April 16: Choosing Bondage Over Freedom.

Galatians 4:9-10. 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? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!

Because of the indwelling Christ, we know God and are known by God. This is amazing grace. This is new life. This is freedom. And yet somehow ironically and amazingly we want to turn back to the weak and worthless elementary principles. The self salvation schemes that God has brought us out from under. That mean and oppressive prison guard and tutor from chapter 3- the law.

God knows you. There’s nothing left to prove. He loves you. There’s nothing left to earn. You do not need any more salvation plans. You do not need to justify your worthiness. You do not need to appease God with daily, monthly, seasonal, and yearly reminders of how good you are now.

You don’t need any of this. But you want it.

Isn’t that what Paul says? Whose slaves you want to be once more.

Nobody wants to be a slave right? No one would choose bondage over freedom would they? No slave would, after having been adopted by the Father, ask to go back to the status of slave – would they?

But Paul says that this is exactly what we are doing every time we return to our self life. Our self saving, self justifying, self absorbed, self promoting, laws – even the laws of our own creation.

So the truth is, we do want it. And we always do whatever it is that we desire the most.

So herein lies the Christian dilemma. Even though we are known by God intimately, and we can begin to know him intimately, this takes time and trust. And honestly returning to self justification is easier and thus more desirable. I know how to self justify. And I’m really, really good at it. So I choose it over faith in God’s love for me almost every time.

Yes, the Christian life can be, and is, glorious and wonderful and full of great joy. But the Christian life is also messy. A constant temptation to manage the law, the elementary principles, the stoichea, and the morals. To boil them down into a manageable life system that allows me to feel pretty good about my self more often than I feel like a big failure.

But any system of law, principles, and morality can only serve one function for the Christian- to reveal the sin of unbelief in my heart. Ever since the Garden of Eden, the worship of the self has been our greatest sin. And this is a slavery that Paul says we actually choose over and over again, in spite of God’s freeing, adopting, love for us. And this slavery to these systems, laws, principles, and morals brings with it every single insecurity you feel every day. And how do we deal with our insecurities? More slavery. More worship of things that aren’t God- like family, job, money, sexiness, more morality, more rule following, more achievement, more folly. We run back to the very thing that causes the insecurity in order to relieve the insecurity. No wonder Paul says in Galatians 4:11, I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

“To live is Christ” is freedom. But with it’s freedom comes the battle of the desires that such freedom brings. Yes we are freed by Christ’s life, but this means we are also free to run back to our old life. To our old status. To our old slavery. To run back to what we know so well, and what we believe is most satisfying. And sadly many Christians have no idea that they are even doing it, and may even think that they are living by the Spirit, when in reality they are living by the laws, principles, and moral systems that are creating the stress, insecurity, and doubts in their hearts that Christ died in order to put to death. For the rest of Galatians Paul will expound on this dynamic of the Christian life- the battle between freedom and slavery, Spirit and flesh.

April 15: Known By God and Knowing God.

Galatians 4:8-11.  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 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? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

A few days ago we looked as these verses from Galatians 4 when we looked at what the elementary principles of the world are, and how we are freed from these principles in Christ. The contrast to not knowing God and being enslaved to the elementary principles of the world (v.8), including the law, is that we know God and, better yet, are known by God (v. 9). God wants to know us!

“Knowledge” was a big deal in Paul’s day. Some Greeks believed that the path to union with the Logos (an impersonal force) came through hidden knowledge that only some would gain, usually through secret passwords, mantras, and spells. This way of thinking crept into Christianity in the form of Gnosticism (gnosis = to know). Gnostics denied Jesus’ humanity. They said Jesus came to reveal the secret knowledge. But John the Apostle equated Jesus with the logos. Jesus didn’t come to reveal the secret knowledge or the logos, John said, rather he IS the knowledge. He IS the logos. And he is no secret. Because of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and indwelling of Christ, everyone can know Jesus. And everyone can know God.

Paul’s statement that we know God, and even better, we are known by God, challenges the Greek and Gnostic thinking with a Jewish thought. In Jewish thinking, to “know” someone is to have an intimate relationship with them. It goes way beyond the mind. It is the entire self, body, soul, spirit, that is claimed by God. Known by God. Transformed by God.

God’s love is the initiating love, and always will be. His love sought us and bought us. But why? So that God could know us. That is, not just know about us, he already knows everything about us. But what he really wants and needs is to know us experientially. He wants to experience us, our love, our faith, our inner most being. God knew us before time so that he could know us for all of time. We know him, he knows us- it’s meant to be a deep family relationship.

“To live is Christ” is God’s way of knowing us. And I mean knowing us, not just knowing about us. Union with Christ connects us to God beyond mere head knowledge. Beyond gaining some transcendent knowledge about an impersonal force. God wants to know you so deeply that he connected his life to yours, his Spirit to your spirit. By the indwelling life of Christ you are not only saved, you are known. And because God knows us, now we can know God. And I mean really know him, not just know about him.

 

April 14: We Are Heirs.

Galatians 4:7. So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

This verse beautifully summarizes Paul’s thinking over the previous verses. We were slaves under the prison guard and tutor that is the law. We are now sons by faith. And since we are sons, we are heirs to the promise.

What grace!

Me, the one who deserves nothing, gets everything.

Me, the one with family scars, healed by God’s eternal family.

Me, the one who brings nothing of value, inherits the universe.

Me, the one who was on the run, is settled and seated with God.

Me, the one who was naked, robed in the finest of clothing.

Me, the one who was dead, living abundantly.

Me, the one who was on the outside looking in, now an insider.

Me, the one who was a pauper, now a prince.

Me, the one who should be begging for scraps, is feasting at the buffet table.

Me, the one who was in bondage, is free from any and all slavery.

Me, the one whose life had no meaning or purpose, is now about the Father’s business.

Me, the one facing a loveless eternity, is brought into the most loving family in the universe.

No longer slaves to law and sin and death. Now sons, daughters and heirs. Heirs of all that is Christ’s and God’s. This is “To live is Christ.”

April 13: Crying Abba.

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

Yesterday we looked at The Source of Life– the Spirit of the Son who grants Jesus’ life to us. Today let’s move into The Signs of Life: Crying Abba.

The Signs of Life

What is the overflow of the life of the Son in us? What does the Spirit of the Son produce in our hearts? What is the sign of Christ indwelling life? Cries to our Abba.

Paul, writing a letter to Greeks in the Greek language, uses an Aramaic word here. Why would he do this? Because Aramaic is the language of Jesus. Abba was Jesus’ normal daily address for the Father. Abba is NOT the child’s “daddy.” But it is a an address of intimacy and respect. It is the familiar address of an adult son to his father. Paul has made it clear in Galatians that we are not little children anymore, watched over by the tutor. Instead we are adopted adult sons. And now we can address God as our Abba, like Jesus did with his Abba.

It is the Spirit of the Son that is doing the crying in Galatians 4:6. The Spirit is crying from within us. He is screaming for us and also through us. The Spirit cries to the Father by the son-ship of Christ. This is the power of the full Godhead at work in you. We don’t just whisper to our Abba or speak in muted tones on rare occasions. We CRY Abba. We scream. We yell. Outwardly and inwardly. Constantly.

Crying to God is one of the most important things we can learn to do as Christians. Have you learned how to cry to Abba? Or do you bottle it all up? Or maybe you carelessly vent  it all out onto other people? Do you take out your sorrows and hurts on others, leaving broken relationships in your wake?

Or do you cry out to Abba? In his darkest moments, Jesus did.

Mark 14:36. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

This is one of the greatest benefits of covenant son-ship. We have a Dad that we can go to no matter what life offers. Every fear, every doubt, every struggle, every sin taken to him. Our Dad is always there, always available, never too busy, never distant, never apathetic to our lives.

Like a good Father, he is not bending his will to ours. He is bending our will to his. Because his will is perfect and mature. So crying to God is surrendering to God. It is grasping desperately to our own dependence upon the Father- just like Jesus did in his humanity in the garden. Crying to our Father is faith. It is the opposite of works. It is the cry for grace. As Dr. Robert Kellemen puts it, “Crying out to God is our admission that God has our attention, that God has us.”

Is your life one of crying out to God in desperation and faith? Or are you still under the delusion that you are in control? Do you stifle your emotions and hurts? Do you “get over it” and “move on” without ever confronting yourself and God in the midst of your faith journey? “To live is Christ” grants to us the glorious joy of self denial. The road to healing. The open door to our Abba that allows us to see his goodness and trust his grace. It gives us the freedom to cry. To scream if we need to. To call out for mercy, understanding, and countless second chances. All from a Dad who, like all good dads, wants to share life with you. Will you honestly share yours with him?

 

 

April 12: The Spirit of the Son: Our Source of Life.

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

In blogs past we have broken down our discussion of the indwelling life of Christ into two headings: The Source of Life, and The Signs of Life. Let’s look at Galatians 4:6 from these two headings over the next two days.

The Source of Life.

The source of our union with Christ, the source of the indwelling life of Christ, the source of “to live is Christ” is the Spirit of his Son. This is the mystery of the Trinity on full display. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit who is separate from the Son. And yet the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son. This of course is quite necessary and what Jesus told us would happen in John 14. Jesus was sent by the Father (Galatians 4:4) and returned to glory at his ascension. He remains in the flesh seated next to the Father in Heaven. So how on earth would we ever be able to experience the life of Christ, his zoe, now that he is no longer with humanity? The Spirit of the Son.

The Holy Spirit is and always has been the source of all life- bios, psyche, and now the zoe of God through the life of Jesus the Son. Just like the Son, the Spirit was sent by God- God sent the Spirit. The Spirit is the granter of all life. The Spirit manifests the presence of God, and without his presence their is no life. He is the breath of God that entered Adam through his nostrils. He is the first breath of every baby and the last breath of every corpse. Without him there is no biological life. And without him there is no spiritual life. Jesus the God-Man could give his life FOR us on his own. But Jesus the God-Man could not give his life TO us apart from the work of the Spirit.

The Spirit of the Son is sent to us by the word of God and is received by faith. When we hear the word of Christ, we hear the Spirit of Christ. When, by faith, we receive the word of Christ, we receive the Spirit of Christ. Where does he go? Into our hearts. The heart is the deep seat of our desires. It is where our spiritual life takes root and bears fruit. It is the center of our being. The Spirit of the Son does not go into our minds (thinking), or our even just our guts (emotions). He goes to the deepest part of us. The part that changes how we think and emote. He affects our imagination and changes how we see all of life.

How do we know that we have Christ’s life? Is it by our behavior, or our dedication level, or our feelings? No, we know we have Christ’s life because we have the Spirit of the Son. He is the guarantee of new life. He is the seal of the promise. He is our source, and our goal.

And one more important thought before we move on to the Signs of Life (tomorrow): it is the Spirit of the Son that has been sent into our hearts. It is not just some mystical, unknowable, mysterious Spirit that indwells us. It is a person. A human person. Jesus. The one in the Bible. The one who lived a historic life and died a historic death. The one who lived a life of sacrifice, righteousness, and love. The one who lived a life of humble dependence upon his Father. It is this Son of God whose Spirit now unites with our spirit.

“To live is Christ” is made possible by the Spirit of the Son, given to us by the Father. We now have the same son-ship that Jesus Christ himself has. The Spirit gives us the human status of Christ. We share his humanity, his spiritual DNA, his glory, his image bearing. We share his Spirit! We share union with God himself. You are invited into a relationship with the Trinity that can never be broken. Not even by you.

*I usually try to give you a Christ centered song here, but finding good songs about the Holy Spirit is actually kind of hard- they all want to ask for more of the Holy Spirit, and tap into some sort of power that has no connection to the historic Jesus, both of which violate the spirit of this blog. So I’m just gonna go with a classic Chicago “spirit” song, and a tribute to the guitar genius of Terry Kath (pick it up at around the 4 minute mark)- enjoy.

But if you need something a bit more biblical, here’s the Bible Project guys’ video about the Holy Spirit.

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?