BY PASTOR GARETH on October 16, 2017
So last week we reflected on what it means to walk in the Spirit of adoption from Galatians 3:15-4:7. As a precursor to this reflection, it is important for us to recognize that the ancient practice of adoption was in ways very different from the modern practice of adoption with a few important similarities. In Greco-Roman practice, babies were not adopted in any legal sense of the term. All legal adoptions were usually young men or even grown men – more often than not, they were slaves from within a household. The 1984 NIV captures some of the force of this concept by substituting “full rights as sons” for the word most other translations (including the 2011 NIV) render “adoption“. Legal adoption was, as it is today, the transferral of parental responsibility from one family to another. One of the primary purposes for adoption, at that time, was for the purpose of having an heir. The idea of adopting children from parents who were unable to care for a child for one reason or another is completely foreign to Paul’s mindset. I think this carries important implications for us today as we read the text, that we be careful not to read our own understanding and experience of adoption back into the biblical text.
Paul’s primary argument in this text is to show how the Galatians (and by extention all “Gentile” believers) have been adopted into the family of God. Hence, he can confidently assert: “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Gal. 3:26, emphasis added). The previous disctinctions between “Jew” and “Gentile”, “slave” and “free”, “male” and “female” are of no consequence in the new family of God through faith in Christ.1 We are all together heirs of the promise and have all the “full rights as sons” in God’s Kingdom. As with the legal transferral of parenthood in the human practice of adoption, so God adopts us into his family and calls us his children. In short, we have a new identity.
I have mentioned previously off the pulpit that the problem with the Galatians was not an obedience problem as the Judaizers would have them believe, but an identity problem. The Galatians were questioning their identity because of the “agitators” in their midst, and on this point Paul goes to great pains to set them straight: you belong. Paul goes so far as to say “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father”” (Gal. 4:6). This is a bold assertion. For any Jew, and even a Gentile to approach the God of the universe on such intimate and familial terms is unprecedented. Yet even Jesus encouraged this when he taught the disciples how to pray: “Our Father in heaven …” We have the amazing privilege of addressing the one true God as our Father, because he has adopted us as his children in Christ. Notice also too, that we can do this because “the Spirit of his son” is “in our hearts”. It is the indwelling of Jesus by the Holy Spirit in our hearts that solidifies our status as God’s children. The Spirit is the sign and seal of our future inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). We belong.
As has been the case throughout this letter, God’s grace is at the forefront of Paul’s mind, because it is the hingepoint of his argument against the Judaizers. This legal status as God’s children is not granted based on anything the Galatians do (i.e. observe circumcision, dietary laws, or other Jewish practices that suggest inclusion in the people of God as they understood it). It is solely by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the Galatians (and we) are adopted into God’s family.
In our church and in our world today, we too struggle with an identity problem that we mistake for an obedience problem. “If only I worked harder … if only I went to church more often … if only I read the Bible more … if only I did less of [this] and more or [that], then I would feel more like I belong to God’s family” is the common thinking of our conscious or unconscious minds. Through his letter to the Galatians, Paul identifies this line of thinking as a lie. It is not, and has never been about what we do, but about who we are in Christ. And who we are is loved by God. We have the confidence of this reality because God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Do you truly see yourself as God’s child and are you nurturing your relationship with him?
2. What are some things you are doing to try and prove your value to God that maybe you need to let go of?
Footnotes: (1) Much has been made of this verse in recent years as justification for women being granted equal status as men in various spheres of life. However, to argue that position from this verse alone is removing the verse from its original context. Paul is not making a political point here. The context has to do with our relationship to God and our status in his kingdom as his children. Look at the verses immediatley before and after this verse: all who are “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27) are “Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). Paul is not arguing here for the abolition of distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, or male and female. What he is saying is that those distcinctions have no bearing on whether or not one is welcomed into God’s family: only faith in Christ matters. This may indeed have implications for how we view our typical understanding of relationships in the world, but we need to be extremely careful not to make this text say something it isn’t saying.