Galatians 3 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
The Unity of All Recipients of the Promise
We now encounter a dramatic shift of focus. Paul has been talking in the first-person plural ("we") of the past experience of the Jewish people, who were "locked up" under the Mosaic law (vv. 23-25). Now he turns to the privileged position of the Galatian Christians (you are all . . . all of you . . . you are all), who are all united in Christ (vv. 26-29). Union with Christ is the main emphasis of each verse: faith in Christ Jesus (v. 26), baptized into Christ . . . clothed . . . with Christ (v. 27), one in Christ Jesus (v. 28), belong to Christ (v. 29).
This sharp contrast between the negative consequences of imprisonment within the system of Mosaic law and the positive privileges of union with Christ reinforces Paul's rebuke for foolishness at the beginning of the chapter. In the light of this contrast, how foolish it is to think that observing the law could possibly enhance the privileged relationships Christians already enjoy because of their union with Christ Jesus. Imprisonment under the law (vv. 19-25) has been replaced by new relationships in Christ. These new relationships in Christ are both spiritual (vv. 26-27) and social (vv. 28-29).
In the old set of relationships under the law, Jews were the children of God and Gentiles were sinners (see 2:15). But now Gentile Christians are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. This must have been a shocking declaration for a Jew to hear. In Jewish literature, sons of God was a title of highest honor, used only for "the members of righteous Israel, destined to inherit the eschatological blessings" (Byrne 1979:174). But now Gentiles--the rejected, the outsiders, the sinners, those who do not observe the law--are called sons of God. Indeed this is a "new creation" (6:15). How could a Gentile ever be called a child of God? Paul's answer is clear--through faith in Christ Jesus (v. 26). Since Christ Jesus is the "Son of God" (2:20), all who by faith are in Christ are also sons of God.
The next verse points to the basis for the new spiritual relationship depicted by this title, sons of God: they are children of God because they have been united with Christ in baptism and, as a result, clothed with Christ. In the light of his repeated emphasis on faith in this context, Paul cannot possibly mean that the ritual of baptism by itself, apart from faith, would accomplish union with Christ. Only when there is genuine faith in Christ is baptism a sign of union with Christ. Paul is reminding the Galatian Christians of their baptism in order to renew their sense of belonging to Christ. That ceremony of initiation into Christ and the Christian community points to the solid foundation for their new relationship as children of God. Moreover, their baptism has led to being clothed . . . with Christ. This metaphor, probably drawn from the ceremony of rerobing after baptism, pictures the reality of complete identification with Christ. In the Old Testament there are frequent references to being clothed with righteousness, salvation, strength and glory (2 Chron 6:41; Job 29:14; Ps 132:9, 16, 18; Prov 31:25; Is 51:9; 52:1; 61:10; Zech 3:3-5). And in other letters Paul uses this metaphor of putting on clothing to mean taking on the virtues of Christ (Col 3:12; 1 Thess 5:8). As baptism pictures the initial union with Christ by faith, being clothed with Christ portrays our participation in the moral perfection of Christ by faith. As the hymnwriter put it, Christians are "dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne." That is why Christians can be called the children of God: in Christ they truly are the members of righteous Israel.
The title sons of God and the two ceremonies of baptism and being clothed with Christ point to the reality of our new relationship with God in Christ.
The new vertical relationship with God results in a new horizontal relationship with one another. All racial, economic and gender barriers and all other inequalities are removed in Christ. The equality and unity of all in Christ are not an addition, a tangent or an optional application of the gospel. They are part of the essence of the gospel.
Equality in Christ is the starting point for all truly biblical social ethics. The church that does not express this equality and unity in Christ in its life and ministry is not faithful to the gospel. Paul's own immediate concern is to make sure that the racial equality of Jews and Gentiles is implemented in the church. Gentiles were being demoted to a second-class status because they were not Jews. This expression of racial superiority was a violation of the essence of the gospel. Similarly, any expression of social class superiority (the free over the slaves) or gender superiority (men over women) violates the truth of the gospel. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (v. 28). All the divisions and prejudices that matter so much in the world are abolished in Christ.
This radical affirmation of unity and equality in Christ is a deliberate rejection of the attitude expressed by the synagogue prayer in which the worshiper thanks God for not making him a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Such an attitude of superiority contradicts the truth of the gospel, the good news that there is equality and unity of all believers in Christ.
When men exclude women from significant participation in the life and ministry of the church, they negate the essence of the gospel. Some will argue that the equality Paul defends here is only in the "spiritual" sphere: equality before God. But Paul's argument responds to a social crisis in the church: Gentiles were being forced to become Jews to be fully accepted by Jewish Christians. Paul's argument is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews to participate fully in the life of the church. Neither do blacks have to become white or females become male for full participation in the life and ministry of the church.
The equality of all believers before God must be demonstrated in social relationships within the church if the truth of the gospel is to be expressed. F. F. Bruce puts it succinctly: "No more restriction is implied in Paul's equalizing of the status of male and female in Christ than in his equalizing of the status of Jew and Gentile, or of slave and free person. If in ordinary life existence in Christ is manifested openly in church fellowship, then, if a Gentile may exercise spiritual leadership in church as freely as a Jew, or a slave as freely as a citizen, why not a woman as freely as a man?" (Bruce 1982:190).
Paul draws the conclusion to his argument in verse 29: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Since the Galatian Christians belong to Christ, they are directly related to Abraham and recipients of the blessing promised to Abraham. Since full membership in the covenant people of God, "the seed of Abraham," is granted and maintained simply by union with Christ by faith, there is no longer any need for the law as the means to secure or maintain that status. Any attempt by the Galatian Christians to gain status or receive blessing by observing the Mosaic law is foolish, since they have already been included within the realm of full inheritance in which there is no racial, social or gender hierarchy.