Putting on Heirs, Galatians 4:4-7 January 1, 2012
This is a New Year and God offers us a New You.
How do you see yourself in relation to God and the family of God?
Max Melitzer's life flipped upside down with his car in 1990. While driving his wife and two friends through Wyoming, he lost control and rolled off the road. He survived, but his loved ones all died.
Twenty years later, Max was pushing a shopping cart and all of life's possessions through the streets of Salt Lake City. Following the wreck, his sorrow became depression. This became aimlessness, which then became vagrancy. After losing his friends and his apartment, he drifted hopelessly between relationships and addresses. Eventually, he lived homeless on the streets of Ogden and Salt Lake City.
Family friend Karol Behling said, "He was very much in love with his wife. And it was really hard for him -- one, to have her gone, and two, to have been driving."
Though family loss initiated his downward spiral, another family loss became his redemption.
Morris hadn't seen his brother Max in 15 years. Though the family tried to keep in touch, Max remained a recluse. Still, Morris' death-bed wish was that his brother Max be found and given his estate.
After a year of searching, Utah detective David Lundberg finally found Max in a Salt Lake City park. He had recently been beaten up, his watch and money stolen. Lundberg described Max as a sweet man in his 60s, far more articulate than you would think.
After a celebratory meal together -- the first fish Max had eaten in 21 years -- Lundberg loaded Max onto a bus and sent him back to New York to connect with his family and his inheritance. It's a rags to riches story. Max was homeless, living on the streets of Salt Lake City, until his long-lost brother died and left him his entire estate. Suddenly the pauper is a prince, the homeless has a home, and the orphan has a family.
In today’s Epistle Reading, Paul is telling his own rags-to-riches inheritance story. He’s also telling our story: Servants or slaves are adopted as children of God. As children, we become heirs. Like caterpillar to monarch, our before and after demonstrate a radical identity change with real implications.
Paul frequently used adoption imagery (Romans 8, Ephesians 1).
He imagines a minor due to get the family inheritance. While underage, minors and their future trust are under control of a guardian (Colossians 4:1-2).
In a spiritual parallel, God's people were once under the stipulations of the Law, living like slaves held under external regulations (v. 3).
But Christ was born into that system of Law, fulfilled its requirements on our behalf, and liberated God's people from it. "Slaves" could now become adopted children of God, even as a Roman slave might become a child of the master if adopted by that master (vv. 4-5). (This was an accepted custom with legal documentation and adherence.)
There are four things that stand in contrast to each other in this power-packed passage.
Our work vs. God's work
Servants vs. Children of God
Rules vs. Relationship
External vs. Internal
The first contrast is: Our work vs. God's work
“servant/slave” can be compared to “employee/boss” in today’s society. In the world of employment every employee necessarily has a boss whose demands must be satisfied through work and service. However, in that light, God is NOT a Boss.
Our work won't ever cut it. Instinctively, we know our efforts to live good lives could never meet the Boss' standards. People cannot work their way to heaven (self-justify), because without faith, it's impossible to please God (Hebrew 11:6).
But in Christ, "all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19). When looking on Jesus, God was filled with love and was well-pleased (Matthew 3:17). And the life and work of Christ freed us from all stipulations, legalese and red tape, that could keep us from pleasing the Boss.
And not only that, the Boss, because of Jesus Christ, no longer considers us as mere employees, but rather, has brought us (adopted us) into the Family, which means we are entitled to full inheritance of all the glories, riches, blessings, and eternal life God’s reign offers and provides for the Redeemed!
God works in love and desires the work of love in return -- loving him and loving the world.
2) Servants vs. Children of God
Max received an inheritance when someone in his family died. In Christian "inheritance," Christ dies to make us family and heirs.
Paul uses adoption language to remind us of a stark contrast. Without Christ, we are slaves to God's law. In Christ, we are children of God. There's a big difference between being a follower and being in a family.
A servant must do what he or she is told and only what she or he is told. Servants are servants. They serve. But children, let's say adult children, will ideally live in the best interests of the family. They will behave and act appropriately. They see themselves as participants in a relational system larger than themselves. They learn to cooperate and collaborate for the good of the family. They live to make God proud.
3) Rules vs. Relationship;
There's a massive shift in the sense of obligation in this passage. Rules have much to say about our actions, but rarely do they shape our attitudes, thoughts and emotions. A relationship has far more influence on the whole of how we live.
We see this in some aspects of child development, as, for example, in the ability to seek forgiveness. When one toddler swipes another's beloved fire truck, a good parent will insist that the child apologize. While tears and tantrums may precede it, a forced murmur of "sorry" eventually comes out. A parent's rule created an empty action.
But imagine that child as a parent years later who accidentally shuts the car door on his own child's finger. He feels terror. Deep levels of sadness. Shared tears. Empathically joining the child's pain, the parent offers a heartfelt apology. Loving relationship with the child draws a holistic response from a mature parent.
Paul was clear: "The law was our disciplinarian until Christ came" (3:24). While a disciplinarian can have some sway over our actions, a Savior can claim and shape the whole of us. Internally: change from within. Thoughts. Feelings. Attitudes. Motives.
If you’re interested in how you relate to God and to the Family in your faith, you can take the -- "Emotional/Spiritual Maturity Inventory" online. This was developed by Peter Scazzero who wrote The Emotionally Healthy Church (in hopes of encouraging whole-person Christian discipleship as opposed to a slavish commitment to a system of rules).
He offers the useful -- and free -- "Emotional/Spiritual Maturity Inventory" online as a resource that could help people determine how much they're allowing a relationship with Christ to pervade the whole of who they are.
Inventory of emotional/spiritual maturity. emotionallyhealthy.org/pdf/EHSAssessmentTool.pdf.
Wright, N.T. After You Believe. New York: HarperOne, 2010.
4) External vs. Internal
When Christ's work replaces our work, slaves become children, and relationship guides us instead of rules; a clear result happens: We internalize the heart of God into our own.
Instead of an external code of behavior, our moral compass is internalized. "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (v. 6). God says, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33).
This only comes with time. It comes with deliberate, intentional, and consistent effort on our part to live in God’s Grace. I encourage you to live as heirs, and not household servants.
One Christian therapist puts it this way: God gives us a "sanctified gut." We feel led from within by the corrective voice of God. We come to know when our motivations are unholy and self-seeking.
We experience conviction like a gnawing ache that urges us to realign ourselves with who God designed us to be. We learn to trust our wisdom as Spirit-led discernment and not just spiritualized personal opinion.
This kind of reflective (gut-check) living only comes when we honestly respond to the inner voice of God. An external code of law is obvious and public. But the invisible Spirit within us is less obvious. The Spirit's leading must be practiced. Cultivated. Tested. Honored.
How is your faith walk? Are you living as a spiritual employee or as a beloved child of God? Are you still trying to win the Boss’s approval, or are you secure in the family? Are you willing to identify with your Heavenly Father and your Christian family? Are you willing to live according to you new standing in this New Year? Amen.
Let us pray . . .