“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).
In this part of the Galatian letter, Paul deals with the glorious doctrine of adoption; the truth that through the work of the cross and the indwelling Spirit, we have now become sons of God. In these verses, Paul has two emphases. First, he gives us a historical perspective on how the coming of the Son into the world made adoption possible, Secondly, he alludes to what may be called the experience of adoption; how the indwelling Spirit causes us to personally know we are children of God. I will briefly mention the first and focus more fully on the second.
As to the first, in order for God the Father to have a family of sons, he must first send his own Son into the world in time and space to deal with the obstacles sin presented to our adoption as sons. Paul tells us this occurred in the “fullness of time”; that is, at that precise moment when the prophetic plan announced through the prophets was ready to be fulfilled. It was also the perfect time historically when the Roman Empire ruled the world because the whole world spoke a common language. Also, Rome had provided an elaborate road system allowing quick and easy travel throughout the known world. If the aim was to announce a message for the entire world to hear, it was the perfect time and most opportune moment for the Son of God to come and, through his cross-work, accomplish eternal redemption. Now, all those who heard and believed the Gospel became sons of God.
The second reality is that those who are sons have received the ’Spirit of adoption’ so that they might experientially know that they are sons. Now, from the depths of our hearts, arises the cry, “Abba, Father!” I experienced this personally when adopting our first son. We had gone through all of the legal minutiae to make it possible to legally adopt him. But then there was that moment when there was a knock at the hotel door and when I opened it, our lawyer was there holding in his hands a baby. As he passed him to Shelly and me, the spirit of adoption filled our hearts and we knew that he now belonged to us forever. It was no longer merely a legal matter but a relational reality: he was ours!
The Puritans had an experience they referred to as the “Kisses of God”. They demonstrated what they meant by this term by picturing a father walking down the road, holding the hand of his young son. Suddenly he stops, scoops up his son in his arms, and begins to kiss him passionately. At that moment, the son is not anymore a son than when he walked hand in hand with this father. But the experience of sonship was greatly heightened at that moment, so it is that we remain, sons, even when we are not conscious of his deep love for us. But there are those times when the Spirit makes us keenly aware of his deep love for us and we are overwhelmed by the experience. It is at those times we know without a doubt we are Abba’s child.