3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
13 For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation - 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
In our weekly Bible study on Wednesdays we have finally reached the end of Revelation, and two weeks ago we started back at the very beginning again in Genesis 1. One of the first things we realise as we spend time studying the creation in the first 2 chapters of the Bible is that Jesus is the eternal God, and He was active in the work of creation. This is what Paul was writing about in Colossians 1 when he said, “By Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
One of the fundamental truths that Christians simply have to get some kind of grasp on is that Jesus is not just a New Testament character, restricted by physical life in time and space as we are. Most of us know the first verse of the Bible well: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John’s gospel begins in similar fashion, but he also makes a remarkable statement that Paul echoes in Colossians 1. They both proclaim the eternal nature of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)
As we know, this whole concept of eternity is just too vast for us to fully comprehend, but it is important for us as Christians to trust what the Bible teaches us – there has never been a time that the Triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) did not exist. Neither will there ever be a time when God will no longer exist. He always has been, and always will be. God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit is the eternal God. This is one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith as it proclaims that the eternal God is over and above all things, both seen and unseen, simply because He brought everything in all of Creation into being. A word used by theologians to describe this doctrine is the transcendent nature of God. A dictionary definition of transcendent is “beyond or above the range of normal or physical human experience, existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe.”
But then one day, from this mysterious dimension of eternity, this eternal God broke through time and space, and in the words of the title of one of Max Lucado’s books, God came near. The transcendent God became the immanent God as He became one of us.
For a brief moment in history, God entered our dimension of time and space, and in the thirty-three or so years of Jesus’ human life, He changed the course of history forever.
We know the Christmas story well, but it is good to be reminded often of the amazing miracle of the eternal God taking on frail human flesh, and of course, we need to be reminded of the reason He came near.
This will be our theme during the next month as Christmas approaches.
When Paul wrote what we now know as the book of Galatians, he said, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son.” This is actually the first time that Paul mentioned the incarnation of God – the coming of Jesus, and there is an interesting word he used in Galatians 4:4. “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son.”
We say rather glibly at times that God’s timing is perfect – well, it is. And it always has been. The KJV talks about the fullness of time, and the NLT says, “When the right time came.”
The first thing that this tells us is that Jesus is not plan B. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when Adam and Eve sinned, God didn’t look down, scratch His head and say, “Well, that didn’t quite work out like I’d hoped. Now what are we going to do?” The redemption plan of God through our Saviour Jesus is the eternal plan of salvation. Remember that God is transcendent. Included in His nature is His omniscience – a fancy word that means He knows everything. He has known we would sin and would need a Saviour for all of eternity. Human sin did not catch God by surprise. So the plan of salvation is and was a perfect plan that has always existed, and at just the right time, God picked the perfect moment to enter our world and allowed the plan to unfold.
In less than a month it is Christmas, and there will be manger scenes all over the place to remind us of the birth of Jesus.
Jesus Christ the human being was conceived by the Spirit and was born to a human mother, but He was not created in Mary’s womb. In a deeply mysterious, supernatural way, far beyond our ability to fully comprehend, He was delivered to the world through her body. I love the picture printed on our bulletin today. The manger may well have been a substitute for a cot for a newborn baby, but at the same time it was a King-sized bed. God came near. Jesus, the eternal King of the Universe, the pre-existent one, entered into our time through the agency of Mary’s body.
He became one of us as part of His perfect plan and in His perfect time.
So what was the purpose of this plan of God’s? The short answer is the redemption of mankind, but the way that He put this plan into place was also perfect.
Firstly, we’re told that Jesus came to redeem those under the law. More specifically Paul was talking here about the Jewish law, so He came firstly to redeem the Jews, God’s chosen people, but the good news of the Gospel is that God’s redemptive work did not start and end with the Jewish nation. Jesus Himself taught that the Gospel is to be preached to the entire world, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. “For God so loved the world.” The offer of forgiveness and salvation is available to everybody. There are no exceptions. God entered into time in the person of His Son, to redeem lost humanity. That was the purpose of Jesus’ mission. Paul highlights two aspects of this amazing promise of God in Galatians 4.
He talks about redemption. Redemption means far more than just forgiveness. Let’s say I steal something that belongs to you, and I end up in prison for my crime. Out of the goodness of your heart, and in obedience to God, you decide to forgive me for what I’ve done to you. Now that’s a wonderful thing to do, but I will stay in prison. I still have to pay the price for what I’ve done. Redemption is a completely different matter. In fact, Jesus paid the price for our crimes even before we realised we’d done something wrong. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
God not only offers us forgiveness, but He paid the price of our sins as well. He has redeemed us from the punishment which is rightly ours. To go back to our analogy, it would be like you going to the judge and saying, “Yes, he’s guilty and he deserves to go to prison, but I have forgiven him. In fact, please would you let him go free, and I will go to prison in his place.” That’s redemption.
There’s this mistaken idea that God is a God of love, and because of that He will freely forgive us for our sins. Yes He is a God of love. The Bible goes one step further by saying that God is love – love defines His very character and nature.
But He will not forgive you because He loves you. He will forgive you because of the blood of Christ. There is a price to be paid for what you have done. You, and every single other human being that ever has lived or ever will live have sinned against, and offended a Holy God. And there is a price to pay for that sin. Forgiveness from God’s perspective does not mean He will sweep your sins under the carpet and say, “I just love you too much to see you punished for your sins, so I forgive you.” That is a misrepresentation of God, His perfect just nature and of His eternal plan of redemption. What He does say is this: “I just love you too much to see you punished for your sins, so I will pay the price instead. If you are prepared to believe that the atoning death of Jesus is sufficient to pay that price, then (and only then) will I forgive you.” So God came near, and entered our world to pay the price for us, to redeem us.
But it doesn’t end there. Paul highlights a second promise of God in Galatians 4: “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son… that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
This speaks about our adoption into His family. If you legally adopt a child, that child doesn’t just live in your house. He or she bears your name and becomes one of your own children. As far as the law is concerned there is no difference between your adopted and biological children.
So not only does God pay the price of our sins by redeeming us, but He brings us into His own family by adopting us. We now bear His name, and are heirs of God Himself. This is simply amazing. What this means is that all the unimaginable beauty and glory of what awaits us in Heaven isn’t simply there for us to experience and enjoy. Rather, it is ours – it is our spiritual inheritance, guaranteed by God because we are His children and His heirs. He gives us full rights as His heirs.
When the prodigal son returned to his father with his tail between his legs he begged to be treated like one of his father’s farm workers. But what did the father do? He put a ring on his son’s finger. This wasn’t any old ring – this was the family signet ring, which symbolised the authority given to the son by the father. Then he put a cloak on him, which symbolises what God has done for us through Jesus. At great personal cost to himself (there’s the principle of redemption once more), the father in the parable not only welcomed his wayward son home, but he reinstated him as his heir with all the rights and privileges he had before he fell from grace. Jesus Christ has clothed us with robes of righteousness by adopting us as His own. We’re not just forgiven, but we are now His. This is what gives us the right to call this eternal, transcendent God, the almighty King of the universe, Abba – Father. What an incredible thing God has done for us.
During the next few weeks as Christmas approaches, we’ll be looking deeper into the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus, and how God’s eternal plan of redemption applies to us.
I do want to go back to the timing of what happened at that first Christmas, and how it applies to our lives today.
As we look at the different accounts of the story of Christmas in the gospels, we can see the importance of the sequence of events – the timing of what happened. Matthew 2:3-6 says, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Herod was keenly aware and fearful of what was unfolding in time. He wanted to know the what (the Messiah’s birth) and the where (the location). He knew the significance of what had happened, because he had been taught all of the prophecies as he grew up, and his religious advisors confirmed his worst fears as they quoted those same prophecies to him. Luke is even more specific with regards to the importance of time. In chapter 2, he refers to the fact that Caesar Augustus sent out a decree “in those days.” This has helped historians to pinpoint more accurately the birth of Jesus. But what does this have to do with us? Why is the timing of God coming near that important?
It is because our time in this life is limited. We are eternal beings, but our window of opportunity in this life to turn to Christ in repentance is limited. It’s an eternal plan, but the opportunity to accept that plan for yourself is temporary, constricted by the amount of time you have in this life. And because you don’t know when your life will end, there is no time like the present. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation.”
God came near and entered our time and space. From eternity He chose to allow Himself to be constrained by time and space so that our eternal life can be guaranteed. God is the author of time. He created it, and He is outside of it. He understands everything that has happened or will happen, and those of us who don’t know Him need to see that now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation. For those of us who do know Him, we need to use the time he has given us in this life wisely. We need to live our lives for Him, and not for ourselves. Ephesians 5:15-16 warns us, “Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Moses prayed in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Paul reminds us of the importance of using our time wisely at the end of our second reading today: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”
There’s that timeline again. He briefly looks back at what we once were, where we have been rescued from, and where we now stand in Christ. We’ve been reconciled by Jesus’ death – there again is the exclusivity of the Gospel. It is only through Christ that we are redeemed. If God’s love alone could save us, then every person will be in heaven for eternity, but that is not what Scripture teaches us. It is only by the blood of Christ.
Paul then reminds us that we now stand holy and unblemished in God’s presence – that’s because we’ve been adopted as his children, and then finally, he urges us to “continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”
So, is this the season to be jolly, or is this the season to be awestruck once more that the eternal God, over and above all things, came near for one reason and one reason alone – to redeem us and to take us home?
That’s the choice we have this Christmas.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Galatians 4:3-7
How do you understand the phrase “we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world?”
One of the great mysteries of God is that He is eternal, and not constricted by time and space as we are, but one of the fundamental principles of His plan of salvation is that He entered our world at a specific point in history, and lived among us as one of us.
What are some of your struggles in understanding and believing this?
What do we mean when we say ‘God came near?’
There are two promises that Paul highlights in verse 5:
a) Redemption, and b) Adoption.
a) How do you understand the doctrine of redemption?
How does redemption differ from forgiveness?
A point made on Sunday is that God does not forgive us because He loves us. He forgives us because of the blood of Christ. What does this mean?
b) Discuss how God goes further than redeeming and forgiving us by adopting us as His children.
In which ways have you felt like a son or daughter of God?
Close by praying that God would keep us focused on the real joy of Christmas during the festive season.