Galatians 4:10-11, Isaiah 1:13-14

We are God’s children

You can sense the frustration in Paul’s accusation of the Galatians’ failure to hold on to their position of sonship through faith in Jesus Christ. They fell back into the old weak and worthless focus of putting their confidence in their own efforts. The law was being rebuilt in their lives and the love and worship of Jesus was deteriorating as a result. In Galatians 4:10-11 Paul wrote, “You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” The Jewish laws required observation of special times. Our ritualistic observations of special times become very much like they did with Israel. God grew tired of them and sent that message to his people through Isaiah the prophet. In Isaiah 1:13-14 God says, “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.”

It always happens! When we establish a liturgy, it owns us. Lawson put it this way, “Religions organize and systematize and dehumanize, but in Christ, Paul constantly argues, man is energized and actualized. He is liberated.” Christ did not come to establish another religion of rituals and observations but to bring man back to intimacy with God. Lawson goes on to say, “Unfortunately, something in us prefers being organized into a system to being truly free. Famous theologian-turned-prisoner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, mused on this debilitating characteristic during the second spring of his imprisonment by the Nazis. He who had so cherished his liberty realized that something had happened to him he never would have thought possible. He confessed that he had become used to being a prisoner!”

To many of us, our denominational observations become meaningless habitual practices that, instead of bringing us closer to God, drive us away from Him. We treat our religious liturgies as good luck charms that ward off evil in our lives or give us a certain confidence in our relationship with those in our common community and with God. Lawson is right; “In Christ, we don’t need rituals or sacrifices or magic or astrology charts or signs of the zodiac or anything else. Such superstitious behavior has been replaced by a personal relationship with the Father. Just as my children do not have to observe any standard ritual to approach me—or come to me only on stipulated hours or days or seasons, so Christians can enjoy the presence of their Father whenever. We are sons.”

Galatians 4:8-9

Trusting in the weak and worthless

Paul speaks about turning back from God’s grace in Christ to slavery. We were once slaves to “the elementary principles of the world.” Here’s what Paul says in Galatians 4:8-9, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” The basis of our relationship with God is what He did for us, not what we do for Him. A focus on the latter is what we know as “legalism.”

Paul makes an interesting parenthetical statement in this passage. He changes his thought from our having come to know God to having been known by God. Paul’s understanding of man’s total depravity precludes the idea that any man can come to know God by his own efforts. Job’s age old question always assumes a negative answer: Can man by searching find God? Of course not! It’s not that God doesn’t know everything at all times, it’s that God takes the initiative in salvation – not man! We have free access to the Father through Christ Jesus. Instead of taking advantage of that, the Galatians are turning back to the “weak and worthless” attempts of self-effort. The only thing that the law, any law, will do for you is point out your failure. In contrast to Christ, the law is powerless to set us free, to make us righteous, and change our roles from slaves to sons.

Richison attacks such a foolish notion as that of the Galatians. He writes, “Man’s efforts of merit are trash; God’s grace is treasure for us. Salvation is all of grace. God finds us; we do not find Him. God extends His grace to us; we offer Him nothing. When we turn back into earning God’s favor and approbation, we turn back the clock spiritually. There is a proclivity to revert to the past. Somehow, someway, we want salvation or the Christian life to depend on us. That is a warm and wonderful feeling not based on the Bible. Many people need to trade in their religion and get the gospel of grace found only in the finished work of Christ on the cross. This is a bitter pill to swallow for those who are impressed with their self-effort.” It’s not about me, or the work I do, it’s about Christ and the work He has done! When we have confidence in our own effort and ability, we trust in the weak and worthless.

Galatians 4:6-7, 1 John 4:19

The Joys of Sonship

As Paul continues his discussion about our being “children” of God rather than slaves, he talks about the beauty of it. It changes so much about us. Here is what he says in Galatians 4:6-7; “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” It changes so many things about us. First off, when we begin the beautiful relationship with God through faith in His Son, it changes the way we pray. One commentator put it this way, “We don’t come groveling to the Almighty. We don’t snivel in self-contempt as beggars who have no right to be there, as wayward derelicts who have to come to the back door for a handout. We come as children of the King, knowing that we are welcome. Abba, Father describes our relationship, a shared love and fellowship in which the Father pours out all His blessings upon His children. And we pray in that knowledge and with the childlike anticipation of receiving all the Father has for us.”

The second thing that changes is our sense of self-worth. We live in a culture in which individuals struggle most with their identity. “Who am I?” is a question that haunts us in the 21st century. I remember studying “reality therapy” founded by William Glasser. He took a very radical position regarding mental health. He said there was no such thing as mental illness. The problem is that we don’t experience true love and therefore we can’t love others. It is extremely difficult to feel worthwhile to ourselves and others in our culture. Maxie Dunham wrote. “To know that we are loved and accepted by God frees and empowers us to love ourselves and others and to know that we are worthwhile.” John tells us that we can love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Finally, when we begin our new relationship with God through faith in His son Jesus Christ, it changes our ministries. It’s often a burden to care for others when we don’t have the capacity to feel cared for ourselves. With the presence of God’s Spirit, we finally come to realize that we’re not operating alone. Again, Dunham puts it this way, “Strength comes directly from God, and indirectly, through the shared strength of the Christian community. This strength can work in rhythm with our weakness as we become vulnerable. In our sonship we are vulnerable to God, open and receptive to the incursion of His Spirit. But, in the confidence of being loved and accepted by God, we can be vulnerable to others, open to the claims of our neighbors responding in sensitivity and care. We do not have to pretend, therefore we can risk failure, rebuff, shame, unappreciative response, and negative reaction. Our self-worth is secured in our sonship and we can continue to minister, whatever the response.”

Galatians 4:4-5, 1 Corinthians 13:11

At Just the right Time

In ancient Rome, when the father deemed the heir ready to be declared an adult and to receive the inheritance “he celebrated this time by a festival known as ‘Liberalia.’ … At this time, the heir received his ‘toga virilis’ (coat of adulthood). The boy burned his childhood toys at this festival. This person now has authority over the slave that governed him as a child.” I wonder if this is what Paul was thinking when he wrote Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Don’t you think it sounds like that? This also brings to mind Paul’s comment to the Corinthians. He writes in 1st Corinthians 13:11,  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

The fullness of time might refer to the time for the world of mankind to grow up and put away all their childish things and become mature adults. John wrote that “God so loved the world…” and it was this world of mankind that God loved. We were the target of His love and redemption. The word “time” indicates a duration or length of time. It was the time when the Mosaic Law would lapse. Law had done its task to some extent. It wasn’t the Jewish Law necessarily, but law itself. The Pax Romana brought relative peace throughout the world. One commentator observes, “There was great political stability throughout the Roman world. Freedom to trade and travel throughout the world was at the greatest level in history. The Greek language was the language of the empire making it an opportune time for spreading the gospel. Jesus did not come at some random time; He came precisely at the moment God designed from eternity. This is the time when God put to an end the dispensation of the law by sending His Son to fulfil all the demands of the law.” But make no mistake, the “law” as such had done its work in civilizing the world to the extent that God’s Truth could be proclaimed.

A human father in the Roman Empire marked a specific time when his child became an adult. It was the time that the Father’s law had accomplished the task of civilizing his son. It was the time that the self-centered child had learned the lessons taught by the Father regarding right living and law keeping. God the Father also marked a time when He sent His Son into the world. This was a momentous moment for all people. I like the way Roy Gingrich says it, “God delivered both Jews and Gentiles from their respective bondages by the same method, by redemption and adoption. God redeemed the Gentiles from the condemnation of the natural law and the Jews from the condemnation of the Mosaic law that He might adopt them as His mature sons. He redeemed and adopted them that He might deliver them from their respective bondages.” After this redemption and liberation, the adopted children, the legitimate heirs, were not under slave masters, but over them.

Galatians 4:1-3

The Law is made for Man

I mentioned in a previous sermon on this passage that Paul addressed the difference between being a slave and being a son or daughter. I began by asking if they knew the difference between being a slave and being a child. One grandmother brought her granddaughter to me and told me that when I asked that question the girl turned to her and whispered “there is no difference.” I thought that was really funny. Paul is going to explain what she said is true. In Galatians 4:1-3, Paul writes, “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, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, we were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.”

During Paul’s time, children were placed under the authority of a guardian, usually a trusted slave in the household. As Richison points out, “Roman custom did not specify an age when a person became ready for adulthood. When the father deemed the heir ready, he celebrated this time by a festival known as ‘Liberalia.’ … At this time, the heir received his ‘toga virilis’ (coat of adulthood). The boy burned his childhood toys at this festival. This person now has authority over the slave that governed him as a child.” Richison goes on to say, “A person who operates under the law is no different than a child who is heir to an entire estate and placed under guardianship. He was the legal heir but he did not have the privilege of utilizing his legal rights to his estate. The law was the guardian (3:24–26) that watched over believers in the Old Testament. A Christian who reverts to the law puts himself back under slavery.”

I remember trying to get out of a large parking lot. The sign said “do not enter.” Yet it was in the middle of the day and no one was coming in or going out. The exit was just a few feet ahead. I was almost out of gas and didn’t like the thought of going all the way around the lot to find the right exit. So I quoted Jesus (Mark 2:27), “man was not made for the law, but the law was made for man.” My passengers all mocked me for breaking the law. How long would you wait at a red light before you broke the law and drove on? Motorcyclists know what I mean. Their vehicles are often too light to trigger the sensors that change the light to green. In Kentucky, House Bill 197 would amend state law to allow motorists to drive through an intersection against a red light under certain conditions. Why? Because the law was made for man not the other way around. Unfortunately, we’re still accountable for the decisions we make. I might have a clear conscience for driving out the wrong way, but had a policeman caught me, I would still get a ticket!

Galatians 3:27-29

Playing Dress Up

In Christ we are all part of the Family of God. When we come to faith in Christ, we become “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are “born again” (John 3:3), and we have been “adopted” into God’s family. This is what Paul says in Galatians 3:27-29; “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” All the distinctions that separate humanity have been destroyed and we’re all brought together into one new family – The Church of Jesus Christ! Notice that this does not refer to water baptism but to the work of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 we read, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” When a person by faith trusts Christ for salvation, the Holy Spirit puts him into the body, the family of God, so that you become “children of God” (Galatians 3:26).

My sister was the oldest of us three kids. When we were little, she’d make us play dress up with her. This is something that my brother and I haven’t been real proud of. But playing dress up now is something I really enjoy! All of the family members in God’s family play dress up. In this passage he talks about “putting on” Christ as if He was a garment. Isaiah 61:10 speaks about putting on a “robe of righteousness.” But just a few chapters later in Isaiah 64:6 he says “all our righteousness’s are as filthy rags.” We are all wearing dirty clothes. I mean they are really, really dirty! Through our faith in Christ, God removes our dirty, dirty clothes and exchanges them for the perfect robes of righteousness; Christ Jesus Himself.  In Jesus we all play dress up! Jesus took our filthy clothes and wore them to the cross. His blood washed them clean.

In his comments about the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus, Max Lucado writes, “…The purity of Jesus lifts and covers the dying thief. A sheet of radiance is wrapped around his soul. As the father robed the prodigal, so now Christ robes the thief. Not just with a clean coat but with Jesus himself! ‘Baptized into union with him, you have all put on Christ as a garment’ (Gal. 3:27 NEB). The One with no sin becomes sin-filled. The one sin-filled becomes sinless. It is eternity’s most bizarre exchange. Paul explained it like this: ‘Christ took away the curse the law put on us. He changed places with us and put himself under that curse’ (Gal. 3:13). When he sees sin, a just God must either inflict punishment or assume it. God chose the latter. On the cross ‘God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19). I know John says that Jesus was carrying his own cross as he walked up the hill, but he wasn’t. He was carrying ours. The only reason he carried the cross was for us thieves and crooks. ‘Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God’ (2 Cor. 5:21). It wasn’t his death he died; it was ours. It wasn’t his sin he became; it was ours.”

Galatians 3:24-26, 2 Corinthians 5:17

The Children of God

The law makes us slaves. It directs our behavior at every turn and provides the consequences when we fail. We all fail! But the law was good for a world of sinners. It still is. Without law there is no peace, security, or property. But the restraining feature of the law is not necessary when we live in a family. We don’t write laws for each other that determine who belongs and who doesn’t belong. We live together on the basis of love. The law simply preserved society until Christ came. It still preserves society in some ways until Christ comes again. But God’s family, the church, is the real restrainer of evil today. This is the way Paul says it in Galatians 3:24-26, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

I know the world often speaks to us of “the family of man.” It puts all mankind into the same camp. This is true in that we are all children of God by creation. God made us all and He made us all to be equal. I would argue first and foremost that we are all equal sinners. But this family that Paul is talking about is a family formed by redemption. It is the lot of believers in Jesus who have been “born again” into the family of God. John Butler observes, “Many religionists do not want to say the whole sentence here. They want to say, ‘You are all the children of God’ and then stop. But that is grossly misleading. We are children ‘by faith in Christ Jesus.’ Leave out Jesus Christ and you will not become a member of this great family. The requirement to be a member of this family is to be ‘born again’ (John 3:3,5,7). And being born again occurs when Christ is received ‘by faith.’”

Richison adds some strong comments to this passage as well. He writes, “This verse does not put a period after the words ‘sons of God’. The Bible does not say everyone in the world is a son of God. True, we are all creatures of God. That does not mean we are God’s children. No one is a child of God without placing exclusive faith in Christ Jesus. Those who do not exercise faith in Christ are mere creatures of God just like a bird or donkey. They do not have a personal relationship with God.” Although I might not want to compare a non-believer with a bird or a donkey, I get the point. We are all “creatures” of God and therefore His children in one respect. But to be part of the “Family of God” we must become “new creations” as Paul tells the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians  5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Galatians 3:21-23

The Purpose of the Law

In Galatians 3:21-23, Paul turns from denouncing the law as a means of salvation to talk about what the law actually is. The law is good. God gave us the law as a mentor to lead us to Christ. It does that by pointing out our need for a savior. It convicts us all of sin. Here’s what Paul said, “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” We were all “captives” of the law. That means we were slaves. It is only through Christ that we are set free. The law brings home the reality of our sinfulness and opens the door to our salvation through faith in Christ. It does not save anyone. It just makes it clear we need to be saved!

Evangelist Fred Brown used three images to describe the purpose of the law. First he likened it to a dentist’s little mirror, which he sticks into the patient’s mouth. With the mirror he can detect any cavities. But he does not drill with it or use it to pull teeth. It can show him the decayed area or other abnormality, but it cannot provide the solution. Brown then drew another analogy. He said that the law is also like a flashlight. If suddenly at night the lights go out, you use it to guide you down the darkened basement stairs to the electrical box. When you point it toward the fuses, it helps you see the one that is burned out. But after you have removed the bad fuse, you don’t try to insert the flashlight in its place. You put in a new fuse to restore the electricity. In his third image, Brown likened the law to a plumb line. When a builder wants to check his work, he uses a weighted string to see if it is true to the vertical. But if he finds that he has made a mistake, he does not use the plumb line to correct it. He gets out his hammer and saw. The law points out the problem of sin; it does not provide a solution.

The purpose of the law has always been the same. When we preach salvation by grace through faith alone, we are preaching the gospel message that has come down through history from the time of Christ. John Calvin wrote, “From this we see that the law was not given to the fathers so that they might purchase salvation; nor were the ceremonies added so that, by observing them, men might attain righteousness. The only purpose of the law was to remove all confidence that people might place in works, so that they might rest all their hope in the grace of Christ.”

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