“You Are All One in Christ”
From the day that sin entered the world it is has divided people. The great evil of our rebellion against God not only makes us an enemy of God; it makes us enemies of each other. From the beginning when Adam and Eve took of the fruit that God commanded them not to eat, there has been animosity between man and fellow man. When God pronounced judgment for the first sin in Genesis 3, he told the woman, “Your desire shall be against your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Sin created hostility within the very first marriage, and it continued throughout history between people and people, nation and nation.
These divisions continued through Genesis:
- Cain gets angry and kills his brother Abel
- Lamech, Cain’s descendant, kills a man for wounding him
- Abraham’s illegitimate son Ishmael is prophesied to be “a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.”
- Jacob and Esau struggle from the womb, and become two nations divided
- The cheater Jacob is cheated by his uncle Laban, and he flees from him
- Leah’s daughter Dinah is raped by Shechem, and Jacob’s sons deceitfully use the covenant sign of circumcision to kill all the men of his city
- Jacob’s sons sell their brother Joseph as a slave and pretend that he is dead
The rest of the Old Testament contains accounts of numerous wars and conspiracies. Some of these were commanded by God, others were not. But the fact is that none of them would have happened if sin had not entered the world. Sin separates people from God and from each other.
We see plenty of examples of a divided humanity in more recent history. Stalin deported and killed many people, singling out peoples such as Ukranians, Poles, and Chechens. Hitler orchestrated the Holocaust, systematically killing 6 million Jews. You can see the division with North and South Korea, Israelis and Palestinians, Turks and Kurds, the African slave trade, racial segregation in the American South.
We must face the fact that we live in a deeply divided world. It has been this way throughout history. We are going to look at Galatians chapter 3 and let God’s word speak to us in the midst of this divided world on the matter of ethnic harmony.
The letter to the Galatians was also written in the context of a divided world. There were Jews, and there were all the rest of the nations—Gentiles. On the whole, they did not mix. But this Jewish Messiah Jesus had come, and he brought a gospel for both Jew and Gentile, that anyone who believes in him will be saved. One of the pressing questions in the book of Galatians is: Do Gentiles need to become Jewish in order to become Christians? Do Gentiles need to take on the Jewish rite of circumcision and keep the Jewish law in order to be saved by a Jewish Messiah? The answer to this question will have important implications for ethnic harmony in the church.
Galatians 3:7–29 (ESV)
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
We are going spend some time looking at this passage, and then we will attempt to apply it to ethnic harmony in this church and in your lives. But first there two considerations we need to keep in mind as we look at the text.
1. Jesus is a Jewish Messiah, born under the law (Gal. 4:4-5)
Matthew opens his gospel by telling us that Jesus Christ is “the son of David, the son of Abraham,” and then he lists Jesus’ genealogy. This is because the nation of Israel, whom God took as his people in the Old Testament, was promised a messiah-king in the line of David. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is this king. Therefore the charge against him that was hung above him on the cross read, the “King of the Jews.” Why is this a big deal for Galatians 3? Because to be Jewish means to be born under the Law of Moses. And the Law of Moses was a covenant full of dividing markers and upholding a particular ethnic identity. The Mosaic covenant focused on Israel in exclusion to the other nations. God didn’t make that covenant with anyone else, only Israel. Jesus said that he was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24).
2. The blessing of Abraham was to come to all the nations (Gal. 3:8)
God made a promise to Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, that all the nations would be blessed in him.
So we have two considerations to keep in mind. On the one hand we have a Jewish Messiah, and on the other hand we have a promise of blessing to the nations. So how do you connect the two? Is it by making everyone who wants to come to faith in Jesus conform to Jewishness and the Mosaic Law? Or do we make parallel Christianities? Or is God doing something new with this Messiah?
The main thing that I want us to see in Galatians 3 is this: The ethnically-focused Mosaic covenant was temporary, preparing the way for Christ to fulfill the promise to Abraham by bringing salvation to the Gentiles.
Now when I say that the Mosaic covenant is ethnically-focused, I am merely affirming that the covenant God made through Moses on Mount Sinai focused on the nation of Israel in exclusion to all the other nations. God did not make that covenant with the Egyptians or the Edomites or the Moabites or the Babylonians. Only Israel. If you were born an Israelite, then you were born into the covenant; if you were born a Philistine, then you were outside of the covenant.
Paul tells us in verse 12 what the nature of this Law of Moses was when he says that it is not of faith. The problem with the law comes when you try to obey it in order to attain right standing with God (Gal. 3:10-11).
Paul is contrasting two things in Galatians 3. There is the promise to Abraham of blessing to the nations, which he received by faith. And he is contrasting that with the Law of Moses, which he says is not of faith but is of works. And Paul makes an argument in four steps of how these things work together in God’s glorious plan to bless the nations through a Jewish Messiah.
Four Steps of Paul’s Argument
1. God’s promise to Abraham is not annulled by the law (15-18)
Paul gives the example of a human covenant in verse 15: you don’t annul it or add to it. Once it is made it is made, and it is binding. So God’s covenant made with Abraham does not go away simply because the Mosaic Law is introduced. He says in verse 16 that the promises to Abraham were also made to his offspring, who is Christ. This is because through Abraham came Isaac, Jacob, the nation of Israel, the tribe of Judah, king David, and through his royal line came Jesus, the one who was to sit on the throne of David forever.
In verse 17, Paul argues that the Abrahamic covenant is superior to the Mosaic covenant, because the Mosaic covenant came 430 years later. And he says that they were different kinds of covenants. The covenant with Abraham was a covenant of promise, which means that it is fundamentally characterized by grace. But the covenant made through Moses was a covenant of law, which means that the focus was on obedience. And Paul is saying here that there is a fundamental difference between a covenant of law-keeping and a covenant of promise. He says in verse 18 that the inheritance comes by promise, not by law. And keep in mind that the promise is of blessing to the nations and receiving the Spirit. This does not come by law.
2. The law was given not to impart life, but to provoke transgression (19-22)
Paul then goes on in verse 19 to ask, “Why then the law?” He answers this by saying that it was added because of transgressions. I take this to mean something similar to Romans 5:20, where Paul says that “the law came in to increase the trespass.” The law itself made it clear that this fundamental problem of sin—which separates us from God and from each other—this problem of sin that we have cannot be fixed by commandments. What the law does is show us our sin; it shows us how wicked we really are.
Paul then says here that this role of the law is temporary: “until the offspring should come” (again, verse 19). He says that the law was put in place until Christ came. He also says that the law was put in place by an intermediary. The law came from God through angels through Moses to Israel. Contrast that with the promise, which came directly from God to Abraham, and it is not temporary. This means that the promise is superior to the law. And furthermore, God is one, and he gives only one way of salvation. It is through the promise, not the law.
Paul then asks a second important question in verse 21: “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?” His answer is clear: certainly not. And why not? Because the law and the promise don’t have the same function. The law was never intended to give life. The law couldn’t give us the power to obey its own commands. But the promise was intended to give life! The power to obey God cannot come from trying to keep his commands; it only comes by his grace as we believe his promise. Then what is the function of the law? Verse 22 says that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
If you are under the law, you are under sin. The law does not restrain sin; it reveals the power of sin and the extent to which it has overtaken your life. Sin hijacks the law for its own purposes so that you are enslaved to it. But the law is not contrary to the promises of God; the law was meant to convict you of your sin so that it would drive you to Christ.
3. The law’s temporary role of preparing us for faith in Christ has ended (23-25)
Verse 23 continues the argument by saying that before faith in Christ came, we were captive under the law. This is speaking of two different ages: the age of the law with its focus on the nation of Israel, and the age of faith, which brings the blessing of Abraham to the nations. The age of the law ended when the age of faith in Christ dawned.
The law works like a pedagogue or a guardian. This was someone who would watch over children until they grew up. Once the era of faith in Christ has arrived, there is no need any longer for the law. Once you have passed the stage of being a child, it means you are an adult. You have the rights and privileges of an adult and are no longer under a guardian.
And here in verse 24 we see another statement about the purpose of the law: “in order that we might be justified by faith.” The law shows us our inability to obey God, so that we will despair of ourselves and flee to Christ. It makes it clear that there is no other hope.
So the time-bound role of the law as a pedagogue is ended. If you are in Christ today, then you are not under the Law of Moses given to Israel. Furthermore, you are no longer under the dominion of sin. What does this mean? It means that you don’t need to submit yourself to the Mosaic Law. Gentiles do not need to become Jewish in order to be saved.
The fact that the age of the Mosaic Law is over doesn’t mean there are no commands to obey. There are lots of commands for Christians in the New Testament. But the law that is bound up with the Mosaic covenant is finished. You are not under the law. You don’t need to become Jewish to become a Christian.
4. We, the believers in Christ from all nations, are Abraham’s offspring (26-29)
In this final step to Paul’s argument he says the reason there is no longer this guardian of the law is that Christ has come. You’ve grown up and now you are a son of God through faith. Verse 27 says that as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. That is, at baptism you were immersed into Christ as a physical symbol corresponding to your initial spiritual act of entering into union with Christ by faith.
And Paul says in verse 28 that belonging to Christ surpasses all ethnic, social, and gender distinctions. These differences are overcome by being found in Christ. This is where complex theology begins to bear fruit in ethnic harmony. The point is not that the gospel does away with these distinctions altogether, but that God does not regard them for salvation. The believing community is made up of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female.
What is going on here is that when we are reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ and made an heir with him, we are also reconciled to our fellow man. Christ brings about a great reversal: sin, the ultimate divider of humanity, is conquered. Therefore all of these divisions that matter to the world and to politicians and to the U.S. Census Bureau are nullified because in Christ we become one. Christ’s death destroyed the boundary markers of humanity so that those who once hated each other (Titus 3:3-7) are now reconciled as one new man in Christ. Every Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female who casts him- or herself wholly upon Christ is adopted into the same spiritual family, and is given equal access to God. God shows no partiality.
1. To pay regard to ethnicity or skin color is to put confidence in the flesh and to be subject to the curse of the law.
This is true whether you esteem a person or whether you despise a person because of ethnicity. Look at Paul in Philippians 3 on this. He is writing about the same kind of people as he did in Galatians: those who say you need to become Jewish in order to become a Christian (Phil. 3:2). In verses 3-6 Paul is describing himself under the law, putting confidence in his ethnic heritage and his works. Verses 7-9 describes the way the gospel sweeps all that away when he comes to faith in Christ. To come to Christ, you must abandon all confidence in the flesh and pay regard to it no longer.
Let me give some examples of situations where you might be tempted to regard someone in a certain way because of ethnicity or skin color:
- What goes on inside of you when you have a co-worker who is a white woman, and you finally see a picture of her husband and discover he is black?
- When you meet someone who has obviously immigrated from another part of the world, do you assume you know what his background is, or his religion, or his personality, before taking time to ask him?
- When someone of a different ethnicity than you wrongs you in some way, do you find yourself thinking of his or her entire people group as being like that?
- Do you make blanket statements or even just think blanket thoughts about certain ethnic groups?
These are all situations where you might pay regard to ethnicity. And the reason that this is so sinful is that it denies Jesus’ redeeming work. If you continue down a path of ethnic hatred unrepentant, you will find yourself under the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10).
Consider at the way Peter stumbled in this way in Galatians 2:11-14. Peter paid regard to the flesh by drawing back from the Gentiles when certain Jews showed up, and Paul says that “he stood condemned” because “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Brothers and sisters, let us walk in step with the gospel when it comes to race and ethnicity.
2. Ethnic diversity and harmony in our church displays the beauty of the gospel of Christ
Galatians 3:8 says, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.” Part of the gospel that Abraham received ahead of time was that the nations were to be blessed in him. The gospel is good news about Jesus, the Son of God, who came to live a perfectly righteous life and to redeem us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for all sinners who repent of their sins and cast their lives upon him. This good news is actually designed by God to go out to the nations. And it is not only meant to go to them, it is meant to go to them in power: power to reconcile them to God, and to reconcile them to one another.
A famous missiologist once devised what is known in the world of missions as the “homogenous unit principle.” This principle says that you should aim to plant each church within a narrow segment of society. Listen to what he wrote several years ago in an article on church planting:
…if you were evangelizing the taxi drivers of Taipei, then your goal would not be to win some taxi drivers, some university professors, some farmers and some fishermen, but rather to establish churches made up largely of taxi drivers, their wives and children, and their assistants and mechanics. As you win converts of that particular community, the congregation has a natural, built-in cohesion. Everybody feels at home.
(Donald McGavern, “A Church in Every People: Plain Talk About a Difficult Subject,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, Third Edition, pp. 617-622)
Apart from turning Galatians 3:28 on its head, the reason why the homogenous unit principle is to be rejected is that it doesn’t require the gospel! It essentially says that you should gather together people who already naturally gravitate toward each other in society and make them into churches. But we aren’t looking for a “natural, built-in cohesion.” The gospel brings a supernatural cohesion, bringing together people in the church who would have nothing to do with each other apart from Christ.
Every local church should seek to reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the community it is within. There may be cases, especially in some rural areas, where there is very little diversity to draw from. But in the case of Christ Community Church, in Newton alone there is white and black, Jew and Gentile, Asian and Hispanic. And there is more if you expand to the surrounding communities. We ought to see a diverse people come together and fellowship under the banner of Christ in our church.
This is not as simple as diversity. I work at a large company that has quite a bit of diversity. But at lunchtime you see, for the most part, people go to eat with people who are like them. It must not be that way in the church; we need to see real reconciliation. What this looks like on a personal level is for you to love those who are of a different culture or ethnicity than you, people who may not look like you. It is wanting to hang out and spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ whom you would not naturally associate with if you weren’t a Christian with new affections. This takes God supernaturally working in you.
3. Christ creates a new race that transcends our old ethnic identities
When you become a Christian, like Paul you must be willing to say that your ethnic, cultural, and social standing does not matter at all. You don’t become an American Christian or an Iranian Christian or a Hip Hop Christian. You become a Christian. Period. The things you formerly identified yourself with don’t matter anymore. The only identity that matters is that you are in Christ, that you have received the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 2:14-15 says that God has made “both [Jew and Gentile] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” Do you hear how radical this is? He has created one new man in place of the two. Your old identity has been replaced.
As a Christian, you must see all other people through these lenses also. Faith in Christ is the great dividing line running through all of humanity, regardless of ethnicity or nationality. You must see people as Christians, or non-Christians. If I meet a Christian brother who has black skin and is from rural Mississippi, my heart should long to be with him in a way that it cannot desire to be with a white, middle-class unbeliever who grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. What you have in common with another believer in Christ far exceeds anything you have in common with an unbeliever. I hope that you have felt this. It happens at the level of affections, and it is a work of God. He makes Christians of all races brothers, but a believer and an unbeliever of the same race are kingdoms apart.