This may be one of the hardest concepts for Christians to accept. Is it really possible for God to accept me as His child given the kind of person I am or the things I have done? The simple answer is yes. Here’s one way of looking at it. Several years ago my wife and I met with a lawyer and made an estate plan. We made our four children beneficiaries of everything we have, not because of their virtue, good looks, great character or stellar behavior (although all those things are true), but because they are MY children. Their birth makes them my heirs in the same way that our new birth makes us God’s children and heirs. Here is what Paul has to say about this.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son… so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal 4:4-7)
In this passage Paul seems to shift gears or, at least, he changes his approach to explaining to the Galatians the truth of the gospel. In chapters 2 and 3, he is describing our salvation in terms of justification by faith apart from works. He expands on that by describing the promise to Abraham and our freedom from the law through Christ’s sacrifice and the covenant that we are ushered into by faith. But so far it has been about the process and about the “legalities” of that process, about our status relative to the law. He hammers home the point that the law was never intended to save and that faith was always the entry point to righteousness. Because of faith we are children of Abraham and included in the promise.
But here in chapter 4 (vs 1-11), Paul emphasizes the relational aspect of the gospel, especially in verses 6 and 7. We are sons and daughters, adopted into his family, actually and truly children. We are able to call him Abba – Dad. This is different and more than just being a part of Abraham’s promise. This idea of adoption – his relationship to us as intimate family – was so important to God that He sent the Spirit into our lives to ensure we experienced that father-child relationship. It seems to me that God’s focus and purpose in establishing the covenant, in redeeming us from the curse of the law, in freeing us from that bondage to self-effort was this very thing: to make us sons and daughters. The mission of the Spirit was to draw our hearts to the Father, not just enlighten us to the principles of justification.
Christ’s sacrifice not only made possible our adoption as sons and daughters but, in fact, secured that adoption. So we are truly, actually and securely received into His family and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee, the evidence that we are, indeed, adopted by teaching our hearts to call God Daddy. However, given our nature, our predisposition to doubt God’s word and promise, we struggle with this idea. Can God really so easily accept me? Martin Luther’s comments on these verses are so brilliant and encouraging I just have to quote them.
“The fact that the Spirit of Christ in our hearts cries unto God and makes intercession for us with groanings should reassure us greatly. However, there are many factors that prevent such full reassurance on our part. We are born in sin. To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil, our adversary, goeth about seeking to devour us by roaring: “God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever.” In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses. We cannot see Him. The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil, the agues of death, the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us. The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts: ‘Abba, Father.’ And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God.
Let the Law, sin, and the devil cry out against us until their outcry fills heaven and earth. The Spirit of God outcries them all. Our feeble groans, ‘Abba, Father,’ will be heard of God sooner than the combined racket of hell, sin, and the Law.”
There is comfort, peace, rest, assurance in that. We can trust that He is a good father and so we approach Him unafraid to receive from Him his favor and goodness whatever that may look like in our lives at this time. I am fully confident in that. I have seen Him shower favor on me and my family too many times to doubt my security as His son. Let your heart cry out to Him, “Daddy,” then feel his embrace.