The Freedom in the Gift
Turn to Galatians 4. I trust that you had a great Christmas. The Ottaway’s are having Christmas tomorrow, so this is Christmas Eve for us. We can easily psyche ourselves out into believing that. We actually just put our tree up only a week ago. Yet, I know there are some Ebenezer’s out there that took theirs down right after Christmas. You know Christmas is a wonderful time as we celebrate the birth of Christ. I trust you have enjoyed a great time with friends and family.
However, things were much different in Israel prior to the coming of Christ. Israel had little to get excited about. For the Bible gives a grim picture of the world during this time early in the New Testament. Certainly, a dark time, as the glory days for Israel were far in the past. Times of world rule for them had ended and the declining reign of Israel’s kings continued to spiral, to the point where the kingly line of Israel for all intents and purposes was over. The nations of Assyria and later Babylon had taken their toll on Israel and Judah until the time of the New Testament, and now it is Rome who had control of the Jewish people. And it is difficult to place ourselves in the shoes of the average Jew at this time, to know exactly what life was like. And so in the passage which we are to study this morning, Paul expresses the concern.
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
Galatians 4:4-5 (LSB)
Let’s pray. Lord help us to understand Your Word this morning. May we become interested in its meaning, that we would prioritize the lessons which You desire to teach us today, so that other things would become of less value. That the things of earth would grow strangely dim. That we would learn from this first Christmas and You would be glorified in us. For we ask this in Your great name, amen.
Paul says, “… but when the fullness of the time came.” Paul indicates here that there was a designated time that the people of Israel had to wait for the Christ to come, and waiting is not always easy is it? I was joking with some of the kids here at Elim last week asking them what time they got up last Sunday, Christmas Day morning? I remember as a kid being told I could not get up until 7am. And waking up at 4am, and looking at the clock about every 15 minutes. Waiting can be hard for many. Paul goes on to say, “… but when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son to redeem those under the Law.” So what is Israel’s greatest need that Paul addresses here? And what is God’s solution to that need?
What is this message to the nation of Israel that in the New Testament is extended to the Gentile, you and me? This is it, the overwhelming need Paul says is that you need to be redeemed because you are under the Law. That tells us a few things. It would seem that we are under the Law as a race. In other words, not only is this a condition in Israel, but all who are born into this world. In fact, we get that from this verse, for Jesus was born of woman, therefore He was born under the Law, and that we require rescuing. In other words, we need to be freed from this condition. So, what is the problem of being under the Law? What is the problem of being obedient to the Ten Commandments? Wouldn’t it be good if people tried to obey the Law? In other words, place themselves underneath its authority, to be good people, good citizens. Is this not the main issue today? That people would just try to be obedient to God’s Law.
During the Christmas season I am sometimes intrigued by the various messages that are out there through the songs that we might hear. Now I don’t want to wreck your Christmas or anything, but while we were driving the other day the old carol “Away in a Manger” came on. It is interesting that the writer of the carol is unknown for the first two verses. But a fellow by the name of John Thomas McFarland wrote the third verse:
“Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Beside me forever and love me I pray
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.”
Now when I heard that last line I wondered what is his conclusion in verse third. And has he greatly missed one of the central themes of Scripture? For the consensus in singing the song is that you and I can be fit for heaven. Actually, it was interesting to discover that many hymnals have changed the words of that last line to “And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.” Obviously, others have had the same concern. In fairness, it is difficult to know what the writer actually meant by the original words, and fit us for heaven, as he may have been thinking the work of God, though it is not mentioned. But if by the term “fit us” he meant that you and I might become fit for Christ, meaning that we would become competent, proper, or suited for heaven, that we could actually do that, would be to convey the wrong theological message. Because there is nothing within the human that qualifies him or her to be considered eligible for heaven. For the truth of Scripture is that we fall short of heaven, short of the glory of God. There is no determined effort that enables us to hit that mark. There is nothing that man can do to earn his salvation. A great theological writer, Thomas Schreiner states this simply:
“(1) One must obey the law perfectly to be saved.
(2) No one obeys the law perfectly.
Therefore (3), no one can be saved by the works of the law.”
Thomas R Schreiner, “Paul and Perfect Obedience to the Law,” 278
Now, this does lead to the very blessing of the Law. That though we may fail miserably to keep God’s commands, the Law reveals to us that failure and therefore our need for redemption. It reveals to us just how far short we fall. It is interesting that Paul said these words, as Paul had been explaining to the Philippians of his former adherence to the Law and he says that he was:
“… circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”
Philippians 3:6 (LSB)
Paul is speaking about his pre-conversion to Christianity, and he says that he was blameless. Now, this has been a hotly contested passage, in understanding just what Paul meant by that over the centuries. Some have said that Paul did obey the entire Law, as they believe it is actually possible for someone to do all that, in this case, do what the Mosaic Law demanded. Others would say that he could say this, not because he obeyed it perfectly, but because when he did sin, he did the necessary Jewish sacrifices to rid that sin. In other words, he received forgiveness from his sin and therefore was considered blameless.
The problem with both of these views is that when Christ came he clarified for His hearers their inability to even come close to obeying the Law. Remember what Jesus taught when He said, the Law states that you should not murder. But what did Jesus teach? That even if you are angry with your brother, you have committed murder in your heart. He raised it to a level that made it for those who thought they could keep it, to where it became impossible. Remember He said the Law states to not commit adultery. What did Jesus say? Even if you look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery in your heart. Christ took the Law, in which the Jews often treated like an outward standard, and placed it within the heart. Where not only did actions matter, but motives mattered, thoughts mattered, and desires mattered. In other words, not only was an outward alignment with the Law necessary to keep it. But also an inward, heart adherence to the Law was necessary to keep it. And His statements really put to rest any thought that one could actually do this, as there is no doubt in the Bible that all of us have a great slant, tendency, and desire towards sin.
And even when there are times when we are able to obey the law, the trouble is, is that James taught that even disobedience in even one area of the law, meant that you had been guilty of disobeying all of the law. You must obey the law in its entirety. And any disobedience to even one part, results in being guilty of the whole law. James said:
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
James 2:10 (LSB)
Do you understand that? Conclusion, we are all guilty! We all have descended from Adam, therefore we all sin. In fact, the Bible teaches that we are slaves to sin. Now part of that sinfulness comes a further sin within us that would believe that we could resolve this problem on our own. In other words, I will just not sin. But I do sin, so I will just not do it again, but I do. Unfortunately, our own human nature begins to tell us that this desire in itself to do right, though I do not; but that desire to do what is right, should give me some kind of acceptance before God. In other words, the standard of acceptance from God is no longer sinlessness because I cannot attain that; but the standard is to at least have the right motive or the right desire. And God should at least accept a good intent, if He is a loving God. It is sort of like coming before someone you have sinned against and demand and expect forgiveness, because you wanted to do what was right, though you didn’t. Yes, I did this wrong, but it was not because I wanted to, and therefore you should understand that. Paul talked about this struggle in Romans 7, didn’t he? He at least wanted to do what was right. But that right intend, he realized did not give him any standing before God. And as Paul considers that struggle of wanting to do what was right. But continuing to fail he writes:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:24-25a (LSB)
Paul completely understood that only wanting to do what was right gave him no merit before God. And therefore his shortcomings did not bring him to rationalize his action, but brought him to realize just how sinful he was. But this failure can often cause us to try harder and we determine that we will not sin again, but we do. And this is what Paul refers to here in Galatians 4 as “being under the Law.” This is the troubling circumstance that we all find ourselves in trying to be obedient to a law we cannot obey. And even the thought that I can do this reveals a real inward pride, that we could accomplish something that the Bible tells us we cannot do. In other words, the Bible says I am a sinner, therefore that is the truth. It is not an excuse, but it is the truth. For I must realize my own hopelessness or I will never understand the complete extent of the grace of God in redeeming me from such a pitiful state. And if I do not get this right, my belief will be that though I sin, at least Lord I try, which will lead me to then compare myself with others. Well I am not perfect, yes, my intent is not always pure, but I am better than most. I am not as bad as he is or she is. Yeah, I know my marriage is not the greatest, but I am better than my husband, I am better than my wife. Surely that makes me acceptable before God.
Do you see the digression here? One, Lord I am not a sinner. Two, Lord, I know I am a sinner, but at least I do the best I can. Three, Lord, even when I am not my best, I am better than most. So You must accept me Lord! In other words, if a few sins are not acceptable to God, then trying my best should be. But if not, then being better than others must be Lord! Is this your Christianity? Sitting here in church this morning feeling okay about yourself because you’re doing relatively okay? Is this Christianity for you? Is this it? I would suggest that even this whole thinking process, all this rationale and compromise and comparing comes because we are under a great burden, the Law. Knowing that I should obey, but do not always obey it, or there may be times when I don’t even want to obey the Law. This is a great burden. Yet, Paul said in Romans 7 that he loved the Law of God, because he says in Romans 7:7 that if it were not for the Law, he would not have known sin. The Law in itself is good. But to us, it enslaves us, as it presents to us something that we cannot do.
Endeavouring to obey the Law is like trying to jump across the Atlantic Ocean. Some may be able to run and jump 15 feet. Some will be able to run and jump 5 feet. Some of you may not be able to jump or run. But the lesson is this, everyone, no matter how good they might perceive themselves falls drastically short, and therefore, obedience to the Law is a burden, as sin continues to defeat us. This is exactly what Paul meant when he said he was blameless. Before he came to Christ, he would compare himself with everyone else. And as far as zeal went for the Law, no one even compared to Paul. And no one was able to obey it as he did, until he came to Christ and realized that he was under the Law, and enslaved to sin. I think we need to ask the question, “How enslaved are we?” It would be by our own humanity.
See for us to think that they can do such things that the Bible says we cannot, would be like ants rising up and thinking they are going to start to build automobiles. Or my dog Ted deciding that she is going to plant a beautiful rose garden next spring. You would say “it can’t be done,” even though Ted is so superior to most dogs! But the truth is, an ant can’t do such things, and a dog cannot do such things. An ant can dig tunnels, and they can carry great weight in relation to themselves. And Teddy can come and sit and shake a paw. And humans can do so many amazing things. And how you can sit in front of your phone and Facetime with your kids and grandkids. And I said I have no idea how any of this stuff works. But then I did say to Anne, actually though I have no idea how a 1950 TV works either. But an ant is an ant, and a dog is a dog, and a human is a human. And therefore, we can only attain a certain level. And when it comes to sin, the Law is a burden and we become slaves to sin. So what do we do? See, the glory of this passage is that God has acted! The Father sent His Son who was able to do for sinful man what the law could not do. The songwriter wrote these words:
“God rest ye merry gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior, Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power, When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy”
He understood redemption was required! Listen to these words by John Neale:
“O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
O come, O Bright and Morning Star, and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night and turn our darkness into light.”
He understood the darkness that man was under. This darkness that we face does not mean that we are as sinful as we could be. It does not mean that we delve into every sin that we possibly could. But it does mean that we will struggle with sin and that it will defeat us. Jeremiah said that the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Jesus said that out of the heart comes every evil thought. Paul wrote that no one is righteous.
But what happens in Galatians 4 is that God the Father sends His Son Jesus Christ, who lives under the Law. Who came to the earth on that first Christmas. He was born of His mother Mary. And He was not only God, but He was also human like us. He had emotions, he loved, he wept. He worked hard, He sweat, He was tempted, He faced hardship, He suffered. The Bible tells us that like us, He grew in wisdom, and grew physically. There were times when He was hungry and thirsted, and other times He was exhausted. He was openly criticized, betrayed, and eventually He was placed upon a cross and died, to pay for our redemption from the Law.
Do you understand the significance of that? Adam lived without sin, until the Law came. Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It would be like leaving a 3-year old in a room full of toys by themselves, saying, you can play with all the toys, except don’t look underneath that one box. And since that sin of Adam, the human race has been affected by sin. All you and I have ever known is a life with a sinful nature. But the Father gave His Son, who lived on the earth and knew no sin. He lived under the law as we do, but unlike us, He fulfilled it in every way. What has actually happened here in a real sense, is that Christ has provided for us a “re-establishment” of who we were before Adam sinned. He has brought us back to our original position that we had before sin, something we have never known. We have been redeemed by Christ, we have been bought back by Him. And this effect upon us, allows us to serve Him, not under the Law, but with a desire to be obedient to Him.
“And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying,
Galatians 4:6 (LSB)
Through the help of the Spirit of God, our passion is to obey Him. And ultimately in eternity, we will live with Him without sin. But this is not for everyone, for Paul says in Galatians 4:9, that this is for those who know Him. In other words, this is for those who have come before Christ, repented of their sin, and received Him into their lives. Let’s pray. Father, we praise You this morning for Your Law, as it has accomplished its purpose, it has shown to us just how sinful we are. We also praise You this morning for the Gift of Christ, that Has freed us from such a burden, that we now live as Your children, amen.
I want to close by asking the question, “How do we then live?” as this ties in so much with the gospel. Next Sunday evening we will begin a new series on “What is the Gospel?” And it is a topic that we may believe to be simple, but it is not. And I would suggest that it is quite misunderstood. How does one live who has been miraculously been changed by the gospel? And we must use the term “changed by the gospel,” because if salvation is a turning from sin to serving Christ, a sinful person cannot initiate that change, therefore that must be a work of God in the life of an individual. What I do want to leave you with this morning are four ways we can respond to such a message as today. And three of the four are not biblical responses, but they are often responses by many.
One, is to give up. In other words, to misunderstand this freedom spoken of in the Bible and continue to be burdened by the Law and our inability to obey it, and therefore we live this so-called Christian life with guilt, always believing that somehow Christ’s death was insufficient to remove my sin, Two, sort of follows number one, to give in. To somewhat live as if it no longer matters. That yes, I fall short, therefore I might as well sin. Thirdly, are those who are not going to let that happen and sort of digs their heels in, and therefore, they are going to, give it their best shot. And we might commend this kind of conduct, as it can look good from the outside, and there are many benefits to living this way. But even this attempt will fall completely short of the expectation of the Law, and at some point, it will likely lead to either giving up or giving in. In fact, this could be described as the good citizen without Christ who sincerely tries to do his best. To give up, to give in, or to give it our best shot. Then there is the biblical way. Look at our passage:
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born
under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might
receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His
Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Galatians 4:4-6 (LSB)
I would suggest that if we understand this passage properly we would not give up, give in, or give it our best shot; but give thanks as children of our Abba Father. This is the person who has been truly redeemed, who understands his hopelessness outside of Christ, and understands his hopelessness of his sin and inability to obey the Law. And therefore, lives a life of love and thankfulness and gratefulness for what his Abba Father has done! And his life can even be pleasing to his “Abba Father” because of the work of the Spirit. We have become the very sons and daughters of God. So, this is how we are to live for our Father we love. And all God’s people said, amen.