the gospel of IN
“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise might be given on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:22,28 CSB).
Galatians 3 is one of the most crucial passages of Scripture that help define the gospel, but it is also very complicated. I want to try to simplify Paul’s teaching in this chapter by focusing on what Paul said in these two verses. Notice the word “in.” It will help us to understand the gospel if we learn what it means to have faith in Jesus (22) and what it means to be one in Christ (28).
the gospel is the story of a prison: we are either under the power of sin, or set free by faith in Jesus Christ.
I know something about prisons because my father was a prison guard. He became quite cynical about prisoners because he noticed so many repeat offenders who spent their time in prison learning how to be more efficient criminals once they got out.
The Bible tells us that sin is like that. The early chapters of Genesis tell us that once sin entered our world, it wasn’t long before everything people were thinking or wanted to do was a sin.
So, the prison analogy is an appropriate one. We cannot know freedom until we get out of that prison. While we are under sin’s power, the best that we can hope for is to become more efficient sinners.
We cannot get out of the prison of sin any other way except on the basis of faith in Christ.
Paul told the Romans that we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but we can be justified as a gift of God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).
The cross has made a difference. While we were still helpless, at the right time in history, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).
We are justified by faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross (Romans 5:1). That was our way out of the prison.
Now, being out of the prison does not mean we will never sin again, but it does mean we are not stuck in the situation we were in where we couldn’t do anything but sin.
the gospel is the story of a promise: long before the law, God promised a blessing to the nations.
Verse 22 mentions that promise.
You see, the troublemakers had gone to the Galatian churches and told them that they had to get out their Bibles and review their history. They told them that God gave the law at Sinai, and that nobody is going to be blessed if they do not follow that law to the letter.
The trouble with the troublemakers is that they did not go back far enough into biblical history. Paul reminded the Galatians in this chapter that the blessing was promised to Abraham centuries before Sinai. Abraham received that promise through faith, not through obedience to the law.
The Galatians received that promise too. In verse two, Paul asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit by works of the law, or by believing the gospel. He then asked them “Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh?” (3). You see, the promise of a blessing and freedom from the prison are the same thing. And we cannot get either by works of the law.
the gospel is a story of a position: believers today are equal before God.
We are all in Christ, and share his status and inheritance.
This is how Paul explains the purpose of the law in this chapter:
There are two stages. Stage one is the guardianship. Note verses 23-26:
“Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.”
Under this stage, believing Jews were imprisoned just like the rest of the world was. Their prison was the law, and it kept them longing for the faith that was to come. Once Christ came, many Jews came to him by faith, received the Holy Spirit, and were set free from both prisons.
Now, the troublemakers came to Galatia trying to get the Gentile Christians to go back to prison. They were teaching them that God wanted them to obey the law that Christ had set the Jewish Christians free from!
This is how Paul explains the reality of sonship that came to the Gentile Christians. Note verses 26-29:
“for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus. Sons and Heirs For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”
The promise is that by faith in Christ, all of us have a new position before God, and that position is equal. Our ethnic background does not matter: both Jew and Gentile are set free from prison. Our socio-economic background does not matter: slaves and non-slaves need this freedom, and can get it equally. Our gender does not matter: whether we were born as sons or daughters, we were all reborn as “sons of God in Christ Jesus.”
Now, before we leave this chapter, though – we have to ask the application question. As I mentioned already in this series, no one is tempted to follow the Jewish law much anymore. Oh, maybe there are a few who are hung up on the sabbath issue. But that does not mean that the principle taught in this chapter is irrelevant. In our discussion this week, Penny brought up a very helpful question: “Has the church replaced Jewish law with their own?”
I think we are in danger of replacing the gospel when we give people the impression that the kingdom of God happens when we stop sinning, become good citizens, go to church on Sunday, and just fit in with everybody else. No! That is not the definition of saving faith. I wonder if Paul were alive today, would he write us a letter similar to Galatians? Faith in Christ has no substitutes.
Lord God, thank you that we can be free from the prison of sin by trusting in Jesus Christ. Keep us from falling into slavery by turning away from this gospel of grace, and help us to share it with those who are still under sin’s power.