“My point is this; heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So it is with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So, you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.“
This passage from Paul’s letter to the disciples in Galatia (4:1-7) is not a commonly-used Christmas season reading. Yet it reminds us that our God is enormously patient and is always working according to His impeccable purposes and timing. We can see this in the coming to earth of our Savior, Jesus. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law….” The Christmas story speaks of our God’s great patience. He had patiently waited for the perfect time, “the fullness of time,” to inaugurate His kingdom.
We also see that He generously offers to us the most amazing of gifts, not the least of which is that He intends to “…redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”
The redemption and adoption we see here are a part of something so much bigger, something called “a mystery hidden from ages past.” Colossians 1:26-27 says it this way: “…the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Christmas is a celebration of a great mystery that was finally revealed in the fullness of time, at just the right moment in the affairs of God and humans. Jesus was initiating an entirely new relationship with people, a relationship previously shrouded in mystery. No longer would we be relating to a God “up in heaven;” our God was going to live within us every day. No longer was the purpose of humans to “live for God;” their purpose was now to allow their God to live His life in them.
No one saw this coming, not even the prophets of old who foretold of Christ’s coming. The old covenant of laws was being replaced by a new covenant of acceptance and intimacy with our God. This was and still is amazing if not shocking good news.
Paul writes to the Galatians about our status prior to this new covenant. “… heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So it is with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.”
In our rebellion we were enslaved to the “elemental spirits of the world.” We were enslaved not just to these false spirits but to self-living, self-dependence, self-service. And out of our rebellion and self-life came every sin that has every been perpetrated. Thinking we were finding freedom, we stepped into the terrible bondage of a life apart from our God.
The race would have destroyed itself had our God not limited the damage to us by the imposition of “the law,” a universal sense of right and wrong. That spiritual law has been imprinted on the hearts of every person since Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Paul explained this universal sense in Romans chapter 2: “When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts….” This sense of right and wrong became yet another form of bondage, as Paul wrote in the Galatians passage above.
Our God created us to be free of all bondage, as well as of self, rebellion, sin, and the constraints of law. We were to share in the very life of God in all its fullness. Holiness was not to be by our striving to live by rules and laws based on right and wrong. Ours was to be a life of total freedom and holiness in Him.
And so, in the fullness of time God’s amazing plan to restore our intended life arrived. “…God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
The initiation of the life for which we were created had arrived. The child Christ had come to set us free. We no longer need be slaves to self, rebellion, sin, and to the law. We can now receive from our God the gift of full adoption as children, a status previously reserved only for His Son.
Furthermore, the power to live the life that Jesus came to initiate had also arrived. While on earth as a human, Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit to fill Him with the life of the Father. He lived the life of God by the indwelling Spirit. And now, in Christ we can live by the life of God poured out in us by the Holy Spirit in us. Christ’s life in us, the great mystery hidden in ages past, is now available to each one of us here and now.
To these promises Paul adds, “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father.” Notice that it is not us but the Spirit of Christ who cries out, “Abba, Father” in us. The Holy Spirit, who brings us into union with our God, communicates with the Him on our behalf and in ways of which we are not capable.
All of this is pointing to the great truth of the new covenant. Everything that needed to be done to bring us into agreement with our God and to redeem us from our slavery to self, to sin and to the law is done in Christ. Everything our God expects of us in terms of holiness, love, obedience, and behavior He does in us by the Holy Spirit. The true Christian life is His life lived in and through us.
This is the true meaning and value of Christmas, the advent of our Savior and our life. All this our God did in the fullness of time, at just the right time. We are now offered the fullness of the life of God in us every day.
These amazing truths are the reason for the season. Yet they are quickly lost in the hurry, noise, crowds, and lesser pursuits of our now mostly secular holiday. The coming of Christ to Bethlehem is so much more than what we see and hear today at Christmas. A Christmas song from 1978, “No Longer a Baby,” has words that are important for us as we consider what our God did in the fullness of time.
“So think not of shepherds who come to a manger, think not of cattle lowing in a stall. Your picturing mind must see what is present, your God must grow bigger, your God is too small.”
The greatest event since the creation was initiated on earth with the coming of Christ, His Kingdom, and the New Covenant. May our understanding of what our God has done for us transform our Christmas celebration into one of the coming of Christ and His kingdom, and our new covenant relationship with Him. May our God grow bigger and our surrender to Him grow deeper this Christmas.