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 XV)

Now, says John Wesley, the testimony of the Spirit of God must, in the very nature of things, come before the testimony of our own spirit. We must be holy in heart and life before we can be conscious that we are indeed that way. But we must love God before we can be holy at all, this being the root of all holiness. Now, we cannot love God until we know He loves us: “We love Him because He first loved us.[1] And we cannot know His love for us until His Spirit gives witnesses to our spirit that we are loved. Till then, we cannot believe it, nor can we say, “The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.[2] Then Wesley shares the inspiring words from an old Methodist hymn that goes:

No one can truly say that Jesus is the Lord
unless thou take the veil away
and breathe the living Word.

Then, only then we feel

Our interest in His blood,

And cry, with joy unspeakable,

Thou art my Lord, my God![3]

Since, therefore, the testimony of His Spirit must preach the love of God and all holiness in sequence, it must precede our own consciousness of it being a reality.[4]

Adam Clarke (1760-1851) feels that the reader must understand that by Paul telling the believers as children of God they are permitted to refer to Him as Father, that this be coupled with Paul’s other references to Jesus as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit of God, as clearly providing the “most satisfactory evidence that God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, became the portion of every believer.”[5]  Clarke also invites us to look into his commentary on this in the Gospel of Mark, which reads as follows:

Whereby we cry, Abba, FatherThe introduction of the words here shows that the persons in question offered the strongest evidence of the excellence of the state in which they stood; they knew that they were thus adopted, and they knew this by the Spirit of God which was given them on their adoption; and let me say, it was unknowable any other means. The Father who adopted them was seen by no mortal eye, and the transaction is purely spiritual in nature, and transacted in heaven, can be known only by God’s supernatural testimony of it upon the earth. It is a matter of such solemn importance to every Christian soul that God in his mercy is pleased not to leave it to conjecture, assumption, or inductive reasoning; but attests it by his own Spirit in the soul of the person whom he adopts through the Anointed One Jesus. It is the grand and most observable case in which the communication is kept up between heaven and earth. Genuine believers in the Anointed One Jesus are not left to conjectures or speculation of critical clergy or critics. They receive the facts and the testimony of its existence immediately from God Himself. And if such testimony of one’s spiritual status was not given in this manner, no person could have their assurance of salvation that gives rise to confidence and love. If any believer’s acceptance with God is conditional, then their confidence must be the same. Their love for God must be unconditional, their gratitude unconditional, and their obedience also. If God forgave me of my sins, then I should love Him, and I should be grateful, and I should testify this gratitude by obedience. But who does not see that these must necessarily depend on them if in the first case, all this uncertainty and the perplexities necessarily resulting from it, God precluded this by sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, by which we cry, Abba, Father: and thus our adoption into the heavenly family is testified and ascertained to us in the only way in which it can possibly be done, by the direct influence of the Spirit of God. Remove this from Christianity, and it is a dead letter.[6]

In Paul’s day, slaves were never permitted to refer to their master with the term Father. They gave that privilege only to their children. Not only that but when a child calls out, “Father,” or “Daddy,” as we say today, the father knows immediately whether the call is for his attention or they need help. There existed no place under Jewish ceremonial law where such permission is outlined. After all, only a priest was allowed near the altars, and only the High Priest was allowed behind the veil into the Holy of Holies. No wonder it ripped in two when Jesus cried, “It is finished!” Once more, what were these Galatian believers thinking? As Paul saw it, they weren’t thinking at all. I can almost hear Paul take a deep breath, as he continues to dictate: “You’re not servants anymore; you are God’s children! And since you are now His children, you’re in His last will and testament as joint heirs to His kingdom!

John Brown (1784-1858) tells an interesting story that makes his comments on Galatians all the more interesting.[7] So here on the subject of sonship and servanthood in verses six and seven, Brown feels that Paul is not talking about one individual, but of the church as a whole. We see the change in this verse where he says to the Galatians, that because they are God’s sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, and it is the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So, the term “sons” is obviously to be understood as equivalent to grown-up sons who reached the age of accountability and, therefore, eligible to receive their inheritance. And this was the intended purpose of their being adopted as sons in order to become mature children able to handle all that God prepared for them.

Once they make the transition into sonship, they are no longer to be treated as servants who cannot claim any inheritance since that goes only to those who are sons and daughters of God. And the evidence that their servanthood status is over and that the Spirit within them witnesses to their sonship with God, is that the Spirit calls out, “Abba, Father!” In Brown’s mind, merely being adopted and becoming sons and daughters is still not enough, it is only when they exhibit the maturity of being grown-up sons and daughters that the Holy Spirit calls God, Abba, Father.[8] Brown does not say it here, but the implication is that the needed evidence of maturity as children of God is seen in the Fruit of the Spirit.

John Edmunds (1801-1874) says that because we are God’s children,[9] not just anyone, He wanted to give us proof of our adoption. He wanted to give us something that appealed to our own feelings. That way, we could sense in our hearts the assurance of being in the family of God. Edmunds sees one of the best ways to experience this blessed assurance is through baptism. Let that be a symbol for your adoption. You go down in the water as a believer, but you come up as one of His children as in a new birth. Once God sees His Spirit dwelling in you, He wants to make it permanent by sealing His hold on you. This way, we can see that first God made us His children through faith, then sent His Spirit to live in us as gift announcing our adoption into His family.[10] We should take this as an illustration rather than a doctrine in order to help us grasp the concept of adoption into God’s family.

Greek word study expert Marvin Vincent (1834-1922) takes special notice here of what Paul says about why God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. Since there are not three Holy Spirits (the Father’s, the Son’s, and the Spirit Himself), we must understand the presence of the Spirit as the Divine force which animated Jesus in His human life, and in Him as the risen Anointed One. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of the Anointed One by Paul when he wrote the Romans,[11] where he uses Spirit of God, Spirit of Messiah as interchangeable terms. The phrase “Spirit of Jesus Messiah” found only in his letter to the Philippians.[12] Then in John’ Gospel, the Messiah is represented as dispensing the Spirit.[13] He is also fully endowed with the Spirit:[14] He sends the Spirit from the Father to the disciples, and He is the source of the Spirit’s testimony.[15] The Greek noun Paraclete (Divine Comforter) is given in answer to the Messiah’s prayer.[16] The Messiah identifies His own coming and presence with those of the Spirit.[17] Paul identifies him personally with “the Spirit.”[18] [19]

August H. Strong (1836-1899) in his Systematic Theology, comments on Paul’s teaching about fatherhood, servanthood, and sonship. As he sees it, from the past, even until today, being a son, or even a daughter, is a fundamental part of any family. But when it comes to the family of God, the actual realization of sonship is possible through God’s only Son, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. So what Paul is saying here in chapter four in the first seven verses indicates universal sonship of humankind through Adam in which as children, they do not differ from a bondservant although they were meant to be the future heir of everything God created. But real sonship is only possible through adoption as sons.

Strong goes on to say that because all humans are naturally children of God by creation, it does not follow that all humankind will be saved. Many who are by human nature sons of God are not spiritually sons of God; they are only “servants” who “are stuck in their bodily house forever.”[20] God is their Father, but they must yet to “become” his children.[21] What I hear Strong saying is that we are all descendants of the first human, Adam, who was created by God to love and honor Him. But sin caused him to be evicted from the Garden of Eden to live like all other life forms which needed to search for food and procreate to enlarge their number. It was only when God sent His only Son to also become a human being (the second Adam), to lift that curse from all who believe. So instead of remaining as stewards of God in their home here on earth to take care of the earth,[22] they were given the opportunity of becoming children of God whose final destination is in heaven to be with God eternally.[23]

[1] Ibid. 4:19

[2] Galatians 2:20

[3] Spirit of Faith, Come Down, by Charles Wesley, United Methodist Hymnal Number 332, Stanza Two

[4] The Works of John Wesley: op. cit., Vol. 5, Sermon 11, Discourse 2, pp. 187-191

[5] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Ibid. Commentary on Romans 8:15

[7] Early one morning in 1738, as a sixteen-year-old shepherd boy with home woven clothes and bare feet, stood at the counter of Alexander McCulloch’s bookshop in the university city of St. Andrews. The surprised shopkeeper was even more astonished when he heard the youth ask for a Greek New Testament. “Boy,” exclaimed the Professor of Greek who happened to be in the shop at that moment, “if you can read that book, I’ll give it to you for free.” Soon a rather thick leather volume was in the lad’s hands, and to the astonishment of all present, he read a passage and won his prize. By that afternoon, John Brown himself was back shepherding his flock on the hills of Abernathy, having walked some forty-eight miles since the previous evening to obtain his treasure. From the Puritan magazine: The Banner of Truth

[8] John Brown: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 198

[9] See 1 Corinthians 12:15

[10] John Edmonds: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 59

[11] Romans 8:9, 10

[12] Philippians 1:19

[13] John 3:34

[14] See Mark 1:10; John 1:32

[15] John 15:26; 16:7, 9, 10, 15

[16] Ibid. 14:16

[17] Ibid. 14:17, 18

[18] 2 Corinthians 3:17

[19] Marvin Vincent: Word Studies on Galatians, op. cit., p. 137

[20] John 8:3

[21] Matthew 5:45

[22] Genesis 1:28

[23] August H. Strong: Systematic Theology, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 188

About drbob76

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