Who you think you are, rather than who you are, determines how you live. Is that true or not, and why?
How does how you think about yourself affect your Christian living?
That was the issue for the Church in Galatia, because they didn’t think of themselves rightly they were in danger of living wrongly. In fact Paul says the situation is so serious that they are in danger of abandoning the gospel altogether. Here’s a quick overview of how Paul talks about where their confusion about their identity in Christ has led them:
(1:6)“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all.”
(3:1)“Who has bewitched you?”
(4:9)“how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces?”
(5:7)“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
You get a sense of the serious implications of their failure to understand their identity in Christ. It has led them to add to the gospel under the influence of Judaizers; they are being tempted to add circumcision, keeping religious feast days, keeping the law and so on. But Paul writes to warn them that to add to the gospel is to depart from the gospel, it is to deny the power of Christ to save and your identity.
In this letter Paul deconstructs this new legalism and in its place seeks to build a right understanding of their identity in Christ. 2:15-16 he reminds them that they are justified not by observing the law but by faith in Christ. In 2:20 he reminds them that believers have been crucified with Christ and now Christ lives in us and we live for him. That is our new identity.
In 3:23-29 he reminds them the law is like a custodian, like a chaperone who limits you and highlights your willingness to break the rules and only takes you to one place. The law makes you prisoners (23), it shows sins hold on you because you can’t keep it all. The law was designed “to lead us to Christ.” to direct us to him for life by showing us that otherwise we are destined for death.
And Paul calls on the Galatians to recognise the immense benefits and privileges that being in Christ brings, it is faith in Christ that makes us Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promises, full grown heirs. We aren’t just justified by faith, we aren’t just made holy by faith but in Christ we are adopted; made God’s sons with all the blessings that brings.
Now Paul turns to examine God’s purpose in redeeming a people for himself.
You are a Son
(4-5)**What does God do for us? Send his son to redeem us from under the law. It’s the image of the slave market, Jesus pays the price to buy our freedom from slavery, he redeems us, he purchases us for himself. Notice that it is not part payment, Jesus isn’t like a coupon that gives 10%, 20% or 99% off. 3:13 makes that clear “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us...” Jesus does it all for us, he pays all of the price to redeem us, we contribute nothing.
And he redeems us for a purpose, **what is it? “that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Before Jesus redeems us we are not sons but slaves, but in Christ we aren’t just redeemed for freedom from slavery but amazingly for adoption as sons of God, we become part of God’s family.
Knowing who are in Christ matters, we are made God’s sons, not slaves, not servants justified by our performance, but loved sons in relationship with their loving father, with all the rights privileges and responsibilities of sonship. We become part of the line of promise (3:14, 28-29), part of God’s plan of salvation history. Accepted, bought near, justified, included, secure.
And he goes on (6)to explore the relational reality of our Sonship(6) “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’”
God having made us son’s legally by adopting us makes us sons relationally by sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts so that we can live as sons.
As you read the gospels you are struck again and again by the closeness of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus his Son. God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us enjoy that same relationship. To assure us that we are God’s sons as we listen to him, respond to him and walk with him. And do you notice the words the Spirit causes us to echo are the very words Jesus used. We can relate to God as our father just as Jesus did because the same Spirit is at work in us, and he gives us his right standing as God’s perfect son. ‘Abba’ is a family word, it is a term that speaks of intimacy.
Imagine a couple who are adopting a child. **How would they feel when the adoption papers are signed and they have a legally adopted that child? They’d be thrilled. But imagine the difference when a few months later that child instinctively calls out ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ to them. Then it wouldn’t just be a legal relationship but a living, breathing, loving reality.
That is what God sends his Holy Spirit to do, to make our redemption and adoption a relational reality. So that we know our identity as sons, and increasingly to change us to look like and live out being sons. And that identity also brings a secure future as heirs of the promise, a promised inheritance that is kept in heaven for us by God.
We ought to be amazed at our Sonship, astounded at what Christ has done for us.
Who do you think you are?
But who you think you are, rather than who you are, determines how you live. If we think wrongly about our identity it leads us into danger just as it did with the Galatians. How might we think wrongly about how we are practically? How might we fail to live out our sonship? Here are some ways:
Not a Son but a Servant
Sometimes we can find ourselves thinking and living as a servant rather than a son, we judge our relationship with God based on how we have done. If I’ve read my bible, prayed and shared the gospel with someone today I have done ok and God is pleased with me. If not well I am uncertain how God feels about more or I am wracked with guilt. We start or end every day with a performance management review of our life. Guilt not grace determines our relationship with God and fear determines our living not love.
But that is not right, it mortgages our joy and makes every action a chore not a response to grace and the gospel. It is to fail to understand we are sons.
Not Praying but Paralysed
I think often our failure to understand our sonship can be seen in the way we pray. We are paralysed by focusing on the mechanics of praying; on saying the right thing, asking for the right thing or reporting that we have done the right thing or using the right terms rather than focusing on God.
**When you talk to someone what do you concentrate on? The person. You don’t concentrate on the means of communication or the nature of the words themselves. When I phone and speak to someone I don’t think about the mechanics of the phone line I listen to and concentrate on the person I am speaking to. It’s the same with prayer it is the medium through which we get to know God. Don’t concentrate on praying concentrate on God, your loving heavenly Father who wants to hear from you. That’s why the words the Spirit causes us to say are so important “Abba Father”, a child approaching their father and a child doesn’t focus on or filter their conversation they speak relationally.
Not Living it but Feeling it.
Sometimes we put too much weight on our feelings, maybe you say I don’t feel like God is my Father or that I am his Son.
I’ve got a challenge for you, ask my boys if they feel like I’m their dad. If you did they would look at you like you were mad. But if you watched them you will see that they instinctively relate to me as their dad; they ask for things, they share things, they talk about their fears and joys, they are disciplined by me, and so on. They don’t need to feel like I’m their dad, they just know it as a relational reality.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t make us feel like God is our Father and we are his Sons, he causes us to practically relate to God as our Father, as we instinctively pray and he encourages us, changes our attitudes and appetites, causes us to see needs and serve others, causes us to love others, leads us to forgive, highlights our sin, gives up as appetite for the bible and draws us back to the cross.
But too many people too readily judge their relationship with God on how they feel. It is just as well Jesus didn’t as you consider Gethsemane and Calvary. Only knowing our identity in Christ as sons gives us the freedom to live out our sonship.
Not Discipline but Punishment
How do you think of suffering? Often I think we fall into thinking of suffering as God zapping us for something we have done wrong. Like Job’s friends who exhort him to look at his life and identify the sin God is clearly punishing him for. But that is a misunderstanding of our relationship as sons to a loving Father.
Part of being a Son is being disciplined and Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines those he loves to change us, discipline is a result of love, it is training us, changing us, causing us to rely on God not ourselves. But if we have a wrong understanding of our identity in Christ, if we haven’t understood our Sonship we won’t see it as discipline but as punishment for doing wrong, and it will not train us just make us bitter.
Not Secure but Scared
Sonship should make us secure, not complacent but secure. Notice here the emphasis on being included in the promise. There is a sense in which we haven’t fully realised our sonship yet, turn to Romans 8:14-18, 23 using the image of sonship and adoption Paul writes that we eagerly wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. We are adopted sons but we still live in a world which is sin sick, but our future is secure and it is glorious, we can be confident of it because it is secure in Christ.
Not Joyful but Dutiful
Does joy mark your life and your living for Christ? Joy flows from an appreciation of grace, a continually increasing amazement at what Christ has done for us, what he has made us, what he is making us and what he has in store for us. It is what fuels godliness.
That at root is the problem in Galatians, they mistakenly think that legalism is the way to please God, it is the way to be changed. It isn’t, it leads to a self righteous if joyless obedience. But knowing who you are in Christ liberates you to live by the Spirit for God’s glory. Understanding grace doesn’t lead to licence – whereby we do whatever we want – which seem to be the fear of the judaizers. Rather understanding grace and our identity as sons empowers us to live by the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit and to glorify God as we live out our sonship.