Summary: Being “in” Christ means we live in the One who is the driving principle of our lives, and we’re brought together into a new family as heirs of God’s promise through the adoption of grace.
Introduction: Promises, promises--do you keep your promises? Probably better than some politicians. Will Rogers quipped, “If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in acceptance speeches there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to Heaven.” Or how about this employee appraisal: “I thought he was a young man of promise; but it appears he was a young man of promises.” People will fail us, but we can bank on God’s promises.
Paul gives an example of a promise--an inheritance. No one ever works for an inheritance. It is a gift, not a paycheck. God has an irrevocable inheritance for us--the riches of Heaven. We trust--not the law to get there--but the promise of God. The way to inherit the blessing of Abraham is the way Abraham got it--by faith in God’s promise.
Paul points out that the promise points to a “seed”, singular--not “seeds.” Abraham’s true seed is Christ Himself. “The Promise was love, the Promise was life, the Promise gave light to the world, and the Name of the Promise was Jesus” (Michael Card).
In verse 17, Paul talks about a gap of 430 years. That’s the time between Abraham and Moses; a time with no written law, yet a time of promise. The promise came before the Law and therefore has seniority. The Law was secondary/subordinate to the promise…a promise that found its fulfillment in Christ. Moses’ Law did not replace the Abrahamic promise; it rather clarified what God wants of His people who trust in Him. “The commandments did not give life to Israel; they regulated life” (Wiersbe). So why did God give us the Law if the promise was adequate? Because faith is just the beginning of a new relationship. The Law shows us what a life of faith looks like.
Since God’s covenant was established by faith and not by works of the law, this relationship is about faith, not works. But does this mean we sit back and do nothing? Does it mean we can live any way we like? “We are to become in practice what we are already in Christ” (David Wells). We live lawfully to demonstrate our trust in God’s promise, not to gain God’s acceptance. We don’t throw out the law; but neither do we find in it the way to Heaven.
What was the purpose of the Law? Why was it given in the first place? “Because of transgressions” (19); in other words, to show us how guilty we are. The Law is not a way of salvation. It contains rules that kept Israel faithful until Christ came. Like a map, it pointed God’s people in the right direction. But if keeping the rules could have saved, there would’ve been no need for the sacrificial system. The Law reveals God’s standard of righteousness and shows us how we fail to keep it…hopefully we’ll acknowledge this and admit our need for pardon. The Law proves we’re sinners, but it can’t make us right with God. “Those who understand the Law know that only God’s grace can save them” (Walter Chantry). The Law reveals our ruin; the cross reveals our remedy; the Law persuades us to seek forgiveness and it leads us to the promise of forgiveness through faith. “Salvation in Christ does not rest in a law that we inevitably break; it rests on a promise that God cannot break” (Phillip Ryken).
The Law was given by God through angels to Moses, Israel’s mediator. Angels would want us to take God’s word seriously. Keeping the law won’t get anyone to Heaven, yet we won’t ignore God’s commandments if we’re genuine believers. We’re not excused from keeping the law. Living a godly life proves we have a living faith. We are free to live for Christ and we have the resources to do so.
Paul calls the Law our “guardian”. In the Roman Empire, this meant a slave appointed as a moral tutor for a child who also served as protector and chaperone, with the authority to administer discipline. Now we have the Holy Spirit as our guide.
The result: we are one. One of the ultimate questions of life is: “Who am I?” We find our identity in Christ. We belong to God’s family and share in the family inheritance. This means that Gentile believers are full members of the church with full rights and privileges, not second-class citizens.
Some translations change “sons” in verse 26 to “children” in order to sound inclusive. Yet in this instance “sons” is preferred, because, regardless of gender, all God’s children have the status of sons. Remember the historical context: daughters could not receive an inheritance, only sons. So sonship refers to legal status, and here Paul uses it to show our spiritual status.
Baptism (27) is the first step of faith, a sign that bears witness to the inward reality of spiritual cleansing. It has been called our “adoption papers”. Baptism is an enacted drama of salvation, of dying and rising with Christ. Some churches give white robes to those being baptized to represent the putting away of sin (our “filthy garments”) and putting on a new life, clothed with Christ. And it is a sacrament for everyone. At their baptism, gentiles discovered they were sons of God.