Reflecting with a friend (Galatians 3:23-29)

A friend posted yesterday with some frustration and encouragement for us to “read, interpret and apply the following passage to you and your relationship to 1) Christ, and 2) your church — especially verse 28, which I have highlighted in bold”. The following is that passage (the bold is retained), Galatians 3:23-29:

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

My reading of it went well. My interpretation will start with the context. The Holy Spirit wrote through Paul to the Galatians because they were assaulted by people teaching other gospels. Apparently these teachers said the law was an aid to or the entire basis of righteousness. In confronting this, Paul assured the Galatians that the promise of the gospel is fixed on the righteousness of Christ, unchangeable once it was ratified (v. 15). And even in its ratification, no one can alter it because it was made by God the Father to Abraham and Jesus Christ, no other (v. 16).

Verse 17 starts a brief interlude with the law. Even though we have the law, it cannot cancel the promise because it was not part of the promise. Nothing after the promise can alter that promise (v. 17-18).

Now, since this promise was given to Abraham and Jesus Christ, where are we? Are we excluded from the promise? Paul answers with a resounding “No!”. In verse 27 he explains that those who profess faith in Christ have “put on Christ”. In verse 29 Paul returns to addressing the promise – “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”. We are recipients of God’s promise to Jesus Christ because we “put on Christ”.

So, where is verse 28 in all of this? In verse 28 Paul gives us a picture of what it means for people to be in Christ. The distinctions formerly thought to secure salvation among people are nullified. There are no distinctions, no lines of nationality or status or gender, by which the gospel is restricted.

How do we continue with this in order to apply it to ourselves in our relationship with Christ and His church? One application is that we must evangelize all people, regardless of nation/race, age, status, gender, etc. Second, God saves people sovereignly by giving faith and placing them in His Son Jesus Christ, therefore we are entirely dependent on His working. Third, in evangelism the law is vital as a guardian or school master that leads people to their need for Jesus Christ through knowledge of sin (also Romans 3:20). Fourth, our treatment of others must exemplify an undeniable equality of value in the church because all are equal in value who are in Christ. Fifth, we should live with confidence when we rely on Jesus Christ as the fully righteous recipient of God’s promise. Sixth, this passage (indeed the whole Bible) does not equate equality in value with equality in position (being of equal value in Christ does not mean submission to authorities in other positions is removed – husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, government and citizen, even Christ and us in Christ). Seventh, it seems more complete if I have a seventh application, oh well.

How is this passage improperly applied? In my limited experience I have heard this passage used to “trump” other parts of the Bible that establish roles according to gender. This presents several issues. One is that it causes the Bible to contradict itself. Two, it encourages poor interpretation (ignoring context and making the Bible to fit a view, instead of getting our views out of the Bible). Third, it causes uneven application of this text, i. e. when the gender line is incorrectly broken because of this passage, the status line is not also broken (the master-slave/employer-employee relationship is retained, employees are not encouraged to supplant employers because of this passage but instead to submit to them).

Of course this is not exhaustive, I look forward to others taking up the challenge.

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