We’re going to continue in our study of the book of Galatians this morning, but I want to begin by quoting what I believe is one of the greatest passages in all the Bible. It’s found in I John 3 where John writes, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I John 3:1a, NIV).
John is writing this with a sense of astonishment. It’s like he saying, “I can hardly believe it. It is so absolutely incredible that the God of this universe would call us his children!”
Now, in a human family, there are two different ways that a person can enter that family. The most common way is to be born into a family. Not so long ago, Avonlea entered our family by way of birth.
But there’s another way to enter a family, and that’s through adoption, and it also hasn’t been so long ago that Zachary entered our family in that way. Adoption is the means by which couples decide to take a boy or a girl who is not their physical offspring and bring them into their family, to take them as their own child.
And adoption is a very special way to enter a home because the parents go to great lengths to have that child. They choose to have a child and they take deliberate, sometimes very painful, costly and time-consuming steps to get that child. There’s a lot of waiting, countless interviews, leads that turn into dead ends, until finally a child is found. And, even then, when a child is available, the parents have the right to say, “Yes, I want that child” or “No, I want to wait for another one.” It takes nine months to have a birth child, but it can take years to have an adopted child. Adoption never just happens. It is always a loving, intentional act filled with grace.
And once a child is adopted, that child enjoys all of the same rights and privileges as any other child in the family. Nobody can say that he or she is any less a member of that family than those who enter it by being born into it.
I once heard about a first-grade teacher who was discussing a picture of a family with her class. One of the children in the picture had a different hair color than all the other family members did. And so, one little girl in the class said maybe that was because the boy had been adopted. She said, “I know all about adoptions, because I was adopted.” Another little boy asked her, “What does it mean that you’re adopted?” She said, “It means I didn’t grow in my mommy’s belly; I grew in her heart.”
And I love that, because I think it describes exactly what happened to all of us – we grew in God’s heart.
There are several adopted children that we read about in the Bible. There’s Moses, who was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. There’s Esther, who was adopted by her cousin Mordecai after her parents died.
But perhaps the most touching adoption mentioned in the Bible was that of Mephibosheth, who was the crippled son of Jonathan. When David learned about Mephibosheth, he gave him all the land that had belonged to his grandfather Saul and had him dine regularly at the king’s table in his palace in Jerusalem.
Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses out of pity. And although Mordecai loved Esther, his adoption of her was prompted mostly by family duty. But David’s adoption of Mephibosheth was motivated purely by grace and love. Here was this guy that everybody thought was worthless. But David said, “I want you in my family.” Which sounds a lot like God’s adoption of us.
We, too, have our shortcomings and blemishes, but God says to us out of his grace and love, “I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me.” (2 Cor. 6:17-18).
I can think of no greater blessing than to be a part of God’s family. And, in our text this morning in Galatians, Paul is going to talk about that blessing. Now, if you were here last week, we may recall that in Galatians 3, Paul described the Law of Moses as a guardian.
I told you that, in Greek society, a young boy was put under the care of a slave who was called a pedagog, and it was his job was to take that boy to school. Now, he wasn’t the boy’s teacher; he simply made sure the boy got to school. Paul says that was the job of the Law of Moses. The law’s job was to make sure we got to Christ. And in verse 25, he says that, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
We pick up this morning in verse 26,
“For you are all sons for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 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.
“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, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” (Galatians 3:26-4:3)
Paul says that all of you who are Christians are children of God. You’re not servants. You’re not slaves. You’re part of the family. You’re a son or a daughter. And he tells us several things about how our adoption into God’s family.
(1) Jesus paid the price to adopt us.
You see, for every adoption, there is a price to be paid and Jesus paid the price for us.
“But when the right time came, God sent his Son…to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. (Galatians 4:4-5, NLT)
Some translations use the word “redeemed”. Christ redeemed us. He paid the price to set us free. Harry Ironside was a preacher and sometimes people would ask him, “With thousands of religions in the world, how are people supposed to know which one to follow?” His response was this. He said, “There are not thousands of religions. There are not even hundreds of religions. There are only two religions: one which tells you that salvation comes as a reward for what you have done, and one which tells you that salvation comes by what somebody else does for you.”
And this is the one thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion on the face of this earth. We do not earn our salvation, we do not pay the price for our salvation. God sent his son into this world to “redeem” us, to pay the price so that we could be his children.
We’ve been talking the past couple of weeks about law and the purpose of law, and we saw that God gave law not to save us but to show us that we could never be saved by law-keeping. After more than 1500 years of trying to keep the Law of Moses, it was evident that people living under law cannot redeem themselves.
This why Paul said in Galatians 3:10, “For all (not many, not most, but all) who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Paul says if you live under the law, you are cursed, because if you break even one of God’s commandments, you get the punishment that comes from breaking the whole law.
So how can lawbreakers ever get to be sons and daughters? How can slaves ever get to be free? It’s not by keeping the law better. And my guess is that you know from your own life, from your own personal experience, that you can’t get right with God by perfectly keeping the law.
It is significant that when the prodigal son returned home to his father, he didn’t say, “Father I’ve really turned my life around, from now on, and I’m going to do good, I’m not going to mess up any more.” No, he said, “I don’t deserve to be a son, and I know it. I’m just worthy to be a slave, please let me be a slave.” But the question is, how can people who only deserve to be slaves ever get to be sons?
And Paul gives the answer in Galatians 3:13. He said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” You see, that’s the only way you can become a son — let Jesus Christ take the curse that you deserve and take it upon himself and pay off the debt that you could never pay by keeping laws.
Some of you perhaps have paid off cars, homes, boats, furniture or college tuition, and it is a great thrill when you finally write that last check and you can say, “It is paid in full”. The Greeks had a word for this – it was the word “tetelestai”. Tax receipts have been found from the early centuries with that word written across them – “tetelestai”, “paid in full”.
It’s a word that appears in scripture, too. The apostle John tells us in his gospel that when Jesus hung on the cross, just before he died, he spoke the word “tetelestai”, “It is finished”, “It is paid for, paid in full”. No more checks, no more bills, no more debt.
Paul says that we become sons of God, first of all, by recognizing that Jesus paid the price in full when he died on the cross; he redeemed us.
(2) God adopts us as we express our faith in Christ through baptism
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)
Paul sees baptism as that moment when we put Christ on, when we are clothed with Christ, when we are placed into the family of God.
And that confuses a lot of people. How could Paul teach that in Galatians? In this book which very clearly says, “You are not saved by your works”, how could Paul insist that people get baptized? Why would Paul say you are not saved by your works, but then say that baptism is how you put on Christ?
I think the answer is this: baptism is not our work. It is an expression of our faith in God’s work. That’s what makes baptism such a critical element in becoming a member of the family of God.
In Colossians 2:12, Paul said we were “buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
When you are baptized into Christ, you are expressing your faith in the power of God. You are saying, “I believe that God had the power to raise Jesus from the dead, and I believe he has the power to bring life to this dead man as well.”
Let me give you an illustration. Paul’s favorite person from the Old Testament to use as an example of salvation was Abraham. God made a promise to Abraham even when he was a very old man that he would have a baby. And we are told that Abraham believed that promise and it was accounted to him for righteousness, and Paul says we get saved in the same way that Abraham did.
But, let me ask you a question. Would Abraham and Sarah have had a baby if they had never slept together after God gave them that promise? The answer is obviously no! They had to act in a way that was consistent with their faith. They had to show faith in God’s promise, and the way they did that was by sleeping together.
So, let me ask you another question: When Sarah got pregnant with Isaac, was it due to Abraham’s ability to have a child? And, again, the answer is, No! That baby was a gift, that baby was a promise, that baby was grace, that baby had nothing to do with Abraham’s ability to have a child. After Isaac was born, Abraham didn’t go around saying, “Look at what I did.” No, he spent the rest of his life saying, “Look at what God did!” But if Abraham had not have shown that he believed God’s promise by his actions, Isaac would never have been born.
The same thing is true of baptism. There is absolutely nothing about baptism that allows us to go around and say, “Look at what I did!” Rather, baptism is an opportunity for us to express our faith in God’s promises, and we say, “Look at what God has done!”
Through baptism, you show your faith in God’s ability to give a gift of grace that you don’t deserve. So, right in the middle of this letter where Paul makes it abundantly clear that you can’t be saved by your works, Paul praises baptism and says, “This is how we put on Christ, this is how we become a part of God’s family.”
Baptism is a vital part of the gospel message, not because baptism is an addition to faith but because baptism is an expression of faith. It’s a way of reminding us that we are not saved by law, we are not saved by our own accomplishments. We are saved by putting on Christ. And it declares to the world that we are not trusting in our own efforts for salvation, but we are trusting in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the God whose power made that happen.
(3) God anoints us with the Holy Spirit to seal our new relationship.
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Galatians 4:6)
This is what Jesus promised when he said in John chapter 3 we must be born of the water and the spirit. It’s what Peter talked about when he said in Acts 2 that when we’re baptized we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
It’s what Paul mentioned in Titus 3 when he said, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6)
This is the consummation of all those promises made to Abraham. When God found that man living in Ur and he said I want you to come walk with me, his ultimate goal was that one day we would receive the Holy Spirit. And, if you doubt that, I want you to notice what Paul said in Galatians 3:14, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
You see, the single greatest blessing of being a child is to partake of the nature of the father. And that’s what God has done. He has given us his spirit to confirm that we are his sons and his daughters.
It’s like what happened with Jesus. You remember when Jesus was baptized? The spirit descended from heaven and God said, “This is my beloved son.” And that’s what happens when you show faith in Jesus Christ and you express that faith by being united with him in baptism, in his death and his resurrection. God’s spirit descends upon you and God says, “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter.”
But some might ask, “How do I know that really happens? How do I really know the Holy Spirit is dwelling within me?”
Let me illustrate it this way. Suppose you go into a music store and you buy a CD with music on it. How do you know the music is on that CD? Can you see the notes? Can you see any music? The truth is, there are only two ways you can know there’s music on there.
(1) You read the label. There’s a label on the CD that tells you what music is on it and you believe that the label is telling the truth.
(2) You stick it in the CD player in your car and you hear the results. You can hear the music playing through your speakers and so you know the music is on that CD even though you can’t see it there.
I would suggest that we can know that the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us in the same two ways.
(1) God tells me in the Bible that his Spirit lives within me, and since God doesn’t lie, I trust that it’s true.
(2) I can see the results in my life. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at what Paul says about what our lives look like when God’s Spirit lives within us, but for now suffice it to say that when God’s Spirit dwells within us, it becomes apparent to everyone who sees us.
But, in our time remaining this morning, I want to talk about the privilege of being a child of God because there are benefits that come along with being in a family. In Galatians 4:7, Paul says, “So you are no longer a slave but a son.”
You have a different relationship with your children than you would your servants. In fact, you have a different relationship with your children than you do with anyone else. Your children enjoy special privileges simply because they are your children. And I think it’s safe to say that those of you who are parents believe that (apart from your spouse) your children are the most important people on the face of this earth.
The same thing is true of God. His children are the important thing in this world to him. There is nothing that gives God more joy than loving his children and being loved by them.
Ephesians 1:5 (NCV), “Because of his love, God had already decided to make us his own children through Jesus Christ. That was what he wanted and what pleased him.”
And, in this family of God, we not only have a special relationship with our Father, but we have a special relationship with our brothers and sisters. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, there are no divisions in this family – no division between Jews and Greeks, no divisions between slave and free, no divisions between male and female, because you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I don’t need to tell you that this world we live in is so split, so fractured, so racist, so divided, and the Bible says there is only one thing that can wipe out all the distinctions that separate mankind, and that’s this — if we would all recognize that we are all debtors in need of God’s grace.
Because when that happens and when we come to the cross, the distinctions don’t matter anymore. One of the things I love about being a part of this congregation is its diversity. And I believe that one of the most powerful witnesses to the world around us of the reconciling power of the cross is when people of different colors, backgrounds, ages and opinions come together in peace to the cross.
One of the other benefits of being in this family is this — because we are children of God, that means that we get an inheritance.
“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:29)
You need to understand that if you are a child of God, then you have been named in God’s will. Being a child of God is more than just having your sins forgiven. It is coming into an inheritance. We are heirs, we are fellow heirs with Christ. You are in the will!
Have you ever wished you that had a rich dad? The story is told about the very rich man Baron Solomon Rothschild. One evening, he hired a carriage and it just so happened to be the same carriage that his son usually used. The driver was looking forward to getting a big fat tip from the baron, but when Rothschild got out the carriage, he gave the coachman the exact fare but not a penny more.
The coachman said, “But your son would have given me three or four times as much.” The baron said, “That’s true, but you see my son has a wealthy father, and I don’t.”
We need to remember that we have a wealthy father. Remember what the father of the prodigal son said to his older brother? “Everything I have is yours.”
Paul said in Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”
If you are in Christ, then everything that belongs to Christ belongs to you. You are not only an heir of God, you are a joint heir with Christ. Most of you married couples probably have joint checking accounts. In a joint checking account, two or more people share the same account. Now, if you have a joint account, how much of the money in that account do you have access to? Half of it? No, to have a joint checking account means that you can draw out of that account 100% of whatever is in there.
We are joint heirs with Christ. That means that we have access to all the promises of God, to all the blessings of God, to all the inheritance of God that belongs to Jesus Christ.
Because we are children of God. To be told that we are loved is one thing. But to be adopted, to be brought into the family of God and made joint heirs with the Son of God is absolutely incredible.
Listen to this beautiful promise found in the book of Revelation. John heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” (Revelation 21:7).
And that inheritance is ours for the taking. Unless…we choose to reject it.
Morris Siegel was a street person in Los Angeles. He lived like most other street people–roaming about in back alleys, sleeping outdoors, carrying everything he owned in an old shopping cart. In 1989, he was found in an alley, dead of natural causes, probably heart trouble. The interesting thing about Morris is that he had over $200,000 in the bank at the time of his death. Morris’ father died ten years earlier and left him the money. But Morris refused to claim it. And so ten years later, he died in an alley with three dollars in his pocket and a fortune he never claimed.
As sad as that is, it’s even sadder to realize that though God says, “I want to adopt you, I want you to be my son, my daughter. I want you to share in my inheritance”, there are those who refuse the offer. And God doesn’t force us. The choice is ours.