Pastor David B. Curtis


Slaves to Sons - Part 2

Galatians 4:5-11

Delivered 03/13/2005

We began looking at this section last week, and we only made it to verse 4. So this morning we'll pick it up with verse 5 and try to get to verse 11.

In verses 1-2 Paul talks about a well-known practice in the ancient world, that of an heir coming of age so as to enjoy all that he has legally possessed, but which has been beyond his personal control. Then in 3-5 he makes the analogy to the status of the believing Jews who lived under the Law. The "heir" under Roman law had legal ownership of his father's wealth; he did not actually possess it or enjoy it. So, too, the believing Jews had the promises of God to Abraham, yet they were not yet realized or enjoyed:

Galatians 4:5 (NASB) in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

The word "redeem," comes from the common terminology of Paul's day. It goes back to the marketplace where slaves were regularly sold. It literally means: "to buy out of the marketplace" or "to ransom from slavery." The slave had no way of personal deliverance in this case. He was held in bondage, hoping that someone might redeem him. Redemption involved a price and a person to pay the price.

John Newton, the man who wrote the most popular and famous hymn in America, Amazing Grace, knew how to remember this. He was an only child whose mother died when he was only seven years old. He became a sailor and went out to sea at eleven years old. As he grew up he became the captain of a slave ship and had an active hand in the horrible degradation and inhumanity of the slave trade. But when he was twenty-three, on March 10, 1748, when his ship was in imminent danger of sinking off the coast of Newfoundland, he cried to God for mercy, and he found it. He never forgot how amazing it was that God had received him, as bad as he was. To keep it fresh in his memory, he fastened across the wall over the fireplace mantel of his study the words of Deuteronomy 15:15: You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you. If we keep fresh in our mind what we once were, and what we are now in Jesus Christ, it will benefit us daily.

"That we might receive the adoption as sons" - The word "adoption," found here and in Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4 and Ephesians 1:5, is compounded of two words: "sons" and "placing"; so that we may take it as signifying the act or ceremony of placing the sons of God in the position appropriate to that high and holy relationship and of investing them with the honor, wealth, and glory, which is the good pleasure of the Father to give them.

Adoption was defined by Roman law and widely practiced in Roman life. Several Roman emperors adopted men not related to them by blood in order to give them their office and authority. When a son was adopted, he was in all legal respects equal with those born into his new family. He had the same name, the same inheritance, the same position, and the same rights as the natural-born sons. God sent His Son, who by his divine nature was the Son of God, in order that we, who are not His children by nature, might be His children by adoption and thus receive the full rights of sons. We have the same name, the same inheritance, the same position, and the same rights as the one who is Son of God by virtue of his divine nature.

Turn with me to Romans 8 and let's see what Paul says about adoption there:

Romans 8:15-16 (NASB) For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

Paul tells the Romans that they had "received a spirit of adoption." Young's literal translation reads, "Ye did receive a spirit of adoption." But notice:

Romans 8:23 (NASB) And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

In verse 15 Paul tells them they had received the "spirit of adoption," but in verse 23 he says that they are "waiting eagerly" for it. If you look at the next two verses, it is clear that they did not have it yet:

Romans 8:24-25 (NASB) For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Do we, twenty first century believers, have the adoption, or do we still wait for it? The words translated "eagerly wait" in verse 23 are from the Greek word apekdechomai. This Greek word is only used seven times in the New Testament, and every one of them is in reference to the Second Coming. So if the second coming has not happened yet, then neither has our adoption.

Paul is telling them that their adoption would be complete at the return of Christ. They were waiting for the redemption of their Body (one body - the Body of Christ, which they were being built into). It is this that Paul was referring to as being the revealing of the sons of God. It was the time when the full manifestation of who the true people of God were. In Romans 8 we read:

Romans 8:19 (NASB) For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

This word translated "creation" is the same word used many times to refer not to the physical creation, but creatures themselves. In some cases, such as 2 Corinthians 5, "a new creation" - it is referring to the elect of God. In verse 21 of Romans 8, we are told:

Romans 8:21 (NASB) that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Now can this be the physical creation? This is the Old Testament saints who had died in faith not receiving the promise. They had to be delivered from the "bondage of corruption," which was the Old Covenant law . Paul then says:

Romans 8:23 (NASB) And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

"And not only this, but also we ourselves" - In addition to the Old Testament saints who have died and were waiting in Sheol for the resurrection, the New Testament believer at that time was waiting for the adoption - "the redemption of OUR (plural) body (singular)"; the redemption of the purchased possession. They were waiting for the return of Christ to bring their adoption and redemption to it completion. And until that happened, they were sealed by the Holy Spirit:

Ephesians 1:13-14 (NASB) In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.

The transition saints were sealed with the Holy Spirit, who was a pledge of their inheritance, until redemption was complete at the Second Coming. Today, all believers have received the adoption already. God has brought us into His family, made us His sons and given us all that Christ is and has.

There was an incredible news report several years ago about a family that adopted a man as their son after he had killed their daughter. It was an unbelievable show of love and forgiveness from a human standpoint that they would bring this man into their own family. But when we consider what God does in adoption, it makes this act pall in comparison. For He has adopted a whole race of God-hating enemies into His family! And our enmity was not by one act, but it was bound up in our natures and continually demonstrated in our actions. God sent forth His Son so that He might secure a group of rebellious, hateful, wicked sinners to be His sons and daughters through adoption!

Galatians 4:6 (NASB) And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

With this verse Paul broadens his reference to the benefits of sonship which belong to the Gentile Galatian Christians. The change from first person (we) to second person (you) shows that the adoption received by those under law (v. 5) was also received by the Gentile converts.

Speaking to the Gentiles, he says, "And because you are sons" - how did they become sons? The only answer is faith:

Galatians 3:26 (NASB) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Now, since the Galatians had believed in Jesus Christ, crucified for their sin (Galatians 3:1), they were "sons of God." And being sons, God had sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts. This means that every believer, every son of God, has the Spirit of His Son within him. In fact, Paul states this in:

Romans 8:9 (NASB) However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

Then, we see in Galatians 4:6 the outcome of God's Spirit in our hearts. It is in the words "crying, Abba, Father." The participle "crying" is grammatically tied to the word "Spirit," so that it is the Spirit who does the "crying." But the point is that He utters this cry within our hearts so that we understand not that God is the Spirit's Father, but rather, ours. In other words, the first ministry to us that the Spirit performs after regeneration is faith - He assures us that God has become to us "Abba."

"Abba" is an Aramaic word for father. Significantly, the only other place in the Bible where "Abba, Father" appears is in Mark 14. On the eve of His crucifixion, the Lord was deeply troubled in the garden of Gethsemane. He prayed:

Mark 14:36 (NASB) And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt."

That the Lord addressed His Father, "Abba, Father" in His moment of deep distress reveals that "Abba, Father" is an expression of the greatest intimacy between father and son. It is an expression of total dependence on the Father.

The word Abba appears in certain legal texts of the Mishna as a designation used by grown children in claiming the inheritance of their deceased father. As a word of address, Abba is not so much associated with infancy as it is with intimacy.

As Paul puts it in Romans 8, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" - I believe He does this by giving us faith. He gives us the ability to trust in God, to depend upon God. As our new Father, we look to Him to meet our every need.

We have a Trinitarian teaching within this text: God the Father sends God the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of God the Son, into our hearts to give us an assurance that we are the sons and daughters of God.

The Spirit of His Son: The Holy Spirit can be called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, or linked to God the Father. This is because the nature of God is consistent among the persons of the Trinity. Here, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of His Son because the idea of our sonship is based on Jesus' sonship.

Galatians 4:7 (NASB) Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

If we look at verses 8-10, we see that Paul's contextual concept of a "servant" is that of an unbeliever. He says that the ones to whom he refers with his word "servant" - "knew not God," nor were "known of God." The word that he uses in the statement "known of God" is a word which refers to intimate knowledge. He is not claiming a blank spot in the omniscience of God. Instead, he is claiming the absence of the personal knowledge that exists in the Father/son relationship.

Because we are sons, we are heirs. We are heirs only through "Christ." We are not the cause of our birth into the family of God. Christ is.

Galatians 4:8 (NASB) However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

Paul seems to be claiming that all men are inherently religious - "you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods." A person does not have to be deeply committed to some religiously defined god to be a slave to non-gods. All a person has to do is have some objective or goal which he consistently pursues.

The acquisition of wealth is, for some, a pursuit of a god. For others, public opinion is a god for whom they will do almost anything. For others, pleasure in the physical realm is god - and their commitment and willingness to sacrifice is incredible (they will destroy their minds, families, bodies, reputations, health in order to experience a momentary pleasure). For others, knowledge is a god for whom they will spend themselves. Others serve the god of power over others.

There is nothing more tragic than the man who spends his life in the pursuit of some false god - sacrificing everything along the way and then ends up with only his god. For example, take the man for whom success is a god. He spends all of his energies and time chasing it - and becomes successful. But, in the process, he alienates his wife, children, friends, and business associates. So, he lies in some lone bed in some home for the aged in his latter years when his strength is gone - tormented to tears because "no one cares." His wife has gone. His children fight over his wealth, but don't come to see him. He has captured his false god and lost everything.

In a blanket statement to the Galatians, he tells them that they formerly had done service to false gods. He did not define their specific gods, but he did declare that they all had practiced a religion of their own making. These people may have worshiped Caesar through the Roman Imperial cult. Or perhaps they were devoted to one of the many mystery religions which were so common in the Hellenistic world. Others may have been involved in the worship of the star gods, celestial bodies whose movement in the heavens were believed to control life on earth. But the point is clear- they all worshiped something.

Galatians 4:9 (NASB) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

The term for "knowing God" is not a simple understanding of certain facts which the Bible speaks of God. Instead, it is an intimate knowledge of Him. The word implies something which is experiential. This same word is used in other passages to refer to the intimacies of marriage. Our Lord said of eternal life:

John 17:3 (NASB) "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.

You did not come to know God because you had more integrity than other humans, so that you pursued Him until you found Him. No, indeed! He sought you! Paul says, "or rather to be known by God." Before the foundations of the world were laid, He set His eye upon you in redeeming love. Before you ever entered your mother's womb, He provided your salvation through sending His Son in your place to the cross. Before you ever desired Him, He pursued you. Before you ever called out to Him for mercy, He effectually called you in the secret places of your heart. This is why the Apostle Paul could write, in a passage that redounds to the glory of God, "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus..." (1 Corinthians 1:30).

You are known by God. Think of this for a moment. The eternal God, who is infinitely holy and glorious, knows you with intimacy and redemptive love. Prior to any demonstration of faith or obedience on your part, He pursued you and set His intimate knowledge upon you. So, our knowing God is conditioned upon His prior knowledge of us.

Paul states that since you know God " is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?"

The threat facing the Galatians was that of "turning," or apostatizing. Commenting on this verse one writer states, "It is in the practice of perseverance that the child of God receives assurance that he truly belongs to Christ. He does not gain merit through his perseverance, but he does show the true nature of a new life in Christ. Those who turn back to their former slavery demonstrate an unchanged nature; they were never sons, only slaves."

Another writer states, "A true faith will be evidenced by perseverance in the faith. This is why the Scripture exhorts us over and again to endure, to be steadfast, to persevere, to continue on in the faith. It is not to gain merit, for the only merit which pleases God is that which Jesus Christ has imputed to us. But it is in persevering that we have the assurance that a person has truly been born of God."

So, both of these men are saying that "perseverance" brings assurance. Which is saying that we know we are saved by our works. But in our text Paul states clearly that the Galatians were believers - they knew God.

Does a lack of continuation mean that we were never really saved? Let's look for a moment at the doctrine of the "Perseverance of the saints." This is one of the five points of Calvinism. The acronym "Tulip" is used for the five points of Calvinism. It stands for: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints.

When someone says that they believe in the perseverance of the saints, you have to find out what they mean by that, because this doctrine is interpreted in two different ways:

View 1. A true Christian will never fall away, but will live a life of holiness and obedience. They will always persevere in holiness, they will always live a holy life.

View 2. The other interpretation, which I hold to, is basically that no one whom God has brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ will ever be lost. When I use the term "Perseverance of the saints," I'm speaking about what most would call "eternal security."

Let's examine view 1 of the perseverance of the saints. Does the Bible teach that a true believer will always walk in obedience? Not hardly. If so, why all the exhortations to believers to STOP sinning? The Bible teaches that a Christian can walk in sin and even turn from the faith. The Bible shows us that believers can live in a sinful state:

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NASB) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

They were acting like unsaved men. Were the Corinthians saved? The Scriptures make it clear that they were:

1 Corinthians 1:2 (NASB) to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
1 Corinthians 1:4 (NASB) I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,
1 Corinthians 1:7 (NASB) so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

It should be clear that they were believers, but were they living in obedience? No!

1 Corinthians 5:1 (NASB) It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife.
1 Corinthians 5:11 (NASB) But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother [being named a brother-YLT ] if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one.

So is it possible for someone who is a Christian to live a sinful life? I think that it is even possible for someone who is a Christian to turn away from the Christian faith. This is what we call "the doctrine of Apostasy" -- a believer can turn away from the faith:

1 Timothy 4:1 (NASB) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,

What is apostasy? The word means: "a falling away, a withdrawal or a defection."

Hebrews 3:12 (NASB) Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.

Commentators agree that the issue in Galatians 4:8 is apostasy, but they don't agree on what apostasy is. There are three main views on apostasy:

1. Arminian view - apostate is a believer losing his salvation and being damned to hell.

We know this isn't true, because Jesus Christ has perfected believers forever by His sacrifice on the cross:

Hebrews 10:14 (NASB) For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

2. Lordship view - an apostate is someone who pretends to believe. He's an unbeliever who acts like a believer for awhile and then falls away and is damned forever.

What these views have in common is that in both of them apostates go to hell. In one view they lose their salvation, and in the other they never had it. So in the Lordship view, the apostate's position never changed, he's always been on his way to hell. What, then, did he fall away or depart from?

3. Free Grace view - an apostate is a believer who turns his back on Christianity. He falls away from His fellowship with the Lord and comes under temporal judgement.

Believers, we must understand that apostasy is something that ALL of us are capable of, and all of us must guard against. In Hebrews 10 we have a Divine prescription for the prevention of apostasy and it is given in the form of three exhortations:

1. Worship - "Let us draw near"- verses 22.
2. Perseverence - "Let us hold fast" - verse 23.
3. Fellowship - "Let us consider one another"- verse 24.

Worship: if a believer is going to live the victorious Christian life, he must be a worshiper. The call to draw near to God speaks of our communion or fellowship with God. We draw near to God by spending time with Him through Bible study and prayer.

Perseverance: "let us hold fast" this is a call for endurance. The Greek word for "hold fast" is katecho, and it means: "to continue in, to hold down, to keep in memory." It was used in nautical circles with the meaning: "to hold one's course." Our union with Christ can never be broken, but we can move in and out of communion. The readers are not told to hold fast to their union, but to their communion.

Believers, if we are going to protect ourselves from the dangers of apostasy, we must draw near to God through Bible study and prayer, and we must have endurance. The third element in the prescription for victory is found in:

Hebrews 10:24 (NASB) and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,

This is a little surprising. It is my opinion that apart from the first two, trying this will actually cause apostasy.

We are told that we are to consider "one another." The word "consider" is from the Greek word katanoeo. Katanoeo is a compound word composed of kata, which means: "down" and noeo, which means: "to exercise the mind." It has the idea of thoroughly and carefully noticing someone or something. A good English equivalent would be: "to contemplate." Paul put it this way in Philippians:

Philippians 2:4 (NASB) do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Do you realize that, according to Scripture, you and I are personally responsible for the physical and spiritual welfare of each believer in this assembly? Don't think that the elders are solely responsible for the spiritual oversight of the assembly. This exhortation is not given to the elders, it's given to every believer. We are all to consider others. We are to look to their needs, problems, and struggles. We often think that we have discharged our responsibility to the Lord, because we are individually living in holiness, but we are wrong. We are not only to look out for our own lives, but we are to consider others. Christianity is others oriented! But most of us care only about meeting our own needs; we ignore the many instructions in the Bible about our responsibility to others.

Galatians 4:9-10 (NASB) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Notice how the Galatians turned. It was not from God to a life of godless antagonism to all things religious. Rather, it was from God to a system of religion that made them appear all the more committed to God.

It must have come as a shock to the Galatian Christians to read these words. After all, they had no intention of returning to their former way of life in paganism. On the contrary, they were attempting to make progress in their new spiritual life by learning and observing the Mosaic law, which prohibited pagan idolatry. Yet now Paul is asking them why they are turning back to those weak and miserable principles. "Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?" he asks.

As we said last week, the "elemental things" were the principles of Judaism which verse 10 makes clear. Their observance of special days, months, times, and years was one of the more obvious examples of their departure from the true gospel. What he is claiming is that the observance was, itself, an example of their apostasy. They were assigning something to that activity which was contrary to the truth of the gospel. They felt that the practice of these things would recommend them to God. They believed that their position of favor with God was directly dependent upon their performance of His commands. This doctrine invariably causes a shift in man's faith from God's promises to man's performance.

Today we also must guard against this legalism. We have a promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. If we simply believe the God who made the promise, we are acting by faith. If, however, we add to that promise certain conditions of human performance (circumcision, water baptism, etc.), there is an inevitable shift in our faith from the God who promised to our abilities to do whatever is assigned to us to do.

We don't have many legalists today who observe special religious times such as days, months, times, and years. Modern day Galatianists usually add such human performance items as water baptism, church membership, regular church attendance, tithing, observance of the Lord's Supper, and, generally, observance of the particulars of morality espoused by them.

Either men are saved by faith in the promise of God, or they are saved by faith in their ability to perform the demands of God. But they are not saved by both. The issues remain today. Our faith is either totally in God and His performance for us, or it is in God plus our obedience to His requirements of righteousness. The former is faith; the latter is pagan idolatry where the creature is worshipped instead of the Creator.

Galatians 4:11 (NASB) I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

Labored is literally "to labor to the point of exhaustion." Paul worked hard among the Galatians, and he was concerned that his labor was in vain.

Paul was not afraid that the Galatians had not come to faith in Christ. He himself clearly declares, "God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son..." (4:6-7). Thus, if he believed them to be heirs of God, it is impossible that he feared for their eternal security.

That brings us to his real fear; Paul's goal in Galatia was to establish the believers on the road to maturity in Christ. Thus, his fear was that they had been effectively side-tracked so that they would not grow into maturity. Paul feared that his labor among them was coming to nothing.

With his expression of heartfelt concern for his converts, Paul closes the entire rebuke section of his letter. He will now move to his request for a change of direction.

How about you? Does Paul need to fear for you also? Are you making progress in your Christian life? How are you more Christ-like now than you were last year? If we are not making progress in our Christian lives, then we are in danger of turning back. Living the Christian live is not easy, and we need each other's help.

I really believe that practical sanctification of spiritual growth is a family matter. That is, it involves the whole family of believers in a local church. I don't believe that we are sanctified in isolation from other believers. Sanctification takes place within the framework of relationships we have with one another in the church. Guy Appere has expressed this clearly: "By God's deliberate choice, sanctification is a collective process taking place in a community, and, apart from special circumstances, the Christian's way to sanctification is in company with other Christians and with their help." [The Mystery of Christ, 107]

Believers, as hard as it is to swallow, we need each other.

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