There are so many wonderful, beautiful adoption stories. I recently read about a family that went to the airport to receive their newly-adopted baby boy. Their three-year old daughter, now a big sister, thought for several years that baby brothers all came from airports. The most wonderful, beautiful adoption story of all is our own; forever recorded in the pages of Scripture. It is the original- all the others are reflections of the goodness and grace found in the adoptive heart of God. In Him, believers who were once enslaved are adopted as sons, and made heirs with Christ.
1. Believers were once enslaved.
The Galatians had heard the gospel and believed it. But now, Paul was mortified to learn that the Galatians who had been set free were choosing slavery again. The gospel had set them free from the bondage of pagan idolatry, but they were now choosing a new task-master: The Law. Teachers had crept in and persuaded many that observing the Law, as well as faith in Christ, was required for salvation.
So, Paul argued that the Law was like a guardian over a small child. Imagine the child of a ruler or some other prominent person: the child has the right heritage, the right last name, but has no power, no real authority or wealth. The guardian makes all the decisions and oversees all the aspects of the child’s daily life. And Israel, under the law, was like a child under a guardian: of the right lineage, but managed. At the end of chapter 3, Paul said that this made anyone under the law “no different than a slave.” In fact, he referred to this arrangement as being “held captive”, “imprisoned” by the law. In chapter 4, he wrote:
"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. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 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." -Galatians 4:1-7
If you flip through the pages of the Bible, you’ll see something really frightening: given a choice between freedom with hardships and slavery with gratifications, the sin-sick human heart will choose slavery every time. Think of Israel in the wilderness longing for the offerings of Egypt- “leeks and garlic and melons” -at the cost of their freedom! Freedom for them and their sons and their daughters, and they’d trade it all for fish and cucumbers. That’s what Paul means in v9 – they want to be enslaved. They want the perks of enslavement:
"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?" -Galatians 4:9
So, the human condition is grim. We are enslaved by sin and our own attempts to justify ourselves- and we have a heart that is given over to the perks of being enslaved. What then is to be done for us?
2. Believers are adopted- made Sons of God
What must be done for us is what only God could do. It is clearly stated in verses 4 and 5. God sent forth His Son to redeem us that we might receive adoption. What could not be accomplished by enslavement to works and the law, what the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” could not do, God did for us through the person and work of His Son.
Finally, in verse 5, Paul uses the wonderful, beautiful word: “Adoption.” God sent his son that we might receive adoption. It isn’t something as trite as God “accepting” us. This is Holy God, at great expense, taking ownership of those who could offer nothing in return! We have become well aware of the spiritual status of mankind apart from God, so there is no cosmic bargaining chip. That is one reason why adoption is such a beautiful thing: it is not the merit or worth or greatness of the orphan… it is the other way around! The orphan is helpless! The child’s situation is hopeless! The grace and generosity on display is that of the adopter! So it is with our adoption by God: all the countless merits of His character are on display in this act of adoption.
There is another important word in verse 5. He sent His Son to redeem. An adoption comes at a great price. Adoptions are notoriously expensive affairs for many families. And it was no different for us. God made a payment unlike any other. He sent forth His Son, that He might redeem. The word means “to purchase out of.” God sent His son to purchase us out of something; to ransom us; to pay the price of our rescue.
If nothing else helps you understand how great the gulf is between sinful man and holy God, consider the price of our adoption! If the ransom had been anything else, it would have cost God very little. What charge is too costly for the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills? Or who made the stars by the breath of His mouth? But His very Son? No wonder we sing:
This, the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.
3. Believers are heirs with Christ
Verse 6 says that because we are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our Hearts, crying, ‘Abba Father!’ “Abba,” was the term a Hebrew child would call his father, an intimate term of endearment and familiarity. Some historians have even remarked that among the Hebrews, servants were not allowed to call their master Abba. The term was reserved for a child of the master. So, the change in the nature of our relationship with God is astounding. We are no longer servants kept at some distance, but children who are intimately acquainted with our Father.
So, we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters. And then Paul gives us the gift of verse 7: “No longer a slave, but a son, and if a son- then an heir.” Could we really be heirs, inheritors of God Himself? What can it mean? It means that everything God has is yours. John Piper breaks this idea into three categories:
1. God Himself is yours. Never, ever forget that God is the prize. It is so hard to keep that right in our minds. The Christian life is not a pursuit of what He has or what He can do for you, but of Him. Do you love Him, or His things? Him, or what He can do for you?
2. The World is yours. Paul sums it up this way, in 1 Corinthians 3:
“For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.”
As believers serve the Lord, we are within our jurisdiction everywhere. It all belongs to our Father, and we are sons and daughters and heirs. So, be bold. All things are meant for the purpose of His glory and your joy.
3. The hope of future glory is yours. There is a beautiful parallel thought in Romans 8:15-17: Notice this – “We are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
One way to know if you are indeed adopted into God’s family is that you know Christ in His suffering. It may be the patient and well-tempered suffering of life in a fallen world. It may be shameful, torturous persecution for the name of Christ. But the sons and heirs of God’s family consider that “this light and momentary affliction is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed.” So, we suffer, but we do not lose heart.
So, I conclude with two questions for readers to consider.
First, if you have never repented of sin and placed your trust in Christ, you are already a slave. What prevents you from being made free? Would you be a son, and an heir? God alone can free you and has promised to do so when you come to Him on His terms.
Second, if you are a believer, have you become so callous that you would trade your freedom in Christ for the fleeting perks of slavery? Are you struggling with some idol? Have you forgotten your love is of Him and not merely what He has or can do? Remember what it means to be a son or daughter, and an heir. He alone has made you free!