In these posts on the Holy Spirit and our life as disciples in him we’ve looked at how we are born again by the Spirit and how he is s meal guaranteeing our eternal new creation hope. But what about life hear and now, life between new birth and new creation, what does the spirit do? That’s what we’re going to look at in the next couple of few posts as we explore a few Bible passages.
Imagine you are having a coffee with a friend when there’s a pause, you sense that they’re screwing up their courage to ask you something important. You wait and then they blurt out; ‘How am I supposed to relate to God? I try my best but I just keep on messing up and I feel so guilty about it. I try to read my Bible every day but then I get distracted and I miss a few days and then I feel bad. I try to live the best I can and some days I think I’ve done OK and that God will be pleased with me. Then others I mess it up and I think he just can’t love me, and I can’t really be a Christian!’
They look up from their coffee, waiting for your answer. What would you say? How do we relate to God? Is it about what we do? Is it performance related?
That is certainly an issue facing the Galatians. They are in danger of abandoning the gospel all together, that’s why Paul writes this letter. They are adding to the gospel circumcision and obedience to the law, and Paul’s says don’t. He reminds them that they are justified – made right with God – not by what they do but by what he has done, and of their status and the reality of their relationship with God.
It’s a letter that helps us deal with the question: how should I relate to God?
You are God’s redeemed and adopted child
What do you think of when you hear the word redeem? I guess it’s the 50p off a box of cereal, baby wipes or whatever it is, coupon. As you stand at the till you hand it over and the cashier deducts it as part payment off the total price.
But the Bibles idea of redemption here is very different. When it says “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law…” It is not the coupon idea of redemption, it’s not part payment, or a contribution towards it. Instead it’s the image of the slave market. And that word redemption carries with it the idea of buying a slave and then setting them free. That’s what it meant to redeem someone – you bore the total cost, not part of the cost, for their freedom.
(4-5)God sends his Son, Jesus, to redeem us, to buy us out of slavery and he meets the total cost himself.
You see there is a problem for the Galatians, and us, if we want to live, to approach God, by keeping the law. Just glance back into ch3:10 “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse…Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” If we want to justify ourselves by the law we have to keep all of it. It’s not good enough just to keep the do not kill and steal bit and fail to keep the do not give false testimony, or don’t covet. We have to keep all of it all of the time.
And actually we all have a problem with the very first commandment “You shall have no other gods before me.” That means there must be nothing else that we ever put in the place of, or alongside, God. I guess most of us don’t have any idols or shrines at home but what about family, children, career? An idol is any good gift of God that we allow to become a rival to God. It is anything that stops us loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Keeping the law can’t make us right before God, it highlights our guilt and leaves us facing God’s justice and judgement. But (13)“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”
We are redeemed, bought back from slavery to the law, from being under the curse by Jesus, having kept the law perfectly suffering our punishment and death in our place and crediting us by faith with his perfect record.
And he redeems his people for a purpose, do you see it in(5)? “that we may receive adoption to sonship.” When we were under the curse, when we were rebelling against God we couldn’t be his children. Just think of Adam and Eve for a moment, what happened when they rebelled against God? They were under the curse and exiled from God’s presence. God cannot stand sin and rebellion, so as rebels we cannot be his children, but just as Israel by grace is adopted by God as his son so by faith in Christ are believers.
And as an adopted son we have the full rights of sons, just as in Roman society an adopted male heir had full inheritance rights.
How am I supposed to relate to God? As his redeemed and adopted children. That’s what Paul is saying to the Galatians. So why on earth would you go back to being a slave when you can be God’s son. Our standing before God is not based on our performance, how well we’re doing, it is not based on religion, there is nothing that we can contribute to it. It is based solely on what Jesus has done for you.
Maybe that’s something you need to grasp. Maybe you live your life wracked by guilt because of a past failure, or a repeated one, you can’t meet what you think of as God’s performance management targets for the Christian. But see your status – you are God’s redeemed and adopted Son if you have put your faith in him.
Perhaps you haven’t yet put your faith in Jesus, maybe you think I’m not good enough, I couldn’t keep it up. No, you aren’t and no you can’t, you’re right. But you don’t have to, Christ does it for you, you just have to accept it by faith.
But how does that work? Once we are saved by faith in Christ, redeemed and adopted what difference should it make?
We relate to God as a loved child to a loving Father
(6) “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” Do you notice how the Holy Spirit is described? The Spirit of his Son – as we thought in the passage from John the Spirit is another like Jesus, and he is sent by God so that the adopted sons relate to God as Jesus the Son did.
In other words the Holy Spirit comes to make the believers new relationship with God a living breathing reality. As you read the gospels you can’t help but notice the relationship Jesus has with God. He listens to him, takes time out to speak with him, seeks to delight and glorify God; acting as God would act, loving as God would love, God’s priorities are his priorities.
What Paul is saying is amazing. The very Spirit who makes Jesus relationship with God a reality will do the same for us. He comes and lives in our hearts – the centre of our wills, intellects and feelings and he changes them, he transforms them; so that we relate to God as his children not as his enemies. Did you notice that the words that the Spirit calls out within us or through us are the very words Jesus used when addressing his Father.
We can relate to God as our father just as Jesus did because we have the same spirit at work in us. Abba is a word used in families, it is a term that speaks of a closeness, an intimacy, but not an over familiarity.
Just imagine for a minute a couple who are adopting a child. How would they feel when the adoption papers are all signed and sealed and they now have a legal relationship with that child? They would be thrilled. But imagine how much happier they are when a few months later that child instinctively calls out ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ to them. Then it wouldn’t just be a legal, formal relationship but a living, breathing, loving reality.
That’s what God sends his Holy Spirit into our lives to do. He makes the believer’s redemption and adoption a relational reality, as he teaches us how we relate to God, as he opens the Bible to us, as he teaches us what displeases God and what he delights in, as he makes Jesus real to us. As he leads us to speak to God, to run to him in a crisis, to trust in him in difficulties, to thank him for his mercy and grace, to ask him for what we need, and to share his concerns, and to look and long for his coming.
Let’s just go back to our friend’s question; ‘How am I supposed to relate to God?’ You explain all that to them and they say yes but I just don’t feel that God is my father.
My hunch is that if you go and ask my boys if they feel like I am their dad that they would look at you like you had gone out, they wouldn’t have a clue what you were on about. But if you were to watch them you would see that they relate to me as their dad. They ask me things, they try to please me, they are disciplined by me, they come to me when they are upset, and so on.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t make you feel God is your Father, he causes us to practically relate to God as our Father. The Holy Spirits work in to make our new relationship with God a living breathing reality. What that looks like will differ for each one of us, and it will differ over time for each of us.
Don’t give up being a son to be a slave. Do you see our status before God in Christ – we are redeemed and lovingly adopted, we are made heirs and we have a right relationship with God. And the Holy Spirit is sent to live and work in us so we experience the reality of that relationship of having God as our loving heavenly father.
What will that relationship look like? How do we relate rightly to God? The Holy Spirit works to remind us of the wonder of the redemption and relationship we have with God, he helps us to approach and talk to God, he encourages and guides us as we serve God, in a crisis he drives us to cry out to God, he draws us to confess our failure to God and he goes with us and speaks through us as we call others to know God.
Don’t be a slave be a son?