Reading: Galatians 3 : 26 – 4:7

WHO AM I? You may have played a party game called “Who Am I?” Each person has a sticker on their forehead with the name of a well-known person. They can’t see the name themselves, so they try to find it out by asking other people questions. But they are not allowed to ask directly “Who am I?”
Who are you? Identity is very important. To know who we really are is not just a game; it is vital.

Writing to the churches in Galatia, the apostle Paul has not been polite and complimentary. In fact, he has written them a rocket! “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.” (1:6-7) “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?… Are you so foolish?” (3:1,3)

In today’s reading, Paul gets to the root cause of the Galatians’ problem: it’s a question of identity – THEY DON’T REALISE WHO THEY ARE.
See how many times in this passage Paul writes “You are…”:
v26 You are… v28 You are… v29 You are… v6 You are… v7 You are…

The key phrase is “In Christ (Jesus)”. This is Paul’s favourite expression. To be “in Christ” simply means to have the closest possible relationship with God through trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. In vv23-25 Paul has reminded the Galatians about their situation before they came to trust in Christ. They were “under the law” – like prisoners locked up. The law was a harsh disciplinarian, but God intended it to lead them to faith in Jesus Christ.
So now in vv26-29 Paul writes of who or what they are – of who we are, in Christ. And in vv1-7 he expands on that and draws out what it means.

Here we can see three wonderful results of being in Christ, being united to Christ by faith.

Through the Lord Jesus Christ, we can know God as our Father. Jesus said to his disciples “This is how you should pray: “Our Father…””. Many of us know that prayer very well: we call it “The Lord’s Prayer”, but I think a better title is “The Family Prayer”. When we trust in Christ, we are adopted into God’s family. In vv4-5, Paul writes that God sent his Son to redeem us, that we might receive (literally) “adoption as children.”
Not only did God send his Son into the world, but he sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: v6. That word “Abba” makes my heart sing! Why? (Not because of the Swedish pop group!)
Abba” is one of the very few Aramaic words in the (Greek) New Testament. Aramaic was the common spoken language of the Near East in the time of Jesus and the early church. “Abba” was the word used by children to speak to their father, within their home. It is a term of intimacy and deep, respectful love. Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus himself used that word “Abba” when he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, facing his imminent arrest and crucifixion: “He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35-36)
The amazing truth is that, through Christ and by his Spirit, you and I can use the same word that Jesus himself used when speaking with the Father: Abba! Paul writes to the Roman Christians “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16)

Today is “Fathers’ Day”. But what does “fatherhood” really mean? Several years ago one of our children gave me a Fathers’ Day gift which I greatly treasure, because it gives a profound definition of fatherhood. A pair of socks, with the words “Fatherhood is…pretending the present you like the most is socks”!
What does fatherhood mean to you? Earthly fathers are not perfect. (I speak from experience, being one myself.) Sometimes, often, fathers do not love as they should; they do not live as they should; they do not use their power as they should.

But God our Father is perfect in love and holiness and power.
In Christ, we are children of God.

The second wonderful result of being united to Christ by faith:
If we belong to God as our Father, that means we belong to one another as sisters and brothers. Paul writes of the three major differences which divided people in his day:
(a) Jew or Greek – i.e. racial and cultural differences;
(b) Slave or free – i.e. differences of class or status;
(c) Male or female – i.e. gender differences.
In the Galatian churches there would have been people from all those groups – a real mixed bunch. Paul says those differences are totally irrelevant in the Christian church family. Distinctions of rank or race or culture or class or gender do not matter: all of us are equally in need of forgiveness; all of us are equally unable to earn or deserve salvation; all of us totally depend on God’s mercy and grace in Christ.
So in God’s family there is no place for snobbery, no place for hierarchies or pecking orders, no place for regarding some people as less important than others. “You are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Perhaps some of you have been to the annual Christian convention at Keswick in the Lake District: I’ve been twice. For many years the convention meetings took place in an enormous tent holding thousands of people, from all over the world. I well remember approaching the marquee with crowds of people, and seeing in large letters above the entrance “ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.”

A word about gender. For Paul to write “There is neither male nor female” is remarkable, considering the culture of his day. Women were nearly always despised in the ancient world, even in Judaism. The Jewish man gave regular thanks to God that he was not born a Gentile or a woman, while the woman dolefully thanked God that she was made as she was! So Paul’s assertion of the equality of the sexes was revolutionary.

Of course, differences between people do exist – racial, social, cultural, gender differences. God has made a wonderfully diverse world – and “vive la difference!”
But in Christ they are irrelevant. We are equally loved, equally valuable. In Christ, we are all one.

The third wonderful result of being united to Christ by faith:
I am aware that this may sound rather an anti-climax, after the first two results. Paul writes that all Christians inherit the promises made to Abraham: we may think that is rather obscure, and not very exciting.
To understand what this means, we need to look back to what Paul wrote in 3:6-9. At our home group last week, we considered this question: “What is the greatest blessing God could possibly give?” These verses point us clearly to the answer: in v6 it is described as “righteousness”, and in v8 the word used is “justified”. Those two words have the same root meaning – to be right with God, “just as if I’d never sinned.” The greatest blessing anyone can have is to be in right relationship with God. Abraham had that blessing, by trusting God’s promise. We have that same blessing, by trusting God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

John Stott writes: “We have seen that in Christ we belong to God and we belong to each other. In Christ we also belong to Abraham. We take our place in the noble historical succession of faith… No longer do we feel ourselves to be waifs and strays, without any significance in history… Instead, we find our place in the unfolding purpose of God. We are the spiritual seed of our father Abraham, who lived and died 4000 years ago, for in Christ we have become heirs of the promise which God made to him.”

Who am I? Many different voices will try to tell us what they think of us – maybe our family, our friends, our colleagues, the media. What they say can lead us to excessive pride, or to crushing despair. We need to know what God says about us. We need to listen to the gospel, and to respond with our whole-hearted trust in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Then we can say with joyful confidence: “Who am I? In Christ I am a child of God. In Christ I am united to all the redeemed people of God, past, present and future. In Christ I discover my true identity. In Christ, I find my feet. In Christ, I come home.”

Gracious Father, help us to live every day in the light of who you are, and of who we are, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Category: Sermons , The Bridge

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