Galatians, Sermon 6: God is our inheritance (4:1-4:20)

June 16, 2019 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Galatians

Passage: Galatians 4:1–4:20

Galatians 4:1–20

[1] 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. 

[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.

[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? [10] You observe days and months and seasons and years! [11] I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

[12] Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. [13] You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, [14] and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. [15] What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. [16] Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? [17] They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. [18] It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, [19] my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! [20] I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (ESV)

 

The sermon today is going to be about our inheritance in Christ.  The idea of an inheritance is something that exists in some form today that is freely given to the heir.  Usually the heirs are family members - children, grandchildren, and so forth.  The Bible picks up on this idea of an inheritance, and the New Testament continually describes the results of Christian salvation as an inheritance.  When it describes this, though, there is a peculiar way in which it is described.  Our inheritance in Christ, that is, the result of our salvation, is available to us today, now, but we do not have full possession of it today.  And nearly in every occasion, when this presently available yet future inheritance is described in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as the one that makes our inheritance accessible to us today and also the one who will seal it for the future.  Paul describes it like this in Ephesians 1:

Ephesians 1:11

[11] In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (ESV)

Then just a few verses down:

Ephesians 1:13–14

[13] In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (ESV)

This is what theologians call the “already/not yet” idea of our inheritance in Christ.  But the question is this - what is our inheritance in Christ?  An inheritance is easy to think about as material things, perhaps the family business, real estate, cash endowment, or inheriting your parents house when they pass away, or something along those lines.  

But the Bible describes our inheritance in two other ways: “the Kingdom of God” and “Eternal life.”  Jesus continually describes the Kingdom of God as something you “inherit” - Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and the goats as one example among many.  And even peculiarly enough, in the story of the rich young ruler who approached Jesus, his question was “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” - the language used was one of present terms.  His question was not simply a question of going to heaven after he dies - but he seemed to have the idea of an inheritance available to him at that moment.  Often times the present tense is used in seeking this inheritance, as if it is something available to us now.  John 3:36 says that those who believe in the Son have eternal life.  You have it now.  Your inheritance as a Christian then is something you have now and something you will receive tomorrow.

How can you receive the Kingdom of God today?  What does it mean to inherit eternal life today?  And what does the Holy Spirit have to do with this?  Let’s dive into the bible to try and answer these questions:

 

[1] 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. 

[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.

 

Paul repeats some ideas that we have already looked at, but he changes the imagery.  Before you are a Christian, you are a slave.  What were you a slave to?  He describes it in these verses as “elementary principles” and in the next group of verses as being enslaved to those “that are not gods.”  If we really combine the two ideas, you could say that we were enslaved to the elementary principles that come from the worship of false gods - of idolatry.

Why would you want to worship a false god?  And how would you get enslaved to such worship?  Charles Taylor says that the difference between a believe in the Jesus of the Bible and the nonbeliever is not necessarily what you think about God - often times we may think we believe something, until it surfaces in our actions that we actually have not fully believed it.  There are three different experiences in our human lives that reveal where our belief lies, and this is a summary quote by Alisa Wilkinson:
The first is fullness, that feeling of euphoria and rightness you get when you’re happiest; absence, the exact opposite; and the middle condition, the things-are-pretty-okay place in which many of us are fortunate enough to live our daily lives.
Where do you run to in each of these three experiences?  We’ve all been in a place of celebration - holidays, Christmas, even today it being Fathers day - and we’ve had days where it is all absent.  The death of a loved one.  You found yourself failing at something.  Those experiences happen from time to time, but generally speaking, you and I in America live in that middle condition - things are pretty OK from day to day.  We’re not struggling with the bubonic plague or a horde of invading nomadic warriors, or a dictator who is trying to exterminating entire people groups - our current day to day life is pretty good.

We are led to worship within each of these three scenarios, and we can describe the worship as the end point, if you will.  If you could measure out your celebration-times as an arrow pointing towards a goal, what would be the ultimate goal?  In your mourning when life is absent and you are deeply struggling, what is the ultimate goal of your struggle?  When you get to work on repairing the struggle, what is the goal of the repair to bring yourself out of those times?  And in your day to day life, if you could draw it out on a linear scale - where is the arrow in your day to day life pointing towards?  What destination?

This little test will expose for us what we actually worship.  And according to Paul, something is always paired together with the worship of false gods - elementary principles, which he also describes as the “law.”

So let’s break this down: you and I have an end point for all that we do.  And if we are willing to ask the “why” question enough times, I think we will discover that you and I are simply grasping at the age-long quest for eternal life.  No, I do not simply mean some sort of future, never ending life where we will not age.  The biblical idea of eternal life is more robust than that.  Eternal life can also be translated as the fullness of life.  You and I want some sort of fullness of life that brings about meaning, purpose and significance to your life - a life as big as God’s.  This is shown through our bottomless cravings and desires - once we experience something, it is great and all, but it never lasts forever.  We get stuck wanting whatever we just had back.  Or in times of suffering and mourning, all of that feels completely out of place, and you are left yearning for a life where those things could be gone forever.  In intense happiness and celebration, the sun will set just like any other day, and time rolls on.  But we’re left, day to day, laboring away, still seeking for the fullness of life.  We’re not a satisfied people until we find it.

The text we’re looking at is ultimately about our inheritance, which the Bible describes as we’ve stated, as “eternal life” or the “Kingdom of God.”  Worship of false gods is simply a misdirected quest for the fullness of life.  Worship of false gods is when we get the end point, the destination, of our quest all wrong.  

David Foster Wallace described it this way before his death in his most famous and infamous keynote commencement speech in 2005.  This man was not a Christian, or at least never professed to be.  But his insights i’ve read before in sermons, and I want you to listen to it closely:

 

…here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story… Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
St. Paul the apostle, if he were here today, would nod his head in agreement.  Wallace, in his amazing insight, hits on the paired “elementary principles” or “law” that Paul says comes along with worship of false gods - the many false gods that Wallace describes.  When you or I worship a false god, we realize that there are new rules that come along with worshipping that idol if we are to receive, or inherit, whatever we’re looking for in our worship.  But the new laws that guide that false worship are a trap - they are chains.  They become slavery.  If the end point is simply money and having more material things, you will find yourself never leaning back and saying “ahh, this is enough.”  No - laws of this false worship is actually that you never do have enough.  It brings about the chains of “well I could always make more money if…” and the process never ends.  Slavery.

Worship your looks, your body and sexual allure before others?  Wallace says that you will always look in the mirror, and feel ugly.  You’ll never look good enough.  And when age hits, you realize that there is an inescapable death that is coming that is bringing a slow decay to your former younger self, and you will only feel uglier and uglier, slowly dying many deaths before your real death comes.  Slavery.

Do you see?  Play by the rules of these false idols, and you’ll realize that their rules leave you always empty.  Because deep down, all of these idols cannot provide the fullness of life.  Eternal life.  They can’t do it.  They are all simply a large black void that will cast on you the shackles of a never ending cycle of searching.  And we will always feel like a failure.

Paul says that before you are a Christian, this was the reality of your life.  You were a slave to this search.  But then God himself intervened.  And he actually submitted himself to the Law.  God did choose a specific people and revealed to them His Law - what the rules are to find the fullness of life before him.  The Gentiles didn’t have such a law, but the false idols we’re talking about reveal that the Law is indeed, in some way, written on our hearts.  But Jesus Christ came down from heaven as a Jew, living beneath God’s revealed Law.  His rules of the game. What you are to do if you are to find the fullness of life with the correctly ordered worship of the One True God.

And the amazing thing is this: Jesus perfectly did it.  As human beings, whenever such rules and laws of worship are given to us, we’ll fail them.  The false gods fail us, and then even if we were to turn to the True God and attempt to climb our way to him through His revealed laws and rules of worship - essentially a perfect moral life before him, a perfectly ordered heart that only desires and loves God above everything else in our life, we would also received the shackles of slavery because we realize we can’t do it.  Insecurity and fear fills our heart.  We’d always find ourselves in a similar state of false systems of worship - we need to do more and more and more because we find ourselves continually breaking God’s laws.  And the fullness of life, our inheritance, is continually out of our grasp.  

But Jesus was born beneath the Law as the God-Man.  He perfectly upheld the Law, and he carried around with him in his earthly ministry the fullness of life.  Jesus was the man of sorrows, but I promise you, if you had the chance to spend time with him while he was in the flesh, he would have been the most joyful, happy person in the world.  He would have been the most content person.  The kindest, most truthful person.  He wouldn’t have been concerned with your perception of him, his looks were mundane - he wasn’t a handsome beautiful man like the movies portray according to Isaiah.  He would have been utterly secure in himself before God, resting in God at all times.  The fullness of life.  He was tempted with the false worship of earthly pleasures and earthly idols as we are, yet he never bent the knee.

He, in essence, was the True Human Being, living the human life as God designed and created it to be lived.  And when he came, he was on a mission to give away the fullness of life to this world.  He wanted human beings once more to have access to eternal life.  He wanted human beings to once again have access to the inheritance of eternal life, today, and tomorrow, forever and ever.  But he knew he needed to redeem us from the impossible to uphold Law before God.  He needed to go to that slave market where we are all chained to, and redeem us from the slavery by giving out freely his accredited righteousness to us - his perfect way of life given to us as if it is our very own.  He then died and suffered for the sin of breaking God’s Law, the sin of bending the knee to all of these false gods, the sin of trying to find the fullness of Life in everything but God - he died for that.  The due punishment of such a search, the curse of the world.  And in his resurrection, he began the reversal of the curse of this world that resides in our hearts and in the physical world.  He began the process of reconciling all the world to the fullness of life before God. Our redemption.

Now that we’ve described all of this, Paul says that when we are redeemed, something happens to us.  We don’t just become redeemed former slaves before God.  We are granted something much more.  Part of our inheritance of salvation, the fullness of life, is that we are adopted into God’s family, verse 5.  We’re brought into his family.  And much more - we don’t simply become his son or daughter.  We become the heir, set up to receive the FULLNESS of Life before God now.  The inheritance.  The very thing we’ve been searching for, seeking for all of this time.  Jesus earned it for us.  And through the coming of the Spirit, God gives it to us now, and he seals it.  We can’t loose it.  And amazingly, he gives us access to it now.

What is, ultimately, the fullness of life today?  Is it a new way of life that makes you happy?  Is it God helping you to sin less and less, and thus not carrying out so much guilt as before?  Is it the chance to have intimate times of worship that make you feel emotionally better?  Is it having a kind and loving church family?  Listen to what Paul describes when we become sons and daughters and what we receive as the heirs, when we begin tasting God’s inheritance, what happens when God gives us his Spirit to dwell within us:

 

[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.

 

Do we cry out, “Yes!  I’m not quite as much of a sinner before.  Yes!  I’m not drinking as much as I used to.  Yes!  Now since I’m a Christian I feel better about myself because I’m doing more good to others.”  No!  It may seem peculiar, but when God’s Spirit is sent to his new adopted children who he unleashes his inheritance on, we cry, the Greek actually means SCREAM “Daddy!!!!”

Do you get this?  Do you know what the fullness of life is today?  Do you see why the Spirit is needed for this fullness of life?  Ephesians 2:18 says that the Spirit gives us access to God.  And the fact that Paul says the first thing we cry out upon our new inheritance as Christians is DADDY! - it can only mean this:  the fullness of life today, the inheritance today, and the inheritance tomorrow, is God himself.  In fact, this was the entirety of Jesus’ mission: to reconcile us, and ultimately the world and all things, back to God.  This is why he described the inheritance as “inheriting the Kingdom” - where God is King, where he rules, where he is the absolute for ALL things.  

Don’t you see that in our never-ending search to satisfy our desires is that there is a God-shaped hole that only an eternal being could fill?  Don’t you see this?  The Christian life is giving the answer:  We all desperately need God to fill our life.  But our sins always separated us from him.  Jesus removed that separation, gave us a perfect credit of righteousness before God as if we have never sinned, and then he gives us himself, his Spirit, who begins the lifelong process of shaping us and conforming us to be the Human Beings we were designed to be - humans who love God with all of our heart, mind and soul, and Humans who love our neighbor as ourself.  All of this is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And thus by God’s Spirit we cling to Jesus, thanking him for our salvation, thanking him for the fullness of life available to us today.

When we understand these things, a few things happen:

1) We understand that God loves us.  When Paul uses the word “Daddy” to describe God, he chooses the most childish and affectionate word possible.  Every morning our youngest, Nathanael, the happiest kid we’ve had yet, he comes down stairs and he looks at us with the biggest smile that his little face can hold, his smile is so big that his eyes are barely open from the efforts of stretching his smile to the most extreme form, and he looks at me and says “Daddy!” and runs up to give me a morning hug.

Daddy.  God simply isn’t our Father.  He’s our Daddy.  Thus, our inheritance is receiving the best Daddy ever.  The best of Daddys.  He is a Daddy who, because of all that Jesus has accomplished, loves you.  His love is completely maxed out on you.  He is a Daddy that is not harsh, looking to be obeyed and impressed if he is to return love to you.  No, he is a Daddy, as Jesus said, who loves to give good things to his children.  Because of Jesus’ work, he is a Daddy that you don’t need to be afraid of.  He is a Daddy that is always present in your life through the Holy Spirit.  He is a Daddy who always hears your prayers.  He is a good Daddy who doesn’t spoil you continually, but he is seeking to conform you through discipline and good godly parenting.  He is a Daddy that you can always have a child-like trust in, even if you don’t quite understand what he is doing and why, you can hear him say “you don’t understand now, but I’m your Daddy, I know best, and I need you to trust me.”  

When we have access to our Daddy, our hearts are filled and our hearts are satisfied.  When the end point of our desires are met in God, our endless needs are met.  We no longer need lots of money and if we are blessed with lots of money, we’re not chained by it.  As we age and get older, we are no longer afraid of looking older because our Daddy loves us, and meaning is found there.  We no longer despair in our sin and guilt, because we’re forgiven and our Daddy gives us grace and love us.  If we celebrate on good days, we give God thanks for the blessing.  If we are suffering and in mourning, we look to him for Hope.  And in our day to day life in the mundane, we labor away with joy, knowing that God through Jesus by the presence of the Holy Spirit is available to us today - he can be the endpoint of all our desires today.  You can receive this full, eternal inheritance NOW!

Paul continues on in our text:

 

[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? [10] You observe days and months and seasons and years! [11] I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

[12] Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. [13] You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, [14] and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. [15] What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. [16] Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? [17] They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. [18] It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, [19] my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! [20] I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (ESV)

As we close our sermon. Paul changes his tone and gets personal.  We must remember that this is a letter to these churches.  Paul wasn’t writing a book.  He was writing a letter.  And his tone reflects this.  Remember, this church had bad teachers who showed up, saying that Jesus’ work wasn’t enough to give you the inheritance, the fullness of life, salvation.  Rather, you needed to return to the Law in the Old Testament if you are to remain accepted before God.  Paul says that you have now become known by God!  That former way of life should be dead!  Why are you returning back to it?  What did you miss about the Good News of Jesus?  Don’t you know that work is completed?  Don’t you know God is available to you today in Christ by his Holy Spirit?  Did you misunderstand me?  Did I labor in vain?

He then recounts a story that we do not have access to.  Apparently in his missionary journeys, he stopped in the region of Galatia because he was ill.  When he stopped in his illness, he shared the Gospel.  They believed, embraced it, and began showing evidence that they indeed have received the fulness of life through their actions.  They received and loved Paul as if he were an angel of God.  They nurtured him, took great care of him, gave him such sacrificial love that he says you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me - what great love he received from them!  Surely only such sacrificial love was outward evidence that you did indeed place your faith in Jesus, that indeed you received the Holy Spirit and are now satisfied in God.  

But if you were, you wouldn’t return back to thinking you need to obey the Law to be accepted by God.  These false teachers have bad motivations!  They aren’t seeking your good. They are confused themself, and have ulterior motives.  Paul then says, guys, I wish I could speak differently to you because I’m really confused.

As we end this sermon, I want you to do some self-reflection.
Does your life reflect the inheritance you have received?  

John 10:10 - The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  

Church, we are the ambassadors of this GOOD NEWS.  Let us leave this place, and tell everyone around us that the FULLNESS OF LIFE IS AVAILABLE TO THEM EVEN TODAY.  Let’s pray.