Heirs and Heiresses without Exception

Peter Kreeft, a Roman Catholic scholar says that one of the tragic ironies of Christian history is that the deepest split in the history of the Church, and the one that has occasioned the most persecution, hatred, and bloody wars on both sides, from the Peasants’ War of Luther’s day through the Thirty Years’ War, which claimed a larger percentage of the population of many parts of central Europe than any other war in history, including the two world wars, to the present-day agony in Northern Ireland — this split between Protestant and Catholic originated in a misunderstanding.  It certainly doesn’t look like a misunderstanding. It looks like a flat-out contradiction: the Catholic Church taught that we are saved by faith and good works, while Luther taught that we are saved by faith alone (sola fide).

For one thing, even if the two sides did disagree about the relationship between faith and works, they both agreed that faith is absolutely necessary for salvation and that we are absolutely commanded by God to do good works. Both these two points are unmistakably clear in Scripture.

When terms are ambiguous, the two sides may really agree when they seem to disagree because they agree on the concept but not the word or the two sides may really disagree when they seem to agree because they agree only on the word, not the concept.  Kreeft’s argument is that when Luther taught that we are saved by faith alone, he meant only the initial step, justification, being put right with God. But when the Council of Trent said we are saved by good works as well as faith, they meant the whole process by which God brings us to our eternal destiny and that process includes repentance, faith, hope, and charity, the works of love.

For that reason it may be important to see it we can get a handle on what Paul meant in Galatians 3:23-29  when five times he uses Greek words all of which we translate as ‘faith’.  Galatians 3:23-29 23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The whole of Galatians has often been called “the Magna Carta of Christian liberty” and most especially these few verses have the character of liberation about them.  When in 1215 the King of England was forced to sign the Magna Carta we are led to believe that it was about freeing the people. That’s backward.  It was about limiting the powers of the King. I’ve found it interesting how many of those who have commented on this book, in the name of Christian Liberty, declared how it establishes a new rule of law, a discipline for the Christian community.

Martin Luther wrote: “The Law enforces good behavior, at least outwardly. We obey the Law because if we don’t we will be punished. Our obedience is inspired by fear. We obey under duress and we do it resentfully. Now what kind of righteousness is this when we refrain from evil out of fear of punishment? Hence, the righteousness of the Law is at bottom nothing but love of sin and hatred of righteousness.”  Paul characterizes living under law as an incarceration. He says … before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.

Paul begins speaking about the position of the true children of God before the coming of Christ.  He illustrates it by saying it was like living in bondage to the Law. And this bondage was like the watchful love of their Heavenly Father, who provides shelter and guidance just like an earthly father places his weak, inexperienced and young children under the charge of household servants.

There is no English equivalent for the word Paul uses to describe this entity. Less like a schoolmaster or tutor the word comes closer to that of a Spanish duenna or chaperone. This person doesn’t instruct, isn’t invested with authority to control – this person was a slave to a young master.  The appointment was to attend the child, to safeguard, to report to the child’s father disorderly or immoral conduct on which the father might find it necessary to place a check.  So the Law for the Israelites existed to regulate outward habits, enforce order and decency and maintain a certain standard of morality.   The Law didn’t address itself to the consciences, like did the Prophets, nor did it claim spiritual authority over the person but to impose a check on open tyranny of evil, to enforce on the community a higher standard of morals, and so foster indirectly the growth of spiritual life.  He said  24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian, our chaperone,  until Christ came.”

He speaks of a time  “before faith came” and  “until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith” and then he says “now that faith has come”.  Unfortunately most of our English translations of this passage fail to pay attention to the article preceding the word we translate as ‘faith’. Faith has been around for an awfully long time. It didn’t just show up with Jesus.  It was and still is the most conspicuous virtue of the Jewish religion and Abraham is the first of many splendid examples. But this isn’t just ‘faith’ to which Paul points – he speaks of ‘the faith’.  There is a huge difference between faith in the abstract and what Paul details as – the Faith of Christ.

In the context of a person’s relationship to God the verb form of ‘faith’ always implies personal conviction and trust arising within direct personal relationship.  In the New Testament there are two aspects to faith exercised.  It is confident reliance on God.  It is the act by which one lays hold on God’s offered resources and becoming obedient to what God prescribes, and, abandoning all self interest and self-reliance, trusting God completely.  This is the meaning Paul implies for the noun ‘faith’. This isn’t Old Testament faithfulness – where one who exercises faith is made firm and reliable. That is relying on one’s own determination which, interestingly enough could be seen as ‘good works’.  Faith is utter reliance on God.

When the children of Rome reached a certain age they graduated from toga praetexta for the toga virilis and were then considered a citizen.  This is the change of dress to which Paul points in the 27th verse of this passage.  At the turn of the last century, iIn our own country, young boys wore short pants most of the time.  Even in winter they wore short pants.  They were called ‘knickers’. It was a big deal when you got long pants.  In Catholic families you got your long pants when your Baptism was confirmed.  Having long pants meant you were grown up.  You were a “man.” In Greek culture, through family gatherings and religious rites, a great deal was made of this occasion when the youth put on the clothing of an adult. Once subject to domestic rule now the person was admitted to the rights and responsibilities of citizen and took their place beside their parent in the councils of the family.

So Paul employs the practice the rite of passage of a dependent to the independence of the grown up to describe maturity in the life of faith.  Paul speaks of being clothed with Christ – a spiritual coming of age before which we had been bound to obey the rules fulfill definite duties.  In our new status we are set free to learn God’s will from the inward voice of the Spirit and discharge the heavier obligations incumbent on a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  This, according to Paul is the passage to spiritual maturity, spiritual adulthood, It is emancipation from bondage to an outward law. It is enfranchisement!

All distinctions of creed, race or gender are incompatible with membership in Christ’s kingdom.  Legal and social barriers which separated slave from owner, natural divisions of gender and family,  distinctions between orthodox and heterodox disappear in the presence of the all-absorbing unity of the body of Christ.  The Galatians were a living witness to the power of the Gospel to make of all people one in Christ.  Their meetings were gathered out of the most diverse elements, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female.  Each contributed to the composition of the body of Christ. People who had been aliens and adversaries to each other and, like Paul himself, once a firebrand in opposition to the people of God, are wonderfully transformed into members of Christ.

25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 

We are all robed in Christ and drawn together into oneness. That oneness doesn’t take away our differences, it means a new way of seeing and behaving. Baptized into Christ, as Paul says, makes us one and gives us the potential of seeing one another, regardless of differences, as brothers and sisters, all baptized into Christ. We all live in Christ, and Christ lives in us all. I found it fascinating that one non-Quakercommentator wrote: “’The Christ in thee meets the Christ in me,’ the Quakers say.”  What changes would happen in us individually, in our meeting, even in our Yearly Meeting if we really let ourselves see that way?

Christ will not be divided, and as we draw closer to the heart of Christ, we begin to feel Christ’s own longing for unity. We who live in Christ learn that we belong together, and there is an ache in our hearts whenever we are separated from one another. To know the truth of oneness, to long for unity is painful. It is tempting to retreat to our cliques of people who are just like us, where we can be safe and comfortable. But Gal 3:28 compels us to be together, to live as one with those who are most radically different from us, even those we believe to be most distant from God’s embrace. Living that oneness in Christ is not just doing what is politically correct, nor is it practicing the non-discrimination that the law requires; rather, it is to have a change of heart. Living that oneness means confessing that we are sometimes the barrier builders and the weapon wielders. It sometimes means allowing ourselves to get close to those who are most difficult for us to love. It sometimes means bearing the consequences of the pain of those who were relegated to the outside. It sometimes means listening and listening and waiting and waiting until trust can be restored. It means entering into the hard work of reconciliation.

If we were to allow ourselves to feel Christ’s own longing for unity, Christ’s own aching over our separations and divisions, what difference would it make in the way we behave toward one another?

Living with oneness in Christ leads to working for more unity in the world. This is how Christians find themselves standing in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable or least powerful. This is how Christians find themselves becoming advocates for those who are oppressed or shut out. This is how Christians find themselves exposed to the attacks of the world for living with integrity, living as mature citizens of the Kingdom of God.

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