The Church is...the family of God




Galatians 3:23 - 4:7, Mark 3:20-25

The family of God:         No. 4

We are in a series opening up the pictures the scripture paints for us about the Church. We have looked at:

·       A chosen people – ‘Ekklesia’ called out together

·       A new community

·       A joyful people who celebrate

Today we come to the ‘Family of God’. Undoubtedly our experiences of ‘family’ will vary dramatically. In light of that I want to ask that each of us take a moment to lay those experiences in front of Jesus and ask that we can see God’s intention for his family, from His point of view.

Means of entry to the family is clear

The whole point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is to put them back on track as to this entry point. He needs to write to them because he cannot believe that so quickly they have allowed themselves:

·       to be led astray from the truth and deluded into accepting that there are a set of rules and laws that that have to be followed before they can be true Christians;

·       that they, as Gentiles, needed to become Jews first before they could be Christian.

‘Absolutely not so’ he says. Faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is the entry point. I will argue this with anyone’, Paul continues ‘and indeed I did in public with Peter when he wrongly, in my view, suddenly changed his behaviour of eating with you Gentiles when some Jews arrived’.

Adding ‘the law’ to faith adds nothing except an additional burden, and there is no law that has ever been given that could impart life. Indeed if there was, righteousness would have come through the law. But we know it didn’t.

The passage we read today opens Vs 23...’before this faith came, we were held prisoner by the law, locked up’. This is an intriguing way to start:

·       This faith? What faith? Is there another type of faith? If so, how does it compare to the ‘other faith’?

·       Prisoners? Locked up?

Well Paul has already answered these (several times actually) – perhaps the challenge of selecting any part of scripture. Let’s check it out

·       This faith is faith in Jesus Christ, now revealed, crucified, risen and having done all that is necessary to redeem us from the under the law

·       So what about the ‘other Faith’. Interestingly though, Paul argues it has always been about faith. But before the revelation of ‘this faith’ it was faith in the promise of God the Father.

o   Abraham received a promise

o   He believed in the promise and the God that gave him that promise

o   ‘It was credited to him as righteousness’

o   We all, if we are going to be children of Abraham, and thereby receivers as well of the promise this can only be the same way – by faith.

o   If it could be achieved by keeping the law it would be no longer according to the promise

·       So then, why the law? Well, Paul answers, it was to make us all aware of ‘transgression’ and the need for a saviour and if possible lead back to the ‘promise’. The law was not ‘opposed to the promise’ but Paul says it was putting us in its charge until ‘this faith was revealed’.

·       The law was an overlay – added 430 years after the promise

·       Its task was as ‘pedagogue’. Pedagogue (now generally understood as a teacher, an educationalist) has changed its use somewhat. Its direct translation is ‘lead the child’. In Roman times a pedagogue, usually a trusted slave, was put in charge of the master’s children and his job was to keep them on the straight and narrow, including their discipline, until they came into their inheritance and acquired fully their rights as sons. This discipline could be harsh and many of the hearers would have been through that and known what is was to desire freedom from this discipline and come into their full rights as sons at a time determined by their Father.

·       So Paul says, ‘the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ so we might be justified by faith’ v24. Now that ‘this faith has come’ we are no longer under the supervision of the law. The law’s job as pedagogue is done – maturity has been reached. It is time for freedom

Two other points on this:


What had this got to do with the Gentiles?

Well Paul is using the fact that the Jewish law, now thoroughly embellished and over-interpreted, and compliance with it taught by the visiting Judaisers as a means of salvation, was not capable of bringing life to the Jews, nor was it to the Gentiles. Not only so; I think we can imply that no form of DIY legalism practised by Jew or Gentile, us included, can result in life and salvation, only in an understanding of ‘transgression’. In Romans Paul tells us we are all alike: ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God’ – we are all the same...

·       The recipient of the promise was ‘the Seed’ of Abraham. Paul argues that the promise of God was given to Abraham’s seed – singular. V19 of Chapter 3 tells us that ‘the law was added until because of transgression until ‘the Seed’ to whom the promise referred, had come. So there is one recipient of the promise – Jesus Christ.

Verse 14 of chapter 3 also helps us unlock this a little further:

He redeemed us [from the curse of the law – having taken the curse of the law on himself] in order that the blessing given to Abraham [the credit of righteousness] might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, so that {how?} – by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. The Judaisers had forgotten that Jesus himself had arrived. They were now in a place to move from the external rules to internal principles, the burden of the law to life in the Spirit, the Old Covenant to the New Covenaant. ‘Do you Galatians,’ Paul says, ‘really think that having begun in the Spirit that there could be any benefit from re-instigating the law.’

With that background we now use it as the key to unlock the next part...

The consequence of faith is sonship...

...Becoming a full member of the family with all the rights and privileges that implies. Verse 26 cannot be clearer. ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all who were baptised into Christ have clothed themselves in Christ’. This is completely in keeping with the rest of Scripture


John tells us [John 1:12] ‘To those who received him [The word made flesh], to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God – children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision, nor of a husband’s will – but born of God’.

·       How is this true?...those who have believed are baptised ‘into Christ’ – become immersed in him – and are therefore clothed in him, his righteousness, his glory.

So if the consequence of faith is sonship, this is

...Irrespective of race, status, gender or former religion

V28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. [for those of you interested, let me point out that the conjunction on the third point of the triplet is different – not male and female – directly reflecting the Greek version of Genesis 1:27]

·       Why this triplet here. Paul is not clear exactly, but we do know at the time that:

o   The Jews drew a sharp distinction between themselves and the ‘Goyim’ the ‘swarms’ and ‘hordes’ of outsiders that inhabited the ‘heathen nations’

o   The attitude to slaves was unlikely to be very different to that of Aristotle who referred to slaves as ‘animated implements’ – a mere breathing tool – a devaluation of fellow men that sadly inhabited our own history and still does today in some places

o   The general attitude to women is likely to have reflected that of Josephus, a highly cultured man, who wrote ‘the woman, so says the law, is inferior in all things to man’.

o   Jewish men prayed thanks for not being born a goyim, a slave or a woman – it may well have been a direct counter to this mindset

o   It is probably also the case that the Gentiles likewise looked down on the Jews as being a strange, potentially arrogant, definitely separatist, exclusive group

o   It may be that Paul is reflecting more on the promise of the Father – ‘I will poor out my spirit on all people – your sons and daughters will prophecy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those.

o   Maybe it is some of both

·       Irrespective of Paul’s exact reasons for the structure of this argument, all racial-religious bigotry, chauvinism and social snobbery are condemned here and similarly in parallel passages such as Colossians 3:11. Jesus in his great sermon on the mount in the section known as ‘the beatitudes’, opens up the kingdom to the poor, the meek, the broken-hearted, the downtrodden. Any person who considers themselves superior in moral worth to any of their fellow men should understand that this is anathema in terms of entry to the family of God. ‘For you are all one in Christ’.

·       Paul completes this part of the letter with this statement ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’. The right to receive the inheritance promised to Abraham’s seed is linked to the family of faith not to physical descent. There was only ever intended to be one nation...the family of God

Just before concluding with a few ‘so-whats’ of this for us, let me complete quickly the exposition of this passage. In chapter 4 Paul seems to return to the same argument, probably to make sure that the Galatians know he is really serious. But if you have time to read on later, you will find him appealing not just to their minds but to their hearts, feelings, desires and emotions, and considerations sure to impact profoundly all who were part of the Galatian Church:

·       Their desire for freedom

·       Their sense of honour

·       Their profound loss of joy

·       Their sense of fairness

·       Their fear of being misled

·       Their love of Paul himself who cared deeply for them

The glorious truth that Paul is reminding us of in the final verses of is that God’s purpose in sending his Son V4, ‘born of a woman, born under law – [laying aside his divine nature and becoming as we were] – was to redeem those who were under the law, [so that] v5 we might receive the full rights of Sons. Those who are sons receive the Holy Spirit; so we become conscious of our sonship. In verse 4 God sends his Son. In verse 6 he sends the spirit of his son. The Spirit is the means by which the salvation which his Son has achieved is made real in us. So what are those rights?

·       Assurance – those who are sons receive the Holy Spirit and become conscious of our sonship

·       Access & Intimacy – God sends his Spirit into our hearts who cries ‘Abba, Father’. Jesus has chosen to call us brothers (don’t have time now but read Hebrews 1). What a privilege!

·       Inheritance – ‘You are no longer slaves but sons’. Salvation is yours to be fully revealed when Jesus returns, but sealed now with the down-payment of the Holy Spirit. Every spiritual blessing in the heaven realms is ours in Christ


·       Please don’t underestimate what Jesus has done and will do through the empowering of his family. We must not allow ourselves to become slaves again and get caught in DIY legalism. ‘It is for the freedom of sonship that Christ has set us free’.

·       Please recognise that God will not be forced into choosing between his Children. In God’s terms disunity is a scandal. We are ‘one’ family

·       Please do not mistake ‘oneness’ for uniformity. Many other scriptures, and we will be covering some of these over the coming weeks, highlight the value and power of diversity

·       Finally, please do not be afraid of intimacy with God, irrespective of our relative successes in mirroring the intention of God for his family in our own families either as parents or as children towards our parents, or indeed our siblings