MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 3, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 26-29
This morning, we conclude chapter three of Paul’s letter to the churches
Last week, we saw that Paul argues that it is foolish to try to use our performance of the law to earn acceptance with God because God didn’t give the law for that purpose. We saw that God instituted the law as a temporary measure to show his people how sinful and in desperate need of a Savior they were. The law, by revealing to us our sin and even enflaming our desire to rebel against God, was intended to drive us to Christ and to the cross as the only way to be acceptable to God. Paul compares the law to a guardian. One of my seminary professors compares a guardian in New Testament times to a baby sitter. The point of Paul’s illustration is that the sitter is necessary for only a limited season of the child’s life. When the child reaches a certain level of maturity, a sitter is no longer required. Paul says the law was the temporary guardian of God’s people until it could be replaced by something else. Last week, we looked at the various purposes of the law but saw that faith has now replaced the use of the law Paul reveals here. This week, we see something even more important that has replaced the law, and which enables believers to enjoy all the blessings promised to Abraham.
This week, we’ll see that faith has brought us into a totally new way of relating to God, unknown in the Old Testament. This way was promised, but never realized until Jesus Christ came. Faith ushers in this new way of life that is so radically different than living under the law, and it is this way of life that even more fundamentally replaces the law. That is—now God’s people live…in Christ. That is Paul’s central idea in these next several verses. We could state it this way: For the believer, living under the law has been replaced by living in Christ. We want to examine that truth this morning and some of the glorious implications of living in Christ that Paul treats here. This is so much more than an important element of New Testament theology—though it certainly is that. This is the missing piece for some sincere believers who understand they are justified by faith and can in no way be acceptable to God on their own, but who perhaps perpetually still live in bondage to sin and self under the crushing demands of the law of God. Let’s explore this truth where Paul reveals this glorious replacement for the law by reading the final section of chapter three.
For context, we’ll pick up with verse 25 and be listening for the phrases like “in Christ” or “into Christ.” Paul writes, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There 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. 29And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
What does it mean to be “in Christ?” We get a good picture of this in verse 27 where Paul says those who “were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” I agree with those who believe Paul is speaking of water baptism, which in Paul’s day occurred very close to the time of a person’s conversion. He may very well be thinking of a common baptismal practice here that illustrates what he means. In New Testament times, believers were baptized with no clothes on. As they came up out of the waters of baptism, it was customary to have them put on a white robe to symbolize their new life in Christ.
The picture is powerful. Being baptized is a picture of our union with Christ –we are baptized into Christ and the white robe symbolized a new life that is enveloped with Christ. This pictures a complete identification with Christ through our union with him. That is what Paul means when he speaks of being “in Christ.” Before we explore Paul’s specific argument in this text, let’s think a bit more broadly about what the New Testament teaches us about being in Christ. Being in Christ is what hooks us into everything Jesus did for us in salvation.
We must understand that when Jesus came, he appeared to purchase a people for himself and that people would be…in himself—people who would reflect his glory. God has created in Christ, not simply a church, but a new humanity—qualitatively distinct and overwhelmingly superior to those people who have only been created in Adam. This superiority of the new people of God, re-created in Christ is not related to the humans in this new humanity as if they were inherently better people. All of them were formerly at war with God. This new humanity, made up of individuals who have each been made new creatures in Christ, is completely rooted in our union with Christ. This new people of God will fulfill all God’s purposes and plans for the human race that he began with Adam, but are only brought to completion in Christ. There is this cosmic and mystical, larger-than-we-can-get-our-minds-around element in Paul’s teaching here, but this is also so intensely practical on a day-to-day basis.
Many sincere believers understand that they are justified—made legally righteous and acceptable to God, but they still often fail in their struggle against the pull of the law. They persistently fail in their attempts to live out their faith. One reason is because they haven’t internalized the foundational truth upon which justification is built. Our justification is an unspeakably glorious blessing, but it grows out of something even more glorious. That is-- being in Christ. Galatians 2:17 says we are justified “in Christ.” When God declares sinners legally righteous, he can do that without smoke and mirrors because all those who have saving faith in Jesus have been placed in Christ and therefore genuinely share in his perfect righteousness. Do we see ourselves as this new people of God in union with Christ and therefore a partaker with Christ of these glorious blessings? This is so crucial to our sanctification—to see ourselves in the light of that truth.
We must think about ourselves this way because this is what God says about us. This is our spiritual identity—we are…in Christ. That is a foundational truth for our sanctification and growth in holiness. I am not who I used to be—I have been made a new creature and that new creature is new because I have been created anew…in Christ. This may not square with our experience or feelings, but as we more and more by God’s grace through faith internalize these truths, we will increasingly become who we have been created to be. As we have said many times, the basic message Paul has for believers about sanctification is: “Be who you are.” We could clarify, “Be who you are in Christ because your identity in Christ determines who you are—not your past or your birth order or your personality or your parents.” A truth you can build a holy life upon is the truth that you are…in Christ. It’s very difficult to think about being in Christ in general terms—the truth is just too big to get our arms around. We must break it down into the implications it has for us.
Here is just a sampling of the glorious blessings of salvation that believers have by virtue of being in Christ or in union with Christ. First, we share in Christ’s obedience to the Father. His perfect obedience—the perfect track record he established on earth becomes ours through faith in Christ. We have the perfect righteousness of Christ by virtue of being in Christ. Because Christ lived a perfectly righteous life and I am in Christ, therefore his righteousness is mine. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our righteousness comes by faith but it is rooted in our being in Christ.
A second blessing that is given by virtue of being in Christ is--we share in Christ’s victory over sin through his death. Romans 6:2-4, “…How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Just as Christ was resurrected out of the realm of the controlling power of sin, so all those who are in him have been spiritually resurrected out of the realm where the oppressive power of sin dominates and rules. Third, in addition to that spiritual resurrection over the power of sin we can claim by faith, we will one day also share in his bodily resurrection. A future bodily resurrection awaits all those in Christ. First Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ was raised bodily from the dead—I am in Christ by faith. Therefore, I will be raised bodily. Fourth, being in Christ means we share in his Sonship with God the Father. Galatians 3:26 from our text for today, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” We’ll explore that more deeply in a moment. As if all that weren’t enough, Paul says in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” All our spiritual blessings are rooted in Christ.
Now, let’s turn to the text and tightly focus on three implications of being in Christ Paul mentions here. Remember the context—Paul’s broad argument in this chapter is to say—“You are foolish to try to earn acceptance before God by living under the law. We are acceptable to God by faith alone and the reason we are acceptable to God by faith is because faith brings us into union with Christ and being in Christ enables us to have his righteousness. It also enables us to share in the other promised blessings God gave to Abraham.” The first implication of being in Christ is in verse 26. Paul says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” This truth is at the heart of the aspect of our salvation we call adoption. Those in Christ are sons of God. We must see the connection between our adoption as sons of God and being in Christ. We know that God has predestined all believers to be his sons by choosing them before the foundation of the world. But our adoption as God’s children is fundamentally tied to our being in Christ. Listen to Ephesians 1:5 where it says that God. “…predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”
We are adopted “through Christ.” Being in Christ makes us sons of God because Jesus is THE Son of God. We are in him and therefore we share in his sonship. Our sonship is rooted in his Sonship. I. Howard Marshall says, “Jesus became the author and head of a new humanity in which those who believe in him are united with him, share in his divine sonship, become co-heirs with him of glory, and participate in the divine nature.” We must not believe think of adoption in a way where we envision the Father saying to the Son, “I would like to adopt Joe Smith—now, you go die for him.” It’s more like the Father and Son agreeing before the foundation of the world that Joe Smith will be included in this new humanity in Christ and that implies he will share in Christ’s Sonship.
Getting back to the text in Galatians, Paul wants to contrast being a son of God through faith with being under the guardian of the law. The law was a guardian. That arrangement was temporary. In Christ, we are sons—that’s permanent. Under the law, there is no inheritance, only a curse. Those who are in Christ share in the full inheritance of the Son. That includes our justification. That includes our receiving the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. That includes all the blessings of the Father, who acts only for the good of his children now and for all eternity. The guardian of the law only condemns us and it gives us no power to keep the law. Our Father not only doesn’t ever condemn us, he also gives us the power to fulfill the law through the Holy Spirit. When we do allow the law to condemn us, he has a personal Defense Attorney, Jesus Christ who advocates for us by pleading his own shed blood as the irrefutable evidence that all the condemnation we deserve has been fully received by himself.
The guardian or baby sitter doesn’t love the child like a parent does. God loves his children with a love so much stronger and more perfect and enduring than any human parent could ever have for their children. Parents, think how much you love your kids. Your love for them is but a pale reflection of the Father’s love for his children in Christ. We know this because being in Christ means that the Father has the same love for his adopted children that he has for his natural Son, Jesus. Jesus prays in John 17:23, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
We mustn’t let that truth run off our backs. Think about this. If you are in Christ, then God loves you, who, even as his adopted child have run from him, fought against him, turned your back on him, pretended not to hear him, doubted him, betrayed him, felt ashamed to be associated with him and failed him in a million other ways. Yet because he has placed you in Christ by the Spirit of God, he loves you with precisely the same love he has for his perfect, righteous, holy, always-faithful Son, Jesus. We need faith to believe that because it is so entirely counter to anything we have ever experienced in this fallen world. Finally, the law only brings the curse of God upon people. Being in Christ as his sons brings us an inheritance we could never imagine. That’s one reason Paul uses the word “sons” here instead of “sons and daughters.” Daughters in his time never received the inheritance, only sons. All those in Christ, whether male or female are all sons of God in this sense. We’ll see more about our sonship next week as we begin chapter four, Lord willing.
A second implication that flows from being in Christ is found in verse 28. That is, those in Christ are in
union with each other. That
is Paul’s point when he 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.” The
The ethnic barriers that divide black, white, Native American, Asian and any other ethnicities have been torn down for the believer when they are placed into Christ together to form a new humanity. For the believer, our distinguishing feature is not our ethnicity—it is our identity in Christ. That becomes our new, over-riding identity. It doesn’t erase our cultural differences, but it does diffuse their power to divide us. Our identity in Christ gives us the most powerful ground for unity conceivable. One reason why racial hatred and prejudice is wicked when it is found in the heart of a believer is because it is a fundamental denial of who they are in Christ. When we harbor hatred or bigotry against someone because of their race, we are sinfully trying to re-erect a barrier that has been torn down when we were brought together into Christ. The Holy Spirit hates this sin in a believer because it is a denial of what God has done by placing them in Christ. When we show racial prejudice on any front, we are acting in a manner horribly contrary to who we are in Christ.
A second category of our diversity as humans is in the area of our social standing and Paul addresses that when he says that in Christ “there is neither slave nor free.” In the New Testament church you would have found slaves and slave owners worshipping in the same church. It was possible for a slave to be his master’s Sunday school teacher. The point for us today is that if the social standing separating a slave and a slave owner is overcome in Christ, then how much more is any of the far less extreme social distinction we can divide over today. The rich and poor, the politically powerful and the disenfranchised, the well known in the community and those who are obscure—the professional and the blue collar— the celebrities and the unpopular, the scholar and the high school dropout are all one in Christ. There is no pecking order, no social order, no political order and no academic order in Christ. The billionaire has no less need of the blood of Jesus than the homeless person. The president is no less a sinner than a migrant worker and when they are all placed in Christ, they all become one--no one has more value to God than another because they all have the same exorbitantly high value, the value of Christ.
The third category of diversity is much narrower because there are only two options, but it can be no less dividing. That is—the area of gender distinction. As we said when we studied manhood and womanhood, there is no difference between the value of a woman and the value of a man before God. Their value is not determined by their X or Y chromosomes or their anatomy, but who they are in Christ. Chauvinism and extreme feminism have no place in Christ’s body. It is a rejection of our identity—our common union in Christ. This does not mean that all the gender role distinctions God created and existed before the fall have been obliterated. Paul makes that clear elsewhere. But in relation to the value—in terms of how we relate to God, male and female are the same. They are both one in Christ. The pious Jew in Paul’s daily would daily thank God that he was not born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Paul takes those three areas of ethnicity and social standing and gender where fallen humanity so frequently divides and says, “All of you are one in Christ.” And the basis of our communion with one another is our union with Christ.
A third implication of being in Christ is those in Christ are all sons of Abraham and heirs of the promise. We see this in verse 29. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Remember what we said a couple of weeks ago about Christ being the seed or offspring of Abraham. Christ is the Son of Abraham who would bring fulfillment to all God’s promises to him. Through Christ all the nations of the earth will be blessed. He is the Son of Abraham and believers are in Christ. We share not only in Christ’s Sonship with God, but also his sonship with Abraham. The Jews think of themselves as sons of Abraham, but the true sons of Abraham, the true Israel of God are those who are in Christ, the true Son of Abraham. Paul says in Ephesians 3:6, “…the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Because Christ is the ultimate target for God’s promises to Abraham, and we are in Christ, we are heirs with him of the promises.
If you struggle with living under the crushing demands of the law, by faith receive the liberating truth that the law as a way to relate to God has been replaced by an infinitely superior way. That is, we have been taken out from under the law and placed in Christ. In Him we are sons of God—enjoying the love of the Father and all the other blessings accorded sons. The ethnic, social and gender walls have been abolished for those in Christ so that we can live not only in union with him, but in communion with one another. Finally, all the promises of Abraham are ours in Christ. May God give us the grace to understand and perpetually drink in the glories of what God has done for us by placing us in Christ.
Page last modified on 08/10/2008
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