Adopted by God: Entitled to an Inheritance

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
Galatians 4

May 15, 2022

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, May 13, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Do we have faith? 

There was farming community experiencing a severe drought. Day after day, month after month, the sky held no clouds. Pastures dried up; crops wilted. Without enough water and feed, ranchers sold off their herds. Things looked bad. They called for a township meeting. After much discussion, they decided prayer was all they could do. They called a prayer meeting the next evening on the town square. A preacher agreed to lead the service. 

The next evening, everyone gathered. The preacher climbed up on the bandstand. In silence, he looked around, surveying the crowd. Finally, he spoke. “Do you know why we’re here?” 

“To pray for rain,” someone shouted from the back.  

“Then why do I not see any umbrellas?”[1]

As disciples of Jesus, our hope is grounded in the faith we have in Jesus Christ. Do we trust him? Or do we think like some of those in Galatia, whom Paul is addressing in this letter we’re going through, that more is required? 

Before reading the Scriptures: 

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he talks a lot about faith (faith in Jesus Christ, not necessarily in rain clouds). 

As I noted in my first sermon from this letter, it was written in response to a group of people who came behind Paul, teaching that Paul had it all wrong. According to these “false-evangelists,” the people of Galatia need to observe Jewish law. Many had mostly come out of a pagan background. In addition to accepting Jesus and being baptized, they are now told they must observe 600 and some regulations. Paul is furious. Why put additional burdens on people?  

Much of the center portion of the letter focuses on our relationship to Abraham. Paul, in writing about Abraham, goes to the heart of what makes one Jewish. But according to Paul, it was Abraham’s faith that made him right with God, not his obedience to the law. Remember, from last week’s sermon, Paul noted that the law came over four centuries after Abraham’s death.[2]

Paul continues to reflect on this connection to Abraham in the fourth chapter. Abraham was to obtain an inheritance, a large family, numbering more than the stars in the heavens or the grains of sand on the beach.[3]

The Jewish thought was that if you are an heir of Abraham, you were heirs of the promise. Paul doesn’t deny that. Instead, he suggests that the connection to Abraham is by faith, not by birth, and that those who have faith like Abraham, will inherit a wonderful promise. 

Read Galatians 4:1-20

After reading the scripture

Kidnapped   

Have you read Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson? For some reason, I’d not read this as a child and only got around to it five years ago. I’d always thought it was about some kidnapping pirates. I certainly didn’t realize how much Scottish history is told in the novel. The book’s setting is just a few years after the Jacobite rebellion in the 1740s.  

David Balfour is the protagonist in Kidnapped. He’s a young man of seventeen, whose parents have died. David is told to take a letter to his uncle, at the House of the Shaws. He doesn’t know what’s in the letter as it’s sealed, except that it deals with his inheritance and will secure his future. His uncle is not exactly excited about receiving it. Under the guise of visiting an attorney to settle the inheritance, the young David is knocked senseless and ends up in chains on a ship bound for America where he will be sold into indentured servanthood. The uncle did this because, David’s father, as the first born, had rights to the family estate and those rights extended to David. 

It appears David’s future will be bleak. He’ll be essentially a slave. But the ship strikes a reef off the Isle of Mull and David along with Alan Beck Stuart, a former leader in the Jacobite Rebellion, make their way back across Scotland. The pair have many misadventures along the way in this rough period of Scottish history.

The hope of an inheritance

David placed his hope in an inheritance. It was what kept him alive through his many trials. If he could obtain his inheritance, it would secure his future. In our world, as can be seen in the Kidnapped, inheritances can be a two-edged sword. 

Often inheritances become sources of conflict. Someone feels they win, and another feels slighted. Jealously prevails. “I should have gotten the house; I should have received the land; I should have been given the china…” Families split up and siblings never talk to one another. Yet, on the positive side, an inheritance might provide a chance to do something different with our lives, or the ability to live secure and settled.

Our inheritance from God

Paul uses inheritance as a way describe the blessings bestowed on those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, through faith. We are like adoptive children. When a child is adopted, something my wife and I know a bit about with an adopted son, they are as entitled to an inheritance as a naturally born child. With our inheritance from God, there is plenty to go around. No one will be shorted; everyone of faith will enjoy the blessings offered by God. And there will be no jealously, for we all will live in awe, in the presence of God.

The law as our trustee

Paul begins this chapter reminding us that a child who has an inheritance is, in a way, like a slave. He or she is controlled by a trustee until the child is an adult. When the trustee is evil, as was David Balfour’s uncle, then things go wrong. 

But that’s not the case with us. The trustee that Paul speaks of is the law. This is just another metaphor Paul uses, such as the law being a disciplinarian or a teacher which he used in the third chapter.[4] The law was to keep us on track until the coming of Jesus. Through Jesus, we are adopted by God; we become a part of God’s family. 

As I pointed out, an adoptive child is entitled to an inheritance. So, God adopts us and places Jesus’ spirit into our hearts. We are no longer slaves to the law. We can now call God, Daddy, for we’re a part of God’s family in the world and destined for glory.  

Going back to their old ways

In the eighth verse, Paul refers to the previous condition of those in Galatia, their lives before they came to the good news of Jesus.  They were enslaved to other spirits, gods that held no power. 

There is a debate as to what Paul is referring to here.[5] It appears some, listening to these false teachers, decide that instead of adding on the burden of the law, they’ll go back to their pagan ways. Such ways may have had something to do with astrology. Or, maybe Paul is still referring to the Jewish laws and the Jewish calendar with its prescribed fasts and feasts. Neither of these—astrology or observing a religious calendar—had the power to free the people from their burden to sin and to offer them an inheritance of life everlasting.

Paul, at the end of our reading, makes a personal plea for the people of Galatia to reconsider. He speaks how he’s afraid he’d wasted his time on them. He begs them to become like him. Paul often uses himself as an example of what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ. Then Paul provides us a brief insight into his personal life. We learn suffered from physical ailment of some form when he was with the Galatians. Was this the thorn-in-his-flesh he speaks of in Second Corinthians?[6]

Whatever, Paul’s thankful that despite his problems, the Galatians listened and responded faithfully to his message. But now they turn their backs on him; he grieves.  

Probably every preacher has felt this pain. When someone who had believed and seemed so full of faith, turns their backs on the gospel, we take it personally. 

Grace must be accepted

It grieves Paul. Yet, Paul realizes it’s beyond his abilities to get them to change course. God offers grace freely offered but it must be accepted on faith. If they want to continue down the path to their old ways, Paul can do nothing to change their mind. Even Jesus had this problem and let those go of those who wanted to leave him.[7] Paul, like those in Galatia and us who live two millenniums later, must live by faith, trusting in our inheritance. Only Paul’s way, the way of faith, leads to life. Embrace faith, it’s where joy abides.

Helen Keller on faith

Dark as my path may seem to others,” Helen Keller wrote, “I carry a magic light in my heart. Faith, the spiritual strong searchlight, illumines the way. Although sinister doubts lurk in the shadows, I walk unafraid toward the Enchanted Wood where the foliage is always green; where joy abides; where nightingales nest and sing, and where life and death are one in the presence of the Lord.[8] Amen. 

Before sunrise this morning. Photo taken from our home office.

[1] I adapted this story from The Christian Leader’s Golden Treasury (New York: Gross & Dunlap, 1955), 178.

[2] Galatians 3:17. For last week’s sermon go to: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/05/law-and-grace/

[3] Genesis 15:5, 22:17.

[4] See my courage of disciplinarians in the third chapter.  https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/05/law-and-grace/

[5]Ronald Y. K. Fund,   The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 192-193.

[6] 2 Corinthians 12:7

[7] John 6:66-67. 

[8] Helen Keller, Christian Leader’s Golden Treasury,  177, 

8 thoughts on “Adopted by God: Entitled to an Inheritance”

  1. Very nice, and interesting as always, thanks, and also for your visit and your question about Red Wing’s name. This city is named for early 19th-century Dakota Sioux chief, Red Wing. It is a most lovely spot and only 39 miles from me, so I go there often, and it’s a city you’d enjoy as well. Here’s a link you may enjoy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Wing,_Minnesota#:~:text=Red%20Wing%20is%20a%20city%20in%20Goodhue%20County%2C,for%20early%2019th-century%20Dakota%20Sioux%20chief%2C%20Red%20Wing.

  2. I’ve never read Kidnapped but it sounds like a good book and would probably make a good movie.

    Thankfully when my mom passed away me and my two brother’s didn’t have a problem dividing her things up between us. Even when it came to her savings and bank account they left it to me to close her account and divide the funds between us. It’s sad to think about all the families that have a hard time doing something like that with their siblings.

  3. Interesting to note that the Galatians like the Hebrews in the O T. Fall back into the slavery of “religion”. Only Jesus can save from bad “religion”

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