Galatians 4:1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
I must confess that being a son of God is not often the primary way I think of myself. I can too easily let my sense of identity get tied up in other things. To get a little personal here, I can be too easily shaken by what other people think of me. And, what I think they think of me. Out of a desire to please all, I can enslave myself in some way to the opinions of all. I believe the right way to respond to someone’s questioning, or criticism of me, is to consider it carefully, discern the truth in it. Don't take it too personally. But it's not always easy to reach that place. It can be a struggle.
But if only I could grasp this truth, that I am a son of God – I know that would change everything. It would change everything because God – the God – He has adopted me, He loves me with an unending love, He has chosen me and called me His own. I am a son of God.
When I fail to remember that, then like I said, the opinions of others can become too important to me. But that's not all that can happen. Also, when I forget who I am according to God, I can be prone to judge my worth as a person, my right to exist or not, by how productive I am, by how I'm doing at contributing to the world around me. Am I achieving success in the responsibilities God’s given me? Am I loving and leading my wife well? Am I being a blessing to her, day in and day out? Am I being a blessing to friends, family? Does my life point others to Christ? Am I serving those outside of my most comfortable social circles? Neighbors? Other people I encounter? Is my work contributing enough to the church? Am I doing enough?
I know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him, so I know that He brings Himself glory even through my sins, my failures. But even knowing that, success and failure – by my definitions, of course – can hold too much sway over me. They can be too important to me. And so, I have to ask myself: where does my identity lie?
Now, I've been using the word "I" a lot here. But I think – and hope – that I’m not alone in this. Do you ever fret over the opinions of others? Someone says something, or gives you a look, and that thing starts to dominate your thoughts. Does your sense of self-worth rely too much on "successes" and "failures"? On life achievements, perhaps?
The Galatian people that Paul's writing to had similar struggles. On one hand, they were being pressured by some Jewish teachers into living a certain way. The pressure of those teachers' expectations weighed heavy on them; they wanted to please them. We learn in chapter 4 verse 17 that the Galatians were made much of by these teachers, and clearly the Galatians put great value on being complimented by others. But even setting aside the issue of trying to please others, the Galatians also had this struggle of having their identity rest in achievements. They were trying to fulfill the Law. They were doing things to try to earn a good place before God. They were people pleasers, and they sought their rest in achievements. And these things were leading them straight into slavery.
Christ had given the Galatians a new identity, as children of God. But that identity became secondary to them. It wasn't enough for them. Is it enough for us? We can endlessly toil to find fulfillment in being liked by others, or in amassing an impressive resume, but true rest, and true peace, will not be found in these frail identities. It will only be found in believing what God says about us. And God says we are His – His adopted children. His beloved.
The heart of God is that His people would know they are His sons and daughters. His heart is that we would put away slavery, and live as His children. This is what God wants for us. He wants us to know who we are to Him – which is to say, He wants us to know who we are to the only One who has the authority to define us: our Creator, our Lord, our King. We are His sons. We are His daughters. If our faith is in Him, this is who we are. Over and above anything and everything else, this is who we are.
In our passage today, Paul wants his readers to consider the depths of what it means to be justified freely and fully, and adopted into God's family. He wants his readers to know the freedom that comes with that. In verse 7 he says, "you are no longer a slave, but a son" Seems kind of simple, right? "You're not a slave, you're a son – stop trying to justify yourself by the Law. You're no longer enslaved under the Law, because you're a child of God!"
It seems simple, but here's the challenge Paul's facing: in Old Testament times, the people of God were both bound by the Law and called God's children. The Galatians would have known this, they would have been told this by the Judaizers, their Jewish teachers. So any reasonable Galatian might wonder, "Who's to say anything has changed? Surely being a child of God and being under the Law can still go hand in hand." That line of thinking is where Paul's illustration comes in.
In the first few verses of chapter 4, Paul gives an illustration to explain that change has come. He explains how things are different now, in Christ. They're different from how they were before Christ came.
Galatians 4:1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
Inheritances are not as big a deal for us today as they were back in Paul's time, but let's try to put ourselves into this scenario.
If you're a child, who has been promised an inheritance, you don't actually get the inheritance until you grow up. So despite being the heir to an inheritance, you live your life just like any other child – which is to say, you live under the rules and restrictions of those in authority over you. You have restrictions on how you spend your time, you have restrictions on what clothes you wear, what music you listen to, what you do for fun. On and on the restrictions go. You may be heir to the biggest fortune in the world, but as a child, you remain restricted.
Paul uses this illustration to show how a child like this, heir to a fortune, is restricted just like people were restricted under the Law before Christ came. Charles Spurgeon writes, "The law followed the Israelite into every corner and dealt with him upon every point; it had to do with his garments, his meat, his drink, his bed, his board, and everything about him. It treated him like a boy at school who has a rule for everything."
This is what Paul means when he mentions being "enslaved to the elementary principles of the world." A little further down, in verses 9 and 10 we learn that these "elementary principles of the world" involved the rituals and practices of the Law, with special days, months, seasons, and years. The Israelite people, under the Law, were restricted. Now, children need restrictions, right? If a child is entitled to an inheritance, then giving them control of that inheritance when they're, say, 8-years-old, wouldn't be the best idea, right? Because what would happen? They would waste the whole inheritance. They'd bring themselves to financial ruin. Without the restriction of authorities over them, a child with an inheritance would bring themselves to ruin. In the same way, the Israelites, without the restriction of the Law, would have brought themselves to ruin.
Now, I can say that pretty confidently, not just because of what Paul says here, but also because of the very first book in the Bible. Have anyone read the book of Genesis lately? In Genesis, people didn't have the Law yet – and it was pretty crazy as a result. The amount of evil that reigned in those days eventually led to the Flood, to God wiping everything out.
We've talked before about the purpose of the Law, according to Paul. It was given to point people to their need for a Savior, but it was also given to restrain sin, to keep sinners from sinning as badly as they would if the Law didn't exist.
The Israelites needed the restricting of the Law, because without it they would have destroyed themselves. They would have brought themselves to ruin. And, of course, if we were in their shoes, we would have done no better.
So, the Israelites needed the restricting of the Law like a child needs the restricting of rules. But eventually every child grows up. A transition takes place. And so Paul's illustration continues: just like an heir, moving from childhood to adulthood, receives their inheritance, so do God's people, moving from the Law to Christ, receive the inheritance of God.
Galatians 4:3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
In the fullness of time, children grow up. They become adults. They may receive an inheritance, but certainly they receive a new level of independence, and freedom. That transition is a lot like the transition from being under the Law to being in Christ.
Just as a child needs parental authority, so did the Jews need the Law's countless rules and regulations. But in the fullness of time, Christ came to bring them something new. He came to move His people from being slaves of the Law into being children of God Almighty.
Galatians 4:5 [Christ] came to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Although the Jews, before Christ came, were called God's children, His relationship with them was clearly different than it is now. They had limited access to God their Father, while we have full access. As Paul highlights, we have the Spirit of God in our hearts. God Himself dwells with us in a way unlike He ever did with the Israelite people. How is this possible? We're sinners, just like the Israelites were. We're no better than they. So, how can a Holy God be so near? How can our relationship with Him be so intimate?The answer is Jesus. It's because of Jesus.
God dwells with us, because in Jesus, we are made new. We're not who we were. We've been redeemed. We're counted righteous in Christ. God dwells with us, because Jesus washed our sins away and reconciled us to God. We are new in Christ. Freed from old bonds of slavery. Freed from old barriers that kept us from God. "You are no longer a slave, but a son", "You are no longer a slave, but a daughter."
We're made new in Christ, as sons and daughters of God. If we're honest though, we must confess that we don't always live like sons and daughters of God. But the good news is that who we are does not rest on our shoulders. Who we are is not ultimately determined by us. It's not determined by how many people approve of us. It's not determined by our achievements. It's not even determined by our level of obedience. We are who we are because of God. God and God alone gets to define us.
Look again at these verses in Galatians, and look at God's fingerprints all over everything, all over this new life we've been given.
Verse 4 - "when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son" Verse 5 - Jesus came "to redeem those...under the law" Also verse 5 - Jesus came "that we might receive adoption" by who? By God! Verse 6 - "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" We cry out, "Abba! Father!" Through the Spirit of God. Verse 7 - "you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."
It's all God. Start to finish, it's God. It's Father, Son, Spirit, working together to make us who we are. And who we are is children of God. His beloved. His precious, adopted children.
What's left to us? Faith. That is, believing that these things are true. Believing. Works will flow out of faith, certainly. Changed lives will flow out of faith. But it's all still just faith. It's just believing that God is God. That the gospel is true.
What's left to us is to be who we are. God says we're His children – let's be His children! Let's have childlike love for our Father, childlike faith in our Father. Ours is a personal relationship, an intimate relationship. That's why we cry, "Abba! Father!"
Quoting Spurgeon again. He says, "I think this sweet word, “Abba,” was chosen to show us that we are to be very natural with God, and not stilted and formal. We are to be very affectionate and come close to Him, and not merely say “patçr,” which is a cold Greek word, but say “Abba,” which is a warm, natural, loving word, fit for one who is a little child with God, and makes bold to lie in His bosom and look up into His face and talk with holy boldness. “Abba” is not a word, somehow, but a babe’s lisping. Oh, how near we are to God when we can use such a speech! How dear He is to us and dear we are to Him when we may thus address Him saying, like the great Son Himself, “Abba, Father.”
Do you know your Father like that? He longs for you to know Him so.
He longs for us to forsake bonds of slavery – slavery to sin, slavery to people pleasing, slavery to works-based living. His heart for us is that we would know we are His sons and daughters, His beloved.
So what does this change? What does a life lived, knowing you're a child of God, look like? There's a lot that could be said, but here are just a few quick things.
In times of weakness, knowing we're children of God means we can be content with weakness, because our Father is plenty strong. And His power is shown as all the more glorious when it's working through weak people.
What about in times of intense suffering? In those times, we tend to focus on God's seeming absence in our circumstances. But if we believe He is our Abba, Father, then rather than blaming Him for the evil and hardship of this broken world, we instead will turn to Him for comfort! He'll be our refuge and strength. He is our help. He is our Abba, Father. There's nowhere better to be than in His arms.
Lastly, just in normal, every day life, what a load off our shoulders it is to remember that our identity rests in being a son or daughter of God. People don't accept you? God does! Your accomplishments in life aren't what you wanted them to be? Rejoice! Because nothing is wasted on God. Your Father is working all things together for good!
So do not fret, and do not fear. "You are no longer a slave, but a daughter." "You are no longer a slave, but a son."