Adopted by God

For many of us, the idea of fathers brings up a wide array of emotions.  Many are blessed with gracious, loving, godly Dads, while many have quite the opposite.  In Galatians 4:1-7, Paul describes the wonderful truth of our loving God reached out to us through Christ to adopt us as his children.  No matter what disappointments we might have experienced in this life, God extends his love for you in Jesus and invites you to be apart of His family in adoption.

   “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. 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. 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. ” (Galatians 4:1–7, ESV)

Right before this passage, in Galatians 3, Paul discusses 2,000 years of Old Testament history explaining the relationship between the promise of Abraham, the Law of Moses, and Jesus Christ and how they relate to one another.  Paul ultimately reasons that through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, the promise made to Abraham and his offspring now apply to those who are in Christ Jesus.  We then become heirs to the promise that God made to Abraham.  In Galatians 4:1-7, Paul discusses our adoption as sons and daughters through Christ.

In verses 1-3 Paul discusses our enslavement as children.  To do this, he gives an interesting metaphor.  Imagine the son of a man who owns a huge estate.  The child has been promised that he owns the estate, and he is the rightful heir to the estate.  However as a child, he is treated as a slave because he does not have a say in how the estate is managed.  The guardians and lawyers all dictate how the estate ought to be managed until the child is of age to be come the acting Lord of the estate.  In this way, the child is treated no differently than a slave who has to constantly succumb the the guardians placed above him.  Although the child is the heir to the estate, he is treated like a slave.  Paul says that this situation is exactly the way it is for the children of God.  Those who live under the Law live as slaves to the Law.

Is the Law then an evil thing?  Was the Law created by Satan himself to ensnare and entrap God’s people?  This is certainly not the case!  God gave the Law and it is good.  God intends that the Law reveals our sinfulness and drive us to Christ.  Satan intends that the Law reveals our sinfulness and drives us to despair.  John Stott  says it this way, “God meant the law as an interim step to man’s justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation.  God meant the law to be an interim stepping-stone to liberty; Satan uses it as a cul-de-sac, deceiving his dupes into supposing that from its fearful bondage there is no escape.”

In verses 4-7 Paul explains how Jesus brings us into adoption as sons.  God’s brilliant plan to save humanity was to send himself to be born of a woman and to be placed under the requirements of the Law.  This is crucial because that means Jesus is one of us.  He is fully man and fully place under the righteous standard God set in place.  Jesus did this so that he might “redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Because Jesus was fully man and perfectly obeyed the Law, through his death we receive his righteousness and come into God’s family. You and I then become adopted as sons and daughters of God.  The great news is that we are brought into God’s family by the death of Jesu!  Not only did God make us his sons and daughters, but he seals that adoption with the Holy Spirit.  Now our hearts are able to cry out to God and call him “Abba! Father!” just as Jesus did, because of Christ’s death and the assurance of our adoption in the Holy Spirit.

There is a reason God describes himself as Father.  Despite all the varied emotions that rise up in our hearts when we think of the word, God shows that he is the loving father who extends to us the hand of adoption.  We are no longer slaves, but our adoption is purchased through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Do not believe the lie that you are alone in this world.  You are not alone; You have a loving Dad, our great God, who invites you to join and to become apart of His family, the church.

Freedom in Christ and Holiness

Over the past few years I've noticed a dramatic change in the way younger 20-something Christians think about their freedom in Christ.  Many grew up in Churches that were legalistic and seemed to add rules to the Scripture that Scripture it self does not specify.  Those who grew up in a church in which Phariseeism was the norm, either left the Christian faith completely or sought out a new way to live out their faith.  This generation is rightly abandoning legalism, but for what?  The pendulum is always swinging back and forth between generations.  The pendulum has swung to far to legalism and now as it is swinging back it is approaching antinominism, or rather sining anyway because Christ forgives.  As it tends to happen, people flee to the two extremes rather than balancing the tension between freedom in Christ and personal holiness. Whenever Paul shared the Gospel, a question from his critics continually came up.  If Paul is really teaching and preaching a Gospel of justification by faith alone, does that mean that you can just continue on in your sin and it doesn't matter? Paul answers this response in Romans 6 and in Galatians 2:17.  Paul's answer is a resounding no.  His answer is simple, but mysterious.  Paul says that when we come to Christ and truly accept him as our Lord and Savior than we are dead to our sin and alive in Christ.  We are then "Crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." (Gal 2:20)  Our hearts desires are radically changed and Christ lives through us as his body, the church.  Yes we are saved only by faith through grace in Jesus, but when that happens our appetite for sin has been sizzled out.  We now desire the things of God, and mourn when our fleshly desires gets the best of us.

Yes there is amazing freedom in Christ.  Yes, technically we can go and do whatever we want to do, but if we have really been transformed by Jesus we will want to follow after him. Sin should not abound in a Christians life just because grace does.  We should seek to be holy, set apart while simultaneously being free from the yoke of legalism.  Christ did not die to give us a blank check to sin, but to free us from the slavery of sin so that we might willingly become slaves to Christ.

As you live your life as a Christian, live in freedom, but live in holiness.  Don't use your freedom in Christ as an excuse to look at pornography or overfill your stomach with food.  Don't use your freedom to be addicted by anything or be filled with drunkenness.  Rejoice and celebrate your freedom in Christ, but understand that Christ freed us so that He wold live through us.  Be holy as Jesus is holy.  Remember, "For Freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal 5:1)

Justified by Faith

In the Forest Hills Student Ministry we have been studying the book of Galatians verse by verse. As we do this, I have been writing Bible Study Curriculum for our teachers to lead small groups. Here is an adaptation of one of those lessons from Galatians 2:15-21. I hope by God's grace it is beneficial to you:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. - Galatians 2:15-21

In Paul's letter, especially in the book of Galatians, there is a huge theological teaching that we must grasp. This issue is central to the teaching of the church and essential to the truth of the Gospel. It is the doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification deals with the issue of, how can a righteous God have a relationship with unrighteous sinners? If God is a holy and good God, how can miserably wicked mankind ever be united in a intimate relationship with Him? This question is precisely the issue at the foundation of Christianity. In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul unpacks the depths of this doctrine which is the truth of the Gospel. Remember in Galatians, Paul is battling a group of early Christians called the judiazers over how justification happens. The judiazers claimed humanity is justified by Jesus and the works of the Law. Paul claimed that we are justified by faith and faith alone. Within this passage, we will come to see that we are saved not by our own righteous effort but we are justified by faith because of the righteous blood of Jesus Christ. In verse 15, Paul, still reflecting on his confrontation with Peter, states that they are Jews who know and obey the Old Testament Law, while the gentiles are ignorant of the written law and are sinners. Paul says that although the Jews might be more righteous than the gentiles, those good deeds are ultimately pointless when it comes to being justified before God. Paul states in verse 16, “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” Salvation isn’t like the world religions, where your good deeds must out weigh your bad ones. No matter how good you are, you will never measure up to God’s holy and righteous standard. Romans tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Our righteousness can not save us, only faith in Christ. This might lead some to the question, why does faith in Jesus justify humanity back to God? The reason is that Jesus is the only one who ever perfectly obeyed the Law. He is the only one who has kept the whole law in both mind, heart, and deed. He is God in the flesh, and on the cross Jesus substituted himself in our place, taking on the death of our sin, and in return he gives us his righteousness. Therefore, when we have faith in Jesus Christ we trust in the righteousness that he gives to us, not our own. It is only through faith in Christ that God’s righteous anger can be pacified and wicked sinners can be justified. In verse 17, Paul brings up a common argument of the Judiazers against the doctrine of Justification by faith. The Judiazers argument was that if we are justified by faith alone, and not by our works, doesn’t that just encourage people to keep on sinning? If Jesus saves us without any conditions, doesn’t that just mean people will just continue in their wicked ways? This was a regular objection to the Gospel by the religious people of Paul’s day. The phrasing of verse 17-18 can be difficult and it would be good to examine Romans 6 to better understand Paul’s point here. Paul’s response to this argument is that justification is more than just a change in legal standing before God, it is a change at the very core of who we are. God announces us righteous because of Christ, but transforms us and writes His law on our hearts (Jerimiah 31:33). John Stott put it well when he says “No Christian who has grasped these truths could ever seriously contemplate reverting to the old life.” Jesus now lives within us and we share with him his death and resurrection. For the one who has been justified by faith, he no longer lives for himself, but Christ lives in him and he lives by faith in the son of God. (v. 20) This is the grace of God given to us in Jesus and if we could be saved through our righteous acts, the works of the law, Jesus’ death was without purpose. If we could be saved by works than Jesus died for nothing.