There’s an old saying that goes like this (somewhat modified, as taught to me by my father): “You can lead a horse to drink, but you can’t make it water.” This week’s lesson provides an abundance of good drink. Like animals on a long journey, we need to stop at times and quench our thirst. Let’s face it—life is difficult. It is important that we take stock as we finish up chapter 3 and move on to chapter 4. The message given by Paul at the close of Galatians 3 is clear: we are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). Who are children of God through faith? All. How do we get there and make that step of commitment? The story of our walk with God necessarily includes the public act of baptism by which we are joined to Christ. We are led to the water and become one with Him through baptism, being enveloped by His life, literally. Paul says, “[You] have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27b). Through this act of faith and baptism, we belong to Christ and become heirs to the promises that God made to Abraham (Gal. 2:19). Wonderful news! We find in Galatians chapter 4, the reason for Paul’s letter which resurfaces in his chastisement of the Galatians because they are in bondage. They came to know Christ and the truth that He is their salvation and yet, they have become enslaved as those who are living “under the law.” What is it that they are doing wrong?
Under the Law, or Union with Christ?
The problem for the Galatians is that Judaizers had convinced them that they still needed to live as though they were under the law. We learned last week that the law has an important role to play in helping us understand who God is, what His character is like, and how He wants us to relate to Himself and others. The delivery of the law on Mt. Sinai with its flashing lightening, thundering and quakes produced a lot of fear for the children of Israel. So much so, that they asked Moses to approach the mountain for them (see Exodus 20:18, 19). Paul explains to the Galatians that when Christ came, they were no longer “under the law.” Meaning that, because of the revelation of Jesus Christ, they were no longer slaves to the law, which is a shadow of Christ. Through the law they had gained knowledge of God and their condition. But it is Jesus who fully reveals God. The law points out sin, our deformity if you like, but it does not fix our problems. In fact, the attempts of the children of Israel to keep God’s law had repeatedly failed (Acts 7:53; Rom. 9:31).
The good news is that through faith in Christ we are saved. It is through faith that we come into union with Christ. This is not an exclusive relationship open only to certain people, according to their race or gender. It is open to all. In fact, God is pleading with humanity to enter into this faith relationship with Him. This relationship, like a plant whose roots strike deep beneath the soul, may be hidden from sight. Ellen White’s favorite metaphor of union with Christ was the vine and its branches. She loved the plant analogy to explain this spiritual relationship a believer has with Christ by faith.
“The roots of the plant strike down deep into the soil and, hidden from sight, nourish the life of the plant. So with the Christian; it is by the invisible union of the soul with Christ, through faith, that the spiritual life is nourished. But the stony-ground hearers depend upon self instead of Christ. They trust in their good works and good impulses, and are strong in their own righteousness. They are not strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Such a one “hath not root in himself”; for he is not connected with Christ” (White, A Call to Stand Apart, p. 20).
Being connected to Christ is the outcome of living by faith and is the secret to its success. This relationship takes precedence over all others in the life of the Christian. It requires the follower of Christ to put their trust in Him rather than in themselves or their ability to keep the law. Righteousness does not come by keeping the law. It comes through faith in Christ’s saving work. The intimate relationship that the believer has with Christ is reflected in the relationships that fellow Christians have with one another. Actually, it fundamentally equalizes all in God’s sight. This means that certain barriers are broken down in Christ.
Sadly, the Sabbath school lesson this week notes nothing of the significance of a central, well-known text in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither salve nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
I could, as the lesson does, ignore this text and focus on the range of texts discussed this week, which are many (Gal. 3:26-4:20). I could highlight the value and significance of each. They are all important and worthy of careful study and reflection and the lesson does a good job of these. But I could not rest knowing that week after week we have covered the relationship between the law and faith in Galatians chapter 3, which culminates in verses 28 and 29, and then skip over to Galatians chapter 4. These key verses (Gal. 3:28, 29) summarize Paul’s message to the Galatians and offers a paradigm shift in thinking about the law and how deeply it affects the spectrum of human relationships. That is, the relationships between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, men and women.
No Longer Slaves
Relationships are so critical to being a Christian. How we live our lives is a living testament to the work that Christ is doing in and through us. But there are fits and stops and starts. There is the need even for ongoing repentance, surrender and submission to Christ. It can sometimes take a lifetime to really come to terms with our past and the pain we have inflicted on others and the pain inflicted by others who have deeply wounded us. Some people struggle in more palpable ways than others. It is seen in food addictions, escapism through drugs, movies, TV, or anything that can get us away from the reality of ‘myself.’ People can carry heavy burdens including the stigmas and beliefs of their cultural upbringing that continue to infuse negative thoughts and even violent, evil actions against certain people because of their race, ethnicity or gender. Such evil is satanic. Energies poured out over who’s tribe wins at the game, who got the best education, who acts the best, looks the best, wins the best can often lead to depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. Nothing can be more divisive in human societies than the inequalities manifested and expressed between human beings in their relations with one another. Whether it is based on race, ethnicity, gender, social and economic status, etc. it has resulted in some of the most grievous and hurtful experiences of being human that one can have. To be rejected by others due to a perceived inadequacy—whatever irrationality it is based upon—and thereby to be regarded as lesser is deeply painful.
But this is the amazing thing about the Gospel. Jesus Christ can heal us of our deepest pain. He is working to restore His image in His followers and to return this world to its rightful Lord: Himself. What does that mean for us? Here is where I think Paul is the most powerful in the passage we read this week: he is attempting to change their mentality. “You are no longer slaves!” He shouts to them. “You are no longer in bondage! Why are you acting as if you are under the law?”
“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:3-7).
The Father, the perfect Father, is the one who will never let us down. He is the one to whom we cry for help. “Daddy, help us!”
Sons and Daughters of God
The message to take home from this week is: we are no longer slaves to sin, to our painful past, to legalistic forms of religion that enslave us anew, to cultural forms of exclusivity and even hate: we are sons and daughters of God! We are heirs to the promise of the Old Testament that has come to fruition in Jesus Christ. What does this mean for our relationships with others? Does becoming one with Christ mean that we lose who we are? The word ‘spectrum’ offers an interesting analogy here. The full spectrum of humans may become one in Christ. Spectrum may refer to a range of any kind of thing. In particular, it has been defined as
“the range of colors, which is produced when light passes through a glass prism or through a drop of water. A rainbow shows the colors in a spectrum.” (Collins English Dictionary)
Each person is as diverse and beautiful as the colors that pass through the glass or the drop of water that disperses a prism of light. The light that reveals this beauty is Jesus Christ. He is the One who can set us free to become all that God has in store for us in our future with Him. We are no longer slaves; we are sons and daughters of the King.