Summary: The radical unity of those who are in Christ Jesus. Their oneness in Christ. Their spiritual inheritance.
ACCORDING TO PROMISE HEIRS
The closing paragraph of this chapter is leading to a triumphant conclusion: literally, “If ye are Christ’s, then Abraham’s seed ye are, and according to promise heirs” (Galatians 3:29). This explains the radical unity here: again literally, “There is not Jew nor Greek; there is not bondman nor free; there is not male and female” (Galatians 3:28). That is to say, all these distinctions are irrelevant to “as many as were baptised into Christ” (as an outward symbol of an inward reality) because “Christ ye” (all, without distinction) “did put on” (Galatians 3:27).
Paul has been speaking of the whole course of human history from the promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:16), through the giving of the law (Galatians 3:17), to the coming of Christ (Galatians 4:4). The Apostle’s emphasis is that ‘if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise’ (Galatians 3:18). ‘For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture shut up all things under sin that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those that believe’ (Galatians 3:21-22).
As we enter into our text, the law is compared to a state of confinement (Galatians 3:23). First, we were kept in custody by the law, because all it could do was expose our sin (cf. Romans 7:7). Second, the law hemmed us in, enclosed us (cf. Luke 5:6), restrained us. This is how we were before faith came. Anyone who seeks to live by the law is shutting themselves off from the faith that is being revealed.
The law is also compared to the status of a child under a stern guardian (Galatians 3:24a; cf. Galatians 4:1-3). Until he is of age, he must be taken to school and his behaviour monitored by a rod-bearing slave (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 4:21).
Moses (the Law) could only lead Israel as far as the River Jordan. Then he yielded reins of power to Joshua (who had the same name as Jesus). In like manner, the law was our disciplinarian up until the time of Christ, still with this object: “that by faith we might be justified” (Galatians 3:24b).
“But now faith having come we are no longer under that guardianship” (Galatians 3:25). This is described elsewhere as our having ‘died to the law by the body of Christ… who has been raised from the dead’ (Romans 7:4). Our graduation from the tutelage of the law occurs when we become “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).
I have pointed out before just how frequently Paul uses the expression ‘in Christ’, ‘in Him’, ‘in the Beloved’ in Ephesians 3:1-14. The same Apostle writes here in Galatians that we are sons of God through faith “in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26); that “as many as were baptised into Christ” did “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27); that “ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28); and that “if ye are of Christ, then Abraham’s seed ye are” (Galatians 3:29).
We are “sons of God” only “through faith” and only “in Christ” (Galatians 3:26). We have “put on” Christ, likewise, just as the child puts on the garment of his manhood; and our baptism is the outward symbol, sign, or seal, of that inward faith (Galatians 3:27).
Then we read that “we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Jews are still Jews and Gentiles are still Gentiles (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13), but in Christ (and only in Him!) the old distinctions are done away (cf. Ephesians 2:15). Likewise, despite the fact that Paul addresses both slaves and freemen separately in 1 Corinthians 7:21-23, social and economic differences pale into insignificance when both are “in Christ Jesus” (cf. Colossians 3:11).
One aspect of this conversation is lost in translation when people read ‘neither male nor female’ where the Greek literally reads: “There is not Jew nor Greek; there is not bondman nor free; there is not male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The ‘not/nor’ of the first two comparisons is replaced with ‘not/and’ in the third.
“Not male and female” seems to echo the Creation account: ‘God created man in His image; in the image of God made He him; male and female created He them’ (Genesis 1:27). How apt that, in the new Creation, in Christ Jesus, God should again establish the unity in diversity which had existed in the Garden before the Fall (cf. 1 Peter 3:7).
Thus we come full circle back to where we began: “If ye are Christ’s, then Abraham’s seed ye are, and according to promise heirs” (Galatians 3:29). The spiritual heirs of Abraham are in view here: all those who are found in Christ Jesus. Ours is a spiritual inheritance: ‘eternal in the heavens’ (2 Corinthians 5:1); ‘to be with God which is far better’ (Philippians 1:23); ‘and so shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Alleluia. Amen.