Rags to Riches, 18 March 2018

Rags to Riches
D6 Series— By Faith Alone
Galatians 4:1-31

Series Overview:
The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

Big Idea: Followers of Jesus are God’s children and heirs…and need to live like it!

Rags to riches. It might be the ultimate story, whether it be Little Orphan Annie, Cinderella, Rocky, or even historical figures such as Genghis Khan, Andrew Carnegie, Ben Carson, LeBron James or Oprah Winfrey, we love to hear of people whose lives have experienced transformation.

Often, people achieve greatness by their own efforts. Others are advantaged by their family of origin, whether by birth or adoption. Such is our subject today in Galatians chapter four.

I’ve often said I believe the two most important questions in life are

- Who is God?
- Who am I?

How you answer those questions will literally change your life. As we study the Bible, we obviously learn about God. We can’t know everything about God because…well, if we did, we’d be God! God is beyond our complete comprehension, but we can know enough about Him to love and worship and have a relationship with Him.

Today we’re going to learn about God, but our focus will be on the second question: Who am I? Or perhaps we should say, “Whose am I?”

Welcome to week three of D6, our church-wide study of the Bible. This month we are studying the book of Galatians, a letter written to churches in the city of Galatia in modern-day Turkey by Paul, one of the leaders of the early church. These people began following Jesus, but religious people deceived them into believing works were necessary to earn God’s favor. Friends, the cross is enough. Jesus is enough. We are saved by grace through faith. Hallelujah! The book of Galatians is filled with the simple message that Jesus is greater than religion. All of our good works can’t begin to compare to the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s all about Jesus.

Just a reminder that you can text questions…Last week I received
a question we will answer today: Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ?

As we turn to chapter four of Galatians, Paul reminds the people of Galatia of their identity.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:1-5)

Paul is saying minors cannot receive an inheritance. They might as well be slaves, much like the Jews under the old covenant. Before Jesus, people were enslaved. Jews were enslaved to the Mosaic Law. Gentiles were enslaved by pagan religions. Today many Christians are enslaved by legalism, rituals, good works, and moral achievement. Rather than bondage, at just the right time, Jesus came to redeem us, to adopt us.

These words are truly remarkable. Many of us have heard them so many times, the wonder of them has worn off, but I urge you to reflect with me.

The Creator of the universe sends Jesus to our planet who dies and resurrects for us. He ascends into heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to every believer, giving us the power to become like Jesus. That’s what “Christian” means—little Christ. Paul tells us we are God’s children. Who’s your Daddy? God!

We’ve all heard stories of children famous not because of what they’ve done, but rather their parents. The children of Jay-Z and Beyonce have been on magazine covers. Every addition to the royal family in Britain is global news. Can you imagine having a last name like Gates or Vanderbilt or Rockefeller…or Trump? Your family matters. Parents provide opportunities for their children—or not!

Now imagine what it’s like to be in God’s family! Don’t miss the last word of this text—heir. We are not only children, we have an inheritance…greater than anything Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet could leave.

Who are you? What is the source of your identity? Your occupation? Education? Race? Social status? Member of an elite club? Political party?

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God. That must come before any other descriptor. Before American. Before evangelical. Before doctor or Toledo Rocket or even husband or mother. You are no longer a slave to sin and this world but are now a child of the most high God.

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba , Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

Note the Aramaic word “Abba.” In Jesus’ day, nobody would’ve addressed God as “My Father.” It would have been considered disrespectful, yet Jesus not only did it, he taught his followers to do so. He taught us to pray, “Our Father.” God was considered the Father of the nation of Israel, but never considered as father to an individual. The religious in Jesus’ day were widening the distance between man and God, something Jesus reversed. In all of Jesus’ prayers except for on the cross, Jesus uses the word “Father,” and “Abba” is the term a small child would call their father, not unlike our word for “daddy.”

Do you think of God as daddy? I do. I sometimes use the word “daddy” when I pray. Sometimes it seems weird when I’m praying out loud in a group, but I still love it when my adult kids call me daddy and, therefore, it is a meaningful, intimate word I use for God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Paul’s so frustrated! He taught them the truth, and now they’re backsliding, believing lies about religion rather than seeking a deeper relationship with God. They know about God, but they don’t know God. Like so many throughout history, they worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. Paul feared they would return to false gods, following religion, or returning to paganism. Note as Christians we are not required to follow the Jewish calendar of festivals. The observances are not bad. In fact, they can be quite meaningful, but they are not celebrated to gain favor with God.

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Galatians 4:12-14)

We don’t know much about Paul’s illness. It may have been eye trouble epilepsy, or even Malaria! Regardless, he reminds them of their time together and his delivery of the gospel, good news. Now they’ve changed their attitude, instead following the religious Judaizers.

Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:15-16)

Can you feel the tension? The angst? Paul can’t believe how these people have changed.

Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:17-20)

He’s in a battle for the truth. Spiritual warfare is real and it is not always Christianity against Satanism. It can be religion and legalism versus grace and freedom. Again, grace and freedom do not give us license to sin. They merely remind us of our salvation, not from our works but the work of Jesus. The more we understand the work of Jesus, the more we will love God and want to obey, serve, and glory Him.

And now he contrasts Abraham’s two sons as an allegory for slavery and freedom.

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. (Galatians 4:21-23)

Abraham had a son through his wife Sarai’s slave, Hagar. His name was Ishmael. Later, Sarai miraculously became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. Needless to say, the family tree and family life were complicated!

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:24-26)

For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.” (Galatians 4:27)

Genesis 16, 17, and 21 tell us more about Ishmael and Isaac. The Galatians have become God’s children by God’s work, not theirs, just as Isaac become Abraham’s son by God’s miraculous work.

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:28-31)

Ishmael persecuted Isaac. Jews persecuted Christians.

So What?

First, know who you are. Know Whose you are. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are an heir of God. You have been adopted into God’s family. You are loved, cherished, and special, not because of anything you’ve done, but just because of who you are.

I often say I learned more about God the day our first child was born than any other day of my life. Parents, whether your child arrived naturally or via adoption, there’s a special bond, a unique love, a powerful commitment a mom or dad has with their son or daughter.

If I could have one with for you, church, I think it
would be that you could understand just how loved you are. Paul would write to the church in Ephesus:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

I’ve met so many insecure Christians. Their insecurity is expressed in a variety of ways. Some are legalistic and judgmental, quick to point out the flaws of others while being unaware of the pride and self-righteousness in their hearts. Others strive for the approval of others instead of being secure in the love of their Heavenly Father. Still others take themselves so seriously that they’re easily offended. If we could be secure in God’s love for us—remember, nothing you can do can make God love you more and nothing you can do can make God love you less—I believe our lives would be so much more attractive to our broken, fear-filled, hope-starved world.

This past week I found myself in three different meetings regarding children. One discussed the problem of infant mortality, another the horror of abortion, and the third foster care and adoption. We live in a culture of death. We are entertained by violence in movies, television, and video games. Is it any wonder it appears for real in our streets and homes? Life is precious. All life. In the womb. Young. Old. Black and white. Christian, atheist, and Muslim. Gay, straight, abortion doctors, politicians, the homeless, the incarcerated, teachers, …even pastors. Ronald Reagan once said, “God’s greatest gift is human life.” God is pro-life. Are you? Prove it!

Being pro-life is
far more than voting for a few people once every four years. It means caring for the least of these, treating everyone with love and respect, and protecting the unborn and the elderly and everyone in between. And it might involve getting really messy, ensuring others in our community are able to experience the abundant life Jesus promised by letting them know they are loved by God, helping them receive education, protecting them from abuse, making sure they have food and shelter, and ensuring opportunities for jobs and freedoms. By being adopted into God’s family, we’ve become heirs, given unimaginable opportunities. We can respond today by loving others as we’ve been loved by God.

Perhaps the most radical thing you can do in response to God’s love and His adopting you into His f
amily is to consider becoming an adoptive or foster parent, beginning with free classes from Lucas County. Last Sunday’s Blade reported the dire need for families to foster and adopt. There are more than 140 more children needing foster care now than a year ago, mostly due to the opioid epidemic which is ravaging families not only in our city but especially in the suburbs.

If you can’t foster or adopt, find someone who is and help them. Is there any greater gift you can give than your home, heart, and
love. We’ve been adopted into God’s family, not because we deserved it or earned it or were good people, but just because.

Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ? We were all created by God, but we become sons and daughters through Jesus who allows us to be reconciled to our Father and join His family despite
our sins and failures. From slaves to sons, from rags to riches. That is truly good news!

Credits: some ideas from: D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Gift of Adoption, 17 December 2017

    The Gift of Adoption
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    Ephesians 1:1-6

    Big Idea: God sets a beautiful example of love and grace by adopting us as His children.

    Skit Guys Video


    Adoption is a very important and often emotional topic. I remember hearing a wonderful story of a boy being teased for being adopted. He turned to his peers and said confidently, “Your parents had to take you. My parents chose me!” While his attitude may have been a bit over the top, one thing’s for sure: adoption changes lives.

    In the video, the mother utters three powerful words as she’s about to pick up her baby. She says, “We decided that’s the way it was going to be” and then says with a smile, “But it wasn’t.”

    Our world is full of brokenness and pain. Bad news assaults us every day, prompting fear, worry, and anxiety. It’s so easy to give up, embrace the discouragement, settle for the status quo, and say, “That’s the way it’s going to be.” And then God whispers, “But it’s not.” During this Advent season of arrival, of waiting, we have looked at the gifts of expectancy, grace, and reconciliation. Today we turn to one of the most remarkable gifts of all…adoption. It changes lives. Has it changed yours?

    In eight days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, His entrance into our world…and into the family of Joseph and Mary. There are few things in this world more exciting than the birth of a baby. I’ve often said the only part of hospitals I like is the maternity ward. Families can grow two ways: through birth and adoption.

    The Bible is filled with metaphors describing spiritual truths with physical realities. Words like family, born again, and new birth appear numerous times. One of my favorite verses—which we examined recently—was written by Jesus’ close friend John to some of the first Christians, followers of Jesus. He writes…

    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

    I love this verse—pun intended. It’s not just love, but great love. It’s not just a stranger, but the Creator of the universe. It’s not just that He gives love, but He lavishes it. It’s not just anybody, it’s us! It’s not just servants or acquaintances or even friends, it’s children. And that is what we are…children of God…if we follow Jesus. If we embrace the “reason for the season.” If we surrender our will to God’s, believing that Daddy knows best.

    I know many of you struggle at this word “Father” because your earthly dad was…less than stellar. Maybe you never knew him. Perhaps he abused you. That’s not our heavenly Father, though. He loves His kids. He loves you!

    Our text for today was written by Paul, a remarkably passionate man who once persecuted Christians before encountering Jesus and becoming one of His followers. He writes,

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, 

    To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)

    This is a letter to the church in the city of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. His introduction is similar to his other writings. Then he begins to talk about their identity—who they are. I think we can safely say although this was not written to us, it was written for us and applies to all followers of Jesus.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

    Paul offers praise to God. We praise God as we sing and pray, adoring Him for His greatness, power, majesty, faithfulness, and most of all love. It also says we’ve been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. I’m not even sure I understand what every spiritual blessing means exactly, but I know it’s all good! In Christ—that’s the key phrase—we have access to God, to blessings, to faith, hope, and love. We are entitled to the benefits of being children of the King, the LORD of the universe. What’s more, followers of Jesus are “in Christ,” God the Father sees in us the things He sees in Jesus.

    For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

    The Greek word for “adoption” is huiothesia. When Paul uses the word it serves to distinguish the believer’s relationship as a daughter or son of God from that of Jesus.

    Look at the New Living Translation of this Greek text:

    Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. (Ephesians 1:4-6, NLT)

    That’s incredible!

    God loved us.
    God chose us to be holy.
    God chose to adopt us into his own family.
    And that was all before he made the world!

    There’s more: it says he wanted to adopt us…and it gave him great pleasure. So what’s our response? We praise God. We praise the Father for sending the Son, Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate in eight days.

    Have you heard this before? If so, share it. Listen as if you have to share this with a friend tomorrow…and then do it! This is a great time of year to ask, “What does Christmas mean to you?” Then listen. Maybe they’ll return the favor and you can say, “It means Jesus came as the greatest gift in human history, living a perfect life, dying for us, rising from the dead, and now he’s preparing a place for us. Do you know Him? He loves you.”

    Love. There’s that word again. Everything in the video points to love. Everything about this season points to love. Baking cookies, buying or making gifts, hosting meals, sending cards, giving to charity, even singing songs of praise are all expressions of love.

    But what is love? Contemporary philosopher-theologian Tom Oord says, “To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promise overall well-being.” I think that works. Theologian H. Richard Niebuhr said, “By love we mean at least these attitudes and actions: rejoicing in the presence of the beloved, gratitude, reverence and loyalty toward him [or her].”

    Last week we read God is love. My professor, Scot McKnight, sees four elements in divine love:

    God’s love is a rugged covenant commitment.

    Beginning with Abraham, God relates to humans through covenant, a deep commitment, greater than a contract. Often people will say they fell in or out of love, but that’s just emotion. A commitment is a decision, a choice, a promise. God’s love is permanent. It is rugged and is able to withstand anything we may do or fail to do.

    God’s commitment is to be present, or to be “with.”

    I love this idea of presence. Jesus came as Emmanuel which means “God with us.” He doesn’t love us from afar, but enters our world, our pain, our suffering, our hopes. In the absence of Jesus—who left our planet but promised to return soon—He sent the Holy Spirit to live and dwell within each of His followers. God is committed to be with us, and He lives inside many of us through the Spirit. Someday He will dwell with His people in the new heavens and the new earth.

    God’s commitment is to be an advocate, or to be “for.”

    Have you ever had a friend that believed in you? Hopefully all of our friends like us, but I mean a special friend who supported you. About a decade ago my friend Ramsey came up to me and said, “I’ve got your back.” I’ve never forgotten those simple words. He was for me. Again, we see love expressed through a commitment. Throughout the Old Testament, God says to the Israelites, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

    God’s commitment has direction: God’s love is “unto” kingdom realities.

    God loves the whole world. Every human was created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. If only we would always see others that way! Jesus is King and kings have kingdoms and kingdoms have rules. God’s kingdom mission establishes churches, communities marked by righteousness, the cross, and love.

    The Family

    Which brings us to right here and right now. We are a family, a faith family. In God’s family, we are all adopted…into grace…into love.

    When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he said…

    For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15)

    The word “abba” is Aramaic, a word used by children for their father, not unlike “daddy” or “papa.” It implies both intimacy and respect. What a joy to call the Almighty “Abba, Father.” When I talk with Him, I always want to maintain a reverence, but not a distance. Some are too formal with God…others too casual. Suffice it to say, it’s a huge honor and privilege to be able to talk with God at all, much less address Him as one of His children.

    Heather and I watched the first episode of “The Crown” this past week. I’m not necessarily recommending it as we’ve just begun, but it’s the story of Queen Elizabeth. She is introduced in the television program shortly before she is married, and soon thereafter they fast-forward several years until she has two small children, Charles and Anne. These kids are shown riding their bikes and interacting with their parents, seemingly unaware that they are in the presence of royalty…that
    they are royalty.

    It’s easy for me to take my relationship with Abba Father for granted. I’m used to Him being my Dad, especially after the death of my earthly dad. I don’t deserve to be adopted as His son any more than Charles deserves to be Prince or Little Orphan Annie deserved to be adopted by Daddy Warbucks. What a privilege!

    Paul continues…

    The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17)

    If you think Prince Charles is heir to a lot, think about what God’s children receive! We are co-heirs with Christ. But we are not yet able to enjoy all of the inheritance now. For many followers of Jesus throughout the centuries there has been suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom. Jesus was killed for speaking the truth, what makes us think following Him will lead to a safe, comfortable life? We’ve been blessed in this country with great freedoms, but as long as we live in a sinful, broken world there will be opposition from the author of hate and death, satan.

    If you recall in the video, the mother reads the verse in the Advent calendar which says, “God has chosen me…” God has chosen us to be His children, to join His family, to participate in His mission to seek and save the lost, to serve the poor, widow, stranger and orphan, to make disciples of all nations who will follow Jesus, to love God and others. Family brings both privileges and responsibility. We have been given salvation, hope, peace, love, joy, and the Holy Spirit to love and serve our world.

    Our Heavenly Father is greater than any earthly parent. He invites all humans to become His children, yet He gives us the choice of joining His family or rejecting Him. If you have not experienced a great human family, meditate on this simple verse:

    Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. (Psalms 27:10)

    That’s adoption language. That’s love. He will never turn us away.

    So What?

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you say yes to God’s invitation to be adopted into His family. It simply involves surrendering control of your life, believing Daddy knows best. It means saying, “God, I want You to lead my life, be my LORD. Thank You for sending Jesus to die for my sins and offer me forgiveness and life. I want to join Your team, Your mission, Your family.”

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you follow God’s example and adopt someone into your family. Heather and I completed foster care classes last year and continue to seek God regarding possibly fostering or adopting in the future. Some of you have experienced the tremendous joy of adoption. Even if you’re not ready to foster or adopt, you can help someone who is by praying for them, babysitting, or any number of things. The need in Lucas County for foster homes right now is staggering, especially with the opioid epidemic. There are brochures at the information center kiosk if you’re interested.

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you simply adopt a person or family to join you at the Christmas table, buy them a gift, send them a hand-written note of encouragement, or simply say, “I love and appreciate you.”

    How will you celebrate the Gift of Adoption this year? May Abba Father lead and guide you and your loved ones today, during these next eight days, and for years to come.

    Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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