Self worth - Galatians 3:26 - 4:7
In the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, there is a painting by the French artist Paul Gauguin, which he painted at the end of the nineteenth century. It shows three groups of people, and the picture is meant to be looked at from right to left. In the far right, there is a small child sleeping on the ground; in the middle there are young adults talking and eating; and in the far left, there is an old woman sitting on her own. The picture is meant to convey the growth of humans from the beginning of life in birth, to adulthood in the middle and to the end in death. But the sad fact is that Gauguin could find no meaning to life, and he gives no answers in his painting. The title of the painting gives away what the artist really thought about his life. It is called: 'Where do we come from? What are we here for? Where are we going?'
Those three questions get right to the heart of the very meaning of existence for human beings. Just who are we, why are we here and where are we going? And yet all too often, many people are completely unable to answer those questions. Some avoid the issue by refusing even to ask the questions, perhaps trying to live life as best they can and focussing on family or work or holidays or hobbies. Whereas others try and answer those questions about their meaning and identity but are plunged into feelings of despair and meaninglessness. This is how one writer, a journalist called Bernard Levin, puts it: 'To put it bluntly, have I time to discover why I was born before I die? I have not managed to answer that question yet, and however many years I have before me, there are certainly not as many in front as there are behind. There is an obvious danger in leaving it too lateWhy do I have to know why I was born? Because, of course, I am unable to believe it was an accident, and if it wasn't one, it must have a meaning.'
Well they are certainly sad words. And they all the more sad because both men, Bernard Levin and Paul Gauguin, have failed to see that there is a way to find our true identity and self worth. There is a way to see who we are, what we are here for and where we are going. And that is through Jesus Christ. For he is the one who shows us that we are made in God's image for a relationship with God and he is the only way to God. And it is only in Jesus that we can know our true identity, purpose and destiny.
And it was that very thing that the apostle Paul was keen to impress on his readers in the letter to the Galatians. Galatia was an area in Northern Turkey where there were a number of congregations. They were new converts, but they were in danger. False teachers had come in and said to them: 'Yes it's great that you know Jesus and have trusted him. But in order to be 5* Christians, you need to obey the OT law, you need to be circumcised, and need to practise various rituals and rules.' And Paul sees that the Galatians' very identity and self worth was in danger of being destroyed. These Galatians needed to be reminded that they had everything they needed in Christ. Their identity and destiny, their purpose and meaning and was in Christ. They did not need to follow extra rules and rituals to know God. They were God's people and nothing else was necessary. And it is that fact that Paul is reminding them of in our passage, Galatians 3 v 26- 4 v 7. He is reminding these first century Christians of who they are in God's eyes. They are God's children with a new identity and future. And they are very precious.
And if there is one thing that we 21st century Christians need to hear again and again, it is who we are in God's eyes. So many Christians it seems live their Christian lives through guilt. Guilt that they have not done enough to please God this week, guilt that they have failed God again, guilt that they are not good enough for God. Others serve him out of fear. Fear that God may bash us over the head if we don't do this or that. So if the truth be told, many Christian lives are led in slavery rather than in freedom. And that is not how God wants it. Paul's message for us is this: You are free. You are sons of the living God and he loves you more than you can ever imagine. So if you are feeling crushed or battered or bruised, if you are feeling guilt ridden and weak, if you feel you the most useless Christian on the planet, or even if you are feeling great, then listen carefully to what Paul is teaching us this morning. Because it is truly mind blowing stuff. For in Christ alone we find our true worth and identity and purpose. And Paul teaches us four things about the amazing blessing of being a Christian.
1) A New Family (3 vv 26-29)
And the first thing he teaches us is that we have a new family in chapter 3 vv 26-29. And Paul sums it up at the end of verse 28 by saying: 'You are all one in Christ Jesus,' or as he says in verse 26: 'You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.' Paul is saying that when we become Christians we enter into a new family. We'll see why Paul calls us 'sons' a little later, but for the moment we just note that we all part of God's people. And how has that happened? Paul tells us that it is by faith in Christ Jesus. In fact, you cannot fail to notice how Jesus centred these four verses are. Five times in four verses he says that we are in Christ, baptised into Christ, clothed with Christ, one in Christ and that we belong to Christ. Our salvation is entirely through Jesus Christ. We are in his family through faith in him, by trusting in what Jesus has done. So we can claim no credit for ourselves. Rather it is all because of Jesus. So what does it mean to be in God's new family. It means two things.
a) We all have the family likeness- First, we all share the family likeness. Verse 26: 'You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.' Paul is using baptism here as an illustration. He's not saying the act of baptism saves us. Rather it is a sign of a deeper spiritual reality. In the NT times, baptism was often done in a lake or river. A person would go down into the water be completely submerged, and then come out again. It was as if they had gone down into the grave and died to their old ways, and then risen to new life, as Jesus did. And when they came out of the water, they were given fresh clothes to wear, often a beautiful white garment. So Paul is saying that when we became Christians it was as if we died to our old ways, then rose again spiritually speaking with Jesus and were clothed with him, as a baptismal candidate receives new clothes. So the Christian is clothed with Christ. We have received his forgiveness and his perfection. God looks on us and sees Jesus' moral perfection so we can be with him in heaven. And between now and heaven, God is making us literally more like Jesus in our hearts. He is making us more loving and patient and kind and all the qualities Jesus had. For we have been clothed with Christ. We have the family likeness.
Now you may not have gathered this, but this week has seen a sporting event of amazing proportions, given the press coverage it has received. Not Wimbledon, not the England cricket team's match against Zimbabwe, but the fitness test of David Beckham as he moves from Manchester United to Real Madrid. David Beckham's fitness was tested before thousands of fans in Madrid so they could be certain they had bought a good asset. And the crowning glory of this amazing event was that David Beckham received his new Real Madrid shirt, the No. 23 shirt. And as soon as he had received that shirt, the fans went wild. Because they knew at last that he was one of theirs. At last, David Beckham was one of the family. He had joined the Real Madrid family when he received his new clothes. But the Christian has received clothes far more exciting that a football shirt. We have been clothed with Christ and we have the family likeness. For God is making us like his Son.
b) We share the family unity- But not only does being in God's family mean we share the family likeness, but also that we share the family unity. Verse 28: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham's see, and heirs according to the promise.' Now Paul's statement in verse 28 is radical enough today, but in Paul's day it was dynamite. Every day, a Jewish man would thank God that he was not born a Greek, that is a non Jew, a slave or a woman. It wasn't necessarily because he despised non Jews, or women, or slaves, though that certainly could happen. Rather everything in the Jewish religion barred those three sets of people from coming into God's presence. Non Jews, slaves and women could not enter the Temple. So these were the three most serious divisions in the ancient world. But now in Christ those barriers have been broken down. Jesus has broken down the Jew-Gentile barrier. Everyone can know Jesus personally. He's broken down the sexual barriers. Jesus himself showed revolutionary attitudes to women in his own lifetime, and the gospel is for both men and women with equal standing. And the gospel is for slave and free. What Paul is saying is that in Christ there is no distinction of race or rank or gender. All those barriers we put up are torn down through the gospel. Of course, we should not misunderstand Paul here. He is not saying that all these differences have been obliterated. There are still cultural differences between us. There are differences of background, there are key differences between men and women. God does not make everyone the same in every way. But in terms of our spiritual standing before God, it is not dependant on what culture we are from, what our background or job is like, or whether we are male or female. Rather everyone can know God through Christ. We are God's family, and we are all on an equal footing, men and women saved by the grace of God.
And if that is so, then there should be no place in the family of the church for cultural snobbery. We should not look down our nose just because someone is from another background. We should not put each other down just because we happen to be a man or a woman. In God's family there is no place for racism, no place for class distinction, no place for sexism. For we are all in God's family by grace alone, and on God's terms. And in a world searching for its identity, there is nothing better. For we all share the family likeness and we all share the family unity. We have a new family.
2) A New Status (4 vv 1-5)
But the next amazing fact Paul tells us is that we have a new status in chapter 4 vv 1-5. And our new status in Christ is that we are no longer slaves but sons in God's kingdom. We've moved from slavery to royalty. And Paul begins by giving us an illustration from Roman times. Verse 1: 'What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by the father.' Now in order to understand this illustration we need to go back to the Roman times. Imagine a little boy of 5 or 6 called Augustus. And his dad is a very wealthy Roman businessman. He's got offices all over the world. Rome, Jerusalem, Gaul and even Britain. He's from an old established Roman family. Old money, and blue blood. Now little Augustus stands to inherit the lot when he comes of age at the age of eighteen or so. And as the firstborn son in the family, he is the one who will have everything. That's the way it worked in those days. But before Augustus is 18, he has nothing. And his Dad employs a tutor, who we'll call Nastinus, who rules over Augustus like a slave driver. And that's the sort of thing that happened. So although Augustus was heir to the fortune, yet between the ages of 0 and 18, he's no better than a slave in the household. He has nothing and could be treated poorly. And his Dad would probably say it was good for him.
So what's Paul's point? Verse 3: 'So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.' He's making the point that there was a time when we were like Augustus. We were children in slavery, spiritual slavery. What were we in slavery to? Paul calls it the basic principles of this world. He elaborates in verse 8: 'Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.' We were enslaved to our passions and desires, to sin and the devil. That's what it is like living life without God. We are slaves. And if you don't know God personally, that is God's verdict on you. You are a slave. You may think you're free, but the Bible says you're actually a slave.
So what happened? Well again, it is God who takes the initiative to rescue us and give us our freedom. Verse 5: 'But when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might
receive the full rights of sons.' God says that he sent his Son, Jesus, at just the right time. He was born of a woman and he lived under the law. He lived God's away, but he did so perfectly, joyfully following God as human beings should. And he did it to rescue you and me. We were slaves, condemned by God's just judgement for breaking his law. And Jesus paid the ransom price to set us free when he died on the cross. He died our death, bearing the curse of God's judgement and he set us free. That is what God has done. And the result? That we might receive full rights as sons. Using Paul's Roman child illustration, it's as if we have turned 18. We now become sons of God with full rights of inheritance. Paul's not being sexist in talking about sons. It's simply how it worked in those days. The firstborn son received everything. And each of us is a son in that sense. We are his children enjoying his inheritance, forgiven and free. That is the amazing status that God has given us. No longer slaves, but sons of God. And if you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you are a son of God. You are God's child, and no-one can take that away from you.
But I wonder, have we truly and deeply appreciated this astonishing fact? Have you fully understood that if you have trusted in Christ, if you have faith in him as your rescuer, that you are truly a child of God. The trouble is that many Christians forget who they are. To change the illustration it's like the heir of a great English mansion like Castle Howard feeling guilty about enjoying his house. You cannot imagine Simon Howard paying to get into his house can you, or worrying about whether to go through a closed door or not. And so many Christians fail to rejoice and delight in their new status as sons of God. Serving God is done out of drudgery and guilt as opposed to joy and freedom. Praising him becomes a chore and a boredom, instead of a glorious delight. And we think we need to pay God back for his kindness to us by doing lots of good works and things which please him, instead of living in the light of who we are in God's sight, forgiven children of the living God.
Life was like that for John Wesley, the eighteenth century preacher. As the son of a clergyman, he went to Oxford University to study theology. Together with his brother Charles he started the so called Holy Club, a group which quickly earned the reputation for being fanatical in their religious enthusiasm. They visited the sick and poor and constantly read the Bible and met together. But as Wesley looked back on those days, he realised that there was no joy or delight. He said: 'I had then only the faith of a servant, not a son.' But some years later, on 24th May 1738, while in a meeting at Aldersgate Street in London, as he was hearing the gospel explained, Wesley said that he felt his heart strangely warmed. He said: 'I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins.' He had moved from being a slave to a son. The Christian life is not meant to be led in the spirit of enslavement but in the freedom of being a child of God. Let God refresh you again today by his Spirit and to remind you of who you are if you have trusted Christ. You a son of God. Following and knowing God is not meant to be slavery but true freedom, a life lived in joy that you are a child of God set from all that enslaves you. And when you ask the question 'who am I?', God replies, 'You are my child and you are in my family.' We have a new status.
3) A New Intimacy (4 v 6)
A new family, a new status, but thirdly a new intimacy. Verse 6: 'Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out Abba Father.' God has not only sent his Son into the world, but he has also sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, into the hearts of those who trust God and have accepted Jesus' offer of rescue. And what does that mean for us? It means we have a new intimacy with God. God's Spirit is actually inside us and enables us to call God Abba Father. The word Abba was used by Jewish children of their father to show a deep warm intimacy between father and son. Now for some of us our human fathers never gave that sort of love which we needed. And yet with God, we can know that deep and intimate personal relationship with the very God who made us. We can call him Father. Of course, calling God our dear Father, does not mean we are to be childish with God, or be so casual with him and forget that he is also the awesome God of holiness. For Jesus there was the balance between knowing he was his dear Father, and yet also knowing he was the creator God. But as our heavenly father, then it means that the Christian can enjoy a deep, joyful and personal relationship with the God who made us and rescued us.
But again it is often something Christians forget. We forget the enormous privilege that has been given to us as God's children of coming to him in prayer, of enjoying and delighting in him as our heavenly Father, the God who cares for us, and who longs for us to bring to him our cares and concerns. More often, I fear, we believe God to be a fearsome headmaster who will cane us if we step out of line. But Jesus teaches us that God is willing to give us good gifts to those who ask him. He is like a loving Father who cares very deeply for his children. The story is told of an American soldier who wanted to get compassionate leave so he could care for his dying mother. He tried to get permission but failed, so he decided he would go straight to the top. It was in the days of Abraham Lincoln's presidency, and so the soldier went boldly up the to White House, but was told that it was impossible to see the President. The soldier went away sad and sat in the park dejected. But a little boy came up to him and asked what was wrong. So the soldier told his story, and at the end of his tale the little boy simply said: 'Follow me.' So they went back up the White House Drive through the doors, down a corridor and through another door into where President Lincoln himself was sitting. When Lincoln saw his young son, he said: 'What is it Todd?' And the little boy replied, 'Father, there is a man here who wants to speak to you. Please would you listen to him?'
And that is the privilege we have as sons of God. We can bring our requests and cares to our heavenly Father, not in fear, but in humble confidence that he will answer according to his will. Because we are sons, we have the Spirit who calls out Abba Father. Don't ever forget that incredible privilege. For in answer to the question: 'What am I here for?', God replies: 'You are here to know me and enjoy me forever.' A new intimacy.
4) A New Future (V 7)
A new family, a new status, a new intimacy, and finally a new future. Verse 7: 'So you are no longer a slave but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you an heir.' Do you remember Augustus, the Roman boy? He became heir of his Father's estate at the right time. And when we become sons of God, we become heirs as well, co-heirs with our brother Jesus. Being a Christian doesn't just have great joy and privilege in this life. Rather this life is just the start. The real joy begins in heaven, when we will enter into our inheritance. How much do you think of heaven? How much does it drive you on to live for Christ as a son of God in this world? Heaven is out true home. Heaven is true reality. The more we see the emptiness of life without God, the more we long to be our father in heaven. And our destiny as human beings who trust in God is to be with our Father in heaven for ever, enjoying the inheritance he has richly give to us.
Paul Gauguin sadly had no idea of the answers to his three questions that were available through Jesus. And it is all to easy for us Christians to forget the joy and delight it is to be one of God's children. As God's children we need not serve him in drudgery, but in joy. As God's children we need not fear him like a grumpy head master, but come to him as a loving father. For it is in Christ alone that we find our true identity and purpose. To the question who am I, God replies, you are my son and you are part of my family. To the question what am I here for, God replies and you here to enjoy me and delight in me. And to the question where am I going, God replies that we have a new future, in heaven with him forever. Let not one of us forget how precious we are in God's eyes.
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