The well-known theologian J.I. Packer once said that the Biblical teaching of adoption into God’s family was the “Cinderella” of doctrines. We all know that fairy tale about the beautiful maid who was neglected, abused and despised. Yet Cinderella eventually married the prince of the land. In a similar way, the teaching of adoption is misused and forgotten. But when the wedding day of the Prince of Peace comes, this doctrine will shine in all its glory. However, this teaching is not only for the future. It is also about life now, and the Galatians and all who read it need to know it experientially.
First, we need a working definition of spiritual adoption into God’s family. Adoption is an act of God’s saving grace whereby he gives all believers in Jesus Christ since Pentecost the position, privileges, and responsibilities of adult sons in his family. The position of an adult son in God the Father’s family is a blessing of Christ’s new and better covenant and was unknown to believers prior to our Lord’s ascension. It is closely connected with the Holy Spirit’s living in the new covenant believer. The Galatians needed to know their superior position in Christ in his new covenant, since they were being tempted to turn back to life under the law covenant, being deceived about the position, privileges, and responsibilities of those who lived under it. Long ago I learned that doctrinal knowledge is not a cure all for the Christian. However much that is fuzzy, confused, inadequate, and messed up in the lives of Christ’s followers could be improved by a correct understanding of this Biblical teaching. We can only live what we know, and a failure to know the truth builds distortions and puts Christians on spiritual wild goose chases.
I. The entry point into God’s blessings is faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul has been presenting this truth throughout this book. He does so again. Why does he do this?
A. All people do not receive spiritual blessings from God, although he loves and cares for all as his creatures (Ps 145:8-9, 15-16).
1. People who reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have a different father (cf. Jn 8:42-47).
2. Those who receive Jesus Christ by believing in him become children of God (cf. Jn 1:10-13).
B. The first point that Paul wants to establish firmly in the hearts of his readers is that the entry point is faith in Christ, instead of ethnic heritage, ritual observance, having parents who are believers, being a spiritual person, caring for others, or any other alternatives people like to invent.
1. Those who believe in Christ Jesus are sons of God. (By the way, it will become clear later why Paul uses the term sons. He is not against women; in fact, Paul uses the expression “sons and daughters” in 2 Cor 6:18, as he quotes Is 43:6 with a different purpose.) Faith in Jesus Christ is the outcome of being born of God, or what is called regeneration (1 Jn 5:1). Regeneration gives the disposition or attitude of a son of God; adoption gives the position of an adult son of God.
2. This blessing includes all who believe—“you are all sons of God”. Adult sonship is not the exclusive privilege of a few eminent saints but the common blessing of all who believe in Jesus.
Apply: We all need to get off of and stay off of the spiritual performance treadmill. Knowing what we all possess in Christ helps keep you off when you apply the truth to your identity. Who are you, believer in Jesus? You are an adult son of God through faith in Christ Jesus. The key is faith in Christ Jesus.
II. Four spiritual blessings examined
A. We are immersed into Christ (cf. Rm 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:12-13)
1. All believers are put into a real, vital, spiritual union with the risen and ascended Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is not something you can feel, but it does provide a foundation for your experience.
2. The Spirit uses the term immersed to communicate that we are joined to Christ in the fullness of his redeeming work, since baptism or immersed means to be submerged, inundated, overwhelmed, totally surrounded by, or overcome. When you are baptized as a believer in water, you give witness to this baptism by the Spirit into Christ.
B. We are clothed with Christ.
1. “The expression conveys a striking suggestion of the closeness which exists between Christ and the believer” (Guthrie, my emphasis).
2. Again, this is not something we feel, but is also lays the foundation for our spiritual experience (cf. Rm 13:14). Here is what you are in Christ; now, be what you are.
C. We are sons of God.
1. The connective word “for”, which sadly is not translated by the NIV, shows the sequence of thought. “We are no longer under the supervision of the law” (3:25), “for you are all sons of God…” (my emphasis). Regeneration presents our sonship in terms of receiving a new nature or disposition, in contrast to what we were by nature in Adam. Adoption presents our sonship in terms of receiving a new legal position in God’s family, in contrast to what believers were during the time of the old covenant.
2. Believing people under the law covenant were certainly members of God’s family, but they were “under the supervision of the law” (3:25) or “subject to guardians and trustees” (4:2). They had a place in God’s family, but not freedom (5:1) in the family. They were like little children and not grownups. For this reason, their lives and worship were regulated by the types and shadows of the law (Heb 10:1). The Spirit dwelt among them but not in them. There was fading glory, but we have lasting, surpassing glory (2 Cor 3:9-11). They could see a cloud of glory above the temple. We are the temple of God and the Spirit resides in us. They experienced fear in the presence of the glory. We experience assurance in the glory of God.
3. When a person believes in God’s Son, the risen Jesus Christ, he or she is in union with him, whose God is his Father (Jn 20:17) and therefore also our Father. The believer is then filled with joy and peace and the love of God that is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rm 5:5). The Spirit uses love, joy, and peace to form new, fresh desires in our hearts to love, please and serve the living God by the power of the Spirit.
Quote: “To such persons the restrictions of the Mosaic law are unnecessary, and its carnal ordinances altogether unsuited; and such is the state [position] into which every believer of the gospel is brought, and such is the character to which every believer of the gospel is formed” (Brown).
Illustration: When you are able to read well and enjoy reading, you no longer need an instructor to teach you and to prod you to read. You still read, but you read in joy, and the instructor has become unnecessary. (Compare Brown, p. 74)
4. Our standing and privileges as sons depend on nothing but our union with Christ, which is formed by faith. The apostle Paul picks three areas to demonstrate this.
a. It is not dependent on ethnic or what some wrongly call racial distinctions: “neither Jew nor Greek”.
b. It is not dependent on social or economic considerations: “neither slave nor free”.
c. It is not dependent on gender differences: “neither male nor female”.
Comment: It is obvious that all these distinctions still exist in the world and nature. Christianity does not obliterate such in the world. For example, males and females have different functions in the world, the family, and the church, even during this new covenant age (cf. 1 Tm 2; 1 Cor 14). But all believers share the same blessing of God—adult sonship.
Apply: We must constantly pursue and apply this unity of adult sonship. Every church needs to be remade practically in this teaching.
D. We are heirs according to the promise.
1. Here we find that believers are the true spiritual seed of Abraham. Since we are seed, we are the heirs of the promise made to him. We do not reach this position by the law covenant but by the fulfillment of the promise covenant in Jesus Christ.
2. Being such, we are heirs of God’s promises. We have an inheritance of glory (Eph 1:14; Rm 8:17).
3. Being such, we are to be a blessing to the world. This puts us on the fulfillment of our missional agenda.
Apply: Look at your life this way. I am an heir of God’s promises in Christ. How can I be a blessing to the people I interact with regularly? This week seek to be a blessing to five people you meet outside of your family and your fellowship of believers.