|July 5 1998|
HAVE YOU SEEN the logic behind our recent sermons leading to this one? If you have not noted the sequence, look back at my sermons on this web site. In May we looked at living by faith, and then three specific difficulties: when rotten things happen to good people; when your life fills with stress, and when you have to live with disagreeable people.
We then emphasised how important it was in such difficulties to balance your belief with your behaviour. I then looked at problems faced by people living on their own in "Survival Techniques in a Hostile World". In this sermon I looked at how thirteen single people maximised life for themselves. They included a tax agent, a politician, a teenager leaving home, a young girl with her first boyfriend, a sole parent with rising mortgage rates, someone unable to afford health cover, an early retiree, a grieving widow, an intellectually disabled girl, a hospitalised elderly lady, a middle aged widower, a woman with series of broken relationships and a man fighting drugs and the law. Each illustrated how a single person successfully coped with living.
But even so, some people complain because they do not have the advantages others have. So I considered "Successfully Using Your Leftovers." We looked at how twenty individuals used their leftover time, possessions, health and faith to live successfully. Having spent a great deal of time considering how individuals coped, I turned to those in families and marriages.
In "Tough Love For Soft Hearts" I considered how marriage partners need to develop the right kind of love when living together. I quoted psychiatrists and statistics on the importance of love in a marriage and family, even when you could not like the person, and when you were too soft to set the right demands and decisions. That tough love worked in rehabilitation and in relationships.
Tonight I will consider how faith builds both the single person and married people, individuals and families into one body, the church, where you can "Find Freedom Through Faith" over the differences you may have of race, social status and gender. The next three weeks we will consider how you go "Accepting Responsibility For Yourself", how you can "Change From a Nobody Into a Somebody" and even "Rebuild a Fractured Family."
This sequence is designed so that knowing what we believe, we can learn how to cope, what to do and how to relate. On the biggest issues that divide us, the Christian faith has a practical answer. Three issues divide our nation: the race relationships between European and indigenous Australians as seen in the Wik dispute, between Asian immigrants and caucasian residents, as seen in the One Nation debate; the social status issues of rich and poor, the employed and unemployed, the tax payer and the welfare recipient as seen in the waterfront dispute; and the gender inequality issue where women receive less pay and fewer senior positions and where men receive harsher treatment in the family courts and fewer new job opportunities. Race, status and gender are all issues from which we can find freedom through faith.
A proper understanding of the Christian faith changes all three. In the earlier paragraphs of his letter to the Christians living in Galatia, in the centre of modern-day Turkey, Paul has shown the way of salvation is by means of the promise of God received through faith. He declares the law was given not to save mankind but rather to reveal humanity's sin, it was temporary, and it was inferior to the promise for it was given through a mediator. Gal 3:23-25 "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."
The Law of God, given by Moses and summed up in the Ten Commandments, shows that everyone - the immoral person, the ethical person, and the religious person - have sinned and need a Saviour. There is indeed a Saviour. It had always been God's purpose to save many through faith in Him. The Jewish Law prepared men and women to receive the Lord Jesus Christ when He came.
When we receive Christ we pass from being under the bondage of the law to being children of God. Before, we were prisoners, shut up under the law as under a guardian. Now we are children, being reconciled to God and being made one with one another and with all who throughout history have been justified on the basis of God's promise. While the law was here, it held us under constant surveillance. So strict was the supervision of the Law, that we were like prisoners until Christ should be revealed. Christ, the liberator, then would set us free.
The term is paidagogos, "a child-custodian" The pedagogue was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks or Romans to have responsibility for one of the children of the family. He had charge of the child from about the years six to sixteen and was responsible for watching over his behaviour wherever he went and for conducting him to and from school. The pedagogue did not teach. Therefore the translation which says the Law was a "schoolmaster" is wrong. When the child entered into the fullness of his position as a son, becoming an acknowledged adult by the formal rite of adoption by his father, the role of the custodian or pedagogue was completed. 25 "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law" Paul says.
Those who receive Christ now have new status that changes all the human differences between us. Once we are a child of God, we are set free from all that restricts us including our race, social status and gender. Gal 3:26-29 "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Through faith in Christ all who believe become "sons of God" or to put it better, "children of God." This new relationship does not come automatically. The fatherhood of God and the universal brother-hood of man is not a New Testament concept. God is our Creator but not our Father until we become His children. This only becomes possible when we become adopted into God's family as children.
Creatures are not the same as children. We become children of God only through union by faith with that unique Son of God, Christ Jesus. John 1:12 "to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." Baptism signifies this transforming identification with Christ. No one is saved by baptism. Indeed, Paul mentions baptism only once in the paragraph, but faith five times. Rather baptism is an outward sign of the union that already exists through faith. To be "clothed with Christ" means to become like Christ. Through faith in Jesus Christ all who believe become one with each other so that, in one sense, there is now "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female," but all are "one in Christ Jesus."
Paul simply means that having become one with God as His children, Christians now belong to each other as brothers and sisters and in such a way that distinctions that formerly divided them lose significance.
Race is irrelevant. Obviously people belong to different races, but that racial difference is irrelevant. Paul writes "there is neither Jew nor Greek." In Paul's day there was a deep division between the two because it also meant a difference in religion. The Gentiles were despised as uncircumcised and therefore no child of Abraham. Other races were barbarians. They did not have the law or the ceremonies. They were not in the covenant. This barrier Paul claims is broken down in Christ. Today Christians must break down all racial barriers. In Christ there is neither black nor white, Caucasian nor Asian, nor any other racial difference.
Social status is also irrelevant, for there is neither "slave nor free." This does not deny there are social distinctions amongst us. It affirms to those who are united to Christ these things do not matter. When people treat each other as true brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of their social standing, then the power of such distinctions is broken and a basis is laid for social change. On this pattern the ideal church should be composed of members from all spectra of society: wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated, single and married, management and labor, and so on. We are one.
Gender is also irrelevant. Paul declares there is neither "male nor female." It is hard to imagine how badly women were treated in antiquity, even in Judaism. The Jew prayed, "I thank God that thou hast not made me a woman." The Jewish historian Josephus wrote, "Woman is inferior to man in every way." The Greek world had similar expressions. Only Christianity was different. Paul reversed normal attitudes. In this statement we have one factor in the gradual elevation and honouring of women that has been known in all Christian lands.
When Paul concludes this breakdown of the distinctions that are superseded by Christianity, he speaks of the fact that all who are in Christ are "one." Paul says each of us is part of the living body of Christ. In this body all are truly one in and with one another. The only permissible distinctions are those of function. 1Cor 12 But there is also another daring thought here. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are one with all who have been saved by faith throughout history as "Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Gen 3:16 John Stott writes: "This is a three-dimensional attachment which we gain when we are in Christ: in height, breadth and length. It is an attachment in "height" through reconciliation to the God who is transcendent over the universe He has made. Next, it is an attachment in "breadth," since in Christ we are united to all other believers throughout the world. Thirdly, it is an attachment in "length," as we join the long, long line of believers throughout the whole course of time." It is through faith in Christ and in Christ alone that we find ourselves.
What a difference Christian faith makes to us whether we are single or married, Asian or Anglo, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, male or female - for when we are in Christ, we relate in a new way to God, to each other, and to all those saints of God who have lived throughout history and whom we shall join one day in heaven.
Over the past weeks I have considered more than fifty individuals who have come from differing backgrounds, races and social conditions. But all of them, have lived an effective and complete life. What was the one thing they all had in common in the face of all their differences? They all were living the ordinary life well because of their faith. Faith in Christ makes the difference to each us. You come to faith in Christ through trusting in what the Lord Jesus has done for you upon the Cross. He has forgiven you your sins. He has taken away the guilt of your past. He has offered you hope for the future. He has promised you a home with God eternally. What you must say is: "Lord Jesus Christ, I accept you as my Saviour. I will obey you as my Lord. Receive me and set me free from all that imprisons."
|ONLY ONE WAY J R W Stott IVP 1976
THE EXPOSITORS BIBLE COMMENTARY F E Gaebelein Ed, Vol 10 Zondervan 1997
THE INTERPRETERS BIBLE Vol 10 R T Stamm Abingdon 1953
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