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“From Captivity to Family”

Galatians 3:23-29
Bob DeGray
March 11, 2018

Key Sentence

The law kept us bound until faith made us family.


I. The law kept us in bondage until we were ready for faith
II. But now through faith you have become family


On one of our flights from Nepal last fall, Gail and I both watched a good movie called “A United Kingdom.” It’s the true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams. Khama is the chieftain, the king, of a British protectorate near South Africa. His uncle is the regent because Seretse’s father died when he was only four. Since then Seretse has been preparing to lead his people, and the final stage of preparation is law school in London. But while there he meets Ruth Williams, who is a clerk. They fall in love, and soon he asks her to marry him.

But this is not an easy course for either of them. Ruth’s family is opposed to the marriage and when she does marry it will mean leaving all that she has known and moving to a tiny country in middle of Africa, a country with only seven miles of paved roads, the third poorest country in Africa. She must adjust to a culture almost entirely different than her own. For Seretse it means refusing the arranged marriage that has been planned for him, and incurring the opposition, not only of his uncle but of the entire British government, which knuckles under to the growing policy of apartheid in rich neighboring South Africa. Here’s twenty seconds of the opposition they face:

“If you choose to marry the leader of an African nation you will be responsible for the downfall of the British Empire in Africa.” “After two decades of preparing you to be our king, this is how you face me, a white woman by your side. You are trying to tear us apart.” “Look at them. They are fighting because of you.” “I mean you no harm.” “Do you understand what mother, mother, of our nation means?” “It’s audacious of you to come here, and present yourself married, as if it were your right to be our queen.”

But Seretse and Ruth press on with their marriage, and most of the story is of how they overcome the obstacles before them so that their marriage thrives, but also so that their people thrive. The story fits really well with our text today. We’re not going to be able to spend a lot of time with “A United Kingdom,” though I encourage you to watch it. But our text, Galatians 3:23-29 is so rich that it’s going to rivet our attention. We’ll see in these verses that the law kept us in bondage until we were ready for faith, and that through faith we have become part of the family in Christ Jesus.

Let’s read the text. The law kept us bound until faith made us family in Christ. Galatians 3:23-29 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

“Now before faith came,” could be translated ‘before this faith came.” There is a definite article before "faith," but somehow the English Standard Version doesn’t include it. The New International Version and the Holman Christian Standard version do. It’s true that Paul can refer to faith generically as the foundation by which all people approach God. But that’s not his meaning here. By "this faith" he means "the Christian faith," faith in Jesus Christ, which he just spoke of in verse 22. In fact ‘before this faith came’ is paralleled in the next verse, 24, as ‘before Christ came.’ This faith is like the faith of Abraham, but it is different in that it has seen the revelation of Jesus Christ, and has a distinct Christian understanding of his victorious work. Just to make things more interesting, the word law in this verse, unlike most of the uses we’ve seene, doesn’t have a definite article, so it may be generic, Old Testament law, but also the law of the conscience and the rules all men make for themselves.

Do you see what I’m saying? The English Standard Version says “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law.” But the DeGray Standard Version, which may be more accurate in this case, would say “Now before this faith came, we were held captive under law.” In the next phrase he says we were imprisoned by it. We were held in custody by the law and confined by it. Paul isn’t saying that the law itself is sinful, but that it is like a jailer, keeping people locked away, and therefore out of trouble till Christ, the liberator, should come to set them free. Morris says that sinners cannot escape the reality of their sin when it is confronted by the law. They cannot avoid its condemnation or establish themselves as righteous. By exposing and clarifying our sin, as we saw last week, the law gives us no way to escape our sin or its consequences.

In verse 24 Paul slightly changes the image. “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” The word guardian is way better than “schoolmaster,” which is what the King James Version said. The Greek is paidagogos, meaning "a child-custodian" or "child-attendant." The pedagogue was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks or Romans to have responsibility for one of the children of the family. He had charge of the child from about the years six to sixteen and was responsible for watching over his behavior wherever he went and for conducting him to and from school. The pedagogue did not teach. Paul would have used a different word for that.

His point is that this responsibility ceased when the child entered into the fullness of his position as a son, becoming an acknowledged adult by the formal rite of adoption by his father. We’ll explore this in depth in chapter 4. The law was a guardian or a guide, showing us the path of righteousness until Christ came. This law, like any moralism, was unable to make us walk the path on our own, but this law kept intervening to show us the true edges of the path, give us, as it were, a taste of the thorns along the path so that we would long for the path.

Law, Paul says, did this “until Christ came so that we might be justified by faith.” It is not the law, or being good enough that justifies, makes us right with God and puts us in right relationship. It is Christ who does this through his sinless sacrifice, through his own perfect faithfulness, and we take hold of that purchased righteousness not by works but by faith, trust, believing.

In “A United Kingdom” Seretse’s uncle plays the role of the law, or the guardian. His uncle Tshekedi Khama, had become regent of Bechuanaland when Seretse was four. Tshekedi had successfully resisted British pressure to give up tribal sovereignty and to align the tribe with South Africa. He was fiercely loyal to his people. He was also committed to Seretse. He had raised and trained him from the time he was four. He had taught him the rules of the tribe and his role as the chieftain. He had made sure Seretse was given not just a tribal education but a world class education. But when Seretse grew up Tshekedi’s work was over, and Tshekedi refused to recognize it and allow Seretse to take up his inheritance and lead his people. Seretse, by his marriage, had broken a key tribal taboo, and now the law, his uncle, was set against him.

In the second half of our text we find that in Christ we are made part of the family, sons and daughters of God, and that, incorporated into the family, that is, into Christ, we find identity with one another, and we become heirs, receivers of God’s promises. Verse 25 “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Paul repeats the time element: we were under the law as custodian until the faith should come, and once it has come we are no longer under the law. He also repeats his focus on the revealed faith of Christianity, because once again, the word faith has the definite article. Not faith in general but ‘this faith’ leads us out from under the guardianship of the law. We move from law to promise, from good enough to faith alone. On the one hand everyone, everyone one of us, here needs to make that journey for ourselves. You and I need to move from good enough to trusting Christ by faith alone. On the other hand, we also recognize that the personal journey is an imitation of the historical journey. Paul is telling the Galatians that it was always about faith, and that the role of the Old Testament law was both to guide and to convict the people of Israel. But since Christ has come the law’s primacy has ended.

What, then, are the benefits of this passage from the reign of law to grace through faith in Jesus Christ? In the final verses of the chapter Paul lists three of them, each related to the fact that in Christ we enter a family relationship with God. Verse 26, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” All who believe become "sons of God,” which could be translated “sons and daughters of God.” The law made us slaves, but grace makes us children. We are adopted, as Paul will say in Chapter 4, into God’s family. As I told the kids, when my daughters first got cell phones one of the ring tones available was “We are Family,” and so that was what played whenever one of the sisters called. Not the Chipmunk version, of course, but the Sister Sledge version.

To be a true child of God is to be one who is justified by faith in Christ and who has therefore passed into a new and right relationship to God. Before, the person was under law. Now he is under grace. Before, he was under the curse. Now he is the recipient of God's fatherly favor. And notice that Paul emphasizes “all,” “You are all sons of God. He’s inviting the Galatians, not for the first time, to the blessings of faith. This creation of a family of believers involves, according to our text, three things: incorporation into Christ, identification with our brothers and sisters, and inheritance of Abraham’s promises.

Verse 27: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. This new relationship is not natural to men, as though all people automatically were or became God's children. The fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of men are not New Testament concepts. True, God has a relationship to all men as Creator. Paul can say, as he did in speaking to the Athenians, "We are his children.” But a creature is not necessarily a son. In fact, he can become a son only through union by faith with that unique Son of God, Christ Jesus.

Baptism signifies this transforming identification with Christ. By bringing up baptism, Paul is not contradicting all he has previously taught about the means of salvation, as if he were suggesting baptism will now replace circumcision as a saving sacrament or ordinance. No one is saved by baptism. Paul mentions baptism only once in the paragraph, but faith five times. Baptism is an outward sign of the union that already exists through faith. Nonetheless, the outward sign is of real spiritual significance. It indicates a radical, purposeful death to sin and a radical identification with Jesus.

As we’ve said many times in the last few years, the most frequent New Testament phrase for this radical identification is “in Christ.” Verse 26: “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God.” Verse 27, you are baptized into Christ and you have put on Christ.” We tend to talk about this in imagery. My most carefully chosen image is that a believer in Christ is like a plant in the sunshine.

But there are two more images here: the first is baptism into Christ, immersion into Christ so that he becomes that which entirely surrounds and sustains you. The second is putting on Christ, like clothing. Paul develops this in Ephesians and Colossians, where he says “you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. To put on Christ is to embrace a completely new identity.

This identification with Christ, this being in Christ every moment of every day is crucially important. In “A United Kingdom” Ruth Williams, against all opposition, marries Seretse Khama, fully identifies with him and leaves her own country and her own identity to travel to his country, which is now known as Botswana. The first time she sees it he says “my country,” and she says “our country.” In the same way we are fully identified with Jesus. What’s his is ours. His concerns are our concerns. His purposes are out purposes. His griefs are our griefs. His attitudes are our attitudes. Is that true of you today? Have you spent time with Jesus to learn his heart and to identify with and represent him well, to be a little Christ, a Christian, to your family, in your community, your workplace, your world? Through faith we are incorporated into him. He is in us, he is with us, and we are in him. That’s the new reality.

That means, second, that we identify with, have unity with our brothers and sisters. Verse 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Incorporation into Christ Jesus leads to identification with one another. Boice unpacks that this way: “Clearly, it does not mean that differences of nationality, status, and sex cease to exist. A Jew remains a Jew; a Gentile, a Gentile. One does not lose his identity by becoming a Christian. Paul simply means that having become one with God, Christians now belong to each other in such a way that distinctions that formerly divided them lose significance.”

Race is the first example, for Paul writes that there is neither Jew nor Greek. In Paul's day there was as deep a division between the two as any modern racism could create. It was an ‘us against them’ viewpoint, but the depth of the feeling came from the fact that it was also religious. Paul’s opponents recoiled from the goyim, uncircumcised, not a child of Abraham, without the law or the ceremonies, and not of the covenant. This barrier Paul now claims to have been broken down in Christ. Jews are to be radically identified with Gentiles. Today this principle must be extended to all racial barriers. In Christ there must be neither black nor white, Anglo nor Hispanic, Middle Eastern nor Asian, nor any other such distinction. And this means not just being color-blind, as Martin Luther King taught us, but being positively affirming of and allied with those who race or national origin has created barriers in our culture.

Social status is a second example, for there is neither "slave nor free." Again, this is not meant to deny that there were slaves and free in that day, nor that there are real social distinctions in our day. But it does affirm that for those united to Christ these things do not separate. When these things no longer matter, when people treat each other as true family in Christ regardless of social standing, then the power of such distinctions is broken, and a basis is laid for social change. On this pattern the ideal church should be composed of members from all spectra of society: wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated, Republican and Democrat, left coast, right coast and flyover. I recently saw a fascinating map of Houston, and other cities, showing in blue the areas of greatest wealth and in red the areas of greatest poverty. And it turns out that Houston, though not so much our part of it, is very economically segregated.

Paul’s next category is gender. He declares that there is neither "male nor female." This is, emphatically, not the debate going on at the moment through the transgender movement. As we said about race, this statement does not negate the fundamental existence of male and female. Instead it tells us that we need to treat each other with dignity and value. In Paul’s day women were treated incredibly badly, even in Judaism. It’s almost impossible to find any statement about the equality of the sexes, however weak, in any ancient texts except those of Christianity. The Jew prayed every morning, "I thank God that thou hast not made me a woman.” Josephus wrote, "Woman is inferior to man in every way." But Paul reverses this. In fact Christianity through the centuries, even with mixed success, has done much to elevate and honor women.

So the question is, who do we identify with? Do we identify more with the homogenous community around us, or with, as James teaches, our brothers and sisters facing persecution around the world. Do we identify more with middle class suburbia, or with believers whose race, ethnicity or origin place them behind barriers that we may not even be able to see, barriers that truly place them at a disadvantage. Do we identify more with a political party than with a Biblical bond between people? In “A United Kingdom” Ruth Khana does an amazing job of identifying with her husband’s people. The British government exiles him from his own country, but she stays and has their first baby, and lives among them. Near the end of the movie there’s an incredible scene where the women sing their acceptance of Ruth Khana. “Why are they here?” “They are thanking you for walking the road with them. This song is about you. They are saying that Seretse’s wife is as bright as a morning star.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but I love the line before it. Has anybody ever thanked you for walking the road with them? I can’t help but think of Harvey response, which is a great opportunity to walk the road with homeowners and others.

But it’s true in whatever direction you look: walking the road with new moms; walking the road with the sick and suffering; walking the road with those fighting against sins and addictions; walking the road with those who are out of work or facing financial set-backs; walking the road with those who doubt. Let it be so with us, in Christ. Let us be those who walk the road.

Third, and finally, verse 29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” You and I, as believers in Christ, who are in Christ and who belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed, the recipients of his promised blessings, especially the blessing of righteousness by faith and the blessing of salvation to the nations. But wait a second? Isn’t Jesus Abraham’s seed, singular, as we talked about last week. He is. But we are heirs with him according to the promise. Paul applies these promises to the Christian church as a whole by virtue of its actually being Christ's body.

Once again, a definite article is important. The word ‘seed’ doesn’t have the definite article, remind Galatians that Christ is ‘the’ seed, and we are ‘seed’ or even ‘seeds’ only if we are in him. The prize the legalizers had been holding before the eyes of the Galatian Christians and by which they had hoped to win them to the ceremonial aspects of Judaism was the possibility of becoming part of the seed of Abraham. They meant physical seed, ethnically Jewish and counted as Abraham’s offspring. Paul now replies that what the legalizers were offering through circumcision was already theirs in Christ. But it was only theirs in Christ. He is the seed to whom the promises were made. Believers enter into the promises by entering into him, receiving his blessings.

This part of chapter 3 is filled with references to Jesus. He is mentioned six times, and the point of each reference is that Christians receive all that is of value spiritually through their attachment to him. John Stott says it this way “This is a three-dimensional attachment which we gain when we are in Christ: in height, breadth, and length. It is an attachment in "height" through reconciliation to the God who, is a God "above" us, transcendent over the universe He has made, but dwelling with us as we are “in Christ.” Next, it is an attachment in "breadth," since in Christ we are united to all other believers throughout the world. Thirdly, it is an attachment in "length," as we join the long, long line of believers throughout the whole course of time who are heirs to God’s promises. James Montgomery Boice concludes that “it is through faith in Christ and in Christ alone that we find ourselves.”

In the movie, Seretse finally comes into his inheritance. He’s exiled by the British, disowned by his uncle, but one with his people, who long to welcome not only him but now Ruth and their children.

For a long time the British have the upper hand, until finally Seretse gets some political leverage, in a way too long to go into here. He agrees to give up the right to be king, but he returns to the country and addresses his people: “The exile is over. I have a new vision for our nation. We are a people of tradition, and rightly so. But we need a change in Africa. We need a change in Botswanaland. It is time for us to take a step beyond royal succession and into a democratic Botswanaland, to create a new nation, not to be ruled by royalty here or royalty in Great Britain, but a country, to be led by those who you choose.” So Seretse Khana never became king of Botswanaland, but the first president of Botswana, and led his people not only into peace but prosperity. Between 1966 and 1980 Botstwana had the fastest growing economy in the world. Ruth Khana fought all her life against poverty and for equality. They lived out Seretse’s ancient heritage together with all of Botswana’s people. They are buried side by side in honor on the hill where Seretse and Ruth first glimpsed their country. That’s a rich inheritance and a legacy

Brothers and sisters, we are not under law but grace. We are not saved by obedience to a standard we’ve already broken, but by receiving a righteousness we have not earned. Jesus Christ has done it all and through faith we are in him: incorporated in him and part of his family. We are family. We are identified with him and with one another in a radical reconciliation. And heirs, in him, to all of God’s promises and blessings. Will you embrace what you are freely offered? A radical reorientation toward God, in a loving relationship that he freely gives, and that changes everything. A radical reorientation toward others with a radical commitment to walk their road. And a radical hope, that one day, as we receive all God’s blessings, then all will be well, and all well, and all manner of things will be well. This is the richness you are offered in Christ.