October 8, 2017

A Place to Belong

Galatians 3:23-4:7

We are considering this week the fatherhood of God.  Paul says in this passage that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God.”  This is a profound statement.  That we have been adopted into the family of God!  That we now call God our Father!

While the concept of God as Father was perhaps new to those first believers, it shouldn’t be new to us.   We are, after all, baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  One of the first prayers we learn to pray begins “Our Father who is in heaven…”  We sing songs like “you are a good, good Father.”  We are familiar, at least in our minds anyway, with the concept of God as father.  Where we struggle, is embracing the fatherhood of God in our hearts.  J.I. Packer writes:

“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 prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God (Knowing God, p.201).”

Paul explains this glorious doctrine of our adoption by God.  We will consider this passage in two parts: our status as sons of God and our experience as sons of God.

#1 Our Status as Sons of God (v.23-26 and v.1-5)

23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. Galatians 3:23-26

Paul says once we were (v.23)  “under the law.”  When were under the law, the law was to us a  guardian (KJV: “schoolmaster,” NASB “tutor”).  The law was a mirror into which we could look to see our sin and the point was to leave us condemned, without hope in ourselves, so that we might be led to Christ.   And now Paul says (v.26) we are “in Christ.”  One of the privileges that results from our being in Christ, is that we are now “sons of God.”  We can call God Father.

This is radical.  The Jews had no concept of an individual calling God father.  Remember they were ready to kill Jesus for referring to God as Father.  Muslims have no concept of God as Father either.  It is said that the Quran lists 99 names for God.  What name is not on that list? Father!

The is a unique privilege for Christians.  Everyone can call upon God as Creator because he has created everyone.  Everyone can call upon God as Sustainer.  Everyone can call upon God as King.  But only believers in Christ can call upon God as Father.   We are “sons of God through faith.”  It is not by being born that God is our Father but by being born again that we call Him Father.

This applies to men and women alike.  Some translations render verse 26 as “children of God” rather than “sons of God.”  Paul is certainly writing to men and women both and yet he says you all are now sons of God.  Why “sons” and not “sons and daughters?”  We must remember that in the ancient world, the world in which Paul lived, being a son came with certain power, privileges, and legal standings that were not available to daughters.  Therefore, Paul says in Christ you are are all sons.  (Similarly, being the “bride of Christ” applies both to men and to women.)

1I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.    Galatians 4:1-5

Paul repeats in chapter 4 what he previously said in chapter 3 – you are no longer under a guardian but now are in Christ.  Because you are in Christ you have been adopted by God the Father and have become sons of God .  How did this come about?  He tells us in verses 4 and 5 that God sent forth his own Son to become like us.  Born of a woman.  Born under the law.  This was done “to redeem” us and so that “we might receive adoption as sons.”

#2 Our Experience as Sons of God (v.27-29 and v.6-7)

27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There 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. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.  Galatians 3:27-29

We turn now from the our status as sons of God to our experience of that sonship.  What does it mean that we are sons of God?  Paul shows us here that it means we have a place to belong.  This is powerful stuff in the detached and disconnected world in which we live.  Paul shows we have a place in:

Eternity (verse 27).  We have been baptized into Christ.  We belong forever to him.

Society (verse 28). We belong to one another as we are all “one in Christ Jesus.”  If God is our Father that means others in the family are our brothers and sisters.  There used to be racial division but now there is neither Jew nor Greek.  There used to be class division but now there is neither slave nor free.  There used to be gender division but now there is neither male nor female.  Paul is not saying that these distinctions do not matter.  He is saying they no longer divide.  In the new society of believers (the church) a free Jewish man will not experience greater privilege than a Gentile slave woman.  Again this is radical.  One of the prayers that Jews prayed (I am not making this up!) was:

“Blessed you O God, King of the Universe, Who has not made me a gentile, slave, a woman.”

History (v.29).  In Christ we have the further blessing of being rooted in, and belonging to, the people of God from Abraham on. This is our spiritual heritage.    In Christ we are Abraham’s offspring!

6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  Galatians 4:6-7

These final two verses summarize the experience of sonship.  Remember that in verses 4 and 5 God sent forth his Son into the world and here we see God sending forth his Spirit into our hearts.  It is through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that we experience God as Father.  And what happens as our hearts are gripped by this? We cry Abba Father.

Discussion Questions

Read Galatians 3:23-24. The NIV study Bible explains that the Greek word (paidagogos) translated as “guardian” in the ESV refers to the personal slave-attendant who accompanied a freeborn boy wherever he went and exercised a certain amount of discipline over him.  What do you think it means that law was like a guardian until Christ came?

Read verses 25-26.  How is the idea of sonship in relation to God so radical and unique?  Why is the term “sons” of God a better translation than “children”?

Read verses 27-29. How does becoming a son of God change us? In what practical ways does it impact our status, relationships, and inheritance?

Read Galatians 4:1-5.  How did we become sons of God?  How is Jesus’s sonship different than ours?

Read Galatians 4:6-7. The Greek word translated crying in the ESV implies a loud cry that may include anguish and desperation. Have you ever had the experience of crying out to God as your Daddy and receiving his loving fatherly response? Share with the group.

For further discussion.  In what ways do you sometimes act as a “slave” to God rather than as a beloved son?  How can you begin to act more like a beloved son?



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