“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In Galatians, Paul is battling opponents of the Galatian church in order for them to understand what the true good news is in both belief and in practice. At this point, his main point is now that we are all children of God, and therefore we are one.
It is here that Paul says this astounding statement about the function of the gospel. He says that because of the gospel, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
There’s something about the nature of the Christian faith which breaks down barriers in his society as well as ours (barriers being humanly constructed walls which keep us apart from each other either by saying we are better or worse than the other). Particularly, he sees the gospel breaking down:
- Racial and Ethnic Barriers (“no Jew nor Greek”)
- Socio-Economic Barriers (“neither slave nor free”)
- Gender barriers (“Male and female”)
The reason, again, is that we are all “one in Christ”.
This is beautiful theology, I think, but in my honest assessment of my own life and in the life of the American church, it remains a distant ideal, yet not a kingdom-reality.
This is something I didn’t realize growing up in a generally-homogenous congregation (both ethnically and socio-economically), where as far as I was concerned, was simply a place that I grew my faith and where God laid down the sovereign foundations of my life. But as I grew older, I saw that the nature of division the church was pretty similar to the nature of division in society, sometimes even worse.
And I share those reflections with Galatians 3:28 in mind now:
I saw that we segregate churches on race, and don’t often fellowship with Christians of different ethnicities. I saw that it is much more likely for Christians to marry people of different religions (yet similar race), than for them to marry of different race yet same religion. I saw that ethnic churches are completely ignorant of each other, and that there is more chance that they will interact perchance at a grocery store, than in worshiping God together. I saw that the church responds correctly to racist crimes done in America in the press and in social media, yet don’t realize that by virtue of maintaining our segregating ways, we contribute to the root issue in our society.
I saw that the church displayed a poorer sense of the gender equality of value than many places in the workforce or in politics, where women are often second-class citizens in the ministry of the church. I saw that despite that the fact that many of the poor living in America (lower-class or lower-middle-class) are in fact Christian, we do not fellowship with each other, and worse, we do not even like them.
For all of our present day conversation about what the true gospel is, perhaps we forgot that the true gospel is best tested not by words but by practice. And if, for this inspired piece of scripture, the gospel means unity among (and despite of) socio-economic lines, gender lines, and racial/ethnic lines, what in heaven’s name are we doing?
I’m writing not because I am currently living this kindgom reality of living in unity with Christians who are significantly different than me contrary to the barriers that our societies have constructed. But I’m writing because I’m convicted by the word of God which tells me that those very barriers are negligible in God’s eyes compared to the strength of love and unity as empowered by the true gospel.
And as diverse of a place America is, Christians can courageously put their faith in practice in this regards. Yet we are all sadly aware that the values of our culture have played a bigger role in shaping how we live out our faith amongst diverse communities of class, gender, and race–poorly, very poorly.
I suggest that the challenge today, if we say we really know what the gospel is, is whether we will live in obedience to the Bible and reach out beyond these barriers both individually and from our communities, or whether we will, to the detriment of God’s name, stay comfortable and safe in our American-constructed communities.