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Abba, Father

Galatians 4:1-7



There is something special that comes through faith in Christ that we could never get by the works of the Law: it gives us the position of sons of God. It brings us to the place of full-grown sons. When we start out in the Christian life, we are babes and we are to grow to maturation. However, God gives us the position of a full-grown son to furnish us with a capacity that we would not otherwise have.


Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all [Gal. 4:1].


The word child in this verse is not the same as child in Galatians 3:26 where it is from the Greek word huios, meaning "son." Here it is nepios, meaning a little child without full power of speech. "The heir, as long as he is a child (a little one in the family), differeth nothing from a servant."

Again we will have to go back to the Roman customs to see Paul's illustration in action. In a Roman home servants had charge of different possessions of the master. Some had charge of the house, others of the livestock, others kept books for him, and others had charge of his children. When a little one was born into the home, the servants cared for him and dressed him in play clothes so that he didn't look any different from the children of the servants with whom he was playing. And he had to obey the servants just like the other children did.


But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father [Gal. 4:2].


"Until the time appointed of the father." What time was that? It was the time when the father recognized that his son was capable of making decisions of his own, and he brought him into the position of a full-grown son. Notice that it is the father who determined when his son reached the age of maturity. It wasn't an arbitrary law as we have in our society. It used to be that a young person became of age at twenty-one; now it's eighteen. I think that some are as mature at eighteen as they are at twenty-one. Also there are others who haven't reached maturity at sixty-five. But in Paul's day, it was the father who decided when the age of maturity was reached. Then they held a ceremony, known as the toga virilis, which gave him the position of a full-grown son in the family.


In a Roman home it must have worked something like this. Suppose the father is a centurion in Caesar's army. Caesar carries on a campaign way up in Gaul, and the man is up there several years -- because that is where our ancestors were, and believe me, they were heathen! So he has trouble with them. He has to put them down, and it takes several years to do it. Because the army is pushing back the frontier of the Roman Empire, the father of the home is away for several years. Finally he returns home. He goes in to shave, and all of a sudden you hear him yell out, "Who's been using my razor?" Well, I tell you, all the servants come running, because he is the head of the house. They say to him, "Your son." He says, "You mean to tell me that my boy is old enough to use a razor!" The boy has grown to be a great big fellow. And the father says, "Bring him here." So they bring him in -- he's a fine strapping boy -- and the father says, "Well, now we must have the toga virilis, and we'll send out invitations to the grandmas, the grandpas, the aunts, and the uncles." So they all come in for the ceremony of the toga virilis, and that day the father puts around the boy a toga, a robe. That is what our Lord meant in His parable of the Prodigal Son. When the boy came home the father didn't receive him as just an ordinary son, he received him as a full-grown son, put the robe around him, and put a ring on his finger. The ring had on it the signet of his father, which was equivalent to his signature and gave him the father's authority. You could see that boy walking down the street now with that robe on. The servant better not say anything to correct him now, and he'd better not try to paddle him now. In fact, he'll be whipping the servant from here on because he has now reached the age of a full-grown son. That is what Paul meant when he went on to say:


Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world [Gal. 4:3].


"Under the elements of the world" means under the Law. Paul is saying that it was the childhood of the nation Israel when they were under rules and regulations.


But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law [Gal. 4:4].


At the time determined by God, God the Father sent forth God the Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. Mary was a Jewish woman. Now what was God's purpose in sending forth His Son?


To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons [Gal. 4:5].


God had a twofold purpose: (1) To redeem those under the Law. They were children under the Law. You see, the Law never made anyone a son of God. (2) That they might receive the adoption of sons.

Adoption has a meaning different from that of our contemporary society. We think of it in relationship with a couple that may not have children of their own. They go to a home where there are children for adoption and see a precious little baby there. Their hearts go out to him, and they adopt him in their family by going through legal action. When the little one becomes their child we call that adoption. However, the Roman custom in Paul's day was to adopt one's own son. That was what was done in the toga virilis ceremony. [he’s a keeper!]  Adoption (the Greek word is huiothesia) means "to place as a son." A believer is placed in the family of God as a full-grown son, capable of understanding divine truth.


In 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 we read, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." This simply means that the truth in the Word of God can be interpreted only by the Spirit of God, and until He interprets it, man cannot understand it. The Holy Spirit alone can interpret the Word of God for us. That is what makes the difference today in certain men. A man can bring to the Word of God a brilliant mind. He can learn something about history, archaeology, and language. He can become an expert in Hebrew and Greek but can still miss the meaning. Why? Because the Spirit of God is the teacher. Even Isaiah the prophet said that: "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him" (Isa. 64:4). If you want to know about Christ, only the Spirit of God can reveal Him to you. Even a mature Christian who has been in the Word for years is as helpless in studying the Bible as a newborn babe in Christ, because the Spirit of God will have to teach each of them.


If you are a new believer, the same Spirit of God who is teaching me can teach you. If you are God's child, He has brought you into the position of a full-grown son, into the adoption. And there is nothing quite as wonderful as that!


This brings us to the next thing that faith in Christ does for us that the Law could never do for us, which is the experience of sons of God.


And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father [Gal. 4:6].


"And because ye are sons" is a very strong statement.

Romans 8:16 says it this way, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children [the sons] of God." Paul continues to say in Romans, "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live [as sons]. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:11-14). If you are a child of God, you will want to be led by the Spirit of God. The flesh may get a victory in your life, but it will never make you happy. You will never be satisfied with it, because " have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear." You don't need to say, "My, I'm not living as I should live, and I wonder if I'm a child of God." My friend, "ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:15-16). This passage in the Epistle to the Romans is the unabridged edition of the parallel passage in Galatians. I wanted you to see all of it.


The word Abba was not translated, I am told, because the translators of the King James Version had a great reverence for the Word of God. When they came to the word Abba, they didn't dare translate it into English because it was such an intimate word. It could be translated "my daddy." God is my wonderful heavenly Father, but I would hesitate to call him "daddy."


Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ [Gal. 4:7].


The Spirit, therefore, gives us an experience of being a son of God, whereby we can cry out -- not just saying the word or putting on a false "piety" -- and call God our Father, because the Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit. This gives us the experience of being a son of God.


There are many who believe that the only way you can have an experience is either by reaching a high degree of sanctification -- you've got to become holy -- or you have to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as they call it. They insist that if you don't get up to that level, you will never have an experience. Let me assure you, if you are a new believer or a weak believer, that you can have an experience as a son of God without reaching those levels, because sonship comes to you through faith in Jesus Christ. When people reach a high level of spirituality, they tend to think they are superior to the rest of us. However, we are always God's foolish little children. We are always filled with ignorance and stubbornness and sin and fears and weaknesses. We are never wonderful; He is wonderful. The Lord Jesus is wonderful, and faith in Him will give us a wonderful experience.


One preacher said, "The old nature that you and I have is just like an old dead cat. What you need to do is reach down and get that old dead cat by the tail and throw it as far away as you can." I can say "amen" to that. I wish I could get rid of my old nature. Problem is, our old nature has 9 lives, and then some! When you throw him away, he is going to be right back tomorrow." We will never become perfect saints of God, but we can experience being sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ. "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."


Many times you and I plod along in our Christian lives, and we don't have an experience with God. Sometimes life becomes very drab and a little monotonous. But there are other times, especially when God puts us on trial and really tests us, that we have a wonderful experience with our Heavenly Father.


Back a few years when I was having some seizures I had all kinds of tests done.  And my wife has had her share of scary possibilities healthwise as well. No one was ever as frightened as I was because I am a coward, and I don't like hospitals. (I thank God for them, but I still don't like them.) I have visited in that hospital many times as a pastor. I said, "Lord, I want you to know that I have been here many times, and I have patted people on the hand and told them that You would be with them. As their pastor I prayed for them and then walked out. But I am not walking out today. I am going to have to stay. I don't know what the outcome will be." I had some things I wanted to tell God. I wanted to tell Him how He ought to work it out. But I just welled up inside, and said, "Our Father, we're in Your hands. Whatever You want done, You do it. You're my Father." He was so wonderful to me. That is when He becomes a reality. We need to experience Him as our Abba, Father. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children [sons] of God" (Rom. 8:16). Now, I don't wish you any trouble, but I think it is generally in times of trouble that God makes Himself real to us.


John G. Paton was a pioneer missionary in the New Hebrides. He went to the mission field as a young man with a young bride. When their first child was born, the child died and the wife died. He buried them with his own hands. Because he was among cannibals, he sat over the grave for many days and nights to prevent them from digging up the bodies and eating them. His testimony was that if the Lord Jesus Christ had not made Himself real to him during that time, he would have gone mad.

God makes Himself real during times of distress. When Paul was in prison, he could say, "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me..." (2 Tim. 4:16-17). The Lord stood by Paul. He stood by John Paton. He stood by me. He will stand by you. How reassuring it is to have a Father like that! At such a time He says, "...I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5). 

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