By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Galatians 3:15-22
15 Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. 17My point is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.
21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Rights, as a political notion, are basically foreign to Scripture. The closest thing we get in the Bible to our modern notion of rights is found in comments about inheritance by the biblical writers. St. Paul speaks of a promise of inheritance that was given by God to Abraham for his seed. In his day, many of his contemporaries believed that, by being children of Abraham, they had a right to inherit the promises of God — if they abided by the Torah.
St. Paul turns their assumption of rights on its head. He boldly suggests the promies of God have been inherited by one person alone, “who is Christ.” Christ fulfills Torah, and Christ alone inherits the promise. No one else can claim entitlement to it. That the Torah came after the promise does not undermine the fact that the inheritance comes through the promise, through God’s gracious choice alone.
Life and life abundant, God’s gift, cannot be earned, not even through obedience to the law. If it cannot be earned, and it cannot be claimed as a rightful inheritance, what hope does anyone have?
“What was promised through faith in Jesus Christ” is available “to those who believe.” You see, merit is exclusive: some people earn rewards while those who do not earn them go without. Rights of inheritance are similar: only those with a rightful claim to someone’s estate can possess it. In order for the promise given to Abraham to be universal, God goes beyond the limitations of both merit and rights, and invests the full promise in Christ for all who believe, an offer of hope that is available to every child, woman, and man who unite themselves to Christ, not through the law, but by faith.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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