Exploring Galatians: Sonship

Every society is built on a set of simple premises. Those premises are the foundation and the cement of all that follows. However, those foundational principles will differ between various societies. The beginning principles of a sports team will be very different from that of a book club. The sports team is focusing on competition and teamwork, while the book club is perhaps focused on openness and self-examination. Changing the foundational premises of any society is as difficult as transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

Continuing his thought concerning the training wheel nature of the Law, Paul likens the transition from Law to Grace as being like the transition from childhood to adulthood. He writes, “Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:1–7, NASB95)

There are two wonderful observations in this text. The first is being released from the rudimentary principles of the Law into the grace we receive through Jesus Christ. The fulcrum that transitions you and me from being under the Law to under grace is redemption.  When something is redeemed, its condition changes. A bank check is just a piece of paper with a promise of payment until it is actually redeemed or exchanged for cash. That example, however, does not contain the full meaning of Christ’s redemption, but it does demonstrate Paul’s idea of transitioning from one state to another, from being under Law to being under grace.

The second wonderful observation is that of sonship, and all that means. Paul’s words probably angered some Jewish folks who considered themselves already sons of God by their genetic linage traced back to Abraham. By saying, “so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Paul is undercutting the Judaizers by removing the distinction between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – all are adopted.

While the Bible often uses gender-specific language, it is important to recognize that the application is not sexist. Women are also “sons of God” and heirs through the same adoption as men. Part of this goes back to the elemental principles of society at the time the Bible was written. For Instance, with some exceptions, inheritance from generation to generation followed the males of the family. Paul declared that the elemental principles changed through Christ in the immediately preceding text. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27–28, NASB95) I like to think of it this way; women are included in sonship in the same way men are included as part of the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7).

What does this sonship look like? Paul writes in Romans, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14–16, NASB95) Both Galatians and Romans use “abba, father” to characterize sonship.  Abba, Father, was also cried out by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He struggled with the full impact of the trial about to unfold.  Abba is considered to be the Aramaic equivalent of daddy, dad, or whatever name toddlers identify their fathers with.  Abba is personal and has an unspoken “my” component to it. My daddy. Father, on the other hand, is more formal. While “abba” is personal and emotional, “father” recognizes the relationship.

Think about that. God is not our taskmaster, and we are not His slaves. God is our father, and we (all who believe in Jesus Christ, both men, and women) are adopted sons of God and heirs. And as sons, we are no longer under bondage to the elementary principles of the world’s systems. As Jesus said, we are in the world, but not of the world. Neither will the world often understand those who cry out to abba, Father.

This view of sonship causes us to examine whether we are doing the Father’s business or bowing to the dictates of world systems. At times those may look very similar; at other times, being about God’s business is downright rebellious in the world’s estimation. There are all kinds of nuance and subtle differences that we need to be aware of. We may, for instance, agree with a general concept but strongly disagree with how the world is trying to make that happen. It is vital to make certain that we are about our Father’s business and that we are not being co-opted by the world.

I could provide many specific examples of where the Father’s business became co-opted by the world. But I hesitate to provide those examples because of the time it would take to untangle them fully. Many of those instances are the darkest days of Christianity.

Allow me to conclude this encouragement on a brighter note. All are invited to become the adopted sons and heirs of God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Through that new life, we live out a new set of elementary principles based on love and grace instead of Law and punishment. We are not left to our own efforts to see this through, but Christ’s Spirit is within us, leading, guiding, and calling out Abba Father.

Dale Heinold
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