"Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
In the passage before us the Holy Spirit has given us an inspired commentary on that statement made by the apostle John, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” Here Paul is asserting the great truth of our adoption into God’s family and all the privileges associated with our adoption. In the Old Testament, before Christ came, God’s people were like minor children, under the law of Moses as a schoolmaster. Now that Christ has come, fulfilled the law, and given us his Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, the church in this gospel age is as children who have come of age and entered into their maturity. We have entered into “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. ), which shall be fully enjoyed in the resurrection.
There are many who try to place a yoke of legal servitude upon the people of God, which none of us can bear. The apostle Paul was anxious that we should serve God, but not as fearful slaves. Rather, he would have us to serve God as loving sons. Here he is showing us that we are no longer under the bondage of the law, but in the liberty of the gospel. Let us then forsake the law and cling to Christ.
“No strength of nature can suffice
To serve the Lord aright;
And what she has she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.
How long beneath the law I lay
In bondage and distress!
I toiled the precept to obey,
But toiled without success.
Then, to abstain from outward sin,
Was more than I could do;
Now if I feel its power within,
I feel I hate it too.
Then all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.
What shall I do, was then the word,
That I may worthier grow?
What shall I render to the Lord?
Is my inquiry now.
To see the law by Christ fulfilled,
And hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.”
Our obedience to Christ should arise from a spirit of adoption within our hearts causing us to love the Savior. The apostle clearly tells us that service done out of legal constraint, grudgingly, is accounted as no service at all. If we could but apprehend the privileges that are ours as a result of our being adopted into the family of God, we would never cease to marvel and serve the Lord with gladness. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God!” If we are the sons of God we ought to live in the liberty of sons, magnifying the grace of God. We ought never to entangle ourselves with the yoke of bondage suitable only for servants.
God graciously adopted all his elect into his
family, taking us into union with Christ before the world began, and thus
declaring us to be his sons (Eph. 1:3-4). At
“Behold what wondrous grace
The Father hath bestowed;
On sinners of a mortal race,
To call them sons of God!
If in my Father’s love,
I share a filial part,
Send down Thy Spirit, like a dove,
To rest upon my heart.”
Sons, Not Servants
In verses 1 and 2 Paul tells us that we are no longer under the law that was our schoolmaster. It was the schoolmaster’s work to care for and instruct his master’s children until the time of their maturity. Once the child came of age he would receive his inheritance. Until he reached adulthood, the child was as a servant in his father’s house, under complete subjection to the schoolmaster, though he was a child. The schoolmaster would often punish the child because of disobedience.
The schoolmaster, as we have seen, represents the law. The law deals with men as a schoolmaster. It is a letter that kills (2 Cor. 3:6). It is the strength of sin (1 Cor. ). It is the ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7). Yet, in the Old Testament the people of God were subject to the law in this manner for a season.
Though the law was never given to the Gentiles, the same is true of unbelieving men and women in this gospel age, because the law (its moral commandments) is written upon the hearts of all men by creation (Rom. -15), condemning all by a guilty conscience. As John Calvin wrote, “The elect, though they are children of God from the womb, yet, until by faith they come to the possession of freedom, they remain like slaves under the law, but from the moment they know Christ, they remain no longer under this bondage.”
How long are men under the bondage of the law? “Until the time appointed of the Father.” The legal dispensation continued until the time of God’s appointment ended it, with the coming of our all-glorious Savior. When Christ comes to the hearts of his elect, by the power of the Holy Spirit at the time appointed by the Father, the sons of God receive the earnest of their inheritance (Gal. 1:15, 16; Ezek. 16:8, 9, 11, 12, 14; Isa. 42:16).
In verses 3-5 Paul tells us that the incarnation of Christ revealed the hope of liberty from the law for all the sons of God. Until Christ came we were children, but children under bondage to the law. As long as the heir is a minor, he has no advantage over a slave. Though, as a son, he owns the entire inheritance, he is subject to tutors and governors until the time set by his father for his freedom. ― "Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world" (v. 3).
The church was in a state of infancy from the coming up out of Egypt until the coming of the Messiah (Hos. 11:1, 3). The Old Testament church was in servile, fearful bondage to the law. All that was revealed was revealed only in type and shadow and prophecy. There was no way of free access to God. The church of the New Testament, or gospel dispensation, is the church of mature age. We are no longer “in bondage under the elements of the world.”
All of God’s elect, though they are chosen sons of God, are also in bondage by nature (Eph. 2:1-3). When Paul says, we were by nature “children of wrath, even as others,” he is not suggesting that God’s elect were the objects of his wrath, but wrathful children. That is to say, before we trusted Christ, we were under the sense of guilt and of wrath, condemned by the law in our own consciences. We were governed and controlled by the “elements of the world,” by the dread and fear of the law (1 Tim. 1:9-10). We walked according to the course of this world. In our rebellion and unbelief, we were by nature “children of wrath,” “alienated and enemies in our minds by wicked works” (Col. 1:21).
Verses 4-5 ― "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."
God adopted his elect in union with Christ before the world began. In the counsel of peace and the covenant of his grace it was agreed that Christ would reconcile them to the Father. So, at the appointed time, Christ came. When the time arrived that was fixed by God the Father in eternal predestination, God sent his Son into the world, made of a woman, made subject to the law, so that he might redeem God’s sons from the bondage of the law. Once the law was fulfilled and satisfied by Christ, the way was open for all God’s adopted children to experience and enjoy all their rightful heritage of grace.
Those words, “the fullness of time,” are full of instruction. The time was fixed and set by God in eternal predestination. Indeed, there is a time set by God in his eternal purpose for all things that come to pass in this world. And everything is accomplished exactly according to God’s purpose, precisely at his appointed time. Nothing comes to pass before its time; and nothing comes to pass after its time. Our great God never gets in a hurry and never comes too late. He works all things according to his own timetable. Christ came into the world at the appointed time agreed upon in eternity (Gen. 49:10; Dan. 9:24; Mark 1:15; Eph. 1:10).
A brief look at history will reveal the fact that God was sovereignly arranging all things for the coming of his Son. The Jews had been carried into the Babylonian captivity and delivered by the hand of God, just as he had promised. Afterward, they were never again given over to open idolatry. Ezra and the scribes compiled the Scriptures and taught them. Synagogues were established for teaching the Scriptures throughout the known world. All these things prepared the way for Christ’s entrance into the world.
Through the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek became the language of the world. God raised up the Roman Empire and the Romans built roads everywhere. They formed a strange system of taxation that required every man to return to his hometown to pay taxes. Perhaps you ask, “What do these things have to do with preparing the world for Christ’s incarnation at the precise time it came to pass?” Compare just two passages of Scripture with one another, and you will see (Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:1-7).
“God sent forth his Son.” ― The fact that the Father sent forth the Son out of heaven implies the Son’s eternal preexistence with the Father. Though he is One with and altogether equal with the Father in his eternal deity, the Son of God voluntarily subjected himself to the Father’s will as our Surety, that he might redeem and save his people (Heb. 10:5-14). In infinite love for us our Father sent his Son to redeem us. In that same infinite love the Son willingly came here to redeem us by the sacrifice of himself (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10). In Philippians 2 the apostle Paul uses the example of Christ’s voluntary subjection to the Father’s will as an inspiration for believers to willingly surrender themselves to the will and glory of God (Phil. 2:5-11). The apostle Peter uses it to stir our hearts to patience in suffering (1 Pet. 2:21-24).
“God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.” ― Our Redeemer’s human body and soul were made of a woman (Gen. 3:15; John 1:14; Rom. 1:3; Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:14), without the aid of man. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:21-25). God the Holy Spirit formed and prepared a human body for the Son of God in the womb of a virgin (Heb. 10:5), that he might perform all the work of redemption for us as a perfect man who had no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Being made of a woman, the infinite God became our near kinsman, to whom the right of redemption belongs (Lev. 25:24-32; Ruth 4:4; Jer. 32:7).
“God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” ― He who gave the law at Sinai made himself to be under the law that he might perfectly fulfill the law for his people, thereby establishing the righteousness of God and bringing in everlasting righteousness for us. He was made under and perfectly obeyed all the law, civil, ceremonial, and moral. He would not allow one jot or tittle of the law to fall to the ground, but fulfilled it completely, establishing a righteousness for his people that exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:17-20).
From the beginning of his incarnation until the end of his earthly life, the Lord Jesus was making for us a perfect record, a record that stands opposite our names in the record books of God in heaven as a reason why we should and must enter in. Christ kept the commandments for us, which we could not keep. By his blood poured out unto death under the wrath of God as our Substitute, our blessed Savior cancelled the penalty of the law; and by his obedience, he fulfilled the law. In the light of Christ’s accomplished life and death as our Substitute, the Holy Spirit declares, “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 10:4; Acts 13:39).
We did not send for Christ; but God sent Christ for us (Isa. 59:16; 63:5; 1 John 4:10). As it was in redemption, so it is in regeneration. It is God who comes to us in grace that causes us to come to him in faith. It is not us coming to God in faith that causes him to come to us in grace.
“God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” ― The purpose of Christ in coming into this world in human flesh was the redemption of his people. This was the mission upon which he was sent by the Father as his Righteous Servant (John 10:16-18). This was the work he came to perform (Matt. 1:21; 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:15). This was the thing the Father trusted to his Son as our Surety (Eph. 1:12). Of him it was written, “He shall not fail” (Isa. 42:4); and he did not fail. All his people were redeemed from the curse of the law by his one great sacrifice for sin (Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7).
All this was done “that we might receive the adoption of sons.” It was not possible for chosen sinners, though loved of God with an everlasting love, to enter into heaven as the sons of God and be accepted of him, except upon the ground of righteousness established and justice satisfied by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:24-26). And now that Christ has redeemed them, it is impossible for any of them to miss their predestined inheritance, not only because God’s purpose is sure; but, also, because justice demands the salvation of all for whom Christ died. All the redeemed shall be brought to receive the adoption of sons at God’s appointed time. The death of Christ secured for the elect all the blessings of grace (Rom. 8:32-39; 2 Cor. 8:9).
We did not become God’s children by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Holy Spirit came to us in grace and gave us faith to trust our Savior because we were adopted as the children of God from eternity. At God’s appointed time, every chosen child shall be made the recipient of God’s saving grace and given the Spirit of adoption in the new birth. This is what Paul declares in verses 6-7 ― "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
Chosen sinners come to know their election and adoption as the children of God, only as God sends his Spirit into their hearts in the saving operations of his grace, giving them faith in Christ. At the time of love, God sends his Spirit and causes his adopted sons to gladly receive the adoption of sons. When he creates faith in us, he gives us the right in our own consciences to be called the sons of God, enabling us to lift our hearts to heaven and call God himself our Father. ― "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God” (1 John 3:1-2).
“This is a privilege that exceeds all others. It is better to be a son than to be a saint. Angels are saints, but not sons. They are servants. It is better to be a child of God than to be redeemed, pardoned, and justified. It is great grace to redeem from slavery, to pardon criminals, and justify the ungodly; but it is another and a higher act of grace to make them sons; and which makes them infinitely more honorable, than to be the sons and daughters of the greatest potentate upon earth; yea, gives them an honor which Adam had not in innocence, nor the angels in heaven, who though sons by creation, yet not by adoption.” John Gill
To be called a son of God is the most noble title in heaven or earth. If we are sons, we should not live like slaves in bondage, under the terror of the law. Let every sinner who believes on the Son of God constantly enjoy all the privileges of full-grown sons in the family of God. Soon, we shall know fully and perfectly what Paul meant when he spoke of “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”