Occasionally, once a month or so, I’ve been preaching through Galatians on Sunday evenings. At the moment, I’ve reached Galatians 4, and have been struggling to apply it to my congregation directly – there are, after all, no people pitching up and telling them to ignore what I’m preaching on Salvation by faith alone. Or are there?
In Galatians 4 the case Paul contrasts the rule-bound minority of being under the law – the elemental principles – with the wonderful liberty of both the legal and experiential reality of adoption. In Christ, and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, believers really are sons of God. And we really do experience son-ship in meaningful ways.
It strikes me that in my context, this is about the path to maturing faith. It seems that returning to slavery of the elemental principles is all about living out discipleship constantly obsessing about rules. “Is it right to wear skirts just this length?” “What about the Sabbath – how do I keep it holy?” There are plenty believers around who will say that ongoing Christian growth depends on working hard make sure we “go and sin no more.”
But Paul sees the path to maturity in other things. The path from minority to maturity seems for him to be all about Christ – the Timing of his coming, his divine Origin, the Manner of the incarnation, the Conditions he lived under (i.e. the Torah), the Purpose for which he came (i.e. to redeem) and the Outcome of his coming (i.e. the reality of our adoption). That makes us sons! And no longer minors!
Not only is the work of Jesus vital to really making us sons, but the work of the Holy Spirit enables us to experience it. He is the one who confirms to us the loving fatherhood of God, so that we can cry with trusting affection, “Abba! Father!”
So, application time – do you learn more of what it means to cry “Abba! Father!” through obsessing about law keeping, or through meditating on what your Father has done, and resting on his provision for your life? I suspect it’s the latter.
And what of these elementary principles? Well, is it possible that Paul is talking about them the same way we talk about elementary math? You don’t obsess (normally) about the detail of what exactly happens when you add things. You just know that if you had two apples, and you buy four more, you have six. The same in the disciple’s life: if you are maturing, you don’t obsess about the rules of a Godly life too much. instead, you live them in the life the Spirit is working in you. Such obsession will reward you with frustration, because your life is in Christ, not in the rules he has taught you.