedom in that sense. It did however bring a different kind of freedom; a freedom from the strangle hold of sin. There are many instances today where people serving prison sentences come to faith in Christ. That’s great but it doesn’t mean that their prison sentences are written off; they still have time to serve. What it does mean is that they too are free from the bondage of sin and from the compulsion or need to commit crime when they do eventually leave prison.
It is all too easy in our modern society to see the comment of there being no male and female as an argument in support of the LGBT+ argument. I don’t believe that to be the case nor do I see it as a way of supporting transgenderism. It does mean that God no longer sees the gender of a believer, only the newly born again individual who is one of His children. We mustn’t forget though that men and women still have clear and distinct roles to play in their daily family and working lives and becoming a follower of Christ doesn’t necessarily change those roles. What does change is how God sees us. When we look at society at the time Paul wrote this letter, women were separated from men in the synagogue; they couldn’t worship together. That was just one division that disappeared in the fledgling Christian churches when suddenly women found that they could worship alongside men.
The final few words of 3:28 tell us why this should be; we are “all one in Christ Jesus”. When we come to faith we are joined together with Jesus; He lives in us and with us and we are co-heirs with Him of the heavenly inheritance that will one day come our way. How does this happen; this being “all one in Christ Jesus”? The answer is quite simple; it happens when we come to faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. At that moment we become united with Him, part of God’s great family; one in and with Jesus and all discrimination between believers is ended. In coming to faith we begin a new relationship with God and His Son. Our faith opens doors by unlocking the door that has kept us locked up in the prison of sin. Our faith in Jesus sets us free.
Paul rounds of this short section in 3:29 by referring to Abraham again. The Jews felt that they were special because they were of “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. What Paul has been arguing is that since Abraham was counted as righteous simply because he “believed God” (3:6), all those who also place their faith in Christ are also from “Abraham’s seed” regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles, his argument being that those who responded to God in faith just as Abraham did are Abraham’s children. The NLT suggests that all those who belong to Christ “are the true children of Abraham”.
These are powerful verses, verses that expand on the thought of moving from being under the Law to being under God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the key issue here which is no doubt why Paul uses the word five times. It is faith that unites us to Christ; it is faith that removes discriminatory barriers; it is faith that brings us into God’s family as His children.
As we come to faith in Jesus we become immersed in Him just as we are immersed in water when and if we are actually baptised, so the act of coming to faith sees us fully immersed in Christ. Paul is not saying here that baptism as such brings about that faith; it is an act of obedience not a means of coming to faith and it is important that we see it as such. The Jews had been arguing that the Gentile believers needed to be circumcised to prove that they were true believers. Given that, it hardly seems likely that Paul would now argue that baptism was needed as part of the act of coming to faith. No, Paul only ever preached that coming to faith in Jesus Christ was the essential act for us to be forgiven for our sins and receive the promise of salvation and eternal life spent with Jesus.
It is important that all those who do not yet know Jesus in this way think about these things and seek to become united in Christ and children of God through faith in Jesus.