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“ABBA, FATHER”

Galatians 4:1-4:7
Key Verse: 4:6

Thank God that we could study two lessons of Psalm for the last two weeks, Psalm 13 and 119:161-176. The Psalmist of Psalm 23 said, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” The Psalmist of Psalm 119 said, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.” Both are excellent expressions of the shepherd and sheep relationship. This is one important aspect of gospel faith.

So far we studied Galatians up to chapter 3: Pauls assertion of the apostleship that he received through the gospel, directly from Jesus Christ, not from any other man (chapter 1), the confirmation of the gospel Paul preached by Jerusalem apostles, the doctrine of justification by faith and Pauls confession of his gospel faith, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (chapter 2), Pauls appeal for the foolish Galatians to return to faith, Christs redeeming us from the curse of the law, and the relation between the promise given Abraham and the Law of Moses in the history of God that the promise was confirmed by the law and fulfilled in Christ Jesus so that all can become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of nationality, gender, colour, or social status.

In todays passage Paul develops the idea that we are children of God, and his letter comes to its climax, short and concise. He first reminds us of our status as slaves before the coming of Christ. He then teaches us how we became children of God, and what blessings and privileges we receive. Particularly he wants us to know the amazing blessing that we have the intimacy with God calling him, “Abba, Father.” In this study we may learn to enjoy our intimate relationship with God, who is our Abba, Father, and all his blessings.

First, our status before Christ (1-3). In chapter 3 Paul wrote that the role of the law was like that of the guardians in Roman society. And at the last verse of chapter 3 it is written, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to his promise.” Now Paul says in verses 1 and 2 in chapter 4, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.” Paul draws upon the Roman system to explain what kind of slaves we were and how Christ has set us free. Roman times were somewhat different than ours. The Roman family was patriarchal. The father governed the lives of family members and all business affairs and property. He had the right to disown his children, or sell them into slavery. When an heir was a child, he was indistinguishable from a slave. Heirs were subject to guardians--usually reliable household slaves--who trained them in many ways. During that training period, the heir had to obey the guardian. Though the heir had a large bank account, he could not spend any money without the permission of his trustee. However, when a set time had passed, the father would terminate the heir’s subjection to others. In a day, the heir’s status changed. He was given the full rights of a son to govern the estate. Then he was free from his former guardian and trustee. Typically, the father held a great feast to celebrate.

Then Paul says in verse 3, “So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.” Here Paul likens our time before Christ to our childhood. This likeness tells that even in Old Testament days, before Christ came and when we were under the law, we were heirs—heirs of the promise which God made to Abraham. But we had not yet inherited the promise. We were like children during the years of their minority (the state of being under full legal age); our childhood was a form of bondage.

We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. Here basic principles or elemental spiritual forces is in Greek “stoicheion,” which is literally “ABC’s,” and can be applied broadly to conscience, ethics, reason, cause and effect, superstition or religious systems, even including demonic forces. Paul also said in Colossians 2:20-23, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world…These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility …” And he said in verse 9, “…how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?” In NRSV, “…how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?” Here “weak” means no strength to redeem us and “beggarly”, no wealth with which to bless us.

There was an intellectual who could be a representative of intelligentsia in his country and had lived his life relying on his intellect. Then he got a news that his one and only daughter who lived in a foreign country and became a Christian was sick and would lose her sight in a week. When he heard this, right away he came to his daughter so that they might see each other in the final week of her life. Then it happened that he prayed to God, vowing that if God would heal his daughter’s illness that her eyes be kept from blindness, he would devote his life to God. Indeed, amazingly her daughter’s sickness was cured and she could see continually. He would keep his vow to God, yet his heart was not still convinced of God’s living. So when a pastor he knew tried to encourage him to put his faith in God, he said that he would truly believe, if God would heal all the blind in the world. At this the pastor responded, “You will believe when your daughter dies.” At that time he did not know the meaning of the pastor’s words. Strangely enough a cancer was found in his daughter and she was close to death. However, surprisingly she was full of joy and thanks to God and departed this world. Humanly speaking, his sorrow at the death of his one and only daughter was more than one could say. But at that moment he realized how his daughter died showed what she believed was true and could see the true power in life, which is beyond his intellect world. He became a true Christian and since then he lived his life using all his intellect and God’s given ability for the glory of God. Also, as we know, with all his knowledge and intellect and youth, what Paul did was to destroy the church of God in his self-righteousness and spiritual blindness. May we have eyes to see the basic principles of the world and go deeper into the life-giving power of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So far we studied Galatians up to chapter 3: Paul’s assertion of his apostleship that he received the gospel directly from Jesus Christ, not from any other man (chapter 1), the confirmation of the gospel Paul preached by Jerusalem apostles, the doctrine of justification by faith and Paul’s confession of his gospel faith, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (chapter 2), Paul’s appeal for the foolish Galatians to return to faith, Christ’s redeeming us from the curse of the law, and the relation between the promise given Abraham and the Law of Moses in the history of God that the promise was confirmed by the law and fulfilled in Christ Jesus so that all can become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of nationality, gender, colour, or social status.

In today’s passage Paul develops the idea that we are children of God, and his letter comes to its climax, short and concise. He first reminds us of our status as slaves before the coming of Christ. He then teaches us how we became children of God, and what blessings and privileges we receive. Particularly he wants us to know the amazing blessing that we have the intimacy with God calling him, “Abba, Father.” In this study we may learn to enjoy our intimate relationship with God, who is our Abba, Father, and all his blessings.

First, our status before Christ (1-3). In chapter 3 Paul wrote that the role of the law was like that of the guardians in Roman society. And at the last verse of chapter 3 it is written, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to his promise.” Now Paul says in verses 1 and 2 in chapter 4, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.” Paul draws upon the Roman system to explain what kind of slaves we were and how Christ has set us free. Roman times were somewhat different than ours. The Roman family was patriarchal. The father governed the lives of family members and all business affairs and property. He had the right to disown his children, or sell them into slavery. When an heir was a child, he was indistinguishable from a slave. Heirs were subject to guardians--usually reliable household slaves--who trained them in many ways. During that training period, the heir had to obey the guardian. Though the heir had a large bank account, he could not spend any money without the permission of his trustee. However, when a set time had passed, the father would terminate the heir’s subjection to others. In a day, the heir’s status changed. He was given the full rights of a son to govern the estate. Then he was free from his former guardian and trustee. Typically, the father held a great feast to celebrate.

Then Paul says in verse 3, “So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.” Here Paul likens our time before Christ to our childhood. This likeness tells that even in Old Testament days, before Christ came and when we were under the law, we were heirs—heirs of the promise which God made to Abraham. But we had not yet inherited the promise. We were like children during the years of their minority (the state of being under full legal age); our childhood was a form of bondage.

We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. Here basic principles or elemental spiritual forces is in Greek “stoicheion,” which is literally “ABC’s,” and can be applied broadly to conscience, ethics, reason, cause and effect, superstition or religious systems, even including demonic forces. Paul also said in Colossians 2:20-23, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world…These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility …” And he said in verse 9, “…how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?” In NRSV, “…how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?” Here “weak” means no strength to redeem us and “beggarly”, no wealth with which to bless us.

There was an intellectual who could be a representative of intelligentsia in his country and had lived his life relying on his intellect. Then he got a news that his one and only daughter who lived in a foreign country and became a Christian was sick and would lose her sight in a week. When he heard this, right away he came to his daughter so that they might see each other in the final week of her life. Then it happened that he prayed to God, vowing that if God would heal his daughter’s illness that her eyes be kept from blindness, he would devote his life to God. Indeed, amazingly her daughter’s sickness was cured and she could see continually. He would keep his vow to God, yet his heart was not still convinced of Gods living. So when a pastor he knew tried to encourage him to put his faith in God, he said that he would truly believe, if God would heal all the blind in the world. At this the pastor responded, “You will believe when your daughter dies.” At that time he did not know the meaning of the pastors words. Strangely enough a cancer was found in his daughter and she was close to death. However, surprisingly she was full of joy and thanks to God and departed this world. Humanly speaking, his sorrow at the death of his one and only daughter was more than one could say. But at that moment he realized how his daughter died showed what she believed was true and could see the true power in life, which is beyond his intellect world. He became a true Christian and since then he lived his life using all his intellect and God’s given ability for the glory of God. Also, as we know, with all his knowledge and intellect and youth, what Paul did was to destroy the church of God in his self-righteousness and spiritual blindness. May we have eyes to see the basic principles of the world and go deeper into the life-giving power of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, calling, “Abba Father” in Christ (4-7). Look at verse 4. “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” Here the words "the set time" tell us that God set a time for sending his Son into the world to be our Savior. According to his time schedule, God sent his Son. The Son’s coming is comparable to the day that heirs are liberated from guardians to receive the full rights of sons. So the coming of the Son is the best news to mankind; it was the dawn of a new era. The words “fully come” are also important. They tell us how God fully prepared before sending his Son into the world. When we refer to the book of Daniel we find that God foretold the events preceding the Son’s coming in detail. God is the Sovereign Ruler of all the kingdoms of the world and he uses them for his salvation purpose. He prepared Christ’s coming in several ways. The spread of Greek language made international exchange of ideas possible. The rise of the Roman Empire brought order to the world and accelerated worldwide travel and communication. Greco-Roman people were weary of their cruel man-made gods. Jewish people, bound under the law of Moses, longed for freedom. People everywhere were thirsty for the truth. When the gospel was proclaimed, it spread rapidly to the whole world in the first century. God is still in control of nations and people. God still uses all things to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Look at verse 4 again. It says, “God sent his Son.” This tells us how much God loves us. His Son is most precious to God. Yet God was willing to sacrifice his Son for us. It is hard for us to sacrifice time, energy or money for others. Giving a child is unthinkable. God demonstrated his great love by sending his one and only Son. God deeply loves us with immeasurable love, and we should accept this based on the fact, regardless of how we may feel.

God’s Son Jesus was born of a woman, the virgin Mary. This fulfilled God’s promise to send a Savior from the offspring of a woman (Gen 3:15; 22:18; Isa 7:14). It was so that he might become a kinsman redeemer (Ruth 4:6). Jesus was also “born under the law.” Jesus was subject to the law, and fulfilled the law perfectly in its entirety. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and presented to the Lord according to the requirement of the law (Lk 2:21-24). Jesus lived in obedience to his parents, who taught him the law of God diligently. At the time of his death, Jesus knew that all was completed and that the Scripture had been fulfilled. Finally, he said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:28, 30). In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Why did he do that? Verse 5a says, “...to redeem those under the law....” The law had condemned us sinners to death. We had to die, shedding our blood, to pay the demand of the law. But Jesus shed his precious blood on the cross to pay the price for us. Romans 3:25a says, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood--to be received by faith.” Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Jesus “entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” Hebrews 10:14 explains the implication of this: “...by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Jesus paid it all through his perfect sacrifice on the cross for our eternal redemption.

What was God’s ultimate purpose? Verse 5b says, “...that we might receive adoption to sonship.” God’s intention is not just to save us from our miserable situation, but to adopt us as his own children. Here we need to think about the word “adoption.” In Roman law it meant that a slave could become a son who would inherit the estate of his master. When we see the movie “Ben-Hur,” we can find a good example. Judah Ben-Hur was a galley slave on a Roman ship with the number “41.” There was no way for him to escape his destiny as a slave. But during a battle at sea, he rescued Quintus Arias, the commander of the fleet. Quintus Arias was a friend of Caesar and a man of great influence in Rome. But he had no heir. So he adopted Judah Ben-Hur as his own son and made him his heir. Suddenly Judah’s status changed from a galley slave to a noble son. He received his father’s good name as a man of honor in the society. He also received vast property and was granted the right to reign over the household. The old NIV says in verse 5b, “...that we might receive the full rights of sons.” God did not give us half of the rights of sons, but the full rights of sons. We can understand what this means through the prodigal son in Luke 15. When he returned to his father, he was given sandals, a robe, and a ring on his finger. It symbolized the full rights of a son. He did not go through a probationary period, but became a full-fledged (mature) son immediately. These days many people adopt children from poor countries. The children’s condition suddenly changes from poor, abandoned, and unloved to dearly loved, secure, and wealthy. We were slaves of sin and condemned by the law. We were abandoned, unloved and miserable due to our sins. But God had mercy on us and sent his Son to purchase us through the shedding of his precious blood. Furthermore, he adopted us as his dear children with full rights. What a great blessing God bestowed on us! But that is not all. Gods blessing is deeper and richer still.

Read verse 6. “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” We were miserable sinners. Now we have become the children of God. How can we know this for sure? Verse 6 says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and of God. The Spirit is the invisible God who dwells in our hearts. He assures us of Gods love by testifying with our spirits that we are children of God (Ro 8:16). This assurance is not something we manufacture. It is the Spirits own testimony that assures us that we are children of God. Here we see that the Triune God is at work in our redemption. God the Father made a plan and sent his Son. The Son, Jesus Christ, came into this world and sacrificed himself for us. The Spirit comes into our hearts to assure us of Gods love.

In sending his Spirit into our hearts, God made an intimate love relationship with us. The Spirit enables us to call out, “Abba, Father.” “Abba” is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for “My Father.” The NLT says, “My dear Father!” The Message Bible says, “Papa! Father!” This shows us that the relationship between God and people is indeed intimate. This was revolutionary. In the Old Testament God was seen as holy and awesome. Sinful men could not approach him. They were fearful just to think of him. They had no idea to call God “Abba, Father.” When a Muslim woman, Bilguis Sheikh, became a Christian, she wrote a book, “I dared to call Him Father.” As a Muslim it was totally unthinkable to call God Father. But amazingly in Christ Jesus she could call God Father. God made us his children through Christ. God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts so that we might call him “Abba, Father.”

Actually, while on earth, Jesus called God “Abba, Father” in prayer (Mk 14:36). When he was dying on the cross, he called out, “Father, forgive them...” (Lk 23:34a). Jesus’ cry to God reveals the deep and personal nature of their love relationship. Jesus never doubted God’s love even in the most difficult of times. This enabled Jesus to overcome all kinds of temptations and hardships and win the victory. By sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Father shares this same relationship with us. We can call God “Abba, Father”, and experience his love and power and have victory in any situation or circumstance. Jesus assured his disciples of this by telling them in John 20:17b, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” What a great blessing to call God “Abba, Father.” God is the Almighty Creator God who made the heavens and the earth. God is the owner of all things. He is ready to answer all our prayers by providing limitless comfort, strength and wisdom. He enables us live as more than conquerors in this hard world. He wants us to come to him with confidence (Heb 4:16).

However, there is a problem. Some people do not have a good image of a father in their hearts. They think of a runaway father or an abusive father. Then they are rather burdened by the word “father.”" On the other hand, some people have been so spoiled by their fathers that they never received any basic discipline. Their concept of a father is a vending machine that gives them whatever they need on demand. But our heavenly Father is different. Our Father God is perfect and holy. He always loves us in precisely the way we need. He is almighty. There is nothing he cannot do for us. He is always loving and understanding. He never hurts us or spoils us, but always blesses us and watches over us with great care and affection. He also give us proper discipline. God is our good Father. Moreover, he is our Everlasting Father. Let’s come to God, calling, “Abba, Father!”

Verse 7 says, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Romans 8:17a says, “If we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ....” As heirs of God we have an inheritance. It is an eternal inheritance. We really need this inheritance. God provided us with an eternal inheritance, the glorious kingdom of God. Peter described that this inheritance will never perish, spoil or fade. It is kept in heaven for us (1 Pe 1:3, 4). We are children of God, heirs of his kingdom.

The 19th century evangelist John Wilbur Chapman told a story of a man in his church. This man was searching for his son who had left home at the age of 13. The father searched for his son for 18 years without giving up. One day he happened to go to a railroad station in Pennsylvania. A man who looked like a homeless drug addict approached him and begged for twenty-five cents. It was his son! The father cried out, “Tom! I am your father!” Then the man looked at him and said, “Please spare a quarter.” The father hugged his son and said, “Twenty-five cents does not matter. I am your father. You are my son. Everything I have is yours. Even my life is yours. Come home and live with me!” Sometimes we forget that we are glorious heirs of God. We wander in the world seeking a quarter even though our heavenly Father wants to give us all things. Let’s accept that we are sons of God and heirs of God and act accordingly.

The Westminster Catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. May we truly enjoy God and delight in his love and blessings, calling him, “Abba Father” as the most precious relationship we have in the world and doing his will of making his known to the people around us and U of T students.

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