The song lyrics “I am yours and you are mine” carry with it a profound sense of together-ness. To proclaim that we are God’s, and we can call God ours speaks to a special kind of unity, found only in being one with Christ. But what does it mean we say that we are “in Christ”? What difference does it make, and why does it matter? Read on to find out more!
(A) One in Christ: In Jesus we receive a new identity and we experience perfect unity (Gal 3:27-29)
Paul speaks of putting on Christ and baptism in these verses. To have “put on Christ” after being "baptised into Christ” (Gal 3:27) brings to mind a sense of new identity and belonging. One might even conjure the image of Jesus the Ironman suit, but we must remember that Paul isn’t referring to the physical act of baptism. When we say that we are in Christ, we don’t mean it in the physical sense. This baptism operates within a spiritual paradigm, and it gives us a sense of complete immersion almost as if we are completely engulfed by Christ.
This helps us to understand it as total submission and transformation that gives us a new identity, rebirth, and restoration, instead of a mere add-on. When you put something on, you are submitting yourself to a set of rules and regulations. Think of your last school uniform, or the pixelated green/blue/grey that one would don during National Service. People look at you differently, think of you differently, and expect different things of you. If you were in your school uniform, you’d be expected to carry yourself well in public in accordance with your school rules. If you were in your army uniform, you might be expected to keep away from reserved seats on the MRT. The point is this - when we put on Christ, we accept the rules and regulations that come with this new identity that now defines us.
But that’s not all! It almost means that God looks at us differently. Instead of seeing a sinner deserving of condemnation, he sees Christ, and we are counted worthy through Him. Instead of sentencing us to rightful condemnation, he sees Christ’s perfect obedience and righteousness, and accepts us graciously. Isn’t this a wondrous thing? We tend to grow tired of these phrases that we’ve heard a thousand times, and gloss over their immense value in our boredom. Spend some time reflecting on this. What does it actually mean for you that you are in Christ, and have put Him on?
Paul proceeds to draw out 3 lines of division (Gal 3:28-29), and in doing so, highlights two distinctive features - perfect unity, and a new identity as Abraham’s offspring.
He points to divisions of:
- Race (neither Jew nor Greek)
- Social (neither slave nor free)
- Sex (no male and female)
Why does Paul draw these 3 things out? It’s possible that he could have been addressing something in traditional Jewish liturgy, where Jewish men would pray daily and thank God for not making them a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. This was rather typical of the Jewish culture of Paul’s day.
Upon further reflection, we see that these distinctions have been running on through time, past Paul’s day and into our present age! Think about the violent racial divisions in USA. Think about our local struggles with the reserved presidential elections. Think about social hierarchy that rears its ugly head in how we treat people of higher and lower jobs. Think about the very idea of sexual equality that has sparked divisive conflagration after conflagration. Friends, these divisions are real and present, and the Bible has something to say about it today!
Paul’s point in raising these negatives is to indicate the radical positive that we have in Christ - a perfect unity. This seems incredulous, but the Bible stresses that we are all the same in Christ. Do you believe it? Live it? This makes us think about our prejudices. What are yours? How do you view race, social hierarchy, and sex? Do you judge the faith of others by their attendance at Bible studies? Knowledge? Doctrine? Do you think of these things as something that gets you in a priority queue to heaven? There is such a fine line between being genuinely concerned (pointing out things in love), and self-righteous condemnation (judging them and writing them off). These lines of division run rampant, but Paul reminds us here that these things have no place in Christ! Dare we live like it is true?
We considered the feature of our new identity as Abraham’s offspring two weeks ago. In case you missed it, it calls to attention the fact that God’s promises to Abraham regarding blessings, offspring, and having faith counted as righteousness are part of our inheritance in Christ!
These blessings and promises sometimes seem too good to be true - especially that of perfect unity. Do you see it in your church? In your relationships with other Christians? What beliefs and opinions might be holding you back from living them out? Submit them to God’s grace with prayer, and trust that He is faithful.
(B) Slaves without Christ: Without Jesus, we remain entrapped by the world’s ways (Gal 4:1-3)
Paul picks up the idea of being under a “guardian” (Gal 4:2), which was first raised in Gal 3:24-25. We learnt last week that the idea of “guardian” carries with it the notion of a hard taskmaster or disciplinarian - someone that a child would want to be free of. Paul is using the same idea here. He’s talking about something constricting that we want to be free of.
This might seem like a surprisingly deflating thing to say after the affirmation of gospel freedom at the end of chapter 3. Part of it might be because Paul wants to press home our desire to these constraints that inhibit us from enjoying the fullness of gospel freedom. It could also be part of his argument against the idea of “Jewishness” counting to one’s righteous. Remember that the gospel was under attack by the notion of Jewish bloodline righteousness. It is likely that Paul was saying, “you might think you are the heir, but you will never come into your inheritance for as long as you are living under these guardians and taskmasters (the law). You are just as good as slaves. There is no point in thinking otherwise until you come into gospel freedom in Christ!"
The phrase “until the date set by his father” (Gal 4:2) resonates with the facet of Jewish culture where children come of age once they pass a certain point in their lives (Bar Mitzvah). A modern day similarity might be our license to drink alcohol, drive car, or even wear long pants in school after we pass a certain age. There is a point at which a symbolic change occurs and someone is considered a grown-up. This looks forward to a clear point in time where someone is finally free of this guardian, which we now understand to be Jesus’ coming (4:4). Paul tells us here that if you go through the process of understanding how He has fulfilled what you could not and could never, you will come into your inheritance and be a true heir of the promises that God has set aside for you. Understanding this helps us to understand where Paul is going with his argument.
Paul proceeds to use an analogy ("in the same way” in Gal 4:3) to illustrate his point. The phrase “elementary principles” hints at the basic ways of the world. For the Jews, it was the law. For Gentiles, it might have been their pagan beliefs. Whatever it was, its heart is a constant desire for self-justification and salvation.
These things take many forms: False idols that give us meaning and purpose in life. Self-imposed goals that we strive for and fulfill on our own accord. Things that really aren’t displaced from our lives today. Think about work and the importance we attach to it. Some 2000 years ago, the Jews who could not perfectly fulfill the law turned to find wiggle room to make themselves good. We are no different. Money, power, fame, popularity are things that every Christian hears of, precisely because we often turn to them to make ourselves good.
Friends, the ways of the world will always rope us into finding salvation, justification, and self-worth apart from the gospel. Some translations have it as “elemental spirits”, which reminds us the spiritual reality that we struggle and wage war against. These principalities and powers tell us that we don’t need God, Christ, or the Cross. They tell us to forget the gospel. They tell us do something else to be self-fulfilled.
This might be a rather bleak way to end a section, but the truth is that we remain entrapped by the world’s ways without Jesus! What are some things you grapple with in the world? Remember that you are now a son or a daughter. Remember that you have put on Christ. Remember the gospel.
(C) Sons through Christ: through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, we become children of God (Gal 4:4-7)
Paul begins this last section by telling us of the “fullness of time (Gal 4:4)” (c.f. Gal 4:2) at which God acted. This is such a wonderful picture that tells us something of God’s perfect timing and plan. We are primed by the knowledge that what happens next was appointed and set by God the Father who acted not a second too early or late.
Paul describes this special Someone with 3 phrases (4:4):
- His Son: The capital S indicates that he is not referring to all children of God, but the only Son of God (John 1:14). This is God Himself made flesh. God the Son who is 100% God. When we talk about this Son, we are talking about Jesus Christ. The fact that He was God-made-flesh tells us that He had the authority and sovereignty over all things - even sin and death. When He died on the Cross, it was His authority that gave Him the power to defeat Satan.
- Born of woman: Jesus was born of the flesh. 100% God, but also 100% human. We don’t fully understand how that works out, but it means that He lived as a man, and fought against sin and fleshly desire. This makes him able to empathise with us. Remember that He went through tremendous suffering at the Cross. Surely he understands our pain and our struggles. The fact that He also died as a man tells us that He represented all of us who deserved to die for our sin. All of us who required that kind of sacrifice for redemption to God. While we don’t have a full understanding of this hypostatic union, it is essential for us to bear it in mind in order to understand the heart of the Gospel.
- Born under the law: Jesus was born a Jew, understood the responsibilities of the Law, and fulfilled them completely! He was thoroughly righteous, which made Him the perfect sacrifice. Consider Leviticus and the sacrificial system that demanded a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was the Perfect Sacrifice. He had to keep the Law perfectly, and He did!
These 3 critical elements remind us that He had the power, represented man, and fulfilled every requirement to be a perfect sacrifice. This is why we boldly proclaim that His death as good news that has immense ramifications for all of eternity. Why is it the Good News? Think about the last piece of good news you read in the newspapers. Remember how quickly it loses its sense of gravity and importance. Now think about how the gospel has thrived and grown throughout the centuries! This lasting good news that does not get boxed out by the turns and tides of history because it has power! That’s why the Cross means so much to us. His death meant something. It has lasting power.
His death on the Cross results in transformation (Gal 4:5-7). Gal 4:5 shows us the transition of a person from one state to another. Someone who was not a son under the law, has become someone who is a son not under the law. This doctrine of adoption shows us a very specific facet of salvation. It is different from the idea of new birth and new life. Although both are used in reference to salvation, they reveal different things. Adoption points us to the great love God - that He would look to a sinner, someone who has been in stubborn rebellion against Him, fighting against perfect rule and law, and yet say “come, you are now my son”.
The language of redemption paints a picture of one brought out of slavery after a price has been paid. This price was paid by Jesus, and it was the ultimate price. He have up His life and went through suffering unlike any other to redeem sinful man - you and me. The idea that God would pay that price to take a sinner and enfold him into His arms, saying “you are my son” reminds us of the amazing change in status we have in Christ.
Gal 4:6 tells us that once we are sons, another process happens. God sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, which gives us the cry “Abba! Father!”. “Abba” is an amazing term of endearment. It is an intimate salutation reserved for those only in a close personal relationship; an indication that we can think things like “I am Yours, and You are mine”; an indication of what we have in Christ. This happens by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes into our hearts, which signifies an internal renewal and regeneration. This is completely unlike the external influence of the law that is powerless to change our thoughts, attitude, and nature. Instead, it is an internal outworking of what is good and true - a real change of our hearts, that translates to a liberating change in experience.
Not only that, we are also told in Gal 4:7 that we are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. This heirship is a change in the hope of a person. If we say that our faith is in Christ, Rom 8 tells us that we are considered co-heirs with Christ. It means that everything that Christ receives, we also receive. Scripture speaks of the world being under Christ’s footstool, rule, and dominion. Could it be that we will share in this glory? There is a great hope that God gives us by calling us sons, because it makes us co-heirs with Christ. It reveals to us that there is more to the end of life than death. Far more! For we have blessings upon blessings, a beautiful union, and eternity in heaven to look froward to!
The last two words are perhaps the most pivotal. “Through God” presses home the point that the agency is with God. This is nothing of what man can do, and nothing our righteousness. All of it is through God. All of it is through Christ alone. The overarching theme of Galatians tells us that only faith in God brings salvation, and these concluding words stamp this liberating theme on our study.
We conclude by asking again the question posed at the start: "What does it mean that we are found in Christ?” It means that we undergo a profound transformation in our status, experience, and hope! All of that changes because we are found in Christ. This is a great wonder and a great gift given to us. Take a moment to consider what it means that you are a child of God. With that comes a great deal of blessing. God says "you are my children because Christ died, and you are in Him. What I ought to see is sin and rebellion, but instead I see the obedience and perfection of Christ.” What a blessed assurance it is, that Jesus is mine and I am His!