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The Consequence of Christmas (Galatians 4:4-7)

December 29, 2019 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Misc. Messages

Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation, Christmas Passage: Galatians 4:4–4:7

 

I. “To Whom Do You Belong?”

 

I'd like you to consider with me this morning the consequence of Christmas. No, I'm not talking about a house that needs to be clean, or a waistline that needs to be minimized, or thank you notes that need to be written, or decorations that need to be packed away. I'd like us to consider the consequence of Christmas by considering the word "belong".

 

What if I asked a child, "To whom do you belong?" How do you think he or she might answer? But what if I were to ask this very same question to a slave, "to whom do you belong?" Is my question the same? Well, technically yes. But is the meaning of the word ‘belong' the same in both instances? Kinda sorta.

 

The difference here, with the child and the slave, lies not necessarily in the word ‘belong', but in the person being addressed. But even the difference in this lies not in the distinctiveness between people. The difference comes from the fact that only one individual is being addressed as a person.

 

You see, a slave is a piece of property. And so, as would be the case with any piece of property, whether it be your car, or your TV, or even your toothbrush, the question, "to whom do you belong", is always a question about ownership. Nothing more, nothing less.

But with the child, the question, "to whom do you belong", is a question concerned with identity.

 

The difference here is between an object and an offspring. Between chattel and a child. Between being bought and being begotten. And so the difference ultimately lies in the reality of one's circumstances.

 

To whom do you belong?

 


II. The Passage: "So You Are No Longer a Slave" (4:4-7)

 

I'd like you turn with me in your bibles to Galatians 4:4-7. Follow along as I read:

 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. [6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

 

We find here that the Apostle Paul is using in this passage, the two images with which we began, the child and the slave. And what he says here about these two, even though they are words penned almost 2000 years ago, in another time, place, language, and culture, what he says is extremely significant even for us today.

Let's first go back and understand the original context in which these thoughts were composed. We need to ask why these words were written to the churches in Galatia (a large region in central Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey), and how they fit into the flow of all that the Apostle has written in this letter.

 

Well, Paul was compelled to write to these new believers because as he says in chapter 3, verse 1 of this letter, it seems they had been bewitched! It seems that certain men, certain teachers had infiltrated the church after Paul's departure and were, as Paul puts it in chapter 1, verse 7, they were disturbing the faith of the believers in Galatia.

 

Here was the issue: The Galatian believers were beginning to embrace the first real heresy to confront the early church, a heresy that arose because of the church's origins within Judaism.

You see there were certain Jews who had claimed to believe in Christ and His gospel, but who were in effect saying to the Gentiles, "If you want to become a Christian, then you must first become a Jew. You must keep the Law of Moses."

 

Now we might ask, if Paul and Barnabas were Jewish, why did they oppose this teaching so strongly? Well, Paul and Barnabas understood the true gospel of Jesus, and because of this they understood this simple formula: a salvation that arises from [faith in Christ] + [anything else]= no salvation at all; it is simply a false teaching, a distortion of the truth.

 

Eternal life is gained only through faith, by grace. Nothing else! Not even through the Law of Moses. This of course doesn't make obedience to God irrelevant, but instead makes obedience the fruit of heart transformed by grace, not a prerequisite for it.

 

Back in chapter 3, Paul tells them that the Law was ultimately given, not as a ladder, but as a thermometer: that is, the Law was given, not to help us reach God, but to show us how much we need God; how sin-sick we really are; to show us how much we need a savior!

 

And all of that brings us to our chapter this morning.

 


1. Being a Belonging (vs. 1-3)

 

Let's back up a few verses. In the opening verses of chapter 4 Paul begins to introduce an image by which he hopes to convey to the Galatians the danger of the choices they've made. That image is the image of the slave. So Paul begins the chapter with an illustration, an illustration that he'll apply in verse 3. Paul writes in verses 1 and 2:

 

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, [2] but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

 

Now in v. 3, notice that the personal application of this illustration is discussed with the first person plural, ‘we'.

 

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

 

Here's what Paul is saying: When God's people Israel were in their spiritual immaturity, they were kept under the bondage of the Law. And thus the child was very much like a slave in that respect. He says to his Jewish readers, we as Jews were held in bondage under the elementary principles, the basic principles of this world system.

 

But this church was composed of both Jews and Gentiles. So notice how that phrase “elementary principles of the world” is repeated again in verse 9.... (beginning in verse 8)...

 

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. [9] But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

 

Notice now he's talking to the gentile converts. He says, "You were once slaves to all these false gods, Zeus and Aphrodite and Artemis”. So what did these Jewish and Gentile converts have in common? Whether through the Law of Moses, or through the worship of false gods, they all sought to justify themselves according to “elementary principles of the world”.

 

These elementary principles of the world, of every fallen, human heart, drove both Jews and Greeks to embrace the most elementary of sinful ideas that if I just follow the rules, these rules, my rules, any rules, I will be justified... I will be at peace... I will find... enlightenment... heaven; I will get to God.

 

Whether it's offering a sacrifice to the God of Israel or offering a sacrifice to Zeus, it's all the same when the human heart is using such sacrifices to justify itself before God.

 

What about you this morning? "To whom do you belong?" Could you be, this morning, a slave to that self-justifying mentality, focusing more on what you have to do, what you can do, what you're failing to do, rather than what God has already done.

 

It's easy for us to depend on steps and methods and rituals and deeds and affirmations, even New Year's resolutions, to somehow prove something to God, and to others, and to ourselves about our goodness and worth? Even when you are a follower of Jesus, you find yourself tempted to go back, don't you?

 


2. The Gift of Belonging (vs. 4-7)

 

But remember what we saw in verses 4-7:
d

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. [6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

 

I suspect all of us experienced gift-giving a few days ago on Christmas. And I suspect that many of us talked about the gift that God gave to us: Jesus Christ. But that gift was given, Paul tells us, so that another gift could be possible: the gift of belonging.

 

Notice Paul doesn't simply say here, "Don't be a slave, be free!" He says instead, You are sons and daughters of God. Don't forget that. Why would you want to be a slave again?"

Paul tells his readers, at just the perfect time, the first Christmas was celebrated. God sent His son into the world. A Son who was to be like us, born of a woman like you and me. Born under the elementary principles of this world, like you and me. But unlike you and me, this man was without sin. Unlike you and me, this human being was sent to redeem us, literally to "buy out of", that is, to buy you and me out of slavery, whether Jew or Gentile.

 

And if we are in the Son, in light of who we trust, not in light of what we do, then we partake of His son-ship as well. Look how explicitly Paul states the reason for Christ's birth, His suffering on the cross, and His resurrection. He did it that we might receive the adoption as sons.

 

I'm sure all of us have heard, at one time or another, all of humanity described as ‘God's children." Well that's simply not true. We have to be adopted by God, because apart from Him, we are nothing but orphan slaves, content to live in our own darkness.

 

But God offers us adoption through faith in His Son. He offers us belonging. We all long to belong don't we. It's part of what it means to be human. We long to belong because ultimately we were made for ultimate belonging. And yet, we search below for what can only be found above. Below is filled with the passing things of this world, the shifting sands of human character. Even the richest relationships cannot satisfy that longing for ultimate belonging. They're not supposed to.

 

We deserve death for living for the elementary principles of this world, for living for ourselves. The Law condemns us. But because of His grace, because of Jesus' sacrifice, God offers us the gift of adoption. He calls us to be His children.

 

Remember what the Apostle John exclaimed: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (I John 3:1)

 

Paul is equally astounded as we see here in Galatians 5. For the Apostle Paul, a Jew trained in the finest rabbinical circles of first-century Judaism, to address God as ‘abba', literally, "papa", would have been simply astounding. But if we belong to Christ, through faith in Christ, then we cry out according to the Spirit of Christ.

 

 

III. Enslaved or Embraced?

 

So Paul brings our situation down to these two contrasting images. He warns us: "Do you want to be enslaved again? Do you want to be simply a belonging? Or do you want to belong to God?" Listen to how the English author C.S. Lewis expressed this contrast:

 

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

 

I pray that all of us, in 2020, will know and grow in the joy of belonging to God as His children. A newborn from above, brings new birth for those on earth. That is the ultimate consequence of Christmas. Amen? Let's pray!

 

More in Misc. Messages

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