We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. As Christians, we must understand what the Bible teaches us about justification and adoption. The doctrine of justification teaches us that we are right before God the Judge. The doctrine of adoption we are loved by God the Father. In this message on Galatians 3:26–4:7, Pastor David Platt reminds us that we have an eternal Father, family, and home.
1. God sent his Son so that we might receive the position of sons.
2. God sent his Spirit so that we might experience the privileges of sons.
Free at Last
Free as Sons
Dr. David Platt
December 21, 2008
Free as Sons
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open with me to Galatians 3. Let’s look at a picture of adoption in the Scripture today. Adoption is a process that is familiar to many people in this room. We have families right now who are in the middle of that process. Many of you know Randy and Valerie Hall are in Ukraine right now, adopting four children, and another one, hopefully, next year, to bring their sum total to ten children in the Hall family.
I know the Underwood’s are in the middle of the adoption process, waiting to travel back. The Nichols have their travel date for January, and a variety of other families across this room that are at different points in that process. There really is just an adoptive culture here at Brook Hills, which I think is…it’s not only a good thing; I think it’s necessitated by the New Testament. In church…I’m not saying that every family, every Christian family should or must adopt, but the reality is if we are following this book, we will be an adopting people who nurture an adopting atmosphere, because it’s what the gospel is all about.
I remember when Heather and I first came here. We were just…I was filling in preaching, and we didn’t run in a lot of circles where adoption was very common. So, we thought we were kind of an anomaly. When we came to Brook Hills, and we first started telling a couple of folks that we were in the process of adoption, and the first question we would always get asked was, “Well, how many?” It was like, “How many? What do you mean? We’re just adopting one child.” They said, “Oh, just one?” Yeah, and we found out apparently that’s just kind of bottom of the rung, so to speak, at Brook Hills. So, it’s a good thing.
There’s a lot of interesting things about the adoption process; a lot of challenging things about the adoption process, and those of you who’ve been through that process know that one of the greatest challenges probably comes in listening to other people talk about adoption. There are some phrases that just get under your skin when you’re going through that process. I want to give you just a couple of phrases, not…I mean, you can write these down. I meant that a bit facetiously, but these are phrases I would encourage you to not share with an adoptive parent, okay?
First, I remember…now, obviously, when we adopted Caleb from Kazakhstan…this was close to two years ago now…a lot of people around here, especially in the church, knew our story, but there’s certainly different places where people haven’t known our story, and so we’ve had an opportunity to tell the story about Caleb and how we had adopted him.
Sometimes people will hear that story, and they’ll look back and say, “That is so nice. Now, do you have any children of your own, too?” Okay. Phrase number one not to say to an adoptive parent: “Do you have any children of your own?” That’s when you put your arm around this person, you kind of bring them in and say, “I’ve got a secret for you: he’s ours. Like, he’s our own children.” It’s not, “Oh, we have this child, and then our own children over here; our own children.” When we got back, and Heather got pregnant with Joshua, and people would say, “Wow, that’s great. You have an adopted child and now you’re going to have one of your own.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no. We have this tendency to divide children, to distinguish children between, “Well, there’s adopted children, and there’s biological children”, as if adopted is some adjective to describe a child. It’s not an adjective; it’s an action that has taken place. You adopt someone, and now they’re not an adopted child; they’re a child, period. They’re your child. Not your adopted or your biological; they’re your child, period. I’m going to get a little riled up on a couple of these, okay, as you can tell. You’re like, “Okay, we get the point; we get the point,” but, all right, that’s one.
I remember another conversation. This was before we were traveling to Kazakhstan, and we were telling some folks, “We’re going to adopt a child from Kazakhstan.” The response, no lie, that came back…surprised look on this one particular lady’s face, “We’re going to adopt a child from Kazakhstan.” She looked back, and she said, “A real one?” “No, a plastic one that we can put on our mantle and look at all day. Yes, a real child. Like, what else do you…yes, they’re real.” So okay, now don’t go there. So, don’t…okay, no ask if they’re real…don’t go there.
Another one that was common that, to be honest, I probably even said before we went through the adoption process, and I know I at least thought it. A lot of times, people will say, “Well, we like the idea of adoption, but first we’d like to have children of our own.” Or “Well, we’d like our first baby or first children to be ours, and then we’ll have adopted children.” Again, you hear kind of the language from that first phrase.
We have this mentality that adoption is almost a consolation prize for those who cannot have children of their own, and again, I am particularly sensitive to this because I think that was part of my thinking, and the reality is adoption is no consolation prize for parents who cannot have children of their own, so they go second best and have an adopted child. No, not at all.
In fact, adoption is best, just like biological birth is best. These are processes whereby someone becomes a child, period, and there’s no distinction in that sense. Even sometimes when people say, “Well, I just don’t know if I can love an adopted child as much as I love a biological child.”, again, you see that distinction that’s coming in, and the reality is a child is loved. We can definitely say, from having been through the process of adoption and the process of biological birth, there is absolutely no difference in the wonder of the affection that is felt for children, period…period.
Sometimes, people will say…this is another big one…sometimes, people will say, “Well, have you ever met Caleb’s real mother?” “Okay, let me introduce you to her. Her name is Heather.” They say, “Well, you know what I mean.” “Okay, what do you mean? That she’s…like, Heather’s her fake mother and there’s a real mother out there?” Then, I start going off on defending my wife. So, anyway…so, I would encourage you not to ask a real mother.
Another one: I would encourage you not to go here, because, well, the thought or the question that comes up, “Oh, he’s adopted. How much did he cost?” Okay…all right, now we’re about…we’re about to take the gloves off now. As if you can put a price tag on a child, and especially in light of all that we spend our money on, but anyway. No, you don’t go there. Another thought, we’ve had people ask us, “Well, obviously he doesn’t know much about his family heritage. Are you going to teach him about his cultural heritage?” People are surprised when Heather and I will respond to that,
Actually, Caleb does know a lot about his family heritage. He knows all about his granddad who he didn’t have the opportunity to meet, but he has all kinds of pictures and videos. His favorite video is the Grandpa video. He knows his other granddad very well, his two grandmoms, his aunts, his uncles, his cousins, his great aunts, his great uncles…Caleb has more family heritage than he knows what to do with, and not just family heritage.
We’re very intentional about teaching his cultural heritage. He is familiar with cultural literature like Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and Goodnight, Moon, and he runs around the house saying, “Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the…” Oh, you have the same heritage that Caleb does. This is odd.
He knows all about his culture’s foods, like barbecue and mac and cheese and watermelon and birthday cake. He’s very familiar with cultural music. He probably can’t identify a Kazakh song right now, but he knows the Brook Hills worship CD backwards and forwards. He may not yet know the Kazakh national anthem, but he has heard Sweet Home, Alabama.
Some of you are clapping like, “Yeah, that’s our national anthem, yes.” You’re saying, “Well, don’t you want to teach him about his heritage?” and the very question implies that his heritage is thousands of miles away. However, his heritage is here.
Now, I want to be careful here. I’m not saying that Kazakhstan is not important in his life, or in any child who has been adopted from another country, especially if adopted later on in life and have spent a lot of time and had much experience in that country. However, the reality is when Caleb came into our family, he was all Platt. Not partly a part of the Platt family; he was all a part of the Platt family, and his heritage is as a son of David and Heather Platt.
This is where we realized some of these phrases that I would encourage you to avoid are really not as much just phrases that frustrate adoptive parents. In a deeper way, they actually demonstrate an underlying…I’m convinced…an underlying deficiency when it comes to our understanding of Christianity, especially this distinction between biological child or adopted child. We have such a hard time thinking of a child if flesh and blood are not involved, and if that’s the case, then we will have a very, very difficult time understanding the gospel, a story that tells about a spiritual, trans-racial adoption that takes place in each one of our lives. That’s what I want us to dive into today. I want us to consider what it means to be adopted into the family of God.
Salvation in Galatians …
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Think of the very beginning of what we’ve been studying in Galatians up to this point. We’ve been three weeks, did three chapters, been flying through these. I want to remind you an overview of what we’ve seen about salvation and Galatians. One statement that really sums it all up: We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That statement sums up what we’ve seen in Galatians. We’re saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Grace alone we saw in Galatians 1. Remember the truth we saw there; God’s pleasure in you is not based on your performance for Him. God’s pleasure in us is not based on our performance for Him. This is huge. God’s pleasure in us is not based on our performance for Him. It’s by grace alone.
We saw in Galatians 2, saved by grace alone through faith alone. Instead of God’s pleasure in us being based on our performance before Him, God’s pleasure in us is based on whose performance? Christ’s performance for us and in us. This is the beauty of faith; that we trust in Christ. We’ve been crucified with Christ; we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. The life we live, we live by what? Faith, Galatians 2:20. Faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.
So, we avoid legalism in Galatians 1, thinking that we can perform for God; we avoid hypocrisy in Galatians 2, living lives that are out of step with the truth of the gospel, and they come together in Galatians 3, in Christ alone. We looked last week at 2,000 years of history; Old Testament history from Abraham to Moses to Christ and how Christ fulfilled the law of Moses and completed the promise to Abraham and everything, not just biblical history, but all of history revolves around Christ. He is supreme. He is supreme as our righteousness and our joy and our hope and our strength and our life. He is everything to us at every moment. He is our life; He’s our everything. So, that’s what we’ve seen up to this point…salvation in Galatians.
Galatians 3 26–4:7 and the doctrine of justification
Now, there has been one doctrine that has risen to the top, and it’s the doctrine of justification. We define justification as the gracious act of God by which God declares a sinner righteous solely based on faith in Jesus Christ. What we said was…we looked to Galatians 2, and we said every follower of Christ needs a firm grasp on justification. Luther said, “It’s the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.” Calvin said, “It’s the hinge upon which everything in Christianity turns.” This is huge.
This idea is the doctrine of justification; the idea that we are right before God the Judge. We’re right before God the Judge. That God has declared us righteous before Him. That righteousness is not earned; your righteousness before God is not based on how well your week goes, how much you pray this week, how much you study the Word this week, what you do this week. You’re not trying to earn righteousness on a daily basis. Your righteousness is based completely on the righteousness of Christ in heaven, and God looks at you through the lens of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is an amazing truth, that God, a holy God, looks at us in our sin and pronounces, “Not guilty. Not guilty.”
However, as amazing as that truth is, that we are right before God the Judge…justification…I want to submit to you that there is an even higher truth in the gospel than that, an even greater truth in the gospel than that, and I want to draw on a friend of mine named J. I. Packer. I say friend of mine…I’ve never met him, but I feel like I know J. I. Packer really well because of this one particular book called Knowing God. I would highly recommend every follower of Christ in this room to read Knowing God by J. I. Packer. I put it on my top five of books that I would recommend anyone read.
It’s a book that I reread continually all throughout the year, every year. It is an incredible book about the theology of who God is as it applies to the way we live every day. There is a chapter that he has near the end of that book on adoption, Sons of God, and I wanted to bring him in because he’s got a lot more theological credibility than I do. I want you to listen to what he says. I think what he says can’t be summed up any better. He writes; Packer writes,
Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers, higher even than justification. This may cause raising of eyebrows, for justification is the gift of God on which, since Luther, evangelicals have laid the greatest stress, and we are accustomed to say, almost without thinking, that free justification is God’s supreme blessing to us sinners. Nonetheless, careful thought will show the truth of the statement I have just made. [Listen to what he says,] That justification, by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past, together with His acceptance for the future, is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel, is not in question.
So, he’s saying justification is primary, fundamental.
Justification is the primary blessing because it meets our primary spiritual need. We all stand by nature under God’s judgment. His law convicts us. Guilt gnaws at us, making us restless, miserable, and in our lucid moments, afraid. We have no peace in ourselves because we have no peace with our Maker, so we need the forgiveness of our sins and assurance of a restored relationship with God more than we need anything else in the world. And this, the gospel offers us before it offers us anything else.
So, he says justification, that’s primary; that’s where this picture starts, fundamental. However, then he says, “This is not to say that justification is the highest blessing of the gospel,” and that’s where Packer writes, “Adoption is higher because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.”
Galatians 3 26–4:7 and the doctrine of adoption
Here’s where I want you to think with me about the distinction between justification and adoption. Not that they’re completely separated; they build on one another, but in justification, we are declared right before God the Judge. In adoption, the truth that we see is that we are loved by God the Father, and that truth is so supremely high and supremely wonderful. It’s good to be declared right before a judge. It’s something even greater to be loved by God the Father.
I would illustrate it this way: If you can imagine standing before a judge knowing that you were guilty, and that judge declaring you, like he does every single one of us, through faith in Christ, not guilty. However, that’s not all he does. The judge does not sit there on the bench, declare “Not guilty,” and move on to the next case. Instead, this judge gets up off the bench, he comes around to where you are, he personally takes your chains off himself, and he takes your hand and says, “Come home with me into my family as my son.” Now, that’s good, and this is what the God of the universe does in adoption.
He declares us right in justification; He declares us loved as a son in adoption. That’s what I want us to dive into and see in Galatians 3 and 4. What does it mean to have God as the Father? I’ll pull in Packer one more time. Packer writes, “What is a Christian?” Now, think about that question. How would you respond if you were asked what is a Christian? What’s your explanation, what is a Christian? How would you answer that?
Packer writes, “The richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.” He continues, “If you want to know 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.”
I want us to be a people whose prayers and whose worship and whose outlook on life is prompted and controlled by the fact that we are children, and God is our Father. I want that to be evident on our countenances as we sing and as we leave this place and we live in this culture, that we have God as our Father.
So, let’s dive in. Galatians 3:26, and we’re going to read until the beginning of Galatians 4 and see the picture of God as our adoptive Father. Look at what it says in verse 26. Paul writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…” That sentence right there sums up everything we’ve seen and will see today in the book of Galatians. If that verse is not underlined in your Bible, let me encourage you to underline it.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. What I am saying is that as long as the heir is the child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you’re a son, God has made you also an heir.
You’re sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:26.
Now, I want to point out something real quick before we dive into this picture and this text. What you’ll notice is that the New Testament does not describe us here as sons and daughters of God; doesn’t describe us even as more gender-neutral children of God. Instead, this text…now, we see ourselves described as children of God in other places in the New Testament, but this text is simply talking about sons…specifically talking about sons, and there’s a reason behind that. It’s not because the New Testament is chauvinistic.
The reason is because in first century culture, as is common in many cultures, who would receive the inheritance in a family, a son or a daughter? A son. Picture we saw last week from Abraham to Moses to Christ, and this line that was carried through by an heir…Abraham’s son Isaac, son Jacob, and continuing on. So, when we get to this passage and Paul is talking about adoption and sons, he’s talking about receiving an inheritance, which we’re going to talk about later, that would be reserved for a son. What he’s saying, and even in verse 28, where he talks about Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female,
he’s saying, “It doesn’t matter what your gender is, your socioeconomic status is, or your ethnic identity is. You are, in Christ, a son. You receive an inheritance.”
So, actually, as opposed to being chauvinistic, the New Testament is actually being counter cultural here because it’s saying that every follower of Christ who’s female…daughter, so to speak…actually has the rights and privileges of a son, that we’re all together in this thing.
So, what you’ll see is even Paul contrasting, when you get to Galatians 4, you’ll see him contrasting children and sons. The background there is…and scholars debate whether or not Paul’s really addressing Greek backgrounds or Roman backgrounds or Jewish backgrounds, but in all three of those…Greek culture, Jewish culture, Roman culture…you had a period as a child where you were, just like it says in verse one, you were like a slave or a servant in your household, where you had guardians and trustees that watched over you. However, there came a point when you became a son, when you had the full rights and privileges and responsibilities of a son, and that’s the transition point that Paul’s talking about, referring to his adoption, when you receive the full rights of sons.
The Adoptive Father …
So, with that background, what I want to do is I want to show you two simple, glorious actions that God takes to become our adoptive Father. This is not something that is just automatic, that we’re just universally sons of God. This is a privilege that we enter into because of these two actions.
Galatians 3 26–4:7 explains how God sent His Son so that we might receive the position of sons.
Number one: God sent His Son so that we might receive the position of sons. Two actions He takes: first action is He sends His Son. He sent His Son so that we might receive the position of sons. This is Galatians 4:4, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” You get on later, it says, “So we might receive the full rights of sons.” Some translations, ESV says, “That we might be received as adopted sons.” The picture is adoption. To be placed in a position of sonship, and this is what God did. By sending His Son, He gave us the position of sons.
Now, it begs the question: How can God sending Jesus…this is a great Christmas text…how can God sending Jesus, what we celebrate this week, how does that make it possible for you or I to be sons of God? What is so unique or so significant about God sending Jesus that would make it possible for any sinner in this room who trusts in Jesus to be a son of God, to have all the inheritance that God gives His Son passed on to them? How does that happen?
Here’s where I want to use kind of a contemporary illustration, picture of adoption, and the adoption process, to help illustrate what’s going on here. Those of you who’ve been through the adoption process know that it’s not quite as simple as a process as you would like it to be. There are all kinds of things that have to come together in order to make an adoption happen. You’d think it would be as simple as we have an orphan child here; you have a willing parent here. Let’s put them together and make this happen. It just doesn’t work quite that easily. There are a lot of different things that have to happen. Think about it in light of this text.
First of all, adoption requires someone that comes at the right time; someone that comes at the right time. The adoption process…contemporary illustration, then we’ll dive into the text. It’s just not that simple. There are so many different hoops that have to be jumped through, boxes that have to be checked off. There’s a lot of waiting, there’s a lot of working, all this timing. For us, it was about a 14-month process. Some have shorter processes, some have longer processes, but there’s a time that all leads up to that moment when a judge declares this child to be a son or a daughter in a family.
That’s exactly what Paul’s talking about here. He says when the time had fully come, when everything came together at a point in time for this to happen…this is where this Christmas text just comes alive, because it’s not just about celebrating what happened 2,000 years ago, it’s about realizing why it happened exactly 2,000 years ago. Why did Christmas happen when Christmas happened?
Well, for a variety of different reasons that are highlighted here in Galatians. Number one, it was the right time theologically. That’s what we saw last week, that Old Testament law had pointed us, over and over again, to our need for Christ. Three hundred prophecies in the Old Testament, all of these shadows that are pointing to one substance in Christ.
So, all of this had happened. There’s a reason it didn’t happen 500 years…Christ didn’t come 500 years before or 500 years later. It was the right time, theologically. Second, it was the right time religiously. There was spiritual hunger, not just among the Jewish people, but you look at first century culture, and you look at Roman paganism and Roman idolatry and the spiritual hunger that was created as a result of that, and you see this was the right time, not just theologically for Old Testament Jews, but religiously for the people who lived in the first century culture.
Third, it was the right time culturally. The Greek language was common among people. It was the universal language of the people that made it possible for a method to be distributed to masses of people through one language. It was the right time theologically, religiously, culturally and politically. Politically, you had the Pax Romana, which was the peace of Rome; fancy term that, basically, describes how Rome had subdued all kinds of different nations and, in the process, had created an intricate system of roads for travel and commerce to take place. So, what you had was all of these factors coming together in this moment in the landscape of human history.
Now, don’t miss it. This is not God sitting up in heaven thinking, “Hmm, this factor seems to be coming together, and look what’s happening here and look what’s happening here. Let’s…maybe this would be a good time to send my Son.” No, what’s going on is the sovereign God of the universe, who before the creation of the world determined what would happen in sending His Son, has brought all of these things together for that point.
If I could just say…this is just a complete side note, but it’s worth saying. There is an appointed time when He is coming back. That’s good news. Christmas, He came once. Let’s remember He’s coming again, and God in His sovereign grace has set a time when it’s going to happen. Could be this afternoon. We may not even make lunch. Just stop looking at your watch, you know? He could be coming. So, anyway, that’s good news. A side point, we’ve got plenty to cover in this text. Right time, theologically, religiously, politically, culturally. Adoption requires someone who comes at the right time.
Second, adoption requires someone who comes who possesses the right qualifications…the right qualifications. Contemporary illustration of adoption: Heather and I started looking, “Where do we adopt from?” We started looking at countries, and we couldn’t adopt from this country because we were too young, or couldn’t adopt from this country because this or that. We couldn’t adopt for a while from any country because we didn’t have a house, because ours had gone under in Katrina. Who came up with the idea that you have to have a home to put a child in? However, that’s…they’re stringent on some of these things. So, you’ve got to check off all these boxes, and so you start going through this process where you show you’ve got the right qualifications.
So, what does Jesus bring to the table that Muhammad doesn’t? What does Jesus bring to the table that the Buddha doesn’t? What does Jesus bring to the table that this teacher or that teacher in the landscape of human history does not bring to the table? This is where Galatians 4:4 is just a theologically loaded verse. What does He bring to the table?
First qualification: He is fully divine. Jesus is fully divine. “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” Not created…His Son, God sent His Son, His pre-existent Son. Colossians 1:15, “The image of the invisible God…” Philippians 2:5 and 2:6, “In very nature, God…” Hebrews 1, “The exact representation of his being.”
God did not send a divine surrogate on His behalf; He came Himself. God sent His Son, fully divine. Not just fully divine, though, but fully human. Second qualification: He is fully human. “…sent his Son, born of a woman…” Same thing, Philippians 2 continues, “Being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in…” what? “…human likeness. Being found in appearance as a man…” fully human.
Born the natural way…the natural way, in soiled swaddling clothes, just like any other poor peasant in Palestine would have been born. It’s where…I love what Luther said. Luther said, “Christianity does not begin at the top as all other religious do. It begins at the bottom. You must run directly to a manger and a mother’s womb, embrace this infant and virgin’s child in your arms, and look at him.” Let’s not forget, even this week, that amidst all the story about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, what’s most significant about Christmas is not found in the circumstances surrounding the birth; it’s found in the identity of the baby there in that manger.
Fully divine, fully human, and fully righteous. Third qualification. “…sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law…” Not just born a man; born a Jewish man under Jewish law, would go be raised in a Jewish family and go to Jewish synagogue, and who would know the law of God; not only know it but faithfully, perfectly fulfill it. This is what we’ve talked about.
The only way that Jesus can die, for those who are unrighteous, is if he has perfect, what? Righteousness. He has to be perfectly righteous. These are his qualifications: fully divine, fully human, and fully righteous.
Adoption requires someone with the right time, with the right qualifications, and third, someone who has the right resolve. You do not adopt accidentally. We just happened to be in Kazakhstan. Didn’t even know it was there before we got there, but it’s there, and in this obscure city, we just happened to walk into this orphanage in this obscure city in Kazakhstan, saw this child, and he just happened to look at us, and we just happened to walk out of the house with him and happened to get on a plane and come…no, it doesn’t happen accidentally. It happens purposefully. Adoption always happens purposefully.
“God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to…” Here’s the purpose. Purpose clause: “…to redeem those under law.” What was His purpose? His resolve? He determined to redeem us. Take a flip over, just a page or two in your Bible, to the right to Ephesians 1. I want to read Ephesians 1:3, 1:4, and 1:5. This is one of those passages, I want to encourage you, just to let every single one of these words soak in and think about what it is saying, what the Bible is saying here. Listen to this. Ephesians 1:3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Listen to verse 4: “For he chose us…” chose us, “…in him before the creation of the world…” Is there an “Amen” resounding in anybody’s heart when you hear that? “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…”
Now, we like to debate that, but let’s not. Let’s delight in that. The God of the universe, before the creation of the world, set His affections on you, and He determined to adopt you as His child. He determined to redeem us.
Now, we’ve got to be careful here, especially as we’re using this contemporary illustration of adoption and the process of contemporary adoptions, because I think we have oftentimes an over-glamorized picture of adoption. Sweet, precious children around the world, innocent children just waiting to be adopted. Sweet and precious are definitely there; innocent, not always the case. The reality is adoption is not an easy process, and anybody who’s been through that process knows that there are all kinds of difficulties that go with that. This is even greater in the New Testament. Because you get to Ephesians 2, and the same people that are talked about as being adopted in Ephesians 1, in Ephesians 2 are described as being objects of the wrath of God, because they are so immersed in following the ruler of this world and gratifying the desires of their sinful nature.
They have chosen. They’re not…we are not described as orphans who are without a Father; we are described as orphans who have rejected our Father, who have said we don’t want Him. Everything in us…everything in us is turned against Him. We are not ideal prospects for adoption.
Russ Moore teaches at Southern Seminary, also an adoptive parent, and he’s written about adoption. I want you to listen to one section that he writes that I think sums this up well. He writes,
Imagine for a moment that you’re adopting a child. As you meet with a social worker in the last stage of the process, you’re told that this 12-year-old has been in and out of psychotherapy since he was three. He persists in burning things and attempting repeatedly to skin animals alive. “He acts out sexually,”
the social worker says, although she doesn’t really fill you in on what that means. She continues with a little family history. This boy’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather all had histories of violence ranging from spousal abuse to serial murder. Each of them ended their own lives. Think for a minute. Would you want this child? If you did adopt him, wouldn’t you watch nervously as he played with your other children? Would you watch him nervously as he looks at the knife on the kitchen table? Would you leave the room as he watched a movie on TV with your daughter with the lights out?
Then he writes, “He’s you, and he’s me, and that’s what the gospel is telling us.” Praise God that there was nothing in us to draw us to Him. Even still, He determined to redeem us. He determined to pay the price for us. Lest you think I’m exaggerating the case, and it’s not that bad, look at the cross. This is no minor offense Jesus is covering for. He determined to redeem us and, praise God, He died to rescue us. Praise God for His resolve in our lives, against our resistance, His resolve.
Caleb is two and a half years old now, and his favorite question…you know what his favorite question is. A two and a half year old, what’s his favorite question? “Why?” All the time, “Why? Why? Why?” We do this little thing where I’ll look at him, and I’ll point at him, and I’ll be like, “I love Caleb.” He’ll start laughing, and he’ll point back at me and be, like, “I love Daddy.” We’ll kind of go back and forth, and we’ll just get louder and louder and louder and just start laughing. It’s just, you know, one of those things. The other day this week we were doing that. “I love Caleb,” “I love Daddy,” and then we got laughing, and he kind of caught his breath from laughing, and he said, “You love me, Daddy?” I said, “Yeah, I love you, buddy.” He looked back at me, and he said, “Why?” I said, “Because you’re my son.” He said, “Why?” I paused. “You love me, Daddy? Why?” “Because you’re my son.” “Why?” Why is he my son? Why, out of all the children in the world, is this little guy that I’m playing with my son? I start tearing up, getting emotional. Caleb doesn’t know what’s going on. That’s the last time he’ll ask me why.
He was just playing with his daddy, now his daddy’s weeping, and I just look at him, and I said, “Because we came to get you, buddy, and we wanted you in our family.” Can I remind you that the God of the universe looks upon your life, church…not the person beside you, in front of you, or behind you…He looks upon your life and says, “I love you.” “Why, God? Why would you love me?” “Because you’re my son.” “Why, God? Why am I your son?” “Because I came to get you. I came for you, and I wanted you in my family.” This is good. It’s good to be a son in the family of God. This is adoption.
Here we go. All right. God sent His Son so that we might have the position of sons. Here’s the good news, though: it gets better. Here’s where it gets really good. We think that’s been really good, just like we thought justification was really good. You see how this builds. This is why we must be finished and done with, “I prayed a prayer when I was however many years old, and I’ve moved on.” No, it’s not possible. It’s blasphemy to call that Christianity, because the gospel and salvation is just deeper and deeper and more beautiful and more beautiful the more we dive into it.
God sent His Spirit so that we might experience the privileges of sonship.
Justification: right before God the Judge. Adoption: declared to be in the position of sons. However, that’s not all. God sent His Son so that we might receive the position of sons, and then…listen to this…then, God sent His Spirit that we might receive and enjoy the privileges of sonship. This is where you come to Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons…” As if that’s not enough, he says, “Don’t close the book and fall on your face and worship yet.” “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, that we might cry before him, ‘Abba, Father.’”
God sent His Spirit so we might experience the privileges of sonship. Think about it. Contemporary illustration: Caleb knows that I’m his father, that I’m his dad. Why? How does he know that? He doesn’t know that because of what we did a little over two years ago to go get him. That’s not what he thinks about. How does he know, today, that I am his dad,
that I am his father? He knows because of the love I’m showing him today. The love that I’ll show him when I get home this afternoon, and we get down and we start playing cars, or we run around the yard, or we go to Moe’s this week or drive home singing songs. That’s when he’ll know that I’m his dad. He’ll not be thinking about what happened two years ago; he’ll be thinking about what’s happening at that moment.
You see this in the same way. Now don’t miss it: his status as my son is based on what happened two years ago in Kazakhstan, but his life, his experience as my son, is based on what’s happening today. In the same way, so with God, your status and my status before God is based on what happened at that moment of justification when we were declared right before God. Yes, that…it’s not that we move on from that; that is eternal. We are eternally right before God based on the righteousness of Christ. However, we know that we are sons, not based on what happened years ago when that happened. We know that we’re sons and He’s our Father based on the affection and love He is showering on us at every single moment. The affection, the privileges of being a son that we enjoyed…not when we prayed a prayer…we enjoy today, right now. We enjoy when we wake up, and we walk with Him. This is life as a son of God. Privileges of sonship. He puts His Spirit into our hearts. He penetrates our hearts with Himself, infiltrates our hearts with Himself. What are those privileges? Paul’s talked about them even since the end of Galatians 3. First, because we’ve been adopted, we live with a new identity before God…a new identity before God. You go back to the end of Galatians 3:26, 3:27, 3:28, 3:29, you’ll see Christ all over these verses. Four different phrases are used to describe how Christ has enveloped us in His presence. Remember the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ? He’s put His Spirit in our hearts? What does that mean?
Well, listen to the way Paul describes it. Verse 26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all of you…” here’s the first one, “…all of you who were baptized into Christ…” New identity before God. We are baptized into Christ. Our lives are immersed in Christ. When we worship, in just a moment, through baptism, we see a picture; we are identified with the death of Christ and the life of Christ. That’s why baptism is so important. It’s great.
In the context here, Paul’s talking about Judaizers and circumcision. He says, “That’s not the identifying marker of the people of God; it’s baptism.” He’s not saying, “You need to be baptized in order to be saved.” That would undercut the whole picture of what he has developed to this point…grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. However, he’s saying our baptism into Christ is the picture the New Testament gives us of how our life is identified with Him, which is why, on a side note, I would encourage any follower of Christ in this room who has not been baptized to move toward that with great haste. Not in order to be saved. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but baptism is not an option for followers of Christ. It’s a command; it’s the picture that Scripture gives us of how our lives are united with Christ or with His church. Let me encourage you to move with great haste toward that. We’re baptized into Christ.
Second, we are clothed with Christ. Since you are baptized with Christ, you’ve clothed yourselves with Christ. It’s great imagery there. He literally envelops us. We are united in Christ. Verse 28, he starts talking about ethnic or racial barriers, Jew or Greek. Talks about social barriers, slave or free. Talks about gender barriers, male or female. Paul is not saying here…the Bible is not saying that, once you come to faith in Christ, that all of these distinctions are just gone. You’re not a male or a female anymore; you’re not a slave or free anymore; you’re not a Greek or a Jew anymore. However, what he’s saying is…what Scripture’s teaching is that these distinctions no longer divide us. That, in Christ, we’re all on the same plane…not one better or worse based on this or that factor that you might try to bring to the table, which is exactly what the Judaizers were trying to do between the Jews and the Gentiles. He says, “No, we’re in Christ.”
This is, in one verse, a beautiful summary of the church, of the reality that when you travel to India, for example, and you sit down there in India, across the table from people who eat completely differently than you, who talk completely differently from you, who have different cultural customs, who have different political views, who, from the world looking in,
would say there’s not a lot of commonality there, and you sit down across the table from them, and you have an immediate bond and an immediate joy in being together because you’re both in Him.
You’re both in Christ. This is a picture of church. No preference, hierarchy based on this factor or that factor. All of us desperately in need of grace, and all of us finding it in one place: Christ. United in Christ, and then finally, we each belong to Christ. Galatians 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed…” Paul takes this picture of unity, and he ties it with the Old Testament line. He reminds the church in Galatians, he reminds us, Church at Brook Hills, “You’ve gathered together in this room, at this moment. It’s not just about unity here, although that’s part of it, but it’s about unity with Abraham and with Isaac and with Jacob. They’re in the line too, and Joseph and Moses and Joshua and Samuel and David and Solomon and Isaiah and Jeremiah. That we’re all together in belonging to one who is Christ.”
We have a new identity before God: sons of God, but it gets better. Not only are we…do we have a new identity before God, but because we’ve been adopted, we enjoy intimacy with God; we enjoy intimacy with God. “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’” This is a picture…now, we have to be careful. Sometimes I’ve heard preachers talk about this word “Abba,” and they say, “Well, it’s like ‘Daddy.’” The picture…it’s almost over-sentimentalized to get this picture of, like, baby talk, and that’s not the way Scripture talks about this word. This is a title for God. It’s Jesus groaning in the garden, “Abba.” It is what we cry out when we, literally, groan. Romans 8 talks about crying out to Him.
Here’s the picture: It’s not a picture about infancy as much as it is about intimacy, and I want to…I’m going to show you this or tell you this, and then I want to explain it to you. We were once held captive by His law. This is what Paul is showing us here. We were once held captive by His law. This is what Galatians 3:22 said, “We’re a prisoner of sin.” Galatians 3:23: “We were held prisoners by the law, locked up.” We were held captive by the law. Why? Remember we talked about this last week: because the law condemns us before God. The law reveals our sin before God.
So, we’re held captive by the law. That’s why he says, “We once were slaves, but now, we’re a son, and the difference is we were once held captive by the law; now we are captivated by His love.” Let me illustrate this. Exodus 19…write this down. Exodus 19. You go back and you see when God gave the law to His people. Anybody remember Mt. Sinai? God tells Moses, “Tell the people: Don’t get anywhere near the mountain.”
What happens is this cloud of smoke hovers over the mountain, and the mountain starts to tremble. The people are trembling; now the mountain is trembling. When a mountain starts trembling, you start trembling. Something is going on here, and it’s this scene of God in a consuming fire is the picture, giving His law; He’s about to give His law…Exodus 20 is where we see the Ten Commandments…about to give His law to His people.
One man, Moses, is able to go up and meet with God, and God says, “Tell everybody else to stay away.” Why? Because the law condemns man and his sin. You don’t want to get near God in all of His glory when the law is revealing your sin. So, everybody stays away, and it’s this awe, it’s this dread, sense of fear, even. People are frightened, trembling. That’s Exodus 19, when the law is given.
Take that picture and bring it into the New Testament and think about what the contrast is here. Once we’re set free from the law, not only do we not have to approach God with fear or trembling because we’re afraid to even be in His presence; now we approach God with confidence. With the confidence of a Spirit in us that cries out, “Daddy, Father, Abba.”
This radically changes the way we understand prayer. I hope this will make us think twice before we bow our heads before a meal this afternoon, to realize that the privilege you and I have at that moment at the dinner table to bow before God and approach His throne with confidence is a privilege that was reserved for only a few in the Old Testament, and even reserved to a certain extent for them, that you and I have the privilege of walking in on a daily basis as children who are able to cry out, “Abba, Father.”
All throughout the New Testament, even this title for God, the way it is used, it’s a heart cry. The picture I was use: it’s Caleb. When he is frightened, and he grabs on to my neck, and he’s looking at something that scares him, and he grabs onto my neck, and he’s crying out “Daddy,” yes, that’s it. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s when you receive the news that you never could have imagined. It’s when the diagnosis comes that you never could have fathomed hearing. It’s when the circumstances take place that you never could have in your wildest dreams dreaded happening, and it happens, and you don’t know what to do, and you don’t know where to turn. In your spirit, you cry out, “Abba, Father.” You realize that you have a father, a dad, who cares about you and who is with you and who holds you and who walks with you. This is the picture that’s being displayed here. Not that of a servant, but a son. Not a slave, but a son.
John Wesley for years was a theological student and scholar, ordained clergy. He served, volunteered. He would go into prisons, serving, helping prisoners. He would take food to children in slums. He fasted, prayed, studied the Bible incessantly; studied the Bible all the time. Worshipped consistently, even when as a missionary from England to Georgia. He came back from Georgia after serving as a missionary there, and when he gets back, this is what he writes. He says, “I who went to America to convert others came to the point where I realized I myself was never converted to God.”
Galatians 3 26–4:7 Explains Intimacy with God
Is it possible to do all those things? To read, study, pray, and fast and worship, serve and go as a missionary, and have never been converted? I want you to listen to what he describes. After his conversion experience, he looks back on that time before he was converted and this is what he writes. It is one poignant statement. He’s talking about his time before his conversion, and he said, “Then I had the faith of a servant, but not the faith of a son that I have now.” He said, “I had the faith of a servant, not the faith of a son.”
Let me ask you a question: what kind of faith do you have? That of a servant, trying to check off the boxes and get things right in your life, so that you will have favor with God and doing all of these things? Or do you have the faith of a son, who knows that there’s nothing you could do to please, to find favor with this Master, but this Master has not called you a servant, He has called you a son, and He has given you life by grace through faith in His Son.
That’s the picture that’s being described here in Galatians 4. It really comes down…to put it another way: do you have intimacy with God? Every child, every man and woman in this room, don’t let that question deflect off of you because you teach or you lead or you have this position or you do this or that. Do you have intimacy with God? This is the privilege of sonship, and I wonder how many people in church as a whole institutionally; even in the context of this room, who are living as servants day in and day out when God has called us sons. Intimacy with God.
Not do you go to church, not do you read, do you pray, do you do this, but do you have intimacy with God? Because we’ve been adopted, we have a new identity before God, we enjoy intimacy with God, and we are guaranteed an inheritance from God. You are no longer a slave but a son, and since you’re a son, God has also made you an heir. It gets even better. It gets even better. Not only are you a son now, but you’re a son forever. We have an eternal Father…an eternal Father.
Some say that adopted children have a lot of struggle with identity about whose they are, where they belong. I think the reality is all of us have that kind of struggle with an identity, whose we are and where do we belong. The gospel gives us a supreme answer in saying you belong to God the Father. You are His son, and not just His son for a little while, hoping that He won’t turn you away on that last day. You are His son forever.
We have an eternal Father; we have an eternal family. We have an eternal family. Romans 8 says, “We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ.” Scripture talks about how Jesus is our elder brother, not in an cultic way, not in a way that minimizes His divinity like some cults do, but an elder brother in that all that belongs to Him as Son belongs to us, John 14 through 16.
Let that soak in: All that belongs to Him, belongs to you and me, because we are a part of this family. Now, this is good news and bad news, because, well, it’s bad news because the world hated Him. The world persecuted Him, and the world crucified Him. This is why we go into passages like we looked at in that “Radical” series when we realized identification with Him may cost us; not only may, should cost us everything. It may cost you your life to be a part of this family, but that’s where Romans 8 just comes back and says, “If we share in His sufferings, we know that one day we will share in His glory.” It is a joy to share in sufferings now, because we know that glory is coming. Together, we as a family enjoy all that belongs to Christ.
We have an eternal Father, an eternal family, and we have an eternal home. There is nobody that is coming to the Platt home to take Caleb anywhere. He is not in our home for a little while; he is in our home for good. The reality that Scripture teaches is that when you have this Father, and you’re in this family, you have an eternal home and every day is one day closer to experiencing the joy of that home. That’s a good way to live. It’s good to be a son.
I can’t help but to think that across this room there are, first of all, people who have never experienced intimacy with God, and the thought of intimacy with God is foreign to you…unfamiliar to you. I want you to know that He has sent His Son, so that you might receive the position of sons. By His Spirit, even now, as we’ve been studying His Word, the Spirit has been drawing many of you for the first time to Himself. I want to encourage you to trust Him, to believe in Him for the first time. To say, “Yes, yes, I’m His son. I’ve been called into a family by grace, through faith.”
You say, “Well, what do I have to do?” You don’t have to do anything to get married into this family. It’s by grace through faith. It’s not based on what you do, it’s based on what Christ has done for you. Trust Him, believe Him, and at the same time, I can’t help but to think that there are Christians around this room that, somewhere along the way, have lost sight of intimacy with God. Maybe it’s been because of persistent sin; maybe it’s been because of just monotonous religious routine. They don’t know what it is, but I want to encourage you. I want to give you some time to really let these truths soak in and ask God to restore intimacy in relationship with Him as Father. It’s just the most important…there is nothing more important in your life than intimacy with God.