Our Spiritual Family

Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

by Bob Burridge ©2017

Lesson 10: Galatians 3:26-29 (video)

Our Spiritual Family

It’s not easy to accept changes in things we are used to. Even the most rebellious among us have some things they want to keep the same. We have to adjust to changes in TV schedules, seasonal trades in the roster of our favorite teams, and updates on computer programs and applications that now work differently. We have to find new places to shop and eat when then old ones we loved close down.

One of the hardest changes we face is in the makeup of our own family. Marriage, babies, and adoptions are wonderful blessings, but there are always some adjustments that need to be made. By adding someone new to the home schedules change, responsibilities are redistributed, and hopefully there’s more to be thankful for and more you have to share.

It’s often a hard adjustment for children already in the home when a new baby is born. It’s good when they learn to appreciate and love the new brother or sister, but it means family schedules are going to be different. If things are handled right the newcomer is welcomed by parents, and brothers or sisters, and there’s a deeper appreciation for God’s wonders.

In the First Century a lot was changing for those in the family of God. The boundaries of the spiritual family were being re-defined. Gentiles were being converted in large numbers and joining with the Christian synagogues. New congregations were springing up in regions that had been totally pagan up to that time. These new brothers and sisters were different. They had a different background, didn’t know the Hebrew Scriptures, and dressed differently. The new congregations didn’t celebrate the ancient holidays of Israel. Their leaders had often never been to the Temple in Jerusalem. There were challenges in the family, and adjustments that had to be made.

Of course Israel wasn’t as pure as many of them thought they were either. Things had became part of their way of life that didn’t come from God’s word. They were dreamed up by irresponsible scholars, but had become familiar traditions. Yet the hardest thing was accepting a change in the things God had given them long ago. The ritual laws that represented Christ didn’t apply any more since the Messiah had come. The Levitical Laws still taught good lessons, but were no longer required.

Israel had been expanded into the church of her awaited Messiah. The laws that represented Christ’s work were fulfilled at the Cross. The result is what we have today, but it seemed revolutionary in the first century AD. Believers grew up with the Temple worship, animal and grain sacrifices, a whole calendar of holy days, and special Sabbaths beyond just the Creation Sabbath. The Messiah had been only a promise, a hope of what God would accomplish. They’d been raised to think of the physical descendants of Jacob as their spiritual family. With the coming of Jesus Christ it all changed. There were some who wanted to hang on to the old ways, the old family traditions.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written partly to correct the Judaizers. They said the new Gentile converts had to be adopted into Israel, and undergo the old, but now fulfilled, Levitical rituals. That was a denial of the finished work of Jesus, the Messiah to whom the rituals pointed.

But this letter was also written to help the Galatians adjust to the changes. They needed to appreciate and love the new family members. And they needed to understand the new relationship they had with God. In Christ they had a more complete revelation of God’s plan. It was a less symbol-based way of living. They had what the symbols represented. They had what the prophets of old only hoped for. We enjoy being part of that greater spiritual family too. That’s what this next section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 3 is about.

We have a new and special unity as the family of Christ. Verses 26-28 of Galatians 3 tells us about this important privilege we have by God’s grace.

26. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
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 neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

All true believes in Christ are part of just one unified spiritual family. Paul tells us here that we’re all “sons of God”. He doesn’t mean that in a gender specific way. The word translated “son” here is “huios” (υἱός) which is often used generally for “child”. The “sons” here include both men and women in the family of God. All believers are adopted as God’s special children by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

There are always some who claim to be members of God’s family even though they’re not. They say they are “Christians”, but might not put their faith in Christ alone to be made right with God. They think they need to add something else to what he accomplished. It might be their own imagined good works, the approval of some church authority, or rituals they think actually remove their guilt. They might even quote the words of Jesus, but they don’t pay attention to all the words he spoke, or take them in the sense he meant them. They pick out what supports what they already believe, and end up promoting a false Christ.

Those who really believe and are baptized into Christ have also “put on Christ”. Being baptized into Christ isn’t just a simple reference to the Sacrament of Baptism with water. The outward sign of Baptism is only a blessing to those truly united with him by grace. It doesn’t redeem a person, or wash away sins by the outward applying of water. Just as the Bible says Israel was “baptized into Moses”, so we’re “baptized into Christ”. We’re sealed to him by faith, by trusting in what he was and taught us.

You don’t just take up his name, or start quoting him and start following his moral teachings. It means more than just those things. It means you trust his claim to be God in human flesh, that he came to die in his people’s place to pay in full the debt their sins have earned them.

But if we’re truly united with him by faith, we also put him on as our clothing. We come to God dressed in his righteousness, not in our own claims or good deeds. We come humbly, trusting in the work of our Savior as our substitute. This means we have new life in us, and that we are striving to be like him.

It’s not a promise to just the Jews, but to as many as are united with him this way. It’s for the Gentiles too, for Greeks as well as Jews, for slaves as well as those who are free. It’s for women as well as men. Only men received the sign of the covenant under the old administration of God’s Covenant. In their circumcision, males represented their whole household. Now Jesus Christ represents us all, so the Covenant sign of Baptism is placed on all in the household who are brought to the Savior by grace through faith.

All those, regardless of race, status or gender, are united in Christ. They are all one in him.

This verse has been used irresponsibly as if all distinctions were eliminated. Christ does not erase the created distinctives in God’s creation. That’s not Paul’s point here. That’s not the context. There are still different duties in the spiritual family, just as there are in our earthly families.

The same apostle wrote to the Colossians and to the Ephesians that husbands are to be responsible and loving leaders in their homes, and wives are to respect that responsibility given to the husbands. This doesn’t mean wives are of lesser importance in God’s Kingdom. It doesn’t give husbands the right to mistreat or show disrespect to their wives. It teaches husbands to lead the home as Christ leads his church, sacrificially, giving of himself for the spiritual benefit of his bride (Ephesians 5:25).

Paul also clearly teaches the leadership of men in the church. Those who misapply this verse to justify women Elders or Pastors, have to reject the teachings of this same Apostle in his letters to Timothy and to Titus.

The lesson here is that we are all equal in Christ as redeemed children of God. No one in the church, leaders or congregation, men or women, adults or children, rich or poor, is of a lower standing or of lesser importance as God’s beloved redeemed children.

Those brought to Christ from pagan backgrounds are sinners saved by grace just as those raised in believing homes. There’s no distinction in God’s Kingdom. Both have a story to tell about the work of God’s grace in their lives.

Then Paul comes to the really encouraging part: If you are Christ’s, you are Abraham’s seed

29. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This was shocking to the Jews in the age of the Apostles. Up to then, God used physical Israel to represent his church on earth. They were his people then, but now he includes believers from all nationalities.

We need to remember God’s promise to Abraham to understand Paul’s encouragement here. It wasn’t a Covenant with just Abraham or even just with his descendants. Genesis 12:3 says, “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In the great covenant chapter of Genesis 17, God clarified his promise to Abraham in verse 7, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” But the descendants of Abraham aren’t just his physical children. They include all who God redeems by grace, those in whom God implants a redeeming faith.

Right here, in the last verse of Galatians 3, Paul assures us that we are also heirs of that promise to Abraham — if we belong to Christ — Jew or Gentile, Slave or Free, Male or Female.

That means all of us. If we come to Christ – trusting in him alone, confessing nothing good in ourselves – we discover that the greatest good of all has been given to us by grace. The Creator of everything is our God, and we are his family, his much loved children. That’s the promise of his Covenant. Everyone who truly rests in Christ’s victory over sin alone for making him right with God is our brother, our sister, in the Spiritual Clan of the Church.

Some won’t dress or talk the way you do. Some like different music, different sports, pastimes and movies. Some haven’t had much of a background in biblical teachings. But we shouldn’t divide into groups of those who wear dress shoes or sneakers, or who wear suits or jeans,
or those who wear suits and sneakers at the same time. All are united with us in Christ and need to be loved in the family of God.

We need to learn from one another, help one another to grow, and pray for one another. We worship and serve our Lord together. We rejoice and weep together.

Diversity shouldn’t be a problem in God’s family, it’s our advantage. We’re not united by our common talents, hobbies, or tastes in clothes and furniture. There’s a bond we often overlook, it’s sadly absent from many of our conversations. We need to care about and talk about what God has to say about what’s going on in the news, the needs in people’s lives, our busy schedules, our families, work, school, and social times.

We in this new relationship are the Israel talked about in the New Testament. Redeemed Christians are all heirs according to the promise, the promise made to Abraham. That covenant promise is ours through the promised Christ. Jehovah is our God and we in Christ are his people – his spiritual family. We stand by one another: to represent our Savior, and to enjoy him now and forever.

This is God’s promise, but if you live as if something else is your hope, you live in denial of God’s integrity.

When you see the world around you in rebellion against God and his ways, when you don’t understand difficult things you have to deal with, you need to know his assurances, and rest in them. You need to remember that he’s your God, and you are one of his people.

He cares for you and does what’s best for you with eternal values in view. He’s doing the same in all the others he gathers together in his church. They may be different in many ways important to us. But all believers are the heirs of his solemn promise – and that promise can’t possibly fail.

(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)

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