3:29 To be Abraham’s seed is the same thing as being his “sons” (v. 7), but now the additional element of being heirs is introduced, previewing 4:7 (Rm 8:15–17).
3:29 descendants of Abraham Faith is what makes a person a descendant of Abraham—not ethnicity or circumcision. Those who have aligned themselves with Abrahamic faith are not obligated to become circumcised or to observe the law, both of which came later. Paul sees the work of Christ as the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham (vv. 7–9; Gen 12:1–3).
3:29 Abraham’s offspring. Paul states the main point of his argument: those who belong to Christ are part of Abraham’s family, and hence they do not need to be circumcised to become part of God’s people.
3:29 Abraham’s descendants. See note on v. 7. Not all physical children of Abraham are the “Israel of God” (cf. 6:16), that is, true spiritual children of Abraham (Ro 9:6–8). Gentile believers who are not physical children of Abraham are, however, his spiritual children in the sense that they followed the pattern of his faith (see note on Ro 4:11, 12). heirs according to promise. All believers are heirs of the spiritual blessing that accompanied the Abrahamic Covenant—justification by faith (Ge 15:6; cf. Ro 4:3–11).
3:29 To be Christ’s through faith (3:26, 27) also means to be Abraham’s sons (seed) (3:7) and blessed (heirs) with him (3:9), according to God’s promise (Gen. 12:3).
3:29. Paul now turns a corner in his argument. Christ is the singular Seed that was promised. Thus if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed. This is wonderful truth. And since Abraham was the heir, all his seed (spiritual descendants) are heirs according to the promise.
All believers, faithful or not, have this passive inheritance of which Paul has been speaking thus far (cf. 3:18). Having returned to the theme of heirship, Paul now considers that more carefully.
3:29 The Galatians were deluded into thinking that they could become Abraham’s seed by keeping the law. Paul shows otherwise. Christ is the seed of Abraham; the inheritance promised to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ. When sinners believe on Him, they become one with Him. Thus they become Abraham’s seed and, in Christ, they inherit all of God’s blessings.
3:29. Third, believers in Christ are Abraham’s seed. As Paul previously stated, Christ is the Seed of Abraham (vv. 16, 19); therefore being in Christ makes a believer a part of that seed and an heir of the promise to Abraham. Any discussion of the seed of Abraham must first take into account his natural seed, the descendants of Jacob in the 12 tribes. Within this natural seed there is a believing remnant of Jews who will one day inherit the Abrahamic promises directed specifically to them (cf. Rom. 9:6, 8). But there is also the spiritual seed of Abraham who are not Jews. These are the Gentiles who believe and become Abraham’s spiritual seed. They inherit the promise of justification by faith as Paul explained earlier (cf. Gal. 3:6–9). To suggest, as amillenarians do, that Gentile believers inherit the national promises given to the believing Jewish remnant—that the church thus supplants Israel or is the “new Israel”—is to read into these verses what is not there.
3:29. Furthermore, in Christ, believers are Abraham’s seed. As the offspring of Abraham, we are heirs of the promise of righteousness through faith. Thus, grace is superior to the law because it unites us with God and one another in a way that the law could not.
3:29 “if” Here, “if” introduces a FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE, assumed to be true from the author’s perspective or for his literary purposes.
© “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” Not all national or racial Israel was truly spiritual Israel (cf. 6:16; Rom. 2:28–29; 9:6), but all who are the true Israel are so by faith. Therefore, no more distinction was made between Jew and Gentile; only between those who have faith in the Messiah and those who do not. There is no favoritism with God. God’s one-time, universal gracious plan for the redemption of mankind is repentance and faith in His crucified Son. Those who respond by faith are made sons and heirs of God! There is no longer the OT distinction of Jew vs. Greek.
29. Paul concludes this beautiful chapter as follows: And ifyou belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise. The close connection with verses 27, 28, as well as with verses 6–9 and 16–18, is immediately apparent. It is unnecessary, therefore, to repeat what has already been said in the discussion of these passages. Clearly, the apostle once again stresses the fact that “belonging to the seed of Abraham is not determined by physical descent but by faith” (Ribberbos, op. cit., p. 150). “In Christ” the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile no longer exists. Therefore, the Judaizers have no right to demand of the Gentiles anything else than that which they demand of the Jews, namely, true and living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the whole vast earth the Lord recognizes one, and only one, nation as his own, namely, the nation of believers (1 Peter 2:9). These are Abraham’s seed. These, too, are the heirs (for this concept see on 3:18) according to the promise which centers in Christ.
Because of Union with Christ we Receive a Full Inheritance (3:29)
The third matter Paul states here is, because of this union, we have entered into the fullness of our inheritance: And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Because of union with Christ, we are the seed of Abraham. The term translated ‘offspring’ is ‘seed.’ Because of faith in Christ, we are reckoned as descendants of Abraham. In other words, the Gentile Christian is as much a descendant of Abraham as the Jewish Christian.
The inheritance then belongs to us on the basis of promise believed and not by works performed. Our inheritance is not something that is postponed until heaven; it begins now. There are at least three things involved in this inheritance. First, there are the spiritual benefits that are ours in Christ. We have already enumerated these: regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, union, redemption, assurance, boldness in prayer, all these things are ours right now as part of our inheritance.
Second, there is eternal life itself. We have begun to participate in eternal life, but at our death we will enter into the personal glorification that will be perfected at the second coming of Christ.
Third, the inheritance includes the earth itself. The earth does not belong to the wicked, instead they use it by usurpation. The earth belongs to the family of God. God in His providence has not necessarily given great possessions to His people now, but what He has given to them is theirs to enjoy. The Bible knows no bifurcation of spiritual and material. Part of our inheritance, if we are in Christ, is that we may enjoy the beauty of this world that Christ has made. We can enjoy food, music, gardens and trees, history, geography, and geology; all of these things are ours in Christ. God will not withhold any good thing from us. He delights in blessing us. Our problem is that we turn blessings into gods. The fault lies not in the created world; it lies in our hearts. We need to understand that as the sons and daughters of God we have been given this world to enjoy as part of our inheritance.
And so we are in the family of God; it is a glorious reality. We should think often on it and aim to live in the full reality of union with the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Christ we are Abraham’s seed (verse 29)
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. We have seen that in Christ we belong to God and to each other. In Christ we also belong to Abraham. We take our place in the noble historical succession of faith, whose outstanding representatives are listed in Hebrews 11. No longer do we feel ourselves to be waifs and strays, without any significance in history, or bits of useless flotsam drifting on the tide of time. Instead, we find our place in the unfolding purpose of God. We are the spiritual seed of our father Abraham, who lived and died 4,000 years ago, for in Christ we have become heirs of the promise which God made to him.
These, then, are the results of being ‘in Christ’, and they speak with powerful relevance to us today. For our generation is busy developing a philosophy of meaninglessness. It is fashionable nowadays to believe (or to say you believe) that life has no meaning, no purpose. There are many who admit that they have nothing to live for. They do not feel that they belong anywhere, or, if they belong, it is to the group known as ‘the unattached’. They class themselves as ‘outsiders’, ‘misfits’. They are without anchor, security or home. In biblical language, they are ‘lost’.
To such people comes the promise that in Christ we find ourselves. The unattached become attached. They find their place in eternity (related first and foremost to God as His sons and daughters), in society (related to each other as brothers and sisters in the same family) and in history (related also to the succession of God’s people down the ages). 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, although radical theologians repudiate the concept and we must be careful how we interpret it, is a God ‘above’ us, 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.
So conversion, although supernatural in its origin, is natural in its effects. It does not disrupt nature, but fulfils it, for it puts me where I belong. It relates me to God, to man and to history. It enables me to answer the most basic of all human questions, ‘Who am I?’ and to say, ‘In Christ I am a son of God. In Christ I am united to all the redeemed people of God, past, present and future. In Christ I discover my identity. In Christ I find my feet. In Christ I come home.’
29. That the use of the heis (‘one person’) in verse 28 rather than the neuter hen (‘one thing’) is no accident is shown by this verse. Grammatically, it says if you are Christ’s, but the meaning is stronger than this. We might almost paraphrase ‘if you are part of Christ’s body’. Paul is going to apply to the collective whole of the Christian church that which he has previously predicated of Christ in person, that is, the inheritance of the Abrahamic promise. Those who in this way are Christ’s are (collectively) the ‘offspring’ (singular again) mentioned in the famous passage in Genesis, and so the ‘heirs’ (plural, for we severally enjoy the benefits) in fulfilment of God’s promise. This in itself will show that Paul’s insistence on the use of the singular in 3:16 is more an exegetic device than anything else. Once we see that the primary reference is to Christ, Paul is prepared to allow that there is a secondary and collective reference to all Christians, as being ‘in Christ’.
29. Then are ye Abraham’s seed. This is not intended to convey the idea, that to be a child of Abraham is better than to be a member of Christ,—but to repress the pride of the Jews, who gloried in their privilege, as if they alone were the people of God. They reckoned no distinction higher than to belong to the race of Abraham; and this very distinction he makes to be common to all who believe in Christ. The conclusion rests on this argument, that Christ is the blessed seed, in whom, as we have said, all the children of Abraham are united. He proves this by the universal offer of the inheritance to them all, from which it follows, that the promise includes them among the children. It deserves notice, that, wherever faith is mentioned, it is always in relation to the promise.
3:29 / Paul asserts that the Galatian believers belong to Christ, which means that they are Abraham’s seed. The word “seed” is plural and brings to mind Paul’s comments in 3:16. In that verse Paul argued that the promise was given to the singular “seed,” Christ. Now Paul includes the Galatian believers in that promise on the basis of their belonging to Christ. The key element for receiving the promise of inheritance is whether or not one is “in Christ,” or, as Paul puts it here, “belongs to Christ.” Those who are in Christ are the heirs. Paul’s use of the simple present tense, you are, highlights his desire to convince the Galatians to acknowledge and embrace the wondrous new life they have.
29 Paul now comes full circle, unfolding the logical consequences of the preceding discussion for the question under debate in Galatia, namely, Who are the heirs of the divine promises? Answer: “And if you are of Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs in accordance with promise.” English translations typically understand “if you are of Christ” to mean “if you belong to Christ” (taking “of Christ” as a genitive of possession, so NRSV, NIV, CEB; see also NLT, ESV). The preceding material, however, might more readily dispose the hearer to understand the meaning as “if you are a part of the larger whole that is Christ” (a “wholative” genitive, also called a partitive genitive). Paul has been speaking of the many, both Jews and gentiles, being incorporated together into Christ, even being “plunged into Christ” through baptism.
Paul has been addressing this question from the outset of chapter 3, first calling the Galatian converts to remember their actual experience of receiving the Spirit and of God’s working in their midst (3:1–5)—in other words, to remember that they had already received what was promised (3:14). He went on to demonstrate from Scripture that “those who exhibit trust,” following Abraham’s example, are Abraham’s genuine sons and daughters (3:7) and receive the blessing along with Abraham (3:9). He demonstrated from a close reading of the promises themselves that God bequeathed this blessing upon Abraham and upon a particular offspring of Abraham, and not Abraham’s descendants generally, such that those who joined themselves to that particular Seed (Christ) joined themselves to the heir, to share the inheritance (3:15–18). He returns to this argument, claiming that he has now demonstrated what he had set out to prove, much as a mathematician signs “Q.E.D.” at the conclusion of a mathematical proof. In baptism, the Galatian converts joined themselves to Christ, the Seed of Abraham, thereby becoming collectively that Seed of Abraham to whom God gave the promise, the true heirs of God’s promise of the Spirit and of righteousness and, thereby, the life that the Spirit was given to nurture and bring to completion (3:29). There is nothing more that Torah observance or circumcision could do for the Galatian Christians, save undo the work of the Spirit in their midst.
A major goal for Paul in Galatians is to demonstrate that the social lines of division created by the distinctions made between Jew and gentile and enforced by the regulations of Torah for keeping the two groups separate are transcended in the new community formed in Christ, with the result that the regulatory principles of the “old creation” (even those once given by God!) no longer have authority over relationships in the community of the “new creation” (Gal 6:15). Paul’s vision continues to challenge the global Christian community wherever Christians allow longstanding ethnic and racial divisions, prejudices, and hostilities to guide their interactions with one another ahead of our unity in Christ. To name just the largest of a herd of elephants in the room for American Christianity, Christians of European descent and Christians of African descent often find the history of race relations in America regulating and restricting their relationships to a far greater extent than their mutual experience of being submerged into Christ and adopted into God’s one family. Paul’s vision challenges us all to work very diligently, and in the Spirit’s power, to love one another as sisters and brothers—and address the very real issues that continue to plague race relations in America from that mutual love and commitment—rather than continue to live out the scripts that the broken domination systems of America have written for us over the centuries. “New creation” is indeed waiting to be birthed in this regard.
One could rewrite the preceding paragraph, changing what is required, again and again in country after country. In Sri Lanka, it is the challenge to live and love as brothers and sisters in Christ first, rather than as Sinhalese and Tamils in line with the scripts written for these ethnic groups over decades of alienating practices and civil war. Whatever its particular local manifestation, Paul’s vision calls Christians to take the necessary steps to come to a place where Christ’s actions on behalf of Christians from both groups (or from multiple groups) are valued more highly and regulate interaction more completely than the history of those groups as written in and by “this present, evil age.”
Paul goes on to include two other pairs reflective of social divisions and vast inequalities. He denies any prescriptive relational value to the labels “slave” and “free person” in the Christian community. While Paul in the context of the Roman Empire could not abolish slavery per se any more than he could abolish the valuing of ethnic distinctions in the world at large, he could urge members of the new community in Christ to reject those distinctions and the regulatory weight they exercised on the lives of individuals and on their interrelationships. Such urging is seen most clearly in his letter to Philemon. Tragically read in ways that supported the institution of slavery in the antebellum American South, this letter actually challenged Philemon forcefully to make his own Christian identity real by honoring the new identity of the newly converted Onesimus as a brother above—and even in place of—their former relationship of master and slave. Christians are challenged by Paul’s vision not to allow the socioeconomic or caste divisions in their societies to limit, constrain, or regulate the life of and relationships within the community of the new creation.236 This community is called to order its common life in ways that demonstrate the lack of stratification (and the affinities and avoidances such stratification nurtures) among those whom God has made sisters and brothers in the one family of God.
Finally, while the physical differences between, and hence the division of humanity into, “male and female” are inherent in nature (see Aristotle, Politics 1.2 [1252a25–32]) and perhaps even in God’s design for creation itself (Gen 1:27), the expectations that relegate females to supporting roles are not. These are, instead, inherent in the fall and the curse (see Gen 3:16c). A Christian husband and wife are first and foremost fellow heirs of the gift of life and are called to bestow mutual honor (1 Pet 3:7), and on that basis to extend mutual submission (Eph 5:21). This mutuality extends, of course, into the larger life of the Christian community, which is to become a place where one’s immersion into Christ and one’s responsiveness to the Holy Spirit—and not one’s gender—guide how one will contribute, and be valued as a contributor, to the life of the church.238 We can look to certain scriptural texts for support in resisting this vision, but when we do so, we should also bear in mind that the rival teachers could and did do so as well.
In the one family that God has created in Christ, the dividing walls of ethnicity are torn down, social prejudices are neutralized, and gender inequalities and male chauvinism are negated. Paul challenges us to continue to examine our hearts and our practice along these lines, asking continually, what would life in our congregation (and all its components) look like if we approached all such issues from the position articulated in Gal 3:26–28 and committed ourselves to live out fully this facet of the baptismal life, the new creation? Does our practice perpetuate these divisions and the social inequalities they inscribe, or does our practice challenge them, witnessing to the “new humanity” being formed in Christ in their communities, where Christ is all and in all?
29 As those who are united to Christ and who participate in the new existence made possible by him, believers “thus belong to Christ,” and since Christ is the true offspring of Abraham (v. 16b), those who thus belong to Christ are collectively also Abraham’s true “issue,” and as such individually heirs in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.
Thus the new dispensation of faith is described in these verses (26–29) as one in which believers become sons of God through faith, since they are united to Christ by baptism, being constituted thereby Abraham’s true offspring and therefore heirs of the promised inheritance.
Before going further in Paul’s argument we pause to note several important considerations that arise from vv. 23–29.
(1) V. 24 states, again, that justification is through faith, but a comparison of v. 22 and vv. 23f. reveals a further point. The theme of imprisonment is repeated from v. 22a and strengthened in v. 23, and the divine purpose is described both as the imparting of the promise through faith to those who believe (v. 22b) and as justification by faith (v. 24b): just as “through faith” in v. 24b corresponds to the same phrase in v. 22b (where it is paraphrased by NEB), so also “that we might be justified” (v. 24, RSV) corresponds to “that the promise … might be given to those who believe” (NASB). This means that the “promise” of v. 22b is to be understood as the promised blessing of justification; this is in harmony with our conclusion reached earlier (on v. 22) that the promise there has to do with the righteousness mentioned in v. 21. Therefore, justification by faith is seen to be the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, a conclusion which is in line with our earlier observation (on 3:8) that the promise to Abraham implicitly involves and anticipates the doctrine of justification by faith.
(2) From vv. 26–29 it is seen that believers are individually God’s sons and collectively the true offspring of Abraham. They are God’s sons since by faith they have been incorporated into Christ, the Son of God, and they are collectively the true seed of Abraham since, by virtue of their faith-union with Christ, they are one person in him who is the true “issue” of Abraham (cf. v. 16). Materially, therefore, God’s sons are also the true issue of Abraham and sonship to Abraham is identical with sonship to God; since the promise is fulfilled in sonship to Abraham (v. 29c), it is fulfilled in sonship to God. But we have just seen that the promise is fulfilled in justification, and earlier (on vv. 7–14) that it is fulfilled in reception of the Spirit; hence, justification by faith, reception of the Spirit by faith, and becoming sons of God by faith are intimately linked together as different expressions for the fulfillment of the promise. From this we may infer that these three are not separate and distinct experiences but closely interwoven parts or aspects of the single experience of faith-union with Christ. Experientially, they take place at the same time in fulfillment of the same promise; logically, however, they are distinguishable and their logical relationships to one another will become clear in the next section of the text (4:1–7).
(3) The promise to Abraham is seen to have a double fulfillment. From the salvation-historical point of view, it is fulfilled in Christ, the promised seed (v. 16), and in all those who are comprised in him (v. 29). Experientially considered, on the other hand, it is fulfilled in the individual believer’s threefold experience just referred to: justification, reception of the Spirit, becoming a son of God. These two points of view are, of course, complementary: the latter takes place in the individual when he comes to be “in Christ,” an incorporation effected by faith. Hence it is by faith-union with Christ that the individual aligns himself with the central event of salvation history and partakes of the benefits accruing therefrom.
(4) The principle of justification by faith is again presented within the framework of salvation history as that which comes into force in the new dispensation, which is sharply set off from the earlier dispensation at the point where the Christ-event cuts into history. The coming of Christ as the ground of salvation also ushers in the principle of faith as the means of justification, and this is set over against the function of law which held sway until the coming of Christ and the revelation of faith: the coming of Christ meant the cessation of law, so that the principle of justifying faith could take over. This division of history into two parts, with Christ as the line of demarcation, is connected with Paul’s interpretation of the apocalyptic doctrine of the aeons: the present evil age (cf. 1:4) is still dominated by law, but in Christ the age to come has dawned and the law has ceased to be valid for those who through union with Christ already exist in the age to come.
heirs of the promise
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (3:29)
The spiritual promise of eternal salvation and blessing given to Abraham belongs to all those who belong to Christ. They are all heirs according to that promise, which is fulfilled in Christ. This is not a reference to the promises given to Abraham regarding the land (Gen. 12:1; 13:14–15; 17:8), but refers to the spiritual blessings that come to all who, being justified by faith just as Abraham was (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3–11), will inherit the spiritual promises given to Abraham. Not all the physical seed of Abraham will receive the promises of salvation (Rom. 9:6–11), but many who are not physical seed of Abraham will receive them by coming to God by faith as he did, thereby becoming his spiritual offspring.
Those who are children of God are “heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Christ’s inheritance belongs to “all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32), His fellow “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). They are “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13), the promise of inheriting God Himself. “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup,” exulted David (Ps. 16:5).
In his vision on Patmos, John “heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.… He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son’ ” (Rev. 21:3–4, 7).
John Stott lucidly summarizes his comments on this passage in the following words: “We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ” (The Message of Galatians [London: Inter-Varsity, 1968], p. 102).
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