By Mark Scott
Someone has rightly said, “You cannot be ‘revived’ if you have never first been ‘vived.’” In last month’s lessons we focused on God creating the universe. This month’s lessons focus on God recreating the universe through redeeming his people for freedom to live in holiness. Our study takes us to Galatians, that Magna Carta of Christian freedom.
In Galatians Paul strongly defended that Christians are saved by faith in Christ and not works of the law (so significant that he stated that truth three times in one verse—Galatians 2:16). In chapters 3 and 4 Paul made several arguments for that theme: Faith is the vehicle of receiving the Holy Spirit (3:1-6). Faith puts us in touch with the promise of God through Abraham (vv. 7-18). Faith is the result of letting the law lead us to Christ (vv. 19-25). Faith is what puts us in God’s family (3:26–4:20). Faith is the basis for our freedom (4:21-31).
Our Clothing Shows Our Clan
When God redeems us by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9), he places us into his forever family. The ground is indeed level at the foot of the cross. All are embraced and equal. Harmony is possible only in Christ—notice also the phrases, into Christ, in Christ, and to Christ. Responding to God in faith makes us children of God (see also John 1:12).
The entry point for this harmony is baptism. The New Testament writers had what we might term their own doctrines of baptism. For Matthew baptism was fulfilling righteousness (Matthew 3:13-17). For Mark baptism was an immersion in suffering (Mark 10:36-39). For Luke baptism was forgiveness and the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). For John baptism was the new birth (John 3:1-8). For Peter baptism was a pledge of a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:21). For the Hebrew writer baptism was drawing near to God (Hebrews 10:22). For Paul baptism was identification with Christ (Romans 6:1-4). Metaphorically speaking, baptism is putting on clothes that mark out our clan (family).
People get out of tune because of race, social status, and gender. Yet faith expressed in baptism destroys disunity. Certainly a high watermark of the New Testament is Galatians 3:28. Harmony is possible when we are recreated, regardless of race (Jew nor Gentile), social status (slave nor free), or gender (male and female). Picking up the argument from earlier in the epistle, Paul said, If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. The baptismal clothes make us all look the same. We may have different roles and gifts, but the harmony can be in perfect pitch.
Our Family Shows Our Identity
Paul did not create a chapter division at Galatians 4:1. The link word to this next section is heir. You can’t talk about an heir without thinking in terms of family. The word heir leads to further discussion of our identity in Christ. So Paul extended the metaphor in a way that his world would easily understand.
The household of Paul’s world consisted of a mother, father, (maybe even grandparents), children, and slaves. While Paul put in place the principles whereby slavery would implode, he spoke to the culture of his day with his “household rules” (Ephesians 5:22–6:9; Colossians 3:18–4:1). Therefore the people had a reservoir from which to draw to interpret his analogy. The children of slaves and the children of masters played together. They were good friends. They looked past categories. At that point slaves and heirs were the same and under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.
But the slave and the heir were very different when it came to who inherited the estate. Even though the heir had to bide some time, one day the estate would be hers or his for the taking. Earlier Paul mentioned that this “guardian” taking care of the heir until the proper time was the law (3:24).
But God jumped in and changed all of this in the perfect time. Jesus was born of a woman, who herself was living under the law. The purpose for Jesus’ coming was to redeem (a marketplace term) his people. The end result was that people were adopted into his family. We have such intimacy with God that we can call him Abba, our “Dear Father.” Paul’s argument builds—slave, child, and finally heir. With new clothes and a new identity, we can live in harmony.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.