I – Text: Galatians 4:21-5:6

II – Theme: Loving God with our whole being will never become a reality until we first embrace the truth that He loves us with His whole being.

This raises a very natural question: In terms of our relationship with God, do we feel more often like slaves serving a Master, or do we feel like sons and daughters being loved by a Father?

III – Illustration: John Newton was an 18th century Anglican priest, better known for authoring the most celebrated hymn the world has ever sung, Amazing Grace. He once wrote to a depressed man he was counseling:

“You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness. You say it’s hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. In saying this, you express not only a low opinion of yourself, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of Christ, the Redeemer. You complain about your sin, but when we examine your complaints, they are so full of self-righteousness, unbelief, pride, and impatience that they are little better than the worst evils you complain of.”

  • This depressed man’s bottom line issue was that, all of his thoughts were spent on how he was going to love God in order to make God love him.

  • He thought, by his own worldly sense of justice and love, that God operates this way, which, in turn, caused the man to see God as a Master he was serving, rather than a Father who loved him as a son. Thus, his depression is from an overwhelming sense of futility—a vicious cycle—trying to love God as hard as he can and always failing.

  • Newton is giving him the wisest of counsel, when he points the poor man to simple faith in Christ

  • For, it’s in Christ alone, where we first find God’s love for us, in that He lived and died for us; and that must be understood and embraced before we can—at the level of our souls—-love God.

  • And even then, God never relies on our love for Him, but on His love for us, to save us eternally

IV – Paul’s Use of Allegory to Illustrate the Gospel

  • First, we’re not going to go through each verse today, so I would suggest at least three readings that are extremely helpful in covering some of the intricacies we will skip over today:

  • Genesis 15 and forward, through the accounts of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac

  • Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians

  • Charles Spurgeon’s sermon, The Allegories of Sarah and Hagar

  • Today, we’re going to focus on what it means to be assured of our relationship with God, so that every other aspect of our lives can be measured by that assurance

  • Our title and our theme today kind of say it all: God pursues us (always, even after we’re saved); and we will always be in some form of anxiety (both spiritual and emotional) if we don’t first embrace God’s promise of His love for us through Jesus, every single day

  • Paul looks at the Galatian Church, and using a story from Genesis, he basically asks them, “Do you want to be like Hagar the slave or like Sarah the free woman?”

  • Hagar and her son, Ishmael were cast out, while Sarah and her son, Isaac were kept by God. Which, then, do you want to be, slave or free?”

  • Notice that Paul never makes a distinction between Sarah and Hagar in terms of their goodness. If anything, we hear more of Sarah’s unfaithfulness in the Genesis account than we do Hagar’s. Paul is saying that the chief difference is that one woman and her son are a result of man’s plan, and the other woman and her son are the result of God’s plan and “Promise.”

  • Paul would ask us the same question today: Are we slaves to our own sense of how we should love God, or are we free to be loved by Him—in spite of our sinfulness?

  • I wonder if we realize just how radical a question we just asked? Why is it radical?

V – The Radical Fatherly Love of a Perfect God Who Loves Imperfect Sinners

  • Let’s turn to Luke 15:11-24, and look at what makes not only the question we asked radical; but what makes God’s love for us the most radical concept in the history of all existence!

  • The younger son’s request of his inheritance was precisely the same as him saying that he cared nothing for his father and wished him dead (because that was the only time inheritances were given to successors)

  • The father does not correct the son, as he should have, according to ancient near-eastern customs; in fact, he lets him liquidate and leave for a far country, knowing that he will enter into “riotous living”

  • The son finally runs out of money and options, so he decides to go back to his father. He rehearses a speech of confession and contrition, however he imposes a condition upon which he thinks his father might receive him back—hiring him so that he can pay his father back the assets he took (too many preachers teach that this is the point at which the son actually repented, which is wrong, in that he still thinks the issue is the money)

  • As the son approaches his father’s village the father sees him from afar, and runs out to meet him. Before we get to the part where the father hugs and kisses him, let’s consider some incredible facts about the ancient near-eastern culture in which this story takes place. The climax of the biblical narrative becomes more clear in the knowing:

  • Based loosely on a ceremony commanded by the Lord in Jeremiah 19, among the first things to occur when the son initially left the village (if he wasn’t beaten and reprimanded), was that a clay jar was filled with bitter herbs and spices, then smashed on the path by which he exited. This was to signify that he was cut-off from his people, and that, if he tried to return, he would be “broken”

  • One of the punishments was death. The elders of the village would have invoked the Law, and formed a gauntlet, through which the son would have been forced to pass, as he was stoned to death (this is just one example). And his death would have been justified by the Law.

  • Now consider the father in the story: The audience listening to Jesus would have understood this father to be the patriarch (King) of the village. As such, the son’s request bears even more critical weight in their minds—they are already rather astonished with the story, right from the start. By the time Jesus gets to the part where the father runs out to meet his rebellious son, they likely already get the point of what is being taught.

  • As the patriarch, he didn’t run to anyone—they ran to him. It was a disgrace for the King to run after someone, especially to rescue them when they had committed treason against him. As well, his running would have made it necessary to lift his robes, at which point his legs would have been exposed—yet another humiliation for the father.

  • The elders likely would have been reminding him—rather vehemently—that the son deserved death, and that this display was not in keeping with the character and dignity of a patriarch. In our day, in might have sounded something like, “What on earth are you doing?”

  • Yet, the father in the story acted as a father, and not a King or patriarch—though he had every right to do so. When he runs to meet his son, he has three key reasons for doing so, all of which are born out of his great love for this child who hated him to the point of wishing him dead.

  • (1) To rescue his son from the deserved and impending wrath of the elders of the village

  • (2) To lavish his love, unreservedly, on his son, because he was so happy he had returned to him

  • (3) To not only speak his forgiveness and acceptance of his son, but to show it by dressing him in all of his personal effects. By giving his son his robe, his ring, and his sandals (“the finest in the house”), he was showing everyone that the son was regarded by him and to be treated by everyone as he and they regarded himself—as the King. A strong translation of this to New Testament theology is that of “being dressed in Christ’s righteousness,” as well as having God’s proclamation of forgiveness and acceptance upon the person.

  • Finally, in regards to when the son actually repented, it was not when he turned to come home (though it was certainly a step in the right direction). Again, at that time, he still thought the problem was the money.

  • The father runs out and falls upon the son with a great display of affection—hugging and kissing him—during which the son tries to say what he had rehearsed. He says that he has “sinned against heaven and [his father], and [that he’s] no longer worthy to be called [his] son,” but before he can get to the part about making him a worker so he can pay back the money, the father cuts him off and calls for his personal effects to be brought out and put on his son. The part about the money never comes back up on either the part of the father or the son.

  • It’s here, that the son repents, in that he receives his father’s forgiveness. It became apparent to him that his father was only concerned that he return, not what he could do to earn being accepted back again. It was the first crucial step in living a life of repentance—knowing that he was being loved by a father, and not a slave serving a Master.

VI – Conclusion: Finally, several Bible translators have, over history, preferred to keep what appears to be an original connection between 4:31 and 5:1

  • This was especially an early historical tendency, and is probably so that the point of Paul’s message is more strenuously illustrated

  • The connection makes the verse flow more like this: “but with the freedom of the freewoman, Christ set us free..”

  • It simply takes all that Paul has been saying about how Sarah and her son Isaac were loved by God, according to His Promise, and translates that to us—the readers—as the way that God still works, albeit now, through Jesus Christ, and our faith in Him

  • Paul wraps this section up by saying, in verse 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”

  • For us, we must remember that even the “faith” and “love” we have are from God

  • Charles Spurgeon says: “The covenant of works was, “Do this and live, O man!” but the covenant of grace is, “Do this, O Christ, and thou shalt live, O man!” The difference of covenants rests here. The one was made with man, the other with Christ….the one was a conditional covenant, conditional on Adam’s standing, the other is a conditional covenant with Christ, but as perfectly unconditional with us. There are no conditions whatever in the covenant of grace, or if there be conditions, the covenant gives them. The covenant gives faith, gives repentance, gives good works, gives salvation, as a purely gratuitous unconditional act; nor does our continuance in that covenant depend in the least degree on ourselves. The covenant was made by God with Christ, signed, sealed, and ratified, in all things ordered well.”

  • Indeed, God pursues us…receives us to Himself as a Father does a son or daughter…and there is where we find our great love for Him.

  • Will we make the realization of this truth our life’s work? If we do, we will absolutely have the peace in this life (and the next) we so desperately long for

  • For in doing so, we begin to change our thinking from the lie, which is that we are slaves of a demanding Master…to the truth, that we are sons and daughters of a loving Father—all begun through simple faith in Jesus Christ