By Simon ManchesterSunday 9 Feb 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Galatians – 3:26 – 4:7
We are working our way through the Galatian letter and this morning we come to chapter 3 verse 26 – the subject of ‘Adoption’. Having God as your Father and being his child. If you forget everything that I say this morning – just remember the first sentence of our passage which is chapter 3 verse 26 where the Apostle says you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. That is the thrust of it.
Now as we come to this passage this morning,it is a very wonderful passage and we are in a very insecure world and most people are insecure. That’s why we tend to brag and boast and reinforce ourselves and explain ourselves and justify ourselves. Most of us are insecure and we are looking for ways to feel secure. Why is it that Christians can often seem or be more insecure than non Christians? Part of the reason for that is that we live in the same insecure world that non Christians live in and we are also people who believe in an Almighty God who sees everything,knows everything,is perfect and holy and therefore we feel the gulf between which non Christians don’t feel.
In some ways,therefore it is easier to de-stabilise a Christian than a non Christian. And one of the ways to do that is to remove the Good News of the Gospel which says you are actually secure because you have put your faith in Christ and introduce another kind of false gospel which tells you that God will approve of you if you jump certain hurdles and if you want to be in his good books or if you want to stay in his good books,you will need to jump the hurdles.
That’s why the Book of Galatians is such a wonderful book for us to study on these Sunday mornings because it’s where God stabilizes the de-stabilized. It’s where he gospels the doubter,comforts the confused. So we come to chapter 3 verse 26.
What we have seen so far,if you have been with us,- this is the 6th of 10 sermons in the Book of Galatians.
We have seen that Paul is shocked – that the Galatians would listen to a false gospel.
And then we have seen that he appeals to them to hold on to the true gospel and the true gospel,he says,is that you believe in Christ who died for you. And this is the key to being in God’s good books at the beginning,the middle and the end and that adding laws,rituals and hoops and hurdles is not the way to be in God’s good books.
Let me say two brief things about adoption before we get into the passage this morning to help you appreciate it. Let’s imagine this coming week you are facing the Chief Justice of NSW and you have actually committed a crime which is worthy of the death penalty – just imagine that.
And imagine you find yourself in a fairly forbidding Court Room and not only does the Chief Justice acquit you but he comes up to you afterwards and says ‘not only are you acquitted (and I am not just telling you to go home,I am not just saying get out of here) but I actually want you to come home since your are homeless and I want you to live with us and we will look after you every day for the rest of your life. It is a kind of absurd situation,really isn’t it?
Multiply that by a trillion and you are getting close to the absurdity of the gospel that the God of the Universe who is judge and father would acquit the person who puts their faith in Jesus and then adopt the person who puts their faith in Jesus. That’s why the more I think about this subject of adoption I realize that it’s either absolutely ridiculous or it’s unbelievably wonderful.
Unfortunately we sort of blunder on as though it’s moderately interesting but it’s either ridiculous or it’s incredible. I hope the Apostle Paul will show us that it’s incredible,true and wonderful.
Adoption is not a natural experience. You don’t become a part of God’s family by just being born into the world. You need to be re-born. Just because you are born you are not a part of God’s family,you are part of God’s creation. But to be part of God’s family you need to be re-born,you need to come to his Son and find that you are then re-born into the family of God.
And I don’t know if you have ever thought about this before but to be adopted is more wonderful than to be justified. Justification is one of the subjects in the church which we rightly rejoice in. It’s an incredible thing to be justified – to have your sin forgiven and to be credited with the righteousness of Christ. No wonder Martin Luther and the Reformers got excited about this but adoption is greater because justification is dealing with our first need which is to be acquitted by the Judge of the Universe but adoption is dealing with our greatest need which is to be welcomed by the God of the Universe.
Here is my second comment about adoption –
I don’t know how to communicate this – this morning.
I don’t actually know how to preach on this.
I don’t know how to get this home to me and to you.
I don’t know how to do it.
I don’t know how to speak cleverly enough.
I don’t know how to speak deeply enough.
I don’t know how to speak powerfully enough.
I don’t know how to do it.
I am struggling with all the time that I had this week to try and express the privilege of being adopted into God’s family.
The wonderful thing I discover in Galatians chapter 4 is that not only has Jesus brought believers into the family as a fact (and therefore the feeling is optional) but the Holy Spirit who comes into our hearts helps us to appreciate it slowly,surely and continually.
So God does what no preacher can ever do which is to send his Son so that people who believe would come into the family whether they feel it or not and then sent his Spirit into their hearts so that they would increasingly appreciate what God has done for us. I think this is a very very wonderful thing. Even if your experience of an earthly father was difficult or terrible or nonexistent,this will not,will not stop the reality of God being the perfect Father,nor will it stop you from becoming thrilled that God is your perfect father.
So “Adoption” is our subject – I wish it were Father’s Day – but it’s not and there are two points I have.
The first is from chapter 3:26-29 – The Meaning of Being God’s Children.
The second is from chapter 4:1-7 – The Experience of Being God’s Children.
Jim Packer says in his book “Knowing God” – if you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his father. If this is not the thought that controls his whole outlook on life,it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”
And since I read that earlier in the week,I have been thinking again and again as I drive and as I walk and I shave,what does it mean for me to be God’s child? What does it mean to have God as my father? It’s a very wonderful subject to meditate on.
So first of all – The Meaning of Being God’s Children – look at chapter 3 verse 26 –
Does the Apostle say in 3:26 ‘you are all sons of God through law keeping?’ – No he does not.
Does the Apostle say ‘you are all sons of God through hurdle jumping?’ – No he does not.
Does the Apostle say ‘you are all sons of God through turning up at church Sunday by Sunday by Sunday?’ – No he does not.
He says ‘you are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus’. And immediately you may say to yourself – Yes I understand this,I think I have faith,is my faith enough? Is my faith real? I don’t seem to have changed a lot – I seem to be still quite ungodly. Has my faith worked?
And the answer,I think,is to ask yourself this question – Have you heard the call of the gospel to take Jesus seriously as your Saviour and Lord? Have you heard the call of God to become a forgiven follower of Jesus? – You say ‘yes I have’.
Secondly,have you called back to the call? Have you called to God and said ‘I would like to be a forgiven follower of Jesus – I would like to have Jesus as my Saviour and Lord’ – you say I have.
And I want to say to you now you must take God’s Word seriously because he says that means you are his adopted child. And that means God’s Spirit has moved into your heart. And if you find yourself falling into sin or confusion after that,you have to go back to the Bible,not your brain,you have to go back to what Jesus did – not the way you are living.
I said last week in the closing prayer that I think one of the biggest challenges and problems in our Christian life is that we continue to move from the window that looks out to the cross to the mirror. We instinctively go to the mirror – the mirror – we find ourselves pre-occupied by looking at ourselves and it only took me a few seconds to say that and it only took you a few seconds to hear it but I would say to you that there are many here sitting here this morning and you are absolutely gripped by yourself. That’s the problem. We need to deliberately turn our minds away to the window that looks out to what Christ did and what God says.
When Paul says you are all sons in chapter 3 verse 26 – is that a little bit sexist? Is it hard for the women to get that? And I want to point out to you that sonship in the Bible means that you get the inheritance. So when the Bible says you are all sons (men,women,boys and girls) you are all sons – it’s simply Bible speak for your getting the inheritance.
So you have to do a mental adjustment. If you are a woman and you sing that hymn “Be Though My Vision” and you get to the line “I thy true son” – you say to yourself at that point – that means I am getting the inheritance.
And men have to do some adjusting too when they think of themselves as “the bride of Christ”. I look at some of the men in this church building and picture them in a wedding dress – it’s a very ugly and unattractive thought!! But they do the mental adjustment,don’t they? They say I am part of the bride of Christ. I think I can do the adjustment.
Well now in chapter 3 verse 27 we see another way of describing a Christian – that is a person who is baptized into Christ or clothed with Christ. Do you think of yourself like this? You have put your faith in Christ and do you realize you have been plunged into Christ? You have been pushed into Christ – you have a new location – you are in Christ.
That’s why Paul keeps writing to believers and saying to them “To the Saints in Colosse in Christ”. You are in Colosse for a while. You are in Lane Cove for a while but you are going to be in Christ forever. – You are in Christ; you have been baptized into Christ. So Christ is not some little person who we invite into our heart,although he does come by his Spirit into our heart. He is a HUGE person into whom 2 billion believers have been baptized and his Holy Spirit comes into our heart.
So it’s a spiritual baptism. It’s being immersed In Christ. Believe it or not you live In Christ. That’s why the Apostle Paul said ‘if anyone is a new creation – he is a new creation In Christ’. And he talks about people who got Into Christ before he did. And that’s our location – In Christ. It’s a spiritual baptism. The Apostle wouldn’t be talking here about water baptism because he is already having enough trouble getting the Galatians to turn away from rituals so you can be pretty sure that he is not moving from the circumcision ritual to the baptism ritual. He’s talking about this spiritual immersion of belonging to Christ and being clothed in Christ – and it happens by faith.
Now what are the consequences? Here are the consequences – chapter 3 verses 28 & 29.
First there is equality – this is one of the wonderful things about the church. There is equality. The Apostle Paul says (see verse 28) there are no more barriers of culture or class or gender. Of course the heretics are bringing in barriers,hurdle and things to jump through and in-groups and out-groups and A groups and B groups – and the Apostle Paul says all that’s gone.
There is no more Jew/Gentle
There is no more slave/free
There is no more male/female
In the family of God there is equality. So there isn’t a superior nation. We who think that Australia is superior – that’s a joke! We are just on the same level as every other nation. To think that England is superior or America is superior or South Africa is superior or Australia is superior – all of that is gone – there is equality of race.
And then there is no superior or inferior class – so you can’t look UP at a profession or DOWN at a profession. You can’t look UP at a suburb or DOWN at a suburb. Every believer is equal in the family of God.
And then there is no superior or inferior gender. There is no place in the family of God for being a chauvinist or being a feminist – there is equality.
No – this doesn’t mean that we obliterate all variety. This doesn’t mean that we have been homogenized. This doesn’t mean that we have got uniformity – that everybody is the same. We recognize that people have certain skin colour,rank,position,office. We recognize that somebody is a lady or somebody is a man. We recognize these things but none of it blocks the fellowship. That’s the point that the Apostle is making,
And we don’t remove the roles as if the Prime Minister if he comes to Church here – and he sometimes does – if he comes that his role is my role. We are not obliterating the roles.
And we are not obliterating the roles in the family. The husband is still to be a loving leader and the wife is still to be a loving supporter. Those roles don’t get obliterated. But being In Christ,says Paul,brings equality – it’s wonderful. When you go down to morning tea this morning,there is nobody greater than you down there. There is nobody worse than you down there.
The second consequence (verse 29) is there is fulfilment,that is you have become the ‘real deal’. If you belong to Christ you can’t go a step further than that. That’s why Paul says in 3:29 “you have become part of Abraham’s true family”. You have become part of the seed of Abraham.
Now this doesn’t mean a lot to us but it might have meant a lot to the Galatians because they must have heard the heretics come in and say something like this –
“O you’ve become a Christian. You’ve put your faith in Jesus – that wonderful. But of course if you want to be a true member of Abraham’s family,well you are going to need to take some of our Jewish rituals seriously. Otherwise you are going to be sort of stuck in the early stages,but if you really want to thrive and be part of Abraham’s true family,then of course then you will need to jump this little hurdle of food laws or of holy days or of circumcision”.
And the Galatians were being confused by this. The Apostle Paul says ‘No,when you put your faith in Christ,you are Abraham’s family’. You are God’s family.
So the heretics might have been saying you jump the hurdles –
The Apostle Paul says you put your faith in Christ.
Sometime again,I can’t remember when in the 1970’s or 1980’s there was a ditty in the church,perhaps we sang it in Youth Fellowship or Sunday School. It went like this: (I won’t sing it to you because I like you too much) It went like this:
Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them
And so are you
Let’s all praise the Lord.
Good theology. Father Abraham had many sons,many sons had Father Abraham – I am one of them and the Apostle Paul says – Yes you are because you put your faith in Christ and the mark of Abraham is that he believed God and the mark of the real Abraham’s offspring is that he or she believes God and puts their faith in Christ.
So faith,says the Apostle Paul,brings you into the family of God. Faith in Christ – you are not in automatically – it’s a decision you need to make by putting your faith in Christ. And when that happens,there is equality and there is fulfilment. You have arrived in the very family of God.
Tim Keller says in his Commentary – you might like to test yourself whether you really think this is the way you live. Ask yourself whether you respond to God as a nervous slave or a secure son or daughter? It is a good test. If you find yourself as you live your Christian life always feeling in the bad books because you haven’t dotted some letters or crossed some letters,then you need to go back to the Gospel.
And when you deal with other Christian people,how do you treat them? Do you treat them as slightly superior or slightly inferior – because if you do,you probably need to go back to the Gospel – All one in Christ Jesus – Galatians 3.
The second thing this morning is The Experience of Being God’s Children. How do we actually feel this? Do you not feel this as you sit there this morning and as I stand here this morning? Do you not feel as though this doesn’t kind of get us and weigh on us and impact us as it should? Do you not sometimes feel that preachers are just saying a lot of words?
Well in chapter 4 verses 1-3,Paul goes back to the illustration of being children (which he has used back in chapter 3 verse 24) and he basically says this. I want you to think of a child whose parents die and he is waiting for the inheritance. But he is little and he is not going to get it until he is 18 or 21 or 25. And in the present,he just doesn’t get to touch any of that inheritance. In fact his life is run by guardians,chaperones and body guards. The Apostle Paul says that’s what it was like under the law. When we Jews lived under the law,says the Apostle Paul,it was as if we were being run around and blocked by body guards. We were under the rules of the law. We weren’t keeping them,we were guilty of breaking them and he might have said – and if you were a Gentile or if you were a pagan – you were also under the ideas of the world and the forces of the world. You were in the dark about God and you were unfit to face him.
So here’s the point. If you were a Jew or a Gentile you were basically in bondage until you came to Christ. If you were a Jew,you were under the heavy yolk of the law. If you were a pagan you were under the very erroneous and evil ideas of the world. The little phrase ‘basic principles’ in the Greek is a word which sort of means the A,B,C’s and it’s hard to work out when the Apostle Paul uses this word the A,B,C’s whether he is talking about the elementary Jewish A,B,C’s or whether he is talking about the basic principles of the world,the universe.
But the point applies to both – if you are Jew – you are under the A,B,C’s of the law,waiting to grow up and become free.
If you are an unbeliever pagan – you are under the A,B,C’s of the universe – all the basic ideas of the universe and you are also enslaved until you come face to face with Christ.
Well in chapter 4 verse 4 Paul has a wonderful message for people who are enslaved. God did something – the Triune God did something – God sent his Son – God sent the Spirit of his Son – Praise God. Before we could ever think our way into freedom or escape from bondage,God did something very wonderful. He sent his Son and he sent the Spirit of his Son.
So here we are – we are in spiritual slavery and when the time had fully come chapter 4:4,Jesus came. What does the Apostle Paul mean when he says “when the time had fully come”? Well he mostly means that Jesus came when God’s promises were to be fulfilled. Perfect,exactly when God had decided that his promises would be fulfilled – his Son came.
But is it also possible that Jesus came in the perfect conditions? Have you ever asked yourself the question –
Why did Jesus come when he came?
Why did he come 2000 years ago – not 1000 years ago?
Why didn’t he come a year ago?
Part of the answer to that may well be when Jesus did come,the conditions were pretty perfect. The Romans governed politically so that there was a security,there was an opportunity for travel,the roads all went from Rome and to Rome,everything was protected and you could move swiftly. There was a very strong sense of justice under the Romans.
Culturally the Greek language had spread everywhere so that almost everybody could speak some Greek and therefore it was an ideal time for the gospel to speed along the road.
Spiritually the Roman gods and the Greek gods had been discredited. Somebody had said if they every came to earth,they should all be put into prison. And the Jews had been under the oppression of the Law for hundreds of years – longing for relief.
And into this absolutely wonderful situation Jesus came at the fullness of time. So it was the perfect time for God to keep his promises and it may well have been the perfect conditions for Jesus to appear in. And we are told in chapter 4:4,5 & 6 that he was born of a woman because he took on flesh,he didn’t stop being God but he took on flesh. He was born under the Law,(that is he came in as a Jew) and he lived under the Law (he kept it) so that he could people who have not kept it. And he came specifically to redeem – to buy out the debtors by paying the debts himself at the cross.
So when you respond to Jesus,when you kneel down before him,you bow your head,you bend your knees and you ask him to be Saviour and Lord,and you put your faith in him – you become one of God’s children. He builds the bridge from heaven to earth so that he might help you to cross it.
And then we are told that God goes beyond just bringing people in to the family which he has done whether you feel it or not. In verse 6 ‘he sent the Spirit of his Son to help us appreciate it’. See chapter 4 verse 6 ‘because you are sons,God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out,’Abba Father’.’
And when you go home from church today and you go back to your quiet chair or you sit or kneel beside your bed and you pour out your heart to him in gratitude or request or intercession,you will begin invariably by saying “Heavenly Father”. Because from your heart,God has given to you the Spirit of Adoption.
So the Holy Spirit confirm inwardly in a way that no one outwardly ever could. I can’t persuade you of your adoption. I can tell you the gospel but God in the genius of his ministry causes the Holy Spirit to grasp what he has done. And he does that by steadily,inwardly,repeatedly and profoundly in an ongoing way unpacking this privilege of being God’s children.
Because (verse 7) you are no longer slaves but sons and because sons you are heirs. So you are in between the terrible past of being a slave and the magnificent future of collecting the inheritance. That’s where you are today. No wonder you and I feel odd. We are no longer slaves – we are not yet in the inheritance. We are in the middle.
I want to urge you to learn Galatians 4:7 – I want to urge you to learn Galatians 4:7 off by heart. It’s a great,great text. We are no longer slaves but God’s children and since we are God’s children,we are his heirs.
Friends,it’s very hard to believe your life is pointless if you are God’s child. If you feel like you are a waste of space and God is your Father and he has brought you out of slavery into his family and he has an inheritance up in front for you and in his good time he will take you,it’s very hard to believe your life is pointless in the present. It’s got to be purposeful. It’s got to be meaningful if God is your Father.
And it’s very hard to believe that you are insecure if God is your father. I mean he’d have to be an absolutely hopeless father if he runs the universe and he’s full of love and power if your life is insecure – but it’s not. Because he is absolutely sovereign,full of love and power and he’s made you his child,your life could not be more secure.
So keep reminding yourself – no longer a slave but a son – and because a son,then an heir. The meaning of adoption is that we are equal and we’ve come into the very people of God. The experience is that we have been brought in by Christ’s redeeming work and the Holy Spirit is going to make us appreciate that for years to come.
Now I want to finish by just telling you that when Jonathan Edwards,the greatest evangelical mind that America perhaps has ever had,when Jonathan Edwards who is a protégée – 18th Century genius – when he was a teenager,he wrote a paper on the spider’s web (as you do!).
And he wrote on the spider’s web about the shape of it,the construction of it and the purpose of it. And this was his conclusion:
“The exuberant of the Creator has provided not only the necessities for his creatures,even insects,but for their pleasure and their recreation”.
In other words,he looked at a spider’s web as a boy and he said not only has God given to this spider the necessities,but he has actually given to the spider the pleasure and the recreation of making a web. And I think that Jonathan Edwards looked on this and thought like this because he had put on his head the lens of God’s fatherly goodness that whatever Jonathan Edwards was going to see in the world,it was going to be coloured and tainted by the greatness and goodness of God the Father. Even a spider creating a web was not just doing something functional but something that was pleasurable. How great,you see,is God the Father? He doesn’t just do the dull routine to us but builds into the whole of the world our necessities and also our pleasures and recreation.
Now you and I have come into the privilege of being his children through Christ. We must learn,I think to see the world through the lens of God’s fatherly goodness. It’s no good if we keep on putting the lens of some kind of tyrant or sadist but rather to see everything as being part of God’s fatherly greatness and goodness.
Someone who runs the universe who would think of a way of bringing slaves,undeserving slaves,into his family to equip them,to adopt them through the redemption of Christ and then to put in their hearts his Holy Spirit so that they would increasingly appreciate this and come one day to the point where they really get it.