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. 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 4:4-7).
The Spirit makes us feel part of the divine family
Salvation is a legal act. Jesus meets all the legal requirements for our justification through his death and resurrection. When our friends adopted a child, there was a day when they went to court and the court declared that the child was legally their son. “God sent his Son … to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (v 4-5). Our papers have come through: we are legally the children of God.
But God doesn’t just want you to be his child. He wants you to know you’re a child, to feel it, to experience his fatherly love and closeness. He sent his Son so we could be his children. He sent “the Spirit of his Son” so we could know we are his children. “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (v 6).
Russell Moore tells the story of how he and his wife adopted two boys from a Russian orphanage:
When my wife Maria and I at long last received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our new sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed. We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had bought for them. We nodded our thanks to the orphanage personnel and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys.
They’d never seen the sun, and they’d never felt the wind. They had never heard the sound of a car door slamming or had the sensation of being carried along at 100 miles an hour down a road. I noticed that they were shaking, and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance.
I whispered to Sergei, now Timothy, “That place is a pit! If only you knew what’s waiting for you: a home with a Mommy and a Daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates and McDonald’s Happy Meals!”
But all they knew was the orphanage. It was squalid, but they had no other reference point. It was home.
We knew the boys had acclimated to our home, that they trusted us, when they stopped hiding food in their high-chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming, and they wouldn’t have to fight for the scraps. This was the new normal.
“Reaching back to the orphanage.” The boys had a wonderful new life. But they didn’t realise it yet, and so they were reaching back to the orphanage. We have a wonderful new life as children of God. But when we lose sight of that truth, we reach back to the old life. We worry, we hide food in our high chairs, because we don’t yet trust our new Father. Or we reach back to our old sinful ways because we don’t yet grasp the privileges and joys of being a child of God.
God wants us to stop worrying, stop hiding, stop living like slaves and to enjoy his love
God wants us to stop reaching back. So he gives us the Holy Spirit. He wants us to stop worrying, stop hiding, stop living like slaves and to enjoy his love. The Spirit is the Spirit of the Son. He gives us a Son-like experience. He helps us experience the same security and affection that the divine Son receives from the Father.
The Father doesn’t want your duty. He wants your love. He doesn’t want you to act like an employee who discharges his responsibilities. He wants you to live as a royal Son. He wants you to live as a Princess. And so he gives you the Spirit of his Son.
What does this look like? Paul tells us: “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father”.” (Galatians 4:6) Paul says much the same thing in Romans 8:15-16:
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.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
If you’ve ever felt the desire to pray to your heavenly Father, that’s because the Spirit put that desire in your heart. If you’ve ever felt that prayer was more than words hitting the ceiling, that’s because the Spirit has assured you that you’re a child of God. If you’ve ever gasped: “Thank you, Father!” as you’ve seen friends responding to the gospel or Christians growing in their relationship with Jesus, that’s the Spirit reminding you of your glorious status in Christ. If you love God, that love for God is there because the Spirit put it there. It didn’t start with you—by nature we’re enemies of God. Your love for God is a sure sign of his love for you.
Romans 5:5 tells us: “We know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (NLT). And if you’ve ever cried out: “Father!” in moments of desperation or need, that’s the Spirit testifying to your heart that you have a Father who listens to your concerns and cares for your needs.
Recently my mother died. She was one of my best friends and her witness to me through the tough times of her life was one of the key means of grace God used to bring me to faith in Jesus. One of her last text messages to me from hospital read: “Night, night, my son, brother and co-heir.” It’s been a painful time. In the moments of intense sadness and loss, sometimes all I’ve been able to do is cry out: “Father!” And yet it’s been a huge encouragement to me to know that, as I do that, it’s not just me striving with my strength to reach out to my heavenly Father. Quite the opposite. As I cry out: “Father!”, it’s the Father himself who is reaching out to me through the Spirit, reminding me that in Jesus I’m his beloved child, and drawing me back into his embrace.