April 11: The Love of Our Abba.

Galatians 4:6. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

The Bible doesn’t talk about better or stronger relationships with God. It talks about the nature of our relationship with God. For example: God is our Abba, our Dad. And we are his child. A right view of our relationship with God is to see it as unchanging- that is, we always are dependent upon him, and he is always faithful. We are dependent upon grace. Without it we are nothing and have nothing. And so our relationship with God is not about it getting better and better, but rather, it is about a focus on the unchanging character of God (his grace) and our dependence upon him (his grace).

To what end? To be like him. Unlike in our culture where we joke and deny being like our dads, when it comes to our Abba our greatest desire is to image him just like our big brother does.

So what is the unchanging nature of our Abba?

Our Abba will always judge us worthy of his love even though we have done nothing to earn it.

Our Abba does everything he can (which is everything) to make sure that our mistakes get turned into something good.

Our Abba always models integrity for us. His love is no lie and it’s no joke.

Our Abba always reminds us that we are never hopeless in this world.

Our Abba is always there for us, any time of day or night.

Our Abba loves us way too much to let us get away with selfish and prideful choices.

Our Abba always reminds us that we belong to him.

Our Abba always has a place for us in his heart and in his home.

Our Abba continues to find his joy in us.

Our Abba longs to see us face to face and hear our voice.

Our Abba loves us as we are not as we should be.

“To live is Christ” makes the eternal God of love our Dad. The One who would go to any length for us. He fought the great cosmic war for us. He battled death itself for us. He fights for our hearts and for our joy every single day without ever giving up on us. Why? Because his desire is for us.

And here’s a little grace v. law in the context of fatherhood.

April 10: We Are Sons of God.

Galatians 4:6-7. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

At it’s core Christianity is about a relationship, one secured by our union with Christ. Our relationship with God can be a complex thing. Shepherd-sheep. Potter-clay. Master-slave. Friend-friend. Co-workers. These all describe unique ways that we relate to God. But the relationship introduced by Paul here in Galatians 4 is one that offers for us a perfectly simple love and security beyond the others. This relationship is Father-Son.

When as a child you threw a tantrum and yelled “I hate you!” to your parent, the truth is that nothing could change the reality that your dad is still your dad, and your mom is still your mom. That identity is unchanging, no matter what the behavior of the child.

And this relationship is unchanging. We speak of being “closer” and “farther” from God as if our relationship with him is varying. But God is closer to me than my own heart. I get it, we don’t always feel close to God. But what is changing is my own awareness of my relationship with him, not the actual relationship itself. Like the temper tantrum throwing little child who sees their dad’s love as burdensome, we too lose sight of his goodness and love, and ultimately his presence. And yet his presence never changes. God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. We can never call God present or absent, near or far. By the Spirit we are constantly and consistently relating to our Abba.

The danger in saying that we have a “relationship” with God is that we project our human relationships onto it. We are constantly moving in and out of relationships. And so we see our relationship with God as “on again off again” like a boyfriend or girlfriend. Or most of us struggle with our relationship to our father. We talk about having a “good relationship” with our dad, or a “bad relationship” with our dad. We start to talk this way about God. “Do you have a good relationship with God?” we ask. As if the answer could be changing or even “no.” But the answer can’t be “no.” Why? Because God has chosen to adopt you and love you forever.

“To live is Christ” means that we have the unchanging, always secure Father-son relationship. God is committed to you forever. He will never be able to not be your dad. And he would never want to not be your dad. You have the love and security of the son-ship of Jesus himself. Do you believe this?

April 9: Adopted Into God’s Family.

Galatians 4:4-7. 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.

We ended the blog yesterday by saying that we are no longer enslaved to the elementary principles of this world. Our enslavement kept us in despair, always looking for a way out, but never believing that perfect love could rescue us. Until HE did.

How did this rescue happen? By the work of God.

God sent forth his son. Your adoption was orchestrated by God in eternity past. It is not some big random cosmic mistake. The Son is the eternal Son. He was sent from Heaven. This means he existed before his own birth. He is truly divine.

Jesus was born of woman, born under the law. He is truly human. He is both biologically human, and fatefully human- he had to keep the law to live. He was subjected to every rule of the Old Testament. And he kept them all. He loved God with all his heart and loved his neighbors; us humans. Jesus Christ placed himself under the slavery of humanity in order to forever free humanity.

All to secure our adoption.

If all God did was rescue us out from slavery, would that not just leave us free to wander back into that same condition? We would find ourselves still in need of a new life. Vagabonds, refugees, displaced wanderers left to our own devices. But God in his great love for us didn’t leave us freed to wander. He adopted us into his own family, brought us home, robed us, and gave us all the privileges of our older brother.

“To live is Christ” means that we are IN Christ. Being IN Christ means that we are freed from the slavery of the law and moved into adoption as sons. Wow! Is there any more glorious positional truth. We are sons and daughters of the king. What is the end goal of the Trinity’s redemptive plan? Sonship. You and I eternally relating to our God and Dad.

April 8: Christ = No More Slavery to the Elementary Principles of this World.

Galatians 4:1-3. 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. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

Here again Paul takes us back to pre-“To live is Christ.” Before we had the life of Christ in us, we were enslaved to guardians and managers. Which he has already told us was the Law (see 3:24). But then Paul gives us an even bigger umbrella under which the Law fits- the elementary principles of the world.

Why create this umbrella? Because many of the Galatian Christians are Gentiles. So convincing them that they were enslaved under the Law of Moses is a bit of a tough sell. They were never under the Law of Moses, so were they ever really enslaved? And for that matter do they really need Christ to free them? Answer: Yes. Why? Because they are still enslaved under something even bigger than the Law- those worthless elementary principles of the world.

What are the elementary principles of the world? Elementary principles is the Greek word stoicheia. This is a very complex word. In some Greek writing it refers to the basics of any philosophy or subject. The “ABCs” if you will. Paul describes the stoicheia even more in verses 8-11.

Galatians 4:8-11. 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 (stoicheia) of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Ok so let’s go one step deeper. The elementary principles of the world can also refer to the spiritual powers that control the elements of this world (earth, wind, fire, water). In this way the Pagans would offer sacrifices to the gods of these elements in order to appease them. Paul teaches us that these gods are fake and unreal, BUT there are spiritual forces at work- demons if you will (see 1 Corinthians 10:20). And yes, we can be enslaved to spiritual forces. I don’t mean by demon possession. I mean by following the worldly concept of self salvation that Satan sells to us every day.

I know this idea is getting deep, and you’re probably thinking “I’m not enslaved to any elementary principles or spiritual forces.” And of course, positionally, if you are In Christ, you are no longer slaves. But conditionally we all often run back to the elementary principles as the way we relate to God. The elementary principles are any system of self salvation. And yes these systems of self salvation still trap us, even as Christians.

The Christian who thinks they are better because of their political view – elementary principles.

The Christian who thinks that financial planning will bring them hope and peace – elementary principles.

The Christian who thinks that staying busy makes them more valuable – elementary principles.

The Christian who thinks that their own lack of motivation proves their need to prove themselves to God – elementary principles.

The Christian who feels the need to compare themselves to all the other Christians – elementary principles.

The Christian who goes to church because it is what a “good Christian” is supposed to do – elementary principles.

The Christian who walks away from church because they are “spiritual but not religious” – elementary principles.

The elementary principles enslave us. They pose as gods but are not God. Every false religion is rooted in these elementary principles: the worship of creation over Creator or self over God. But In Christ we have been set free from these weak and worthless principles.

“To live is Christ” graduates us way past the elementary principles of this world. We no longer need to appease the gods or God. We no longer find salvation in ourselves, and our own ability to decide what is “best for me.” Rather we live released from the slavery of principles and free to live from a the love of a family- Christ’s own family.

April 7: You Have Put On Christ.

Galatians 3:25-27. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We are not under law, we are IN Christ. We are not under the guardian, we are IN Christ.

This union with Christ happens through baptism into Christ. This is an act of the Spirit. And it is by faith- for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. Baptized into Christ is an act of faith, not works. Therefore our water baptism should be seen as a sign of our Spirit baptism by faith into Christ’s life. Notice that this is not Paul speaking in the imperative voice (you must put on Christ), but rather it is the indicative voice (you HAVE put on Christ).

Paul may have in mind the imagery of that young Roman son who is brought into mature manhood, out from under the tutor or guardian slave, and given the new toga. He has now put on the clothing that indicates his new standing as a son.

“You have put on Christ” is a picture of our union with Christ. We are IN Christ. We have put on the Christ suit. Like the guy who wears the Spider Man costume at the theme park. No matter how many people like or dislike him outside of that suit, IN that suit he is loved and accepted by every one in that theme park. People line up for pictures with him. High five him. Adore him. He has put on Spider Man, and in so doing he takes on the identity of Spider Man.

Theologically speaking, being IN Christ means that Christ represents us. Just like Adam represented all of humanity in the Garden, now Christ represents all that are IN him. He is our covering, our shield. He is the armor that we put on that guards us from all the guilt. shame, accusation, and even death that the law can throw at us. Now, all that is Christ’s becomes ours.

Like the prodigal son who returned home and was robed, sandaled and ringed by his Father, we too receive our older brother’s robe, sandals, and ring. We have put on his clothing. We have put on his righteousness. All that the Father has is his, and now it is also yours. This is freedom. This is peace. This is life.

“To live is Christ” means that we have put on Christ and everything that is his- his love, his life, his holiness, his righteousness, his justice, his grace, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his glory. What is true of Jesus is now true of you. Praise be to God.

April 6: Distinguishing Law From Gospel.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians screams at us that we can’t run back to self improvement after starting with the Spirit (the indwelling life of Christ). The life of Christ in us means that we are constantly dying and rising- death and resurrection. We die to law and rise to new life through the gospel.

The problems is when we try to run to the law for life instead of death. Assuming that we can live up to the guidelines will kill us. It puts us back under the curse even though Jesus died to free us from that curse and its death.

But how do we distinguish law from gospel? Here’s a few key words and phrases to listen for that can help:

*1. Listen for a softening of the commandment. Any time a hard commandment like “be perfect” is softened into something like “do your best,” this is law not gospel.

2. Listen for who is making things happen. If God is making it happen, it’s gospel. If you are making it happen, it’s law. If it’s a mix, it’s law.

3. Listen for honesty. If you or others are constantly “doing just fine,” or “struggling, but it will all be OK….” then the law is at work. If you or others are honest about your problems, then this freedom shows that the gospel is at work.

4. Listen for exhaustion. If the burden is heavy day after day and week after week, the the law is probably overpowering the Spirit.

5. Listen for the language of law. Phrases like “If…then,” “Wouldn’t it be nice if…,” “We should all…,” or anything else that sounds like imperatives are law. If you hear the indicative voice, “God is…,” “We are…,” or “God will…” then it’s probably gospel.

6. Listen for a “high anthropology.” Anything that stresses human willpower, strength, or effort is law. High anthropology is low Christology and vice versa.

7. Listen for the “Galatians effect:”

Galatians 3:2-5. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—

“To live is Christ” is believing what you heard from the beginning- salvation by grace through faith. If your Christianity is anything more or less, you might be like the Galatians.

*This list is adapted from Mockingbird’s Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners and Saints.

April 5: Union With Christ Frees Us From Bondage to the Law.

Galatians is a book all about the Law and the Spirit. We who have begun by the Spirit should not go back to the Law. As we move forward in Galatians 3, let’s take a look at a few more verses that explain the purpose of the Law.

Galatians 3:19a. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made

Remember, Paul just told us that we have been set free from the curse of the Law. Well if the Law brings a curse then why would God enact it in the first place? Paul says that it  was “added because of transgressions.” You see the Law (or law) doesn’t make you sin, it just reveals the Sin that is in you already.  The law does not reveal salvation, it only reveals the problem. The promised offspring (Jesus) revealed salvation.

Galatians 3:21-22. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 

Did the Mosaic Law nullify or replace the promise of Abraham (justification through Christ)? No! So what was the role of the Law? In verse 22 Paul tells us that one role of the Law was to be humanity’s prison guard. The scripture (Old Testament) reveals that we are all locked up in the prison of sin.

Go back and read something from the Old Testament. You don’t have to read far before you find someone/everyone sinning. In fact in the Torah we see a distinct pattern of people sinning and then God adding laws, and then more sinning, so more laws, etc. The Law served to keep the people aware of their sin, and thus locked up in their sin. Again, it didn’t cause sin- the Sin is already in us. We are not simply sinners. We are prisoners to Sin and the law makes this clear.

Galatians 3:24. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 

The second role of the Law was to be our guardian or tutor. In the Roman family this was a slave that kept watch over the young children until they grew up. In a Roman household a young son had no rights. He was watched over and even beaten by the tutor. The tutor never took his eyes off of this child. Like the prison guard metaphor, under the tutor of the Law, we have no freedom.

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Tim Keller points out that this kind of “non-gospel religion” is characterized by a) a sense of bondage, b) an impersonal relationship with God, c) motivation of only rewards and punishments, d) anxiety about one’s standing with God.

Do these sound like you?

In Christ we are set free from the prison of Sin and Law. When the young son reached a certain age, they would be set free from the tutor. In a process called manumission, the young son would come of age and would be granted the name, honor and even clothing of the Father. He would no longer need permission for access to the Father, and he would inherit the wealth of the Father.

“To Live Is Christ” frees us from the bondage of Law, and the impersonal motivations of reward and punishment. And it brings us into a life of relationship with God forever by the indwelling divine life of the Son through the Spirit.