According to complementarians, Galatians 3:28 is not about equality in Christ, but about all of us being in the same “boat” of salvation. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) has made quite an effort to try to demolish Galatians 3:28 as a basis of spiritual equality outside of salvation. Instead, they say that this verse is only about the equality we have in Christ in regards to salvation. In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood pages 71-72, John Piper and Wayne Grudem comment:
The context of Galatians 3:28 makes abundantly clear the sense in which men and women are equal in Christ: they are equally justified by faith (v. 24), equally free from the bondage of legalism (v. 25), equally children of God (v. 26), equally clothed with Christ (v. 27), equally possessed by Christ (v. 29), and equally heirs of the promises to Abraham (v. 29)…Galatians 3:28 does not abolish gender-based roles established by God and redeemed by Christ.
But is Galatians 3:28 only about equality in salvation? Let’s have a close look at the book of Galatians to find out if this is true.
Paul speaks about agitators who had come into the community and had thrown the Galatians into confusion (Galatians 5:12). These agitators were false brothers, Judaizers and the “party of the circumcision” and they had come into the congregation to spy on the liberty that the Christians had in order to persuade them to come back into bondage.
Galatians 2:4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
Paul describes in his letters some of the areas that the Judaizers were working to bring Christians into bondage and causing the Jews to treat some with prejudice. In Galatians 5:2, these men were trying to bring circumcision into the congregation of Gentiles. Also in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 these followers of the Jewish oral law were trying to silence women in the congregation and they wanted to stop women from public learning.
In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul says that the “party of the circumcision” had even influenced Peter so that he withdrew himself and wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles. When the Judaizers came along, (Paul calls them false brethren in Galatians 2:4), Peter was influenced to turn away from the Gentiles treating them as second class citizens unworthy of fellowship. Paul soundly rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy.
The issue was not about salvation but about sanctification – the outworking of our faith. Were the new Gentile converts required to follow the Jewish laws to progress in their faith? Paul writes in chapter two that there is an acknowledgment that salvation comes through faith:
Galatians 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus…
Yet even with receiving salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, the Galatians were being influenced to “work out their salvation” by buying into the bondage of the false brethren that sanctification now comes through the works of the Law. Paul rebukes them in chapter three:
Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
Galatians 3:2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish:? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
In verse five Paul continues to deal with the outworking of the faith by giving the example of Abraham:
Galatians 3:5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
The Holy Spirit working miracles among them was not given to them because of the works of the law. The evidence of their sonship and the blessings they received after salvation was the very thing that the Old Testament predicted. Paul writes:
Galatians 3:8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”
It isn’t just salvation that comes by faith but sanctification allowing one to abide in Christ by faith. Paul emphasizes that the living-out part of our sanctification must come by faith.
Galatians 3:11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
Paul is not saying here that one comes into righteousness by faith, although this is certainly true. Paul is saying that one must LIVE by faith. This is the outworking of their faith and the very reason that Paul was chastising the Galatians who wanted to live out their faith by adding works.
Paul then instructs the Galatians that the way you live out your Christianity will either make you justified or condemned. Those who are righteous will live by faith (verse 11). Those who live out the law after being justified by faith will revisit the curse.
Galatians 3:12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.”
Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”–
Notice that Paul is talking about the outworking of Christianity. He is talking about the practices that follow salvation. The salvation issue had already been dealt with since the Galatians had received forgiveness of sins through Christ. The issue was now how do they live? Paul says that if they go back to the law, and practice living out the law, they will receive a curse. Since they were redeemed from the curse of the law, they were not to go back to the law, but work out their sanctification through faith.
Paul then equates the outworking of our Christianity with our inheritance.
Galatians 3:18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.
In Galatians 3:21 Paul speaks about the promises (plural) of God. Then in verse 25 Paul clearly continues to speak about sanctification – living the life of faith after salvation.
Galatians 3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Notice here that Paul is speaking about what comes after salvation. Now that faith has come what happens next? Now that they have salvation do they go back to the rules and regulations that kept them in bondage before coming to Christ? Paul says no. After salvation comes a life of faith that gives them their inheritance in Christ. Paul then instructs them on what they are:
Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
This is an amazing verse. The inheritance is sonship. There are not sons of God and daughters of God. There are only sons. Each one inherits the kingdom in the same way – all as sons of God. The living out of the faith is clothing themselves with Christ.
Galatians 3:27 For all of you who are baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Baptized into Christ is salvation. Clothing ourselves with Christ is our living out our faith as sons of God.
Now comes the verse that some want to make only about salvation:
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus
Galatians 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:28 is not about salvation, it is about the inheritance that follows salvation. The clear difference between each group in Galatians 3:28 is not salvation but inheritance. The Old Testament provided for salvation for those of the nations who would join themselves with Israel in serving the one true God. The Old Testament also never taught a prejudice against women in regards to their salvation either. Lastly slaves were given the right to participate in the passover sacrifice along with the household. They too could be saved along with the family of Israel. Salvation was not an issue. Inheritance was the issue.
Galatians 3:28 contains a negation of three categories that reflected common ways of distinguishing humanity among the Jews. The Jewish cycle of morning prayers for the men began this way: “Blessed be He that He did not make me a Gentile; blessed be He that He did not make me a boor [i.e., an ignorant peasant or a slave]; blessed be He that He did not make me a woman.”
What was the problem with each one of these categories that caused the men to rejoice that they were not a Gentile, a slave or a woman? In each one of the groups, the inheritance had been held back. Gentiles did not inherit land in the nation of Israel. Slaves were not part of the inheritance and neither were women. But Paul is saying that we must recognize that just as each has received salvation in the body of Christ as all are already acknowledged as saved, so too must each of the underprivileged groups together with the free Jewish men receive by faith the inheritance as sons.
Gentiles inherit all of the promises of Abraham right alongside the Jews. Women inherit all of the promises and rights of sons alongside the men. Slaves inherit the kingdom promises of Abraham right alongside the free born. Just as all have been brought into salvation, so the outworking of salvation, the sanctification and privileges of sonship belong to all.
Paul carries on this important topic into chapter four. Paul writes:
Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
Galatians 4:5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Galatians 4:6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Galatians 4:7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 should be clear. The outworking of our faith needs to be by faith and not by bondage to man’s laws. We are each the inheritors of all of the promises of God because in Christ all of us are sons! It is the issue of inheritance that made sons the ones to be desired. It was never an issue of women not having salvation but not having inheritance rights.
How should this look regarding an outworking of faith? The privileges of having spiritual gifts through the distribution from the Holy Spirit belongs to all of us. The privileges of ruling the world to come and judging the angels belongs to all of us, not just the men (1 Cor. 6:2, 3) The privileges of servanthood and giving of ourselves for the benefit of the body of Christ belongs to all of us. We are all sons, all heirs, all equal.
When we all come into unity of the knowledge of our equality of inheritance, we will not hold some back because they do not have the same equality in the body of Christ. All sons may teach, all sons may serve, all sons may inherit every part of the kingdom together. And women too are those sons!