October 17, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Galatians 3:23–4:7
October 17, 2021
Read Galatians 3:23-4:7
Paul wrote this letter because he had received a report that congregations were experiencing division and trouble. Some had been persuaded that Gentiles needed to take on all of Judaism in order to be genuine Christians. As a result, some of the Gentiles had submitted to being circumcised and were taking up the observance of Jewish holy days. Paul was rebuking them for “so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ.”
Paul emphatically rejected the idea that Gentile believers needed to do anything beyond proclaiming Jesus Christ Savior and Lord to become real Christians. There were not separate “levels” of Christianity, like, beginner for Gentile, advanced for Jew. Remember Paul’s opening theme statement: “Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever, amen.”
To be clear, Paul was NOT saying that you utter magic words and then you can do whatever you want. Having received Jesus Christ as Lord means that you are a disciple – a follower – and that you will seek to grow in conformity to who Christ has called you to be: that’s sanctification. Paul’s argument against his opponents was this: there is nothing else you need to do – nor can you do – to earn your salvation, to earn your adoption, to earn your reception into the body of Christ: God has done that as a gift of grace for you.
Today’s verses continue the argument Paul was making. When we spoke last week, Paul was describing how God’s work in Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of a promise that pre-dated and held priority over the law given to Moses. The covenant with Abraham was irrevocable and was not subject to modification, amendment, or deletion. The law Moses received 430 years later could not change, add, or take anything away from the promises God had given to Abraham.
Paul’s great insight was that Jesus was the heir through whom God’s blessing was realized; Jesus was the offspring God intended in his promises to Abraham. Not only that – but watch this: as Abraham’s heir, Jesus incurred the consequences of the covenant by being broken on our behalf. Because the descendants of Abraham did not abide by the terms of the covenant in their obedience to God, Jesus took on the “may it be to me as with these” – the sacrificed animals of the covenant ceremony – on our behalf. Jesus’ sacrifice completed the old covenant and ushered in the new.
This leads us to some of the most wonderful and yet most-often misapplied verses in Scripture. The end of chapter 3 has been wildly misconstrued in modern conversation. “There is now no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female…”. Paul was describing the reality of sinners redeemed by Jesus being the body of Christ together without different “levels” or divisions among them. Paul was not saying that differences do not exist, he was saying that the differences are not competitive within the body of Christ. Just as all players on a team wear a uniform, so also are Christians who have clothed themselves with Christ. You do not get to the “there is now no longer…” without first understanding, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
The point is that status divisions among believers do not exist within the body of Christ. We have different gifts, different roles, different vocations, and even different levels of maturity and experience, but one uniform. We all stand equally at the foot of the cross. I am sure you have all heard it expressed that way, however, the truth also is this: we all stand equally as co-heirs of the promises God made to Abraham. In Jesus’ death on the cross – with all it meant – the provisions of the covenant promises to Abraham were triggered.
When I was an attorney a lifetime ago, there were two areas of law I specifically avoided: estate law and tax law. I shivered just thinking about them. I still tell people, “Property law – estate law – was created 700 years ago. It did not make sense when they wrote it, and it has not changed. There are magic words and phrases that if you do not put in the correct sequence will yield results very different than you anticipate or intend.” If you have ever gone through the process of buying a home, you will know the mountain of paperwork involved. Likewise – “Legal Zoom” notwithstanding – estate planning and wills and trusts are incredibly complex.
That said, there is one certain thing simple to understand: death triggers a change. For Paul, Jesus’ death on the cross triggered an history-altering change.
Prior to Jesus’ death, the law held sinners captive. What does that mean? It means that the law revealed God’s holiness and perfection. It also revealed our imperfection and inability to achieve righteousness on our own without God. As the preacher of Hebrews points out, “the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.” (Hebrews 10:1)
God’s law was given to Israel but applied to all. Israel had a special function: they were to be God’s ambassadors and examples to the rest of the world by being a priestly kingdom and holy nation. They were the ones through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled. They were supposed to be an example and blessing to all the families of the earth; instead, they saw themselves as privileged and sought to avoid being blemished by those “sinners.”
Again, prior to Jesus’ death, the law held the heirs of the promise captive. Again, what does that mean? Paul explained it this way: “heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.” I want to stop here for a moment. Do you realize what Paul was saying? Paul was saying that believers are owners of all the property. We own the kingdom of heaven that God has prepared for us. We are co-heirs with Christ – you and I are co-heirs with Christ. Take that in for a moment.
Clothed in Christ Means One Uniform
Let me try to make this clearer by pointing to Jesus’ telling of the parable of the Good Father – also known as The Prodigal Son. A man had two sons. Do you remember how the two sons treated the father? The younger came to him and said, “Give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” The younger son was demanding his inheritance before his father died. As Ken Bailey notes, what the younger son says was the equivalent of, “Dad, why don’t you drop dead.”
Then, there was the older son. Jesus was telling that story to the scribes and Pharisees – the people who had, who were, and who would reject him. There is no question the older son represented the scribes and Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus because he was consorting with the sinners of the world.
The older son refused to go in and celebrate. Look at the criticism of the older son, “‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.” That is about as succinct a description of the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees as you could make. They wanted to celebrate their own righteousness with their friends – and without the father. The older brother’s attitude was one of resentment, though it was more than that. He wanted his inheritance free and clear of both the prodigal son and, more sadly, the good father.
The father’s response to both reveals what the kingdom of heaven is really like. About the repentant prodigal son, “the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” Clothe him with Christ. To the older son, “the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
In Jesus’ parable, first the younger son and, second, the older son failed to realize that the chief blessing was to be in the presence of the father. “This son of mine was dead and is alive again.” “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” What an incredible treasure we already have.
In other words: take heart. What we see here and now is not all there is. What we see here and now is not how the kingdom of heaven always will be; what is now broken will then be mended, what is now incomplete will then be complete, what now is failing will then succeed, what now is being imprisoned will be released, what now is scarce will be abundant, what now is perishable will then be eternal. It is ours. And, perhaps as important, the extent of our inheritance will not diminish anyone else’s inheritance; and the existence of other co-heir will not shrink our portion. In fact, together our inheritance will be more abundant – abundant to overflowing.
Peter would write,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
I want to challenge you today to spend some time thinking and dwelling on the inheritance that is yours – and mine, ours – in Christ Jesus. When I think about it, some of my frustrations, anguish, and struggles with today’s world dissipate as I realize just how petty I can be. When I think about my inheritance, I find a deep well-spring of gratitude for the depth and wonder of God’s love for me.
To return to Paul’s thought: prior to Jesus’ death, the law was the guardian of the heirs of the promise. The law served as its trustee. Prior to Jesus’ death, the law pointed to those things that were promises yet to be fulfilled.
In Jesus’ death everything changed. It is why Paul would write to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
In Jesus’ death, the covenant with Abraham was triggered. God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham’s offspring took effect. The change in time meant the dawning of the new covenant; the one that took effect upon the perfection – completion – of the old covenant. Jesus accomplished the perfection of the old covenant and through him, its blessings were secured for the heirs.
In verses 4 and 5, Paul provides a very basic framework – probably from an early confession of the church – of how God accomplished the change from life under the law to life as children of the king.
First, when the fullness of time had come, God sent. God sent his Son. But note that God is the actor. God is the one who is making things happen in the course of history. God is the one who moves and all of creation responds. In a time and in a world where there is so much anxiety and stress about “what is going to happen?” and “why are these things happening?” we can take comfort in knowing the one who is ultimately in control and is the prime mover throughout history. When the fullness of time had come, God sent.
Second, God sent his Son, born of a woman. Jesus was fully human. Jesus was flesh and blood like us. He was not a hologram or just pretending to be human. He was not a spirit wearing a costume. Jesus was fully human as we are; and because he was fully human, he is able to be our priest and stand in our place before God’s throne.
Third, not only was Jesus born of a woman, he was born under the law. He was a Jew, part of the priestly kingdom and holy nation. This was important both as a fulfillment of prophecy – what God promised, how God promised – and as a fulfillment of the covenant God had made with Abraham.
Fourth, God’s purpose was clear: to redeem those who were under the law. All were under the law, not just the Jews. All were “enslaved to the elemental spirits” as Paul wrote. “The scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” It almost seems cliché, but remember what Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.”
Finally, Jesus was born, lived under the law, and redeemed all who were under the law in order that “we might receive adoption as children.” Adoption in the Roman Empire had a well-known and specific process which is important as we try to understand what Paul was arguing.
There were two steps. The first was known as mancipatio (think: emancipation), and was carried out by a symbolic sale, in which copper and scales were symbolically used. Three times the symbolism of sale was carried out. Twice the father symbolically sold his son, and twice he bought him back; but the third time he did not buy him back and thus the patria potestas was held to be broken. There followed a ceremony called vindicatio (think: vindication). The adopting father went to the praetor, one of the Roman magistrates, and presented a legal case for the transference of the person to be adopted into his patria potestas. When all this was completed, the adoption was complete. Clearly, this was a serious and impressive step.
But it is the consequences of adoption which are most significant for the picture that is in Paul’s mind. … (First), the adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family. … (Second), He became heir to his new father’s estate. Even if other sons were afterwards born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably co-heir with them. … (Third), the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out; for instance, all debts were cancelled.
Suddenly, Paul’s language in Galatians takes on a new significance:
- In 3:29: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
- In 4:6: “Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
- In 4:7: “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and [because] a child then also an heir, through God.
Paul was telling the Galatians that the inheritance was already theirs in Christ and that they did not need to go backward. Walter Hansen explained it very well:
Paul makes it very clear that there is only one condition for the experience of the Spirit in our hearts: Because you are [children], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. There is no other prerequisite for this experience of the Spirit besides receiving the gift of adoption. We do not need to go through a series of steps, recite special prayers or meet extra conditions. God sends the Spirit of his Son into our heart for one reason: because he adopted us into his family. … To know at the deepest level of our being that God is our Father and we are his sons and daughters is not the result of theological research or moral achievement, but the result of God’s sending the Spirit of his Son to speak to us and to convince us that despite all our guilt, fears and doubts, the Father of Jesus is our Father, too. To know God as our Father in this way is not merely intellectual apprehension of a doctrine, not merely warm feelings about God, but a life-transforming conscious awareness of the reality of our intimate relationship with God our Father.
Do you realize what Paul was saying? Paul was saying that believers are owners of the kingdom of heaven. Go home today and spend some time thinking about this:
What we see here and now is not all there is. What we see here and now is not how the kingdom of heaven always will be:
- what is now broken will then be mended,
- what is now incomplete will then be complete,
- what now is failing will then succeed,
- what now is being imprisoned will be released,
- what now is scarce will be abundant,
- what now is perishable will then be eternal. It is ours.
- And, perhaps as important, the extent of our inheritance will not diminish anyone else’s inheritance; in fact, together our inheritance will be more abundant – abundant to overflowing.
It is good to be a child of the king. The kingdom of heaven is already ours in Christ; therefore, go, and live accordingly.
- What does it mean to you to be an adopted child of God?
- What does it mean to you to clothe yourself with Christ?
- How can you share the kingdom of which you are a co-heir? Who are your brothers and sisters in Christ whom you can encourage? Who are those you know that need to hear the hope of the gospel and the joy of your salvation?
 William Barclay, in his commentary on the Romans (p. 105-106),
 Hansen, Galatians, p. 120-121.