You were slaves, but you are now sons!
This week, as we walk through Galatians 4:1-7, Pastor Matt breaks down the encouraging BIG IDEA: You were slaves, but you are now sons!
- Zondervan Exegetical Commentary – Galatians by Tom Schreiner
- ESV Study Bible – Notes on Galatians by Simone Gathercole
- Galatians by Martin Luther
- The Tony Evans Bible Commentary
- Galatians 4:1-7 – sermon by Ray Ortlund
Christianity isn’t just another burden that you need to carry. Jesus did not say, “come to me all who are weary and I’ll give you another burden.” No, Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and weighed down from not measuring up to God’s standards, and I’ll give you rest.” Christianity isn’t just one more burden that you need to carry. Christianity is all about being unburdened from everything that truly wearies you. And Paul’s letter to the Galatians – the book of the Bible that we’re studying together this fall – is all about how God’s grace provides us with the resources necessary to bear all of our burdens valiantly, which is what it means to be unburdened in this life.
This morning, Galatians will take us into what I believe is the most unburdening benefits of God’s grace. God’s grace, which comes to us in Jesus Christ, gives us an entirely new identity. And that new identity can be summed up by one word in our passage: adoption. Adoption is the relational side of the legal term justification. Throughout our journey through Galatians, we’ve been learning a lot about the doctrine of justification. To understand the doctrine of justification, imagine that you’ve been brought to court on murder charges that you, the jury, and the judge all know that you’re guilty of. The judge is about to rightly sentence you to life in prison, but at the last second the Judge’s son volunteers, out of sheer love for you, to take your guilty sentence, though he’s never murdered anyone, so that you can be declared “not guilty” and cleared of all charges. That’s the doctrine of justification – Though we are sinners and deserve God’s eternal judgment, we are declared not guilty and right with God by faith alone in Christ alone. Adoption is the relational side of justification. The doctrine of adoptions says that not only does the Judge’s son take your guilty sentence so that you’re declared not guilty, but in a shocking exchange of places, the Judge actually takes you home as his adopted, beloved son or daughter and he lavishes the family love, privilege, and inheritance on you. The doctrine of justification says that you’re right with God through faith in his Son, the doctrine of adoption says that you’re more than right with God, you’re his son, his daughter.
There is nothing in all this world that can unburden like experiencing the truth of your new identity in Christ – You’re an adopted child of God. God is your Father. Listen to how Martin Luther describes how unburdening it is to experience the truth that God is your Father. “If we could be quite sure and constantly believe that God is our Father, and that we are his sons and heirs, then we would be utterly contemptuous of the world with all its glory, righteousness, wisdom, and power, all its royal crowns and all its riches and pleasures. We would not care so much for this life, or be addicted to the world and worldly things, trusting in them when we have them, lamenting and despairing when we lose them; we would do everything with great love, humility, and patience.” Nothing unburdens you from your sins, your suffering, your setbacks, and your pain like experiencing the truth that in the midst of them God is your Father and he works all of them for your good. And nothing sweetens your victories, joys, accomplishments, and privileges like knowing that they come to you from your Father who loves to celebrate them with you.
But we have a problem. Because of the sin that so easily entangles us, the accusations that the Devil speaks against us, and the lies and temptations that the world throws at us, it’s incredibly difficult to experience the truth that we are not who we used to be and God is now our Father. And so in our passage this morning, Paul brings us back again to the simple truth that you are not who you used to be. Notice the flow of thought from verse three to verses four and five. 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 (Galatians 4:3-5). This brings us to the big idea of our passage: You were slaves, but you are now sons! Now, to experience the truth of our adoption, we are going to take our passage in two parts: who we used to be (vv. 1-3) and who we now are (vv. 4-7). Two points: 1. You were slaves (vv. 1-3) 2. You are now sons (vv. 4-7).
YOU WERE SLAVES (VV. 1-3)
Before we step into our passage, you need to know that it is written to Christians – those who have received Christ their only hope in life and in death. If you’re not yet a Christian, we are so glad that you’re here. I am going to speak directly to the Christians for the next few minutes. Listen in because I’d like to speak to you a little more directly in a few minutes.
Christian – to be truly unburdened by who you are, you need to regularly remember what you were. That’s where Paul will take us now. Paul begins with a human illustration of what we used to be. The illustration comes in Galatians 4:1-2 – 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. That’s the illustration of who we used to be, so let’s try to understand it. Dictionary.com defines an heir as a person who inherits or has a right of inheritance in the property of another following the latter’s death. Paul says that when the heir of a wealthy family is a child, they’re functionally no different than a household slave or bond-servant, even though, in some sense, they own the whole estate. The child-heir is no different than a slave because when the heir is a child, they have handlers, tutors, managers and nannies who tell them where to go, what to do, and when to do it. Until the time appointed by his father, the child is no different from a slave – they cannot do what they want to do, go where they want to go, or enjoy their inheritance. A great picture of Paul’s illustration is the British royal family, who were once again in the world’s eye after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. If you watched any of the coverage of the Queen’s funeral, at one point you probably saw her great grandson Prince George. Prince George is now second in line to the throne behind his father Prince William. One day Prince George will inherit literally billions. But Prince George is nine. And though in a sense he owns everything, while he is a child he has handlers, nannies, managers and parents who tell him what to do and where to go. The heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave until the date set by his father. That’s Paul’s illustration.
Let’s see how Paul applies this illustration to who we used to be. Galatians 4:3 – In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. In this verse Paul applies the illustration to who we used to be. Just as an heir, when he or she is a child is no different from a slave, so when we were children, that is before we became Christians, we were enslaved to the elementary principles of this world. Yes, the Bible says (Ephesians 1) that God predestined us for adoption as sons before the foundation of the world, but until we actually received Christ with the empty hands of faith, we were enslaved to the elementary principles of this world.
The elementary principle of this world, in a word, is legalism. Some of the Galatian Christian’s were formerly Jewish, enslaved to trying to measure up to God by his law, which they could never keep. Others of the Galatian Christians were formerly pagan. They were enslaved to try to appease their gods by their merits or performances. Whether you were formerly Jewish, pagan, religious, or totally irreligious, you were enslaved to try to establish an identity for yourself, measure up to God, and get in with the right people by your merit. The elementary principle of this world is the universal human tendency to judge our ok-ness with God, others, and ourselves by our own merit. You were enslaved to living this way – you couldn’t do otherwise. You were without hope and without God in this world. That’s who we used to be. Just like a royal heir is no different than a slave until the time their father appoints them to receive their inheritance, so you, though predestined for sonship, were no different than slaves until Christ set us you free.
Christian – to experience the unburdening power of your new identity, you need to remember who you were. In 2006 when I started shopping for Andrea’s engagement ring, I noticed something interesting. Jewelers almost always placed diamond rings against backdrops to accent the dazzling beauty of the diamond. For your new identity to truly dazzle, you have to remember what you were. We’ve placed a sheet of paper on your chair to help you remember what you were so that you can experience the truth that you’re not who you used to be.
Remember who you used to be. Ok – my friends who aren’t yet Christians, thanks for sticking with me and listening in. I’d like to speak just to you for a moment. Christianity isn’t good advice about what you need to do, it’s good news about what God has done for you. BUT – I need you to see the bad news before the good news is going to make any sense. Here is the bad news – you’re enslaved to the elementary principles of this world. You’re enslaved to trying to measure up to God by your merit because your merit is never enough. You’re enslaved to trying to get the approval of the right people – and who the right people are is always changing. You’re enslaved to not even being able to meet your own standards. The elementary principles will enslave you in this life and forever. But it doesn’t have to stay this way. You don’t have to be what you are. And Christian – you’re not who you used to be…
YOU ARE NOW SONS (vv. 4-7)
Paul helps us experience who we are by first reminding us how we became sons. Galatians 4:3-4 – 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… Just as the heir is no different from a slave until the date set by his father, we were slaves to the elementary principles of the world until the fullness of time had come when God the Father sent forth his Son – born of a woman born under the law! “Born of a woman” emphasizes the true and full humanity of the Son of God and “under the law” emphasizes that he was tempted in every way we are, yet never sinned and was always faithful to God’s law.
And that brings us to the heart of the gospel. God sent forth his Son to liberate us from the curse and slavery of the law so that we might receive adoption instead of slavery. Galatians 4:4-5 – 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. The word “redeem” means to liberate from slavery. The word “redeem” has its roots in the Exodus in the OT. Just like Moses redeemed God’s people from slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt through the Exodus, God sent the true and greater liberator, the Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem us from eternal slavery to the elementary principles of this world so that we can receive adoption as God’s sons. Moses risked his life to free Israel from lifelong slavery, but God sent his Son to lose his life to redeem us from eternal slavery. You’re not who you once were. You were slaves, but you are now sons.
And not only did God send his Son to adopt you as his sons, God also sent his Spirit so that you can experience your sonship. The God who sent his Son to adopt you as Sons also sent his Spirit so that you can experience the daily unburdening wonder of being God’s sons. Galatians 4:6 – And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” As one scholar puts it, the Father sent his Son to give us sonship and the Father sent his Spirit into our hearts to confirm and authenticate our sonship. The idea here is similar to what Paul wrote to the Romans. Romans 8:15-16 – For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. God doesn’t just want you to know that you’re his adopted son, he wants you to experience his loving adoption of you everyday. So, he has sent his Spirit to confirm and assure your heart that you are his son. The Father doesn’t only want you to be his son or daughter, he wants you to experience the assurance that he’s your Father. A way to think about the work of the Holy Spirit in your life is that the normal Christian life is like a child walking hand in hand with their dad. He’s got your hand, you’ve got his, and it’s wonderful. But from time to time you lift your other hand crying out to be held, comforted, and assured. The dad scoops the child up in his arms, spins him around, and assures him, “I’m your dad. I love you. That’s never changing.” God has sent his Spirit into your heart to keep you crying out to your Father for fresh assurance of his love. Ask any time! You were a slave, but now you’re sons. And because you’re God’s sons, no matter what you’re going through today, your future is incredibly bright! Galatians 4:7 – So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Last month when Queen Elizabeth passed away it was stunning to read about all that Prince Charles inherited. He inherited lands, palaces, businesses, and billions. It pays to be the Queen’s son. But when the Royal Son of God died in your place to make you adopted sons, you became heirs not of an earthly queen, but of your Heavenly Father. And you won’t inherit palaces, you will inherit a new heavens and a new earth and the whole universe will be full of his glory and you’ll be there, forever, as an heir through God. You’re not who you once were. You were slaves, but now you’re adopted sons.
Friends – there is nothing more unburdening in all the world than experiencing the truth that you are God’s adopted child. Let me show you