I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Galatians, chapter 4. Galatians 4, beginning in verse 1. Galatians is in the New Testament – Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians. Galatians 4, beginning in verse 1. As we have been listening to the book of Galatians, we have been hearing how through the grace of God in Jesus Christ we have a new freedom and become part of a new set of relationships. And it is that new relationship that we will be hearing about this morning in Galatians 4. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
These are the very words of God from the book that we love:
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the entire estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who are by nature not God. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved to them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Say these words after me: So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child.
[pause] let that sink in a moment.
So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child.
Before – before God sent his Son, before we knew God – or rather were known by God – before the set time had fully come, we were slaves. But now, we have been adopted into God’s household as a son or daughter. We are told, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Before, we were slaves, we were orphans, but now we are beloved children.
A friend of mine had the joy a few years back of traveling to Ethiopia with his wife to adopt their daughter. As he talked about the experience of adoption, he talked about the desire to have children, the call by God for all Christians to care for the widows, orphans, and alien. But he also said this, “But lest put be our only feeling toward orphans, we should consider that on a different level, all of us are orphans. The God of the Bible has no “natural” or “begotten” children apart from Jesus the Son; all the rest of us need to be adopted.”
In a very real sense, it was not just a little girl from Ethiopia that needed to be adopted, but all of us. It is common in Christian circles today to talk about how every person is a child of God, but the Bible never talks that way. We are all made in the image of God, as it says in Genesis 1. We all have dignity and worth. But we are not naturally children of God. We need to be adopted.
By being united to Christ, we become sons and daughters of God by adoption. So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child.
When Paul describes the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ, he often uses the language of adoption. The change in legal status from orphan, slave, estranged, to child through the person and work of Jesus places us in a fundamentally different relationship with God and gives us a whole new identity.
Maybe this seems like an overstatement. What really is the big deal about adoption? Let’s look at an adapted parable from the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and see if it helps:
Imagine a day laborer lives in a great kingdom. He never dreams that the emperor even knows he exists. He would think it an incredible event just to see the emperor once – the kind of story he would tell his children and grandchildren about. But suppose that the emperor did something surprising. He sent for the day laborer and told him he wanted him to be his son-in-law. What then? He would be puzzled and confused. Him? The Son-in-law of the emperor? It would be strange and bizarre, perhaps the emperor wanted to make a fool out of him, make him the laughingstock of the whole city.
An occasional visit from the emperor would be great. The day laborer could then keep his comfortable life, keep his friends, keep his identity, but then have it elevated by the honor of the emperor. But for the emperor to make him his son would be to change all of that.
In this way, adoption was offense to him. It was too much closeness, too much responsibility. What if he looked a fool? Couldn’t the king just send him some money, or a fancy trinket he could show his friends? But the king is asking so much more – he wants his whole identity, his whole life – he wants to make him a child of the king.
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship.
God, through Jesus Christ, adopts us as his children. This is huge. No wonder the Galatians faced the temptation to go back to the old ways. The old way of doing things made sense. Being a slave made sense – you did the right thing and you get reward, the bad thing and you get punished. You keep your normal life, normal identity, normal relationship. God, the King, stays an occasional accessory – to be pulled out when need or when it seems convenient.
But adoption as sons and daughters of God asks for and gives so much more – your full identity, your whole life.
God asks for everything – everything – in order to give us everything. Instead of slaves bound by obedience, we are children with an intimate relationship with our Father in Heaven. In fact, we don’t even pray on our own, but we hear that God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so that when we pray ‘Abba, Father,’ it is God’s Spirit praying in us.
So you are no longer slaves, but God’s child. This is the good news of the gospel – God brings us into a new status, a new relationship as children of God – Beloved – with all the privileges and responsibilities of a natural born child.
The radical truth of the gospel is that we are given a new identity and out of that identity, we live as new persons. If the day laborer accepts this new identity as the son-in-law of the Emperor, his life will never be the same. He will have to live into his new role in this new family. And he will have to live out of this role in all of his other relationships. By virtue of this act of the Emperor, the day laborer is no longer the same person. He is now the son of the King.
In a similar way, being adopted by God gives us a new identity. It is an identity that is firm and unshakeable – accomplished through the death of Christ on the cross. And it is an identity as God’s beloved child that we will spend the rest of our lives living into and living out of. To be part of the family of God, to be His Child, will make us new.
The way to live the Christian life is to remember who you are and what you are. So you are no longer slaves, but God’s child. Once, you were a slave, but now you are a son or daughter. Once you did not know God, but now you know God – or rather are known by God – and he has placed his Holy Spirit within you. How then can we turn back to the old way?
As we hear how radical the gift of adoption in Christ truly is, we can understand why Paul is so perplexed about the Galatians. They have been adopted as children of the king, but they have decided to go back to being slaves, to go back to the old identity that lets them keep God at arm’s length as an accessory to their identity, instead of letting God give them a whole new identity that is so much more than what they had before.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who are by nature not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved to them all over again?
So you are no longer slaves, but God’s child – then why are they turning back? Does that mean it wasn’t real at all, that they had never been adopted in the first place? I fear for you, Paul says.
We, like the Galatians, can be tempted to want to turn back to where it is safe, to keep God at arm’s length. God asks for everything, your whole life, 100%. He tells us elsewhere that whoever wants to save their life will lose it. The call is for everything – and that can be scary at times. It can seem easier to hold back, to want God only to visit when we need help or want to look god. But the promise, the new identity that God gives us is so much greater than what he calls us to leave behind. That doesn’t make it less painful, but it is the truth.
So you are no longer slaves, but God’s child. And as each of us struggles with our sin and struggles to surrender the whole of our lives to God, the question can spring up as to how do we know that we are children of God? How do I know that God is my loving Father?
How do I know that these promises, that this identity, is for me and not just for others?
How do we know we are adopted?
The Heidelberg Catechism describes true faith as “a wholehearted trust, which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel, that God has freely granted, not only to others but to me also, forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation.”
“not only to others but to me also” – How can we be confident that we have been adopted by God as his children – that we have received this forgiveness, this new identity, and welcomed into the family of God?
The answer is in verses 4-6:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
God sent his Son, we receive adoption to sonship. At the initiation of the Father, through the work of the Son, and in the power of the Spirit, we are adopted into the family of God – forgiven, cleansed, redeemed. Because we are his children, God sends his Spirit on us, and that Spirit calls out ‘Abba, Father.’
What begins with the work of God in Christ to redeem and adopt us ends with us crying out ‘Abba, Father’ – confessing our trust in the one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One is the cause, the other is the fruit. So we can trace it back. So if we have confess our faith in Jesus, if we call God our loving Father, we can be confident that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. And if it is the work of the Holy Spirit, then God has sent his Spirit into our hearts. And if God has sent his Spirit into our hearts, it is because we have been adopted as sons and daughters.
When we confess that we believe in Jesus Christ, it is a testimony to God’s work of adopting us into his family. It doesn’t make it happen, but it is confirmation that it has happened. We are God’s children.
And if we are, then we have a whole new identity a whole new life to be lived in deep, loving fellowship with God and for the glory of God.
May we all live this new identity in Christ. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.