Born Free: Seven Promises You Can Count On
July 1, 2001
The book of Galatians is all about how we can be right with God. Paul wrote this little “emergency letter” to remind us that being right with God is about believing, not achieving. Salvation is not about going to church, being religious, trying harder, or turning over a new leaf. You can’t purchase a ticket to heaven by doing good in this life. And God isn’t impressed by our efforts at self-improvement. That’s not a popular message. Grace is a counter-intuitive truth that runs against the grain of our human nature. Deep inside, we all believe that if we just try harder, things will work out between God and us. It isn’t true, of course, but we still believe it anyway. Then along comes the Apostle Paul with his radical message that acceptance with God comes by faith alone on the basis of what Christ did on the cross. That can be a hard pill to swallow.
This week a friend told me that she had given a cassette tape of my sermon “How God Saves Sinners” to a neighbor who attends another church. He didn’t like my sermon at all. For one thing, he objected to my statement that Timothy McVeigh, the convicted (and confessed) bomber who killed 168 people when he blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, could have gone to heaven if in his last hours he had turned from his sin and cried out to Jesus for mercy. But that wasn’t all. The man also didn’t like my teaching that we are saved not by what we do but by faith alone in Christ alone. That bothered him because he truly believes that good people go to heaven. Like so many others, he truly believes that if you do enough good works, and if your good works outweigh your sins, God will let you into heaven. The concept that his good works weren’t enough was a truly troubling thought. And so he didn’t care for my sermon.
In this case his argument is with God, not with me. The Bible is clear on the matter. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. “Not of works lest anyone should boast” (see Ephesians 2:8-9). The only people who go to heaven are those who admit they don’t deserve to be there. As long as you cling to the tattered rags of your self-righteousness, you cannot be saved. And you won’t be saved because even Christ can’t save a person in that condition. Your stubborn pride will keep you out of heaven for all eternity. But when you finally stop trying and start trusting Christ alone, you will be saved.
Paul’s argument at this point in the book of Galatians goes like this: Why go back to the old life when God has given us so many blessings in Christ? It doesn’t make sense to go back to the law as a means of salvation when we have discovered the riches of God’s grace. The only reason to go back would be because we don’t appreciate what we have in Christ. In Galatians 3:15-4:11 we discover seven promises God makes to every believer. If you are a Christian, these things are true of you and for you. These seven promises are the permanent possession of every believer and do not depend on your performance. The next time you are tempted to give up, think of these seven promises and let your heart be encouraged by all that God has done for you.
Promise #1: A New Freedom 3:23-25
“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Galatians 3:23-25). After my last sermon from Galatians, a young woman who had been raised in the Muslim religion and later converted to Christ asked an interesting question. She pointed out that to the Muslims, keeping the law is all-important if you want to go heaven. Islam is a very works-oriented religion. She asked this question: If keeping the law won’t save us, why did God give the law in the first place? Galatians 3:15-25 offers a clear answer. Paul points out that the law was given to reveal our sin and to show us our need for Jesus Christ. The law is like an x-ray that reveals the cancer of sin. It says, “Do this and live,” but no matter how hard we try, we can never perfectly keep the law. As our failures keep piling up, we end up in the prison house of a guilty conscience. Each time we break another law of God, we add more to our prison term. We are “locked up” with no way out. And if we are thoughtful at all, our continued failure to do what God requires leads us to conclude that if we are ever to get out of the prison house of sin, someone else must come and let us out. In that sense the law is a schoolmaster or a tutor that patiently leads us to cry out for mercy. That’s where faith in Christ comes in. When we finally admit we can’t save ourselves, and when we reach out in simple faith to Jesus, the prison doors swing open and we are saved (liberated) from our sin.
Thus the law has a crucial role to play in convicting us of our sin. Let me illustrate. Let’s suppose you are walking down a street when you see a sign on a park bench that says, “Wet Paint. Do Not Touch.” If you are like most people, when you see that sign, you will have an almost irresistible urge to reach out and touch the bench. I’ve done it myself many times. If the sign had not been there, it never would have occurred to you to touch the park bench, but something about that sign awakens a desire within you and even though it says, “Do No Touch,” you want to reach out and touch it. The sticky paint on your fingers is proof that you are a sinner.
The law convicts us of sin but it cannot change us on the inside. If we drive while drunk, we may get a ticket for Driving Under the Influence. The law declares us guilty and penalizes our foolish behavior, but it can’t stop us from drinking again. This week I read a limerick that drives the point home this way:
There once was a man from Darjeeling,
Who traveled from London to Ealing.
It said on the door,
“Please don’t spit on the floor,”
So he carefully spat on the ceiling.
And so it goes. The law condemns us because it arouses within us a desire to do the very thing we know is wrong. According to verse 24 that vicious cycle is broken when we are justified. At the moment we come to Christ for salvation, God declares us righteous and wipes away the record of our guilty disobedience. But if our record is clear, then our conscience is clean. And that means the law can’t keep us in the prison house of sin any more. The law that condemned us now has no power over us. We are set free from the trap of trying to please God by our outward behavior. This is true freedom. And it comes only to those who trust in Christ.
Promise #2: A New Identity 3:26
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). This is a truly astounding statement. Paul boldly declares that everyone who believes in Jesus is now a son (or daughter) of the living God. Our identity has been radically changed. Once we were the devil’s children, living in sin because that was our true spiritual heritage. By grace we have been transferred into the family of God and given a brand-new identity. It is astounding to think of this because it applies to all believers without exception. If you believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you are a child of God.
There is a crucial limitation here as well. This change of identity is only for those who have “faith in Christ Jesus,” thus conclusively refuting the old liberal notion of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. Sometimes people thoughtlessly say, “We’re all God’s children,” as if to imply that everyone on earth is a child of God. But that is not true! There isn’t a single verse in the Bible that teaches such a thing. A more biblical way to say it would be that we’re all God’s creation, but only those who trust in Christ are truly God’s children. Without faith in Jesus there is no entrance into God’s family.
Promise #3: A New Relationship 3:27
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Note the word “baptized.” Does this refer to water baptism or to Spirit baptism? The difference is between the outward ordinance of baptism in water and the inward miracle whereby the Holy Spirit places us into the body of Christ. Is Paul referring to water or to the Spirit? The answer is yes! In the New Testament water baptism and Spirit baptism are often referred to in the same verse because in the first century they happened so close together. We are baptized in the Spirit the moment we trust Christ. As we come to him in faith, the Holy Spirit graciously places us into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13). The outward act of water baptism is a public demonstration of the inward change that takes place the moment we trust Christ. In the first century, this miracle of regeneration was followed closely by water baptism. Our contemporary notion of being baptized in water many years after our conversion is not biblical. In the book of Acts we see new believers undergoing water baptism immediately after their conversion (Acts 2, 10, 16, 19).
Paul’s point is that when we come to Christ, we enter into a new relationship that changes all of life. Now we are “clothed” with Christ. The word means to put on a costume because you are going to play a role on stage. Coming to Christ is like gaining a whole new wardrobe. You exchange the tattered rags of the old life for the beautiful robes of the character of Jesus Christ. The old life is gone forever. Out with the old addictions! Out with the swearing! Out with the lies! Out with the evil relationships! Out with the sinful habits! Out with the anger! Out with the lust! Out with the racial prejudice! All of it must go out the door when Jesus comes in. What does the well-dressed Christian wear? He wears the character of Jesus Christ. When people see us, they see him, and if they knew us before, they want to know, “What happened to you?” And we tell them, “I’m a new person. Jesus Christ has changed my life.”
Of course, this change is both instantaneous and gradual. We are given a new wardrobe the moment we are saved but we usually hang on to our old one for a while. We’re so used to the smelly rags of sin that it’s hard to give them up. But we have to, because coming to Christ is like joining a new team and putting on a new uniform. Suppose a member of the New York Yankees is traded to the Chicago White Sox and he shows up at Comiskey Park still wearing his Yankee pinstripes. What will his new teammates do? They will tell him to change his uniform or go back to New York! And well they should. Once you join a new team, you change uniforms. Coming to Christ is like that. We’ve joined his team and now we wear the “uniform” of the character of Christ so that everyone will know we belong to him.
Promise #4: A New Standing 3:28
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Here is another amazing promise for the children of God. In Christ the barriers that separate us have been torn down. Outward distinctions are no barrier to salvation. There are no divisions in the body of Christ on the basis of race, ethnic origin, skin color or national origin. You can be a Jew or a Greek or a Bolivian or an Egyptian or a Russian or a Filipino or a Nigerian or a Norwegian and it doesn’t matter to God at all. Or you can be a “Heinz 57 Varieties” type person and still come to Christ. God doesn’t favor one race or ethnic group over another. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
The same thing is true regarding social classes. Slave and free walk hand in hand into the family of God. This would have been an astounding thought in the first century. In the Christian church you might have a slave who was an elder giving spiritual oversight to a slave owner. The class distinctions that matter so much in the world (rich vs. poor, middle class vs. upper class, old money vs. new money, etc.) are not to dominate the Christian church. We are all saved on the same basis—by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And sexual distinction doesn’t matter when it comes to salvation. Men and women are saved in exactly the same way. This means that a Gentile slave woman would have exactly the same rights in the eyes of God as a Jewish free man. Thus the ground is laid for true Christian unity. In Christ we are all one. God doesn’t play favorites and neither should we.
Promise #5: A New Future 3:29
“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). To be Abraham’s seed means that we inherit the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12. Originally those promises were just for the Jews, but in Christ they are now extended to all believers. Jeremiah 31:31-34 explains that those promises revolve around total forgiveness of our sin and the implantation of a new heart that gives us a desire to obey God. Ultimately those promises extend past death to guarantee us eternal life with God in heaven.
An heir is a person who by law is a member of a particular family. If you are an heir, you have a legal right to an inheritance. Since we are now members of God’s family, we have a right to all that God has promised to his children. This week I saw a tabloid cover story on Prince William, the oldest son of Prince Charles of England. The picture showed a smiling face of the young prince and noted that he was the handsome heir to the British throne. No doubt many young girls look at him and think, “That’s my ticket to the good life.” That’s what the world focuses on—money, position, power and an earthly throne with all the wealth that goes with it. But as Christians we have something much greater. We know Jesus Christ! In him we find forgiveness, justification, freedom, an abundant life, joy, inner peace, new power, new motivation, redemption, and that’s just for this life. When we die, we go to heaven forever. The world has no answer to the problem of sin and death. In Christ we have been delivered from our sins and set free from the fear of death. If you know Jesus, death is the doorway to the presence of God. It’s not the end, it’s only the beginning.
Promise #6: A New Position 4:4-5
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). These verses tell us that Christ came to redeem us and to adopt us into God’s family. To redeem means to set free from slavery by the payment of a price. The word comes from the slave markets of the first century. You redeemed a slave by paying the purchase price and then setting him free. Now suppose that in addition to freeing that slave, you also said to him, “Come with me to my home and live with me. I want you to legally join my family, take my name, and take an equal share in my inheritance.” As amazing as it sounds, that’s what God did for us the moment we trusted Christ. He set us free (redeemed us) from the slavery of sin with the purchase price of the blood of Christ. Then he brought us into his family and gave us “full rights” as his own children. The concept of “full rights” means that no matter how badly we may have sinned before conversion, there are no second-class children in God’s family. God has no stepchildren. In the Jewish culture, young boys are considered men by going through a ritual called a Bar Mitzvah. You might say that when we come to Christ, we are “Bar Mitzvahed” into God’s family. We come in as full members of the family with rights and privileges equal to those who have been there for 40 or 50 years. We can pray and claim God’s promises on the same basis as everyone else.
Let’s suppose that one of my three sons does something wrong and later feels bad about it. So he comes to me and says, “Dad, I’m very sorry for what I did and I’m going to try to do better in the future. I’m going to try to be more of a son to you from now on.” When I hear those words, I’ll say something like this, “Son, I love you and I’m glad you feel bad about what you did and I know you want to do better in the future. But I want you to know that no matter what you do, you could never be ‘more of a son’ to me than you are right now. Being my son has nothing to do with what you do or don’t do. You are my son by virtue of being a part of my family. Nothing you do can ever change that fact.” Think about that for a moment. If one of my boys should rebel against all that I have taught him, and if he should move to some distant place and change his name so that no one will know he is my son, and if he should adopt some way of life that is far removed from what I believe is right, I will be heartbroken and perhaps I will be angry, but no matter what he does, he will always be my son and I will always love him. Once a son, always a son. Nothing my boys can do can ever change that fact.
The same is true in our relationship with God. Our standing isn’t based on our performance. That’s good news because we all fail sooner or later. Our standing is based on God’s grace, which means it doesn’t depend on us. Once a child of God, always a child of God. We may do things that displease our Heavenly Father. If we persist in disobedience, we will be disciplined by the Lord. But that discipline, painful though it may be, comes to us because we are God’s children (see Hebrews 12:4-11). It is a mark of our salvation. We are disciplined because we are the children of God, not in order to stay in God’s family. Our standing is secure because it is not based on our performance.
Promise #7: A New Assurance 4:6-7
“Because you are 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 a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:6-7). Here is the final promise of God in this passage. When we come to Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us new life and the assurance that we are God’s children. This is the “still, small voice” of God that speaks to the soul and whispers, “You are now a child of God.” That same Holy Spirit within us cries out “Abba, Father.” The word “Abba” comes from an Aramaic word that little children would use to speak to their fathers. It is an intimate, personal word of endearing affection. In English you might say “Dad” or “Daddy” or “Papa” or “Dear Father.” It’s a very tender way of talking to our Heavenly Father. No longer is he some distant God up in the sky. Now he is our “Heavenly Daddy.”
In all the world there was only one person I called “Dad.” When I or my three brothers Andy, Alan and Ronnie said, “Dad,” our father would turn and listen to our voices. The privilege of calling him “Dad” was given to us and only to us. The same is true of my three sons. Josh, Mark and Nick are the only people in the world who have that unique relationship with me. Others may call me “Dad” but it doesn’t mean the same thing. I was one of my father’s four sons; I am the father to my three sons. They have a unique claim on me that other children don’t have. So it is in the spiritual realm. If we know Jesus as Savior, God is now our Heavenly Father and we can come to him in prayer anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and he will never turn us away. When we are in trouble, when the world has turned against us, when we are so discouraged that we feel like giving up, when we are confused about what to do next, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Talk to your Father in heaven. He’s waiting to hear from you.” The Spirit within us brings us back to our Father again and again and teaches us to say, “Abba, Father.”
The Best is Yet to Come
Verse 7 sums it all up by reminding us that once we were slaves, now we are sons, and since we are sons, we are also heirs to all that God has. If he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, so do we because we are his beloved children. All the resources of heaven are now at our disposal. And we have a wonderful future. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and it has not entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him. The best is yet to come. A Christian woman was asked by her employer if she would work on Sunday. She politely declined the offer. He asked again and she refused again. He persisted, offering her double wages. She thanked him for his generous offer and said she preferred not to work on Sunday. When he asked why, she told him that she was Christian and she preferred to fellowship with God’s people on Sunday. He thought for a minute and asked her how much she got paid to be a Christian. “It doesn’t pay very much,” she replied with a smile, “but the retirement plan is out of this world.” If you know Jesus, you have a wonderful life now and an even better life when you die.
Before we wrap up, let’s review the seven promises that God makes to us. These seven things are the permanent possession of every believer.
1. A New Freedom: We are justified and set free from the law forever.
2. A New Identity: We are now God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus.
3. A New Relationship: We have been clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
4. A New Standing: We are all one in Christ regardless of race, social standing, or gender.
5. A New Promise: We are heirs to everything God promised his children.
6. A New Position: We have full rights in the family of God.
7. A New Assurance: We have the Holy Spirit who teaches us to say, “Abba, Father.”
All these things are true of every believer, everywhere, at all times. Because they are unconditional promises, they do not depend on our performance. In light of this, why would anyone ever go back to the old life? Why would you want to go back to rule keeping as a means of pleasing God? Why give up the riches of grace for the futility of the law? It doesn’t make sense.
Everything God has for us is wrapped up in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And we receive Christ by faith when we reach out and trust him as our Lord and Savior. All these promises are free for the asking to those who come to Christ. This week a man told me he saw a T-shirt with “JESUS” in huge letters. Underneath were these words: “And that’s my final answer.” Make Jesus your final answer and these promises will be yours. And when you die, the best is yet to come. Amen.