CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XIV)

Medieval church scholar Nicholas of Lyra (1210-1270) tells us that for him, the two terms [Abba and Patēr] are placed next to each other here to signify the same thing. The first term – Abba (Papa), is Hebrew or, more precisely, Aramaic, for that was the language that the Hebrew people commonly spoke at that time. The Aramaic and Hebrew languages are very similar. The second term – Patēr (Father), is Greek, although the Latin’s also use it to signify the fact that God the Father unites in faith converts from both Judaism and paganism since they are joined together by their confession in faith.[1]

This same scholar says that it was on this basis, the Apostle then infers the conclusion in what he says next in verse seven. As Nicholas sees it, the Apostle is clearly rebuking the Galatians for their ingratitude. After all, it was through their adoption as children of God that they were liberated from the servitude of the Law. Their ingratitude was immense. It led them to accept this servitude to the Law as if it were a gift from God, yet it did nothing to further their salvation. The ingratitude of the Gentiles, who converted from idolatry, was even greater than that of the Jews because the Gentiles were not nourished in the legal observances as were those who converted from Judaism.[2]

Chrysostom sees this as a stern warning to the Jewish believers in Galatia who made the switch, and, for the non-Jews, it was an unconscionable decision. He sees Paul’s message this way: If we were not first made His children, we could not have called Him Father. If then, grace has made us freedmen and freedwomen instead of servants or slaves, adults instead of children, heirs and siblings instead of aliens, is it not utter absurdity and stupidity to desert this grace, and to turn away backward?[3] We can clearly see how this may also apply to any believer today who once freed from sin’s bondage, who, through temptation or ignorance, goes back into the darkness of sin, giving up their freedom paid for through the death of the Anointed One on the cross.

Anglican Bible commentator John Trapp (1601-1669), starts his comments on verse six by saying: “God has no stillborn children.” Paul was no sooner converted than he began to pray. Not only that, but he also had a vision seeing Ananias coming to lay hands on him.[4] This shows that the spirit of grace is a spirit of supplication.[5] And when God sends this spirit of prayer into our hearts it is a sure sign that He means to answer our desires; like as when we encourage our children to ask, and so they come and civilly say, “I pray you, father, bestow this upon me,” we do not comply. However, when they come politely and plead, “Please, please, Daddy, can I have this?” it’s hard to say, no. Likewise, when we go to God and cry with affection “Abba, Father,” those are the words given to us to use as soon as we are made children of the Most High God.[6]

William Burkitt (1650-1703) raises an important topic in his comments on verse six here in this chapter. He points out that Paul says here that the “Spirit of God’s Son,” was sent by God to live in our hearts. How is that different from the Spirit God sent to land on Jesus’ shoulder after his baptism by John the Baptizer? Was it a different Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan? Was the Spirit Jesus breathed on His disciples and told them to receive it a dissimilar Spirit? Or is there another Spirit He said He would ask the Father to send to us a Comforter that arrived on the Day of Pentecost?

Theologians struggled over this for centuries, with some becoming Unitarians, others Trinitarians, and others Multiple-Personality-Arians. Instead of God in three persons, they believe that God possesses three personalities. Since the human mind is incapable of understanding all about God at any level of intellectual competitiveness, it’s hard to explain the unexplainable. But Burkitt starts by saying that the Spirit is not a quality or operation, but a divine force with essence and subsistence, or else the phrase of being sent could not be properly applied to Him.[7]

Let me explain it the way I did long ago when asked by a seminary student to explain the Trinity. I started by describing the smallest unit of matter in our universe, which is the “atom.” The atom is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The protons and the neutrons make up the center of the atom called the nucleus, and the electrons fly around above the nucleus in a small cloud. The electrons carry a negative charge, and the protons carry a positive charge. In a typical (neutral) atom, the number of protons and the number of electrons is equal. If you separate any one of these particles, it ceases to be an atom. If you make one more massive than the others, it will not be a stable atom. And yet, altogether, they are called an atom. They never leave each other, they work together in perfect harmony, by touching the atom you touch them all. So, no matter where the Father is, the Son and the Spirit are also present. And wherever the Son is the Father and Spirit are present. And, likewise, wherever the Spirit is the Father and Son are present. How does all this work? You can ask God someday.

Church of England priest William Law (1686-1761) who lost his position at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, because he refused to take an oath of allegiance to any king other than the King of Kings, wrote that when Paul said, “I can do all things through the Anointed One who strengthens me” he found that nothing hinders such faith except a person’s total disregard for the presence of the Anointed One within them. They are choosing a religion of self, of intensive learning, and seeking worldly recognition rather than becoming a “fool for the Anointed One.[8] Instead, they should renounce all such things to please themselves and others, give little thought to earthly fame and fortune, and desire nothing, know nothing, and seek nothing but that which the Spirit of God and the Anointed One knows, wills, and seeks in them.

William Law also says that in making such a commitment and in it alone lies the Christian’s full and dependable power of overcoming self, the devil, and the world. The Christians, seeking and turning to anything else, to be led and inspired by the one Spirit of God and the Anointed One, will give rise to a form of Christianity that in the sight of God deserves no other title than a spiritual Babylon, a spiritual Egypt, and a carnal Sodom, a scarlet harlot, a devouring beast, and red dragon. For all these names belong to all those however well-educated, and to all churches in which the spirit of this world exhibits any greater or lesser share of power. This was the fall of the whole church soon after the apostolic ages.

That’s why Mr. Law believes that every attempt to bring reformation to such a church, inspired by religious learning and supported by any power outside the church, will make little difference. In fact, it may even make things worse. That is until all churches, surrendering their will, wisdom, and promotion, seek for no other reforming and transforming power than that of the Spirit of God which converted sinners, publicans, harlots, Jews, and heathens, into a holy apostolic church at the beginning of Christianity, a church which knew they were of God, that they belonged to God, by that Spirit which He gave them, to operate in them.

As Paul told the Romans, you are not ruled by your sinful selves. You are governed by the Spirit if that Spirit of God really lives in you. But whoever in whom the Spirit of the Anointed One does not dwell, do not belong to the Anointed One. And that this is the state to which God appointed, and called all the Christians, that’s why Paul declares here in verse six since you are now God’s children, He sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts. The Spirit cries out, “Abba, Father.” It’s as if the Apostle said, nothing in you can cry, or pray to God as your Heavenly Father, but the Spirit of His Son the Anointed One resident in you. Which is also as accurate of every inclination in the soul towards God. Mr. Law says there is so much of it, like that of a woman striving to give birth to a child. Only here in Galatians, Paul is wanting to birth a soul in the Anointed One.[9]

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) reflects on what Paul says here in verse seven about believers no longer being slaves of the Law, but children of God. He is all for believers being promoted and advancing in the world in all arts and sciences, as long as they do so as children of God. It results from the excellent and glorious degree of honor and dignity they gained by being adopted by God as His own. What infinite glory and incomprehensible majesty and excellence that brings every believer because their relationship with God is not so personal and honorable.

Edwards goes on to say, it is a great honor to be a servant of God. John the Baptizer said that although he was a servant of God, the One coming after him was so great that he was not worthy to kneel down and loosen His sandals. But John was a servant under the Law. The Anointed One came so that those who believe in Him might become God’s sons and daughters, even as He was God’s Son. And by being sons and daughters, believers become joint-heirs with the Anointed One of all God’s glory and riches. And how do believers know they are God’s children? His indwelling Spirit testifies to that reality.[10] No wonder the Apostle John exclaimed his admiration for the love God the Father bestowed upon believers to be called sons and daughters of God.[11] And what a privilege that we now are able to freely call Him, Abba, Father. So, what were the Galatians thinking by moving out of God’s house as children into the servant’s quarters under a slave master – the Law?[12]

John Wesley (1703-1791) in one of his sermons on Romans 8:16 about the witness of the Spirit that we are God’s children, says that anyone who truly believes that the Scriptures are the Word of God, cannot doubt what Paul says about the privileges of being children of God. This is something believers must explain and defend as the truth. If they don’t do so, then our religious faith will degenerate into mere formality, where they demonstrate a form of godliness but deny its power.[13] That’s why our outward witness is not enough; we must also contain the inner witness of the abiding Spirit.

Wesley points out that the Apostle John says that God gave us His testimony that as His children, we are given eternal life through Jesus the Anointed One His Son.[14] And God gave us His approval by giving His Spirit to dwell within us so that His Spirit ensures our spirit that this is so. As Wesley sees it, as soon as that witness is confirmed through sanctification, then the Fruit of the Spirit will begin to grow. Along with this, we can enjoy the honor of being able to call God our heavenly Father. And this is the core of Paul’s message here in verse six to the Galatians. That’s because His Spirit dwelling in our hearts cries out for us, “Abba,

[1] Nicholas of Lyra, op. cit.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chrysostom, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] Acts of the Apostles 9:11

[5] See Zachariah 12:10

[6] John Trapp: On Galatians, op. cit., p 582

[7] William Burkitt: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 322

[8] 1 Corinthians 4:10

[9] William Law: A Humble, Earnest, and Affectionate Address to the Clergy pp.23-24

[10] Romans 8:16-17

[11] 1 John 3:1

[12] Edwards, Jonathan. The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards: op. cit., (Kindle Location 74961-74977).

[13] 2 Timothy 3:5

[14] 1 John 5:11 Father.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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