Monday 14th October 2019


Adrian Holloway on April 2, 2006 with 0 Comments

Galatians 4:1-7 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service


This is the final talk in our series entitled: “Who you are in Christ.”

And to help me, I have 4 volunteers who have agreed to help me act out our passage, so perhaps you could welcome them up on stage.

This series has been all about our identity. We’ve been asking: “What happened to me when I became a Christian?” and “Who am I?” as a result? And, we’ve seen that you’ve been justified, you’ve been forgiven etc, etc and today we’re going to look, finally, at the fact that you and I have been adopted.

SLIDE 2: Q. What happened to me when I became a Christian?

A. I was “adopted” (Galatians 4:1-7)

And we’re going to look at Galatians chapter 4 and verses 1 to 7.

Come with me, if you will, on a journey back through time, to ancient Rome, in about 50AD.

Now none of these guys know what’s going to happen to them.

OK actors, in our play there are going to be four characters. I’ll go down the line and you can choose who you are going to be. You can either be a slave boy, Jesus, God or the Devil.

Q. who would you like to be? A. Slave boy

Q. who would you like to be? A. Jesus

Q. who would you like to be? A. God

Q. you’re the Devil.

Now you’ve each got a card saying who you are, but Galatians 4, has a second layer of meaning. So please turn your cards over.

“Slave boy” takes the role of the “Christian”

“Jesus” in our story plays the part of the “Son”

“God” takes the role of “Father” (‘Caecillius est in horta.’)

The “Devil” plays the part of “Slave master”

And I will be the narrator.

Now you 4 guys, just do as I say, but when I say “freeze”, you just freeze. And then I’ll say “unfreeze” and you can carry on.

  • Slave boy, I’d like you to turn your card back round so that it says “slave boy” rather than “Christian” and then I’d like you to run around pretending to be a gladiator, fighting wild beasts.
  • Devil, you’re the slave master, I’d like you to try and catch slave boy and then beat him
  • Father I want you to come over here and you two can do some Graeco-Roman wrestling.

Narrator: Here we have a scene from a typical Roman household. Caecilius is the head of the household. And today is the sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, which happens annually on the 17th of March. So we are about to witness the Liberalia ceremony whereby a Roman child becomes an adult.

Now Son, go and play Gladiators with the slave boy, as we read verse 1:


1. What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.


What Paul is saying is that if you’d gone in to an average Roman courtyard, you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at the boys playing, which of the boys was the heir to the estate, and which of boys were slaves, because while they are children, none of them have any distinctive clothing.

Now we know that this one is actually the heir, and this one is the slave. But Paul is saying, they all look the same at this stage, because the heir has got no freedom, he can’t make any decisions, even though he’s going to inherit the entire estate.


Now let’s look at verse 2


2. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.

This guy is the guardian or tutor, or slave master, who is actually in charge of the boys until the time set by the father. Because whereas in Judaism you became an adult at a set age, at the age of 12, in Roman society, the age was flexible. So the school master is in charge at the moment, but any minute now, that will change, because the father has decided this is the year, and so seeing as today in our play is the 17th March, that means the Liberalia ceremony can take place.

Next verse


3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.


Paul is saying here that before we became Christians, when we were children, we were like these two boys. We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.

Now what are the basic principles of this world? The Greek word here is “Stoicheia” and its meaning is disputed.

Are the basic principles actually the law? God’s law that he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai? This seems unlikely because we know that the purpose of the law was good, in fact Paul says, it was put in charge of us, like a teacher, or a guardian, to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24 “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”).

Or is “stoicheia” actually something much darker? Is it demonic? Could it be that the devil is exploiting or twisting God’s law to imprison us?

Whichever interpretation is correct, the result is the same. Because whether you were a Jew imprisoned by the law, as Galatians 3;23 says, or whether you were a Gentile deceived by the devil and enslaved by sin under the basic principles of the world, in either interpretation, before we came to Christ, we were slaves.



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.


OK, so what happens now, in our play, is that the Son is formally adopted by his father as his acknowledged son and heir.

So Son, all this time you’ve been wearing an imaginary toga, and now you give your father, the toga praetexta, you don’t need that anymore.

Father, you now give your son the toga virilis. (imaginary toga)

Now you might think, this is all well and good for father and son, but, from our point of view, we are the slave boy or the slave girl, and we’re still facing a lifetime of slavery.

But thanks be to God that in Galatians chapter 4, something happens that never happened in any Roman household I’m aware of. Something so wonderful that it should make us want to shout for joy.

The father’s heart goes out to the slave boy. The father loves the slave, and so what he does is that the father sends his son and heir into slavery.

And so Son you go back to the slave and you take his card that says slave. And you give the slave the card that says Son. (two boys swap cards)

And in this way, the father in Galatians 4:4 does something no normal father would do. He adopts the slave.

He sells his own son into slavery, and so the son redeems the slave. The son who is free, the son who is the heir to the whole estate is enslaved. The slave who has had no inheritance up until now, suddenly is made the heir.

We go before the magistrate, and slave your name changes now you’ve been adopted. You take on the pater familias (the family name) of your new father. The slave also becomes sui heredes, the legal son and heir. Also all your previous debts are cancelled.

But this is made possible by Jesus dying the death of a slave: Crucifixion. [Devil could you just crucify Jesus for us.]

(Crucifixion was known as servile supplicum, the slave’s punishment)

(Philipians 2: 6-7 Jesus took the very nature of a slave (doulos).

(“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13))

Now I don’t know, but maybe, you’re here today and you used to be a Jew, and you used to be enslaved by the law, but you failed to keep the law because you sinned, or more likely, for most of us who were Gentiles, we were in slavery under the basic principles of this world. But in either case we were enslaved by sin, but when Jesus died a slave’s death, Jesus on the cross paid the price of your redemption.

Now Devil, please take Jesus down from the cross and put him in the grave.

So our play has shown us two of the things that happened to us at the cross. Firstly, we were redeemed, and at the same time, secondly, we were adopted.

Jesus, please rise from the dead, breathe the holy spirit onto the church, now Jesus bind up the devil and get ready to throw the devil into the lake of fire.

Now Christian, you’ve got a new Father. By the way, Christian, do you speak Aramaic? You’re going to learn some. Because you’re going to call this man something you’ve never called him before.

And here Paul switches his imagery from a Roman scene to a Jewish one, verse 6 says:


6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Christian, this Father loves you so much that he sacrificed his own Son into slavery and death, to get you free. So, I want you, Christian, in a moment, to cry out “Abba Father” or “DADDY” and you’re going to run right across the stage and go and give “Abba” a massive hug. And once he’s shouted “Abba Father” and given Abba a hug, that’ll be the end of our play and I’d like you all to give them a massive round of applause.


Christian, just before you do it, I’m going to read verse 7 to you.


7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

You see all this vast estate, Christian, it’s yours now. You are going to inherit all the Father’s wealth, all his privileges, all his lands, you’ll share in his glory, his good name will come to you. And it can never be taken away from you. You’re not a slave any more, you’re an heir to the biggest fortune in the universe. You’ve got eternal life. This father has made you a spiritual millionaire.

OK, you’re going to shout and run? Are you ready to shout? Go for it.

(Ex-Slave shouts “Abba Father” and runs)

Play ends. Give them all a big round of applause

I can remember that the first time I ever understood justification by faith was when a girl called Rachel Ford gave her baptismal testimony. Just before she went down into the water at Wimbledon Baptist church, she explained justification by faith.

But as I read the Bible for myself I discovered many other things that had happened to me when I became a Christian, and I can remember reading Galatians for the first time and finding out that I’d been adopted, and it made a huge difference to me.

Because when you know you’re adopted, you’re no longer in the courtroom with a judge, you’re in the living room with your loving heavenly father.

And understanding that you are adopted will not only enrich our image of God, but it will also enrich our experience of God.

Around the time of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln bought a slave girl with the sole intention of setting her free. But she had no idea that this was his intention. She thought this was a normal sale and was getting ready to begin a life of service under her new master. But once Lincoln had bought her, he also gave her the legal documents that said she was now totally free. But she couldn’t’ believe it. “You’re free, you’re free,” He repeated. She asked: “Am I free to go wherever I want and do whatever I want to do?” He replied: “Yes, exactly.” She then said: “Well then I choose to stay with you and serve you gladly for the rest of my days.”

And that’s our response as Christians isn’t it? To the love we’ve received.

Someone put it like this: ‘Once you understand adoption, you realize that if God had a fridge, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. He could live anywhere in the universe, but he chose to live in your heart.’

Now hopefully, our play has given us a basic introduction to the fact that we’re adopted.

But even though every Chrisitan here tonight is equally adopted, and equally loved, some Christians find it harder than others to relate to God as a loving heavenly father.

That’s because some of us here have had fathers who were either physically absent or emotionally distant from us. Now this isn’t true of my own father, but it will almost certainly be true for some here. And as a result some Christians struggle to believe that they have a loving heavenly father who loves them, accepts them and will always be there for them.


Perfect Father                                   Your Father?

Unconditionally loving                    Conditionally loving

Good at communicating                   Poor at communicating

Releasing                                           Controlling

Understanding                                  Judgemental

Trustworthy                                     Unreliable

Self-controlled                                  Out of Control

Now here we have two types of father. The father on the left is the perfect father, and the description is loosely based on the father in the parable of the prodigal Son in Luke 15, which Mark Stibbe in his excellent book on adoption says could just as well be called the parable of the perfect father. Now the father of the right hand side is not perfect. And believe you me, as a father of two children myself, I’ve done some soul searching going through this right hand column, asking myself . . .

Instead of being . . .                Am I . . .

Unconditionally loving              Conditionally loving

Good at communicating           Poor at communicating

Releasing                                Controlling

Understanding                         Judgemental

Trustworthy                                    Unreliable

Self-controlled                        Out of Control


Warm and affectionate             Cold and aloof

Self-respecting                        Self-hating

Accepting                               Critical

Sensitive                                 Indifferent

Available                                 Absent

Honest                                   Dishonest

Protective                               Abusive

Forgiving                                Unforgiving

Generous                                Stingy

Playful                                   Non-playful

Now I can honestly say that my own father, my Dad was and is a perfect father. But many Christians have had fathers who were either physically absent or emotionally distant,

And I have noticed three different reactions to this.


Some reactions to a physically absent or emotionally distant father:

a) Become a ‘driven’ or ‘striving’ person

b) Become silently rebellious

c) Develop a strong sense of being rejected

Some Christians:

a)    Become driven people. Driven or striving to earn God’s acceptance, because they are unable to base their Christian service on the knowledge that God has already accepted them. If that’s you, then you are driven by the whips of self-effort rather than being drawn by the cords of the Father’s love. It’s possible that you’ve never really understood adoption.

b)   Become silently rebellious. Here you are physically in church, but you’ve distanced yourself somewhat from the keenies. You’ve got your own take on things. And your own relationship with God is a bit cold. You can easily become critical of whatever church you’re in. Your father distanced himself from you, so perhaps without realising it, you’ve distanced yourself from God and from the church.

c)   Develop a strong sense of being rejected. Perhaps understandably you are reluctant to commit yourself emotionally to others. Here you don’t want to get hurt again, so you’re somewhat on edge. You are easily upset, and you want to be included. You find it hard when others in church are preferred to you. When others are asked to do something and you’re not, you take it personally. Or in your job when others are promoted above you, that hurts you more than it should. You take it like a personal insult.

Well I wonder if you recognize yourself in any of those 3 categories?

Because if you don’t realise you’ve been adopted, you may think you’re in a master-servant relationship with God, rather than a Father-Son relationship.

So what is God like? Well there are some clues in adoption today.

Julia and I have friends who have adopted children. And I believe there is a reflection of the Father heart of God in every couple who’ve got children of their own, who then choose to adopt others. . I am always impressed by that. I always think, “Wow, they must be really kind people. They’ve got so much love to give, that it spills over beyond their biological family. These parents are not only concerned abut the orphans who have to live in the orphanage, they actually go and adopt one of the orphans into their family.” When I see a couple who’ve already got kids, adopt others, I think, “that’s what God’s like.” Why? Because God is pre-occupied with lost people. (Luke 15)

Another aspect to adoption today is how costly and sacrificial it is to do it. We have friends who’ve adopted children, and I can tell you it is a long and harrowing and costly process, but it still falls short of the price God paid to adopt you.

So adoption in Britain today gives us some clues to what our loving heavenly father is like, but Hebrews 1 verse 3 tells us the answer. What is God like? Answer: Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being. Jesus reveals to us the loving character of God.

And Jesus called God “Abba”. Before Jesus, as far as we know, no-one had called God, Abba before! Jesus use of the word “Abba” is unique to him.

Now you might say, “Well I’m not surprised, he was the Son of God wasn’t he? You might say, Jesus calling God “Abba” doesn’t’ particularly help me. I mean, Jesus was a bit different from me. He was the Messiah, I’m not. He lived a perfect life. I haven’t.” You may say, “I’m not surprised Jesus called God “Abba”.

But what is amazing is that now you’ve been adopted, you can call God “Abba.” That’s amazing because you are not the Messiah, and you’ve sinned against God, but because of what happened on the cross, because you’ve been adopted, now you and I now have the same relationship with Abba Father as Jesus does. And we have the same status. We’re joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

Let’s have a look at these 2 statements:


Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba Father.’ (Gal 4:6)

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15)

In both cases, the believer cries out “Abba Father”. This is not a cold statement. The use of the word “cry” demonstrates that this is an exclamation of passionate and spontaneous adoration.

We can cry out Abba Father, just as Jesus did. We’re just as much part of the family.

When John Wesley was converted on 24 May 1738, he literally cried out “Abba Father.” And in the revival years which followed Wesley preached again and again about adoption.

Some would say that so many English people were converted during the Wesleyan revival that it prevented us from having a revolution like the French revolution. That may be overstating the case, but there’s no doubt that if ever an Englishman turned his nation back to God it was John Wesley.

But it all started at a quarter to nine on that famous night at Aldersgate Street, Wesley felt his heart “strangely wamed” by the father heart of God, and he cried out “Abba Father.”

Previously he’d been enslaved in religion. At Oxford, he’d formed a “Holy Club” of like minded students. They observed Saturday as the Sabbath as well as Sunday. They visited the prioners in jail and they gave alms to the poor. But Wesley, by his own admission, didn’t know Chris,t even though he was an ordained church of England minister. He hadn’t been adopted. So when he met Abba in Aldersgate Street, he moved from being a slave to a Son.

(And incidentally next month on 6 May, we’re having a revival sites of London tour, so if you’d like to join us we’ll go round Wesley’s house and so on.)

Jesus said “The father himself loves you.” (John 16:27)

Wesley discovered that. That the Father loves me!

The Bible says: our loving father, rejoices over us with singing.

In fact, adoption is the foundation of our worship. And so like the apostle John we can cry out: “How great is the love the father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

Now here’s John Wesley’s journey


Slavery                         Sonship

God as master              God as Father

Law                              Grace

Performance                Position

Doing                                    Being

External show               Internal reality

Driven by the flesh       Led by the Spirit

Fear                             Love

Distance from God       Intimacy with God

Servitude                     Liberty

Misery                          Joy

Insecurity                    Security

Religion                       Relationship

The good news is that when you got the Son, you got it all. It’s all yours.

A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael.

When then the son had to go off to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.

About a month later, there was a knock at the door.  A young man stood at the door with a portrait in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life.  He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.

The young man held out his picture. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but this is my drawing of your son.”

The father loved the sketch of his son more than any of the masterpieces.

Sadly, the father died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited about seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection.

But first up for auction was the painting of the son.

The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid £200 for this picture?”

There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted. “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.” But the auctioneer persisted.

“Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? £100”

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room.

“I was the family gardener. I always loved that boy. And so I’ll give all the money I’ve got for that drawing, but I’ve only got £10.”

“Going once, twice, SOLD for £10!”

The crowd had grown restless: “Now let’s get on with the real paintings!” someone shouted

The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.”

“What on earth do you mean, the auction’s over, we haven’t even started,” someone protested.

“I am sorry.” The auctioneer explained, “Because in the dead man’s will, it says that whoever gets the Son, gets the lot.”

The gardener inherited every single painting, and the entire estate.

And that’s what happened when you got Jesus. Whoever gets the son, gets the lot. You’ve got the son, so you’ve got the lot. There’s no need to strive anymore. You’ve got the entire estate. You have an inheritance that will never perish spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you, and in this life you have a loving heavenly father who will never leave you or forsake you. You are adopted.

I’d like the band to come forward.

Now this subject touches some people very deeply.

And I’m going to ask some of you to come forward now.

Of course I can’t give you something you’ve already got. The father himself loves you, and the father himself has adopted you.

But some of you find it hard to live in the good of your adoption.

Earlier on I mentioned three types of people

Those who are driven, or striving

Those who are silently rebellious

Those who have developed a strong sense of being rejected

If that’s you, you need to know, first and foremost, you’ve been adopted by a perfect loving heavenly Father.

You can be secure in that.

You know before Jesus had done anything, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God said: “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Now you’re in Christ, that’s what God says to you. “you are my son, or my daughter, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

So if you are in one of those three categories:

Stiving, or driven

Silently rebellious

Or if you’ve developed a strong sense of being rejected,

I want you to come

Now remember, the Bible says that you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15)

So you don’t have to stay striving, or stay silently rebellious, or stay feeling rejected, you’ve got a new spirit in you now that will cry out “Abba Father”

Now I want to pray over you now:

“Father, I want to thank you that 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” And I thank you that none of the people standing here at the front need fear any longer. Because fear has to do with punishment and Jesus you’ve taken that punishment. So I pray over these folks that they will no longer live according to negative things that have been said to them, especially by their parents, or negative things that have happened to them, I thank you that their status is now “adopted son and adopted daughter of a perfect loving heavenly father.” Thank you that they’ve received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15)

Now I think you need to do three things:

  1. Choose not to live according to your past, your circumstances, and what people have said to you or about you, choose to live as an adopted son or daughter.
  2. Forgive anyone who has wronged you in this respect
  3. Invite the Holy Spirit, the spirit of adoption to come upon you again.

[Others come forward and pray.]

Some of you need to know that Psalm 27:10 says “though my father and mother reject me, the Lord will receive me.”

Now there’s other ministry that needs to happen, some of you may need to repent of feelings of unforgiveness towards your parents. (especially if you yourself are adopted, you may feel very negatively towards your biological parents.)

Also I believe there is someone here who is afraid of death. Perfect love drives out fear. You’re afraid of being rejected by God after you die. You needn’t be. You’ve been adopted into his family. He’ll never leave you or forsake you.








about the author

Adrian is married to Julia. They have four daughters. He is based at Everyday Church in Wimbledon, and has written two books, "The Shock of Your Life" and "Aftershock," which tackles the strongest objections to Christianity in the form of a novel.