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One in Christ
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.
24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
An American couple adopted a son from Korea and named him Eric. Several years went by. Eric was now five years old. The family was having lunch in a restaurant, and Eric made conversation with a boy at the next table. The boy asked Eric, “Why don’t you look like your mom?” Eric replied, “Cause she’s a girl.”
This passage of Scripture from Galatians is about what family Christians belong to, and what Christians look like. We look like our father. Galatians 3:26 says, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
In the Galatian church, a faction existed that said believers must keep the Mosaic law if they wished to be truly Christian. It was not enough to be “in Christ Jesus,” you had also to keep the Old Testament dietary laws and the various customs and traditions of Judaism. In other words, they said you must be a Jew before you can be a Christian.
Paul knew that this was never going to work. The Gentiles would never convert to Judaism to become Christians. He also knew it did not make any sense. If we are made acceptable to God by keeping laws and regulations, we do not need Christ at all.
So Paul argues fiercely against these Judaizers. He reaches back behind the Mosaic covenant to the prior covenant that God made with Abraham. A period of more than four centuries lapsed between the time Abraham was deemed "righteous" before God gave Moses the Law on Mount Sinai (see Galatians 3:6). For more than four centuries, Paul argues, Abraham and his descendants were declared "righteous" without the law.
In Galatians 3:23, Paul describes the true nature and function of the law. The Law was "our pedagogue." In Paul's day, a pedagogue was a slave whose job was to supervise young children. The pedagogue was not primarily a teacher but an enforcer. He made sure strict rules of discipline and correct behavior were practiced. In other words, Paul says that the law of Moses was a preparation for Christ, and the Israelites were like minor children being prepared through the law to receive an inheritance.
Take another example: Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, was born in 1537. When his father died, Edward was nine years old. He became, in theory, king of England, but actually a "Council of Regency" governed until he came of age. Unfortunately, Edward never came of age. He died at age sixteen, and so he never fully came into his inheritance. Paul says that Israel was like the boy king Edward. They were children under a guardian, not able to fully access their inheritance. Their Guardian was the law, which kept them out of trouble until the time came for them to receive the promise.
The time of the promise is now here, Paul declares in verse 25. The pedagogue is now relieved of its duties. The law is no longer in charge. Actually, the transformation that occurs during this time is twofold. First, the guardianship of the law is replaced by faith in Jesus Christ. Second, the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham now goes into effect.
The true heir of the Abrahamic covenant is Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:8). Now that Christ has come, all believers in Christ become true "children of God" through their faith in Christ.
The key that opens the prison door of the law for us is our baptism "into Christ." Paul has more in mind than simply the ceremony of water baptism in the name of Christ. The phrase "Into Christ" implies a state of fellowship or union with Christ. Thus when we are baptized into Christ, we become one with Christ, we are united to Christ with a bond that is stronger than any other force in the universe.
Our scientists tell us about a number of physical forces. We read of gravitational force and electromagnetic force. At the atomic level, we are told of the strong force and the weak force. Paul adds another force. This force both includes all the other forces and exceeds them. This force is the bond of the believer with Christ.
We see how excited Paul was about the power of this Christ force in verse 28. V28 is one of the most radical statements in the Bible. It is so revolutionary that we have not worked out all its implications even today, but to really appreciate how revolutionary it is we have to put it in its first century context.
Every day, the Pharisee prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. He prayed, : "I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman." In Paul’s time, Jewish men thought they were the chosen people of God. They believed that God made non-Jews to be fuel for the fires of hell. They were not sure that women had souls at all.
But now, in a direct refutation of that prayer Paul writes: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Remember, Paul himself had been a Pharisee. He knew exactly what he was saying. There is no Pharisaism in Christianity. Christianity is not about divisions and prejudices. It is about unions and inclusions
First of all, Paul says, there are no racial or ethnic differences in Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek"
Paul’s opponents in Galatia, the Judaizers, were advocating that Gentile Christians must be circumcised. Circumcision symbolized the difference between Jew and Gentile; circumcision held groups apart; but Paul triumphantly holds up baptism into Christ as the act that breaks down barriers and blurs distinctions. There are no boundaries in Christ.
When we get locked into boundaries, we wind up stereotyping people, and blaming whole groups for the faults of the few. We imagine that all Arabs are terrorists, or all African-Americans are on welfare. Such is the blindness of prejudice.
The damage and destruction that prejudice and discrimination has wrought upon our world is so great that we cannot even begin describe it. We think of the Nazis in Europe, the Ku Klux Klan in America, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the Chinese massacre of Tibetans, the killing fields of Cambodia, the massacres in Rwanda. The list goes on and on. When we consider what human beings have done to each other because of the little differences among us, when we consider the massacres and the genocides, the pain and the agony, we have visited on our brothers and sisters who were not quite like us, we have to be appalled and horrified.
And we need to understand that God is horrified by such actions. Christ weeps for the slaughtered millions. There is no place among Christians for the attitudes that lead to that kind of destruction.
As Americans, we live in a great country. We are a great people. We are a country of immigrants. If you look in our family trees, all of us came here from somewhere else not many generations ago. All of us have different backgrounds, yet we are all Americans. And our democratic traditions say that we are all equal. In Galatians, Paul says that also. We are all equal in Christ.
Secondly, Paul says that class discrimination is destroyed in Christ. "There is neither slave nor free." The Roman Empire of Paul’s time was a slave empire, built on slave labor. They did not have many machines in that day. They did not have much in the way of “labor-saving devices.” Farms were farmed with slave labor. Buildings, roads, ships were built with slave labor. In the latter stages of the Empire, one of the reasons the Romans waged war was to get more slaves.
The great economic divide of that society was the line between slave and free. If you were a slave, your children did not marry the children of a free man. If you were a slave, you could not own property. You were property. You had no rights at all. Only free people had rights. Jesus swept all that away. In Christ, there are no economic dividing lines.
There are no "pecking orders." There are no cliques formed on the basis of rich and poor, high and low, powerful and weak.
Now I know that some churches do not know that. Some churches are divided along those lines. Some churches establish hierarchies among Christians. But that is because we have not as yet worked out what Paul taught us in Galatians.
We need to guard against all such attitudes and reject any class distinctions. These things are cancers that destroy the life of a church.
God does not treat with you on the basis of what suburb you live in or the size of your pay check or what influence you hold in the city. We are part of the army of God, but this is an army without generals. We are called to be workers for Christ, but in this workforce, we do not have blue collar workers and white collar workers. We are part of a church, but in church, there is no difference between the minister who delivers the sermon and the congregation that hears the sermon. Rather, we are all called to be ministers. We are called to minister to others in the name of Christ.
Finally, in v28, Paul proclaims that there is no sexual discrimination in Christ. "There is neither male nor female."
An English professor wrote the following words on the blackboard: “Woman without her man is a savage.” He directed his students to punctuate that sentence correctly. Most of the men wrote, “Woman, without her man, is a savage.” Most of the women wrote, “Woman! Without her, man is a savage.” You can decide which is the correct punctuation.
But, again we need to realize how radical Paul’s statement was in the first century. This was a patriarchal society. In this culture, women were considered inferior. According to Jewish law, they could not receive instruction about the Torah. They also were not considered to be reliable witnesses in court.
We are apt to congratulate ourselves today and say we live in a free country where everyone has equal rights. But it is not so. In the United States, nine out of ten women who are murdered are killed by men who are known to them, usually a husband or boyfriend. Four out of five are murdered at home. These statistics indicate patterns of violent male dominance of women. Women are far from equal in our country. The church has a lot of work to do in this area. But, at least Paul says, in Christ, we are all equal.
Cities of Refuge
In the Old Testament, the Israelites set aside certain cities which were called cities of refuge. Numbers 35:6: “The towns that you give to the Levites shall include the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit a slayer to flee.” The idea was that these cities would provide sanctuary for a person who accidentally killed someone. Under the Law of Moses a relative had the right to avenge the blood of the one killed, even if the killing was an accident. Thus, if you killed someone accidentally, you had better get out of town quick. You could go to a city of refuge and be safe.
Christ calls his church to be a "City of Refuge" from all the distinctions and discriminations of the world. Here there is no room for prejudice or bigotry or discrimination. Here everyone is acceptable. Everyone is valued. Everyone has a place. Here we are all in Christ and that is the only thing that counts. Amen!
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 5/17/05