Putting on Heirs

Please read Galatians 3:23-29.  My remarks were prepared with the New Living Translation.

INTRODUCTION

Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp are two men who have enjoyed success as professional athletes and as politicians on the national stage.  The two men played different sports, so they never faced one another in competition, but they were on opposite sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C.  Bradley is a Democrat and Kemp was a Republican (he died in 2009).

It was through their time in professional athletics that these men learned life-long lessons on the subject of race.  They learned to do better than tolerate their black teammates, they came to respect them and ceased to see skin color as any kind of barrier to playing ball or living life.

When he was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jack Kemp wrote, “I couldn’t face my friends Ernie Ladd, Cookie Gilchrist, or Tippy Day or all the black football players I know and lived with and lost and won with, if I weren’t their voice in the [president’s] cabinet.”

In his book More Than Equals, Chris Rice wrote the following, “Racial reconciliation shouldn’t begin with a debate over affirmative action and quotas – or theology.  It’s about getting to know names and faces.  Build relationships and share in your new friends’ concerns for their families and communities.  Go into the neighborhood.  Visit the church.  Let their experience speak to your life.”

<Both quotes are retrieved from the December 26, 2001 devotional in Men of Integrity magazine.>

Today is Flag Day.  Let’s note something about Old Glory.  Do you see more than one color here?  Each of these colors have an important symbolic meaning and each contributes to the whole flag.  Old Glory would be less glorious if any of these colors were deleted.  LET THE SAME THINGS BE SAID OF OUR CHURCH!  Let’s see what God said.

Context: This letter deals with the problems caused by false teachers who insisted that non-Jews had to become Jews before they could properly become Christians.

Message: What has always mattered most is God’s love.  One of the beneficial effects of His love is that it unites us, makes us one family under our Heavenly Father.

Comment:

  1. We were formerly orphans under the guardianship of the Law (3:23-25).

Paul comments on life under the Law of Moses as a “B.C.” state = “Before Christ.”  V. 23 = BEFORE THE WAY OF FAITH IN CHRIST WAS AVAILABLE TO US.

– Comment #1 = Faith in Christ is a way of life, a worldview, an approach to daily living that is all-encompassing.

– Comment #2 = The Law of Moses (what made Israel the people of God, a part of what made Jews “Jewish”) was only a temporary measure.  v. 23 = UNTIL THE WAY OF FAITH WAS REVEALED.

– Comment #3 = The purpose of the Law was to protect God’s people.

–  V. 23 = WE WERE PLACED UNDER GUARD…KEPT IN PROTECTIVE CUSTODY.  (Even the verb here is in the passive voice!)

– V.24 = THE LAW WAS OUR GUARDIAN…IT PROTECTED US.

– The word translated here as “guardian” is the Gk word from which we get “pedagogue.”  The word referred to people who had custody of children to train them.  Children born in wealthy houses went from mother to wet nurse to pedagogue, who later took them to a teacher for book learning.  They were completely responsible for their charges; if the child misbehaved, it was the pedagogue who was punished!

– This is obviously a temporary situation; sooner or later the child grows up and can govern herself.  The pedagogue works themselves out of a job, preparing the child to be responsible and mature and self-sufficient for the day when the family says they are old enough to be an adult.  Paul used this common cultural practice to illustrate the state of godly people under the Law.

– V. 25 = NOW THAT THE WAY OF FAITH HAS COME, WE NO LONGER NEED THE LAW AS OUR GUARDIAN.  Though we don’t all mature, we do all age, and there comes a time when children cease to be children and become adults, responsible for themselves.  It was at this time a male child became a citizen and his father’s heir.

The WAY OF FAITH is a system of greater freedom, more responsibility, and more power to decide for ourselves.  Paul uses this illustration to show that the false teachers were false because they failed to understand that in the new agreement instituted by Jesus Christ, we “graduated” from childhood to adulthood.  Just as it is ridiculous to sleep in the nursery when one has “grown up,” so it is for these false teachers to lie and say it was necessary for us to live in the spiritual nursery when we are adults & heirs with Christ.

From what did the Law protect us?

– From the sinful and human sides of our natures.

– From our ignorance of the will of God.

– From the influence of the Enemy who tempts us to sin & accuses of guilt when we give into temptation.

– Note that the Law did not SOLVE these problems, it offered protection as a temporary alleviation.

A couple of caveats:

– Being in custody, even PROTECTIVE CUSTODY, is still nothing like freedom.  It is in our human nature to chafe under restraint and to yearn for freedom.

– Being in the custody of the Law is more pleasant than being PRISONERS OF SIN (v. 22).  So the law was given to protect us from the death penalty to which PRISONERS OF SIN are subject.

Paul’s comment on life of faith in Jesus Christ, under God’s new covenant, as a part of God’s new people, the Church is revealed in his repeated use of t word UNTIL:

– V. 23 = UNTIL THE WAY OF FAITH WAS REVEALED.

– V. 24 = UNTIL CHRIST CAME…UNTIL WE COULD BE MADE RIGHT WITH CHRIST.

It’s clear a new situation exists.  He spends the next four verses explaining God’s final solution.

  1. We are now God’s children and part of one family (3:26-29).

God’s people have gone from being under a guardianship to being adopted into the family of God.  How did this happen?  Jesus Christ did it for all people and we who receive it by faith are privileged to be children of God.

Note Paul’s use of inclusive language.

–  V. 26 = YOU ARE ALL CHILDREN OF GOD THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS.  The Gk word ALL here is in emphatic voice and it is the first word in the sentence.

– V. 27 = ALL WHO HAVE BEEN UNITED WITH CHRIST IN BAPTISM.  Some scholars believe vs. 27+28 are part of a liturgy that was used in the early Church when baptisms were performed, to explain the significance of baptism.  The imagery of PUTTING ON NEW CLOTHES is a way of describing taking on the characteristics of someone, like a child putting on daddy’s shirt and acting like him.

– V. 28 = YOU’RE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.  This teaching is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters: (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-28; 12:13; Colossians 3:11).

The effects of God’s gracious action to adopt us are profound and they set worldly ways of thinking on their ear. For example, according to verse 28, there are no longer any earthly divisions that matter.  We’re not saying that they cease to exist, but that they cease to matter.  What once divided us divides us no more. What matters is that we are one family.

– We are one family; not JEWS or GENTILES.  That distinction no longer determines membership in God’s family.  (This one is the most relevant to Paul’s argument.)

– We are one family; not SLAVES or FREEBORN.  That distinction no longer entitles one set of people to human rights and denies them to another set.

– We are one family; not MALE or FEMALE.  That distinction determined inheritance of property in the ancient world but it does not make us heirs with Christ.

Paul may have chosen these three comparisons because they are exactly counter to the prayer a pious Jew made every morning, thanking God for not making him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman!  Or he may have selected these three as representative of the three most basic human relationships – religious, civil, and familial.  Ungodly folk use these distinctives as excuses for division and injustice, but not in the Church!  In the Church we affirm that we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS!

As verse 29 teaches, it is by faith we accept God’s gracious offer of adoption and that place us in a very privileged position.  Here are the great things that are true NOW THAT YOU BELONG TO CHRIST:

– YOU ARE THE TRUE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM.  The Jews held a great deal of pride as being the legitimate sons of Abraham.  In fact, John the Baptist dealt with this arrogance; “PROVE BY THE WAY YOU LIVE THAT YOU HAVE REPENTED OF YOUR SINS AND TURNED TO GOD.  DON’T JUST SAY TO EACH OTHER, ‘WE’RE SAFE, FOR WE ARE DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM.’  THAT MEANS NOTHING, FOR I TELL YOU, GOD CAN CREATE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM FROM THESE VERY STONES.” (Luke 3:9)  This is what TRUE means in v. 29.  Apart from prideful claims & arrogant complacency, anyone can – by faith, not birth – become an heir & receive what God promised Abraham.

– YOU ARE HIS HEIRS, AND GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM BELONGS TO YOU.  This is Paul sticking it directly to the Judaizers in the Galatian church.  They were guilty of the same arrogance and pride John the Baptist confronted, as proven by their insistence that non-Jewish believers become Jews first.  The heart of their pride was their claim of Abraham as their true father, so Paul reveals pointedly that ALL who are IN CHRIST are Abraham’s true heirs.

CONCLUSION

What’s the difference between friction and traction?  After all, both of them involve two objects rubbing against one another.  The difference is that friction only generates heat, but traction generates movement.  To what kind of church family do you want to belong – the kind that is merely abrasive or the kind that gets somewhere?

Think about it a minute.  Who do you think is going to solve the problem of prejudice?  How about the problem of poverty?  Equal pay for equal work?  The government and the media claim to have been working on these issues for fifty years or more – have we seen any progress?  Are these problems going to be solved by any worldly means?

The obvious answer is no.  We will see real change come from the Church because only the Church – with all her problems – is connected to the real source of truth and power, God.  The Church will accomplish this by turning one soul at a time toward God.  Change the people and the laws will follow.  Change the culture by changing the attitude of one person at a time.  Heal the nation by healing yourself and your neighbor. What we need to do is all the things that contribute to traction.

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