Personal Relationship

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about how to experience the freedom that God provides and be adopted into His family.

Freedom Gained:  Galatians 4:1-7.

[1]  I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, [2]  but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

[3]  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. [4]  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5]  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. [6]  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" [7]  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  [ESV]

[1-3]  Under the law, Paul says, men were like an heir during his childhood. During his childhood, although he is lord of all the estate by title, yet he is no different from a slave. He is put under guardians and managers who order him about, direct and discipline him. He is under restraint. He has no liberty. In the same way, we also are heirs of the promise which God made to Abraham but currently under the law in a form of bondage. In these verses law appears to be equated with the elementary principles of the world [3]. And in verse 9 these elementary principles are called weak and worthless, because they have no wealth with which to bless us. What are these elementary principles? Principles are also translated as “spirits” and are associated with the evil spirits of the universe. But how can a bondage to the law be called a bondage to evil spirits? What Paul means is that the devil took this good thing (the law) and twisted it to his own evil purpose, in order to enslave men and women. Just as during his childhood a child’s guardian may ill-treat and even tyrannize him in ways which his father never intended, so the devil has exploited God’s good law, in order to tyrannize men in ways God never intended. God intended the law to reveal sin and to drive men to Christ; Satan uses it to reveal sin and to drive men to despair. God meant the law as an interim step to man’s justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation. God meant the law to be a stepping-stone to liberty; Satan uses it as a cul-de-sac, deceiving his dupes into supposing that from its fearful bondage there is no escape.

[4-7]  Man’s bondage under the law continued for about 1,300 years. It was a long and arduous childhood. But at last the fullness of time arrived: the date set by the Father when the children should attain their maturity, be freed from their guardians and inherit the promise. Why is the period of Christ’s coming termed the fullness of time. It was the time when the law of Moses had done its work of preparing men for Christ, holding them under its tutelage and in its prison, so that they longed ardently for the freedom with which Christ could make them free. When this fullness of time had come, God did two things. First, God sent forth his Son [4]. Notice that God’s purpose was both to redeem and adoption; not just to rescue from slavery, but to make slaves into sons. What is emphasized in these verses is that the one whom God sent to accomplish our redemption was perfectly qualified to do so. He was God’s Son. He was also born of a human mother, so that He was human as well as divine, the one and only God-man. And He was born under the law, that is, of a Jewish mother, into the Jewish nation, subject to the Jewish law. Throughout His life He submitted to all the requirements of the law. He succeeded where all others before and since have failed. He perfectly fulfilled the righteousness of the law. So the divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ and the righteousness of Christ uniquely qualified Him to be man’s redeemer. If He had not been man, He could not have redeemed men. If He had not been a righteous man, He could not have redeemed unrighteous men. And if He had not been God’s Son, He could not have redeemed men for God or made them the sons of God. Secondly, God sent His Spirit [6]. The Greek verbs translated sent forth [4] and has sent [6] are the same word and in the same tense. There was, therefore, a double sending forth from God the Father. Observe the Trinitarian reference. First, God sent His Son into the world; secondly, He sent His Spirit into our hearts. Thus, God’s purpose was not only to secure our sonship by His Son, but to assure us of it by His Spirit. He sent His Son that we might have the status of sonship, and He sent His Spirit that we might have an experience of it. This comes through the affectionate, confidential intimacy of our access to God in prayer, in which we find ourselves assuming the attitude and using the language not of slaves, but of sons. So the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, witnessing to our sonship and prompting our prayers, is the precious privilege of all God’s children. It is because you are sons that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. No other qualification is needed. There is no need to recite some formula, or strive after some experience, or fulfill some extra condition. Paul says to us clearly that if we are God’s children, and because we are God’s children, God has sent His Spirit into our hearts. And the way He assures us of our sonship is not by some spectacular gift or sign, but by the quiet, inward witness of the Spirit as we pray. Paul concludes this stage of his argument in verse 7. What we are as Christians, as sons and heirs of God, is not through our own merit, nor through our own effort, but through God, through His initiative of grace, who first sent His Son to die for us and then sent His Spirit to live in us.


Forgiveness Received:  1 John 1:5-10.

[5]  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6]  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. [7]  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. [8]  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9]  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10]  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [ESV]

[5]  The link between 1:5 – 2:2 and 1:1-4 is in the word message. This message has not been invented by John or the other apostles, but is what they have heard from him. The word of life, with which his proclamation is concerned, can be condensed into the single great affirmation God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. Of the statements about the essential Being of God, none is more comprehensive than God is light. It is His nature to reveal Himself, as it is the property of light to shine; and the revelation is of perfect purity and unutterable majesty. We are to think of God as a personal Being, infinite in all His perfections, transcendent, holy, who yet desires to be known and has revealed Himself. The categories of light and darkness are used metaphorically in Scripture in several senses. Intellectually, light is truth and darkness ignorance or error. Morally, light is purity and darkness evil. God’s self-revelation through the law and the prophets is described in terms of light [Prov. 6:23; Ps. 119:105,130; 2 Peter 1:19]. The second use of light, namely to symbolize righteousness, is already plain in Isaiah 5:20, where the inhabitants of Judah are so morally perverse that they call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness. This double use of the symbolism of light and darkness is found in the Fourth Gospel, particularly in four passages. In three of these the emphasis is undoubtedly on light as the revelation of truth [John 1:4,5,9; 8:12; 12:35,36,46]. The effect of the light is not just to make men see, but to enable them to walk. Right conduct, not just clear vision, is the benefit which light bestows. This brings us to John 3:19-21, where the relation between light and purity, darkness and evil, is made explicit. Here the one who does what is true is in the light as opposed to the one who does wicked things. Truth, like light, in Scripture has a moral content. Men are not just to know the truth, but to do it, just as they are not only to see the light, but to walk in it. The moral implications of light are apparent also in 1 John 2:8-11. Here the statement is made that the true light is already shining. This light diffuses righteousness, and in particular love. A man’s claim to be in the light can be credited only if he is walking in love, for whoever loves his brother abides in the light, while whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and is so blind that he does not know where he is going. Men are not just to know the truth, but to do it, just as they are not only to see the light, but to walk in it.

In 1:6 – 2:2 three of the spurious claims of the false teachers are exposed and contradicted. Each is introduced by the formula if we say. A man’s verbal profession is not necessarily to be believed. It must be tested both in itself, in its relation to the fundamental truth that God is light, and in its bearing upon his behavior. This is the dominant theme of this Epistle. John supplies searching tests by which to judge one who professes and calls himself Christian. The supreme question is whether his teaching and behavior are consistent with each other and with the apostolic proclamation that God is light. This affirmation is still the test of the truth and reality of our Christian profession. The symmetry of the seven verses is evident. First, he introduces the false teaching with the words if we say. Next, he contradicts it with an unequivocal we lie or a similar expression. Finally, he makes a positive and true statement corresponding to the error he has refuted, but if we. The three errors he treats concern the fact of sin in our conduct, its origin in our nature, and its consequence in our relationship to God. They are the misconceptions of men who want fellowship with God on easy terms. They have never learned the indissoluble marriage of religion and ethics; they are seeking a divorce between them. They have a thoroughly inadequate doctrine of sin and its sinfulness in relation to God who is light. So, in each of the three examples he gives, John faces the fact and the problem of sin before proceeding to state the solution. He not only denies the erroneous view, but indicates the divine remedy which is offered if men will only acknowledge their need of it. Each time he describes the cleansing and forgiveness which God has made possible through the death of Jesus Christ His Son. Christianity is the only religion which, by emphasizing that God is light, first insists on taking sin seriously and then offers a satisfactory moral solution to the problem of sin. The way to have fellowship with a God who is light is not to deny the fact or effects of sin, but to confess our sins and thankfully appropriate God’s provision for our cleansing.

[6-7]  The false claim here is the assertion that we have fellowship with God, while at the same time we walk in darkness. Some of the early Gnostics said that you could be righteous without necessarily doing righteousness, and consequently spiritual communion with God was independent of physical morality. Still today, it is not uncommon for people to claim fellowship with God who see no necessity either first to go to the cross of Christ for cleansing and forgiveness or thereafter to lead a consistently holy life. We are right to be suspicious of those who claim a mystical intimacy with God and yet walk in the darkness of error and sin, paying no regard to the self-revelation of an all-holy God. Sin is always a barrier to fellowship with God. If we make such a claim we lie, deliberately, knowingly, self-evidently, and do not practice the truth. That is, we not only contradict the truth in our words, but deny it by our inconsistent lives. The error having been refuted, John now affirms a complementary truth. He now describes what happens if we walk in the light. God is in the light because He is always true to Himself and His activity is consistent with His nature. We must walk in the light of His holy self-revelation, and in His presence, without deceit or dishonesty in our mind or consciously tolerated sin in our conduct. Walking in the light describes absolute sincerity, to have nothing to conceal, and to make no attempt to conceal anything. Two results of this are given, first, we have fellowship with one another. The second result is that the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. The verb suggests that God does more than forgive; He erases the stain of sin. And the present tense shows that it is a continuous process. Thus if we walk in the light God has made provision to cleanse us from whatever sin would otherwise mar our fellowship with Him or each other. The condition of receiving cleansing through the blood of Christ and of enjoying fellowship with each other is to walk in the light, to be sincere, open, honest, transparent. 

[8-9]  The second claim of the heretics was one stage worse than the first, namely to have no sin. The first heretical claim at least appeared to concede the existence of sin, while denying that it had the effect of estranging the sinner from God. Now the very fact of sin is denied. These men cannot benefit from the cleansing effects of the blood of Jesus because they say we have no sin. Sin is again in the singular (like verse 7) and refers to the inherited principle of sin or self-centeredness in our fallen human nature. The heretics are now saying that, whatever their outward conduct may be, there is no sin inherent in their nature. This may be a reference to the Gnostic belief that sin was a matter of the flesh and did not touch or defile the spirit. Whatever their exact pretension, John repudiates it. To say that we have no sin means that we deceive ourselves, that is, we are self-deceived rather than deliberate liars, and the truth is not in us. Not only do we fail to do the truth [6]; we are void of it. For if it did indwell us we should inevitably be aware of our sinfulness. The proper Christian attitude to sin is not to deny it but to admit it and so to receive the forgiveness which God has made possible and promises to us. If we confess our sins, acknowledging before God that we are sinners not only by nature (sin) but by practice also (sins), God will both forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In the first phrase sin is a debt which He remits and in the second a stain which He removes. In both He is said to be faithful and just. In forgiving our sins and cleansing us from them God displays faithfulness to His covenant promises and He is just in forgiving sins due to the price paid for our sin on the cross by Jesus. He is faithful to forgive because He has promised to do so, and just because His Son died for our sins. This forgiveness and cleansing, issuing from the faithfulness and justice of God, are conditional upon confession. What is required is not a general confession of sin, but a particular confession of sins, as we deliberately call them to mind, confess and forsake them.

[10]  The third heretical claim is indicated by the words if we say we have not sinned. We may concede in theory that sin would break our fellowship with God if we did sin, and that sin does exist in our nature as an inborn disposition, and yet deny that we have in practice sinned and thus put ourselves out of fellowship with God. This is the most blatant of the three denials. The heretics maintained that their superior enlightenment rendered them incapable of sinning. To say that we have not sinned is not just to tell a deliberate lie [6], or to be deluded [8], but actually to accuse God of lying, to make him a liar and to reveal clearly that his word is not in us, because His word frequently declares that sin is universal, and the word of the gospel clearly assumes the sinfulness of man.

Love Embraced:  1 John 3:1-3.

[1]  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2]  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. [3]  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.  [ESV]

The mention of being born of him leads John to an outburst of wonder at God’s love in making us His children, the allusion being to the divine nature we have received through being begotten of God rather than to our filial status. This love God has not only shown us, but actually given to us; we have experienced it ourselves. The children of God and the world are so different from each other, that in fact, the world does not know us. The reason for this is that the world did not know him which must surely here refer to Christ. As His glory was veiled in flesh, so our life is hid with Christ in God [Col. 3:3]. Our sonship, though real, is not yet apparent [Rom. 8:19]. John calls his readers beloved because those who are loved by the Father are loved by the apostle also. At first John frankly admits that he does not know the precise character of this inheritance. What we are does not now appear to the world; what we shall be does not yet appear to us. So here John confesses that the exact state and condition of the redeemed in heaven had not been revealed to him. This being so, it is idle and sinful to speculate or to pry into things which God has not been pleased to make known. Indeed, it is implied, it will appear only when He shall appear. The two revelations of Christ and of our final state, will be made simultaneously. This is, however, not to say that we know nothing about our future state. The order of events in verse 2 is clear. First, He will appear; then, we shall see Him as He is; and finally, we shall be like Him. This is all John knows about our final, heavenly state. It is enough for us to know that on the last day and through eternity we shall be both with Christ and like Christ; for the fuller revelation of what we shall be we are content to wait. John’s reason for writing about the return of Christ and the final state is not theological but ethical. The Christian hope has as its object or foundation the return of Christ and the glory which follows. It includes the three events already mentioned: His appearing, our seeing Him and our becoming like Him. This is not an uncertain hope, like the hopes of men, because it is grounded upon the promise of Christ, and we know the truth for which we hope. The Christian who fixes his hope (his confident expectation) upon Christ’s return, will purify himself, not ceremonially but morally. Since Christ is pure, and when we shall see Him we shall be like Him, we must ensure that the process of purification is begun now and begin to purify ourselves. True, only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from the stain and guilt of sin, but we have a part to play in purifying ourselves from its power [2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Tim. 5:22; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Paul mean by under the law? Why does Paul equate being under the law to being enslaved to the elementary principles of the world?

2.         How did Jesus free His people from this bondage? What blessings does Paul mention in Galatians 4:1-7 that God’s people experience due to the work of Christ? What important role does the Spirit play in our experiencing these blessings?

3.         What does John mean by God is light? What does it mean for believers to walk in the light? What blessings do we experience by walking in the light? What are we to do when we fail to walk in the light?

4.         What three errors of false teaching does John deal with in 1:6-10? What two truths does John present that will reveal and overcome these errors?


Galatians, Timothy George, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Galatians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Pillar, Eerdmans.

The Epistles of John, John Stott, Tyndale, Eerdmans.

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