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When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns with each other. If you have prayer requests to share, you can add them to the comments on this post. When you are ready, use this prayer to get started.
Heavenly Father, Abba, we are thankful that through Christ we have been adopted as your children. We are grateful to know that our salvation is not a matter of our performance but of your grace. And yet, you want us to live loving, grace-filled lives.
Help us this morning to grow a bit more into the image of Jesus. Help us as we learn. Help us as we think and as we work and as we reach out to others. Help us as we pray. In your name. Amen.
Today's lesson is on Galatians 3:23-4:7.
Until I was in high school, I believed that God relished the prospect of disciplining me and sending me to hell for my sins. Because of this wrong view of God, I tried to manage my works with a list of dos and don’ts. I wasn’t practicing a healthy rejection of evil led by the Spirit; I was a slave to my own attempts to earn my salvation. This was my only relationship with God.
Paul’s words in today’s lesson had something to say to my young heart, and they yet speak to all of us as he puts the law in its proper context.
Many Christians have the mistaken idea that the Law of Moses is the opposite of the grace we have received through Jesus Christ. It is not.
Earlier in chapter 3, Paul makes the point that God made a promise to Abraham based on faith, not on the Law. God’s promise was given simply because Abraham believed God. In other words, God’s promise was an act of grace. So God’s plan for humanity has always involved grace.
In fact, Paul notes, the Law was not even given until 430 years later, when Moses received it. The Law, instead, was intended to point out sin and to guide its followers into the sort of abundant life that God wants for God’s people.
The point that Paul makes in our lesson for today is that the Law cannot give life. Only God’s grace through Jesus Christ can do that.
The problem in the Galatian church was that some were teaching that those who had believed and accepted the message of forgiveness and new life in Christ also had to abide by the Old Testament Law. At the very least, they had to be circumcised and obey ritual food purity laws. They were elevating the Law to a new position for which it was never intended. And in doing so, they were making Christ’s life and death unnecessary.
Abraham’s seed (3:23-29)
Before Christ came and before we therefore had the ability to believe in him, Paul writes, the Law was necessary to show people what kind of activities would be required or forbidden in a life of faith. Therefore, it was a like a guardian — a person charged with taking care of and guiding the heir of the household until he is mature.
“This person must protect the heir at all costs, see to the heir’s education and training, and accompany the heir always,” writes Carla Works, professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary. “In a world where one’s household is one’s security, identity, and legacy, it is impossible to overstate the importance of such a task. The law has a function—to direct people toward abundant life where everyone thrives.”
The point is that the Law was important and good, but the Law was also intended to serve for a particular limited time. It was the guardian of God’s people until the coming of Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law and God’s plan for salvation.
The false teacher at Galatia would have argued that believers in Christ could also be required to follow the Law in order to be children of God. But Paul counters that no matter what one’s background, the Law is not needed anymore. Everyone who has put his faith in Christ and who has been baptized into Christ is a child of God.
For Paul’s opponents, that would have been unthinkable. Jews alone had been designated the children of God. However, the promises were always intended to come through them and not be limited to them. Paul is saying that, through Christ, that time has come and now the promise has come to everyone.
Everyone who believes has put on a new spiritual robe. Every Christian has been clothed with Christ and has put aside the filthy rags of sin and self-centeredness. Even though the robes of Christ cover us from the very beginning, it is a gradual process of spiritual growth that makes those robes fit with the reality of our thoughts and actions.
Not only that. But in Christ, all of the barriers that used to divide us are broken down. It doesn’t matter anymore if you are a Jew or a Gentile. It doesn’t matter if you are a slave or you are free. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man. Everyone is in the same situation now that Christ has come. Everyone, regardless of their earthly status or background, has equal access to salvation through Christ.
We all have equal access to salvation because, in Christ, we are one. The things that divide us because we live in a fallen world do not divide us in Christ. Therefore, in Christ’s kingdom, we are to treat each other with “absolute love and respect as equal heirs of salvation,” the Sunday school lesson says.
Every baptized believer is therefore Abraham’s seed, a term previously only applied to Jews, and everyone who is united with Christ is an heir according to God’s promise to Abraham.
God’s children (4:1-7)
In these verses, Paul goes back to the analogy he had mentioned earlier in our lesson passage, explicitly in 3:24-25. He writes that even though the child will eventually inherit his father’s property, he is treated like a slave until he reaches the age of maturity. By Roman custom, that age was 25, and until then, the guardian exercised authority over him. In a similar way, the Christians who made up the Galatian church had been kept in a kind of slavery for a time.
But when the appointed time arrived, God sent his Son into the world. That meant that the time of guardianship and slavery was over “There was no reason for Christians — whether of Jewish or Gentile background — to listen to those who insisted on submission to its distinctive in order to receive salvation in Christ,” the lesson points out.
So even though Christians have been freed from the Law, that does not mean we have been left alone and to our own devices. Now we have become children of God and heirs to God’s promises and blessings.
Because we are sons and daughter of God, God’s Spirit has been sent into our hearts (which in Paul’s time referred to the seat of our will and our emotions). And through that Spirit, God reminds us that we have a close familial relationship with God. (Abba is the warm and familiar word used for a father inside the household, much like “Daddy” or “Papa”.) It is that familial relationship that we receive in the Spirit that transforms us into the image of Christ, reshaping our desires and affections.
In my freshman year of high school, I went to a camp that described Jesus in a new way. This teaching depicted God — my Father — as one who loved me very much. This God would forgive me and never abandon me. This teaching was good news! When I surrendered to Jesus, I realized I had been a slave to a works-based salvation, a slave to sin, a salve to fear, and a slave to “trying hard, but never sure.”
But the situation is not hopeless. A pardon has been provided through the death of Jesus. In Christ, I am free from this anguish. And you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, enjoy the same status I do. We are loved; we are our Father’s children. Our new status is a result of this relationship. The Spirit lives in our hearts to confirm this. God had a plan from the beginning, and regardless of who you once were, in Christ you are made right with God. You have been bought with a price and adopted as his child. We are not to be slaves to law, traditions, cultural norms, or other restrictions; we are free through faith in Jesus Christ to live fully as the heirs of God’s promise.
Father, forgive us for the times when we act as if you are not enough. Thank you for the new identity that you give us by loving us and making us your children. Help us to live in the promise that you give us through faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Questions for discussion
Today's benediction is from the Psalter.
Next week's lesson will be on Acts 15:1-11.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.