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Trinity – the difference between slaves and sons

Two boys at work in a field. (Gal 4:1-3).

They look the same, but they couldn't be more different.

One is a slave, the other is a son.  One is property, the other is heir.  One calls the owner "Boss".  The other calls him "Daddy."

But from a distance you can't tell.

In church, slaves and sons sit side by side.  And, from a distance, you can't tell which is which.  But actually there is a profound difference in their relationship to the Father - and this difference is decisive.

Paul writes Galatians 4:4-7 to sort out the slaves from the sons.

At the heart of this difference is the trinity.  If we understand the trinity and our union with Christ, if we understand our adoption into the very life of God, then we'll be sons.  If we miss this, we will live as slaves.

The trinity really is that important.

Audio of Sunday's sermon - Galatians 3:26-4:7

Slides here.

Text below...

Let me ask you a question and let’s see where you mind goes. ‘What was God doing before the creation of the world?’  What do you think God was up to when there was no universe to run, no people to care for.  Just God, nothing else. What was that like?

Well the wrong answer to that question is basically to think about one solitary god.

[SLIDE – god blob]

God was not lonely before creation, He wasn’t bored, He wasn’t just itching to get on and create since He had only His thoughts for company!

No, what was God doing before creation?

They were enjoying one another. Who’s they?

[SLIDE – Father, Son and Spirit blobs]

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Is that who you were thinking about when I asked my question? Or were you thinking about some other god – a god who is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

This evening we will learn that God is not, and never has been, lonely or aloof or self-centred or brooding or solitary or bored.  God is and always has been, loving and giving and other-centred and relational and sociable, companionable, friendly.  Because the real God is the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Christians call this relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit the trinity (and I’ll say why in a second).  And this God, the trinity, is the living and true God.

But that other, solitary, self-centred god simply is not God.  That is the god of the pub discussion and the philosophy department and has nothing to do with the God of the bible.

This evening we’re going to allow God’s Word to tell us who God is.  And when we do that, we’ll see a God different to and more attractive than anything the world has imagined.

Have a look with me at Galatians chapter 4 and verse 6.

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

Now all three Persons are on show in this verse, that’s why it’s a good one to study.  Let’s see who they are and how they relate to one another.

Look at who they are.  The One at the beginning of the verse called ‘God’ is also called at the end of the verse ‘Father’.  And then there’s the Spirit who God sends.  And there’s the Son who (you could say) owns the Spirit – the Spirit of the Son.  Three Persons.  Father, Spirit, Son.

And how do they relate?  Well the Father sends the Spirit.  And the Spirit calls out to the Father.  The Father is father of the Son and the Spirit belongs to the Son.  You don’t have to get all of this, I just want us to see how inter-twined these Persons are?  The Father is father of the Son and sends the Spirit.  The Son is son of the Father and possesses the Spirit.  The Spirit is sent by the Father and belongs to the Son.

These three Persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are involved in inseparable, loving relationships which go back and forth.  Which is why the Bible can say ‘God is love.’  It doesn’t just say ‘God is loving’ which would be true.  But God IS love – He is who He is because of these love-relationships between the Father, Son and Spirit.

And that’s what that we mean when we talk about the ‘Trinity’.  It’s simply the unity of these three.  That’s where we get the name – it’s the three-unity, the tri-unity.  The Trinity.

So what’s God like?  God is Three Persons united in love. That’s what the trinity means: Three Persons united in love. Simple.

The trinity is not a maths problem: “How can three be one?” It’s clear how the Father, Son and Spirit are one – they are bound together in love.  In the Bible that’s how real one-ness comes – love.  In the Bible, when people get married the two become one.  They are still distinct persons, but through loving relationship they become one.  In the Bible, when a whole group of people get together and agree on a certain course of action, they speak as one.  There’s even an example of this kind of one-ness in our passage.  In chapter 3, v28 we see lots of different people who come to trust in Jesus: Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female but they are all one.  What does it mean that they’re one?  Have they all dissolved into the one person, are they all thrown into a giant melting pot and all that’s left is the single essence?  No, they are different people who are a community – united in love.  And God is a community of different Persons, the Father, Son and Spirit, united in love.

The early church used a word to describe the way the Three Persons related: It’s a greek word: Perichoresis.  And you get the idea from ‘peri’ that we’re talking about a circle – like perimeter.  And ‘choresis’ is like a chorus line – like a dance.  Perichoresis means the round-dance of the Three.

So what is at the heart of the universe?  At the heart of the universe is not nothingness, and it’s not chaos, and it’s not some solitary, static god, and it’s not some divine mind, and it’s not some ethereal essence or some abstract divine energy, and it’s not a whole heap of warring gods.  At the heart of the universe is a dance.

If you want to find the pulse of the universe (if you want to tap into the heart beat of reality) what do you find?  You find love – fierce love, passionate love, life-giving determined love that flows between the Generous Father, His Beloved Son and the Life-Giving Spirit.

This life of God – this life of relationship – IS the source of all true beauty, joy, goodness, holiness and love.  Everything good in this world has spilt over from this dance of love.

And the good news is that WE are invited IN.  The meaning of your life and mine is to participate in this circle of divine friendship.

The trinity is not a maths problem.  The trinity is the good news that God is love.

On the other hand: – the imaginary, solitary, self-centred god is nothing but bad news.

The difference between these two ideas of God comes out very clearly when we ask ourselves – how would I go about serving these gods?

[SLIDE - How should I serve God?]

Let’s think about the false, self-centred god first.  How would you serve such a god?

Well if God was just one person…

[SLIDE – god blob]

…and if he desires any kind of service, who’s going to have to give it to him?  Well it has to be us.  There’s no-one else to do it.

[SLIDE – us]

So in terms of serving God, it’s all about what I can offer God.

[SLIDE – arrow up]

This god might demand obedience and religious service and sacrifice and prayer and elaborate worship. But with this god, the only sacrifice is our sacrifice, the only obedience is our obedience, the only prayers are our prayers.  This is the way of all human religion.  There is some kind of deity who requires some kind of payment because ‘they’re worth it’ – and religion is about us paying it to God.  Horrible!

[SLIDE – unitarian worship crossed out]

But the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit has other ways of getting the job done.  Look with me at chapter 4, verse 4:

4 But when the time had fully come, God [the Father] sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Let’s think about this with the help of the diagrams.

At just the right time, Christmas time to be precise, the Father…

[SLIDE – Father]

… sends His Son…

[SLIDE – Son]

and v4 says He is born of a woman. The eternal Son of God joins the human race.  He enters into our family tree and becomes our brother, one of us.

[SLIDE – Son extended]

And as our strong older brother, Jesus sticks up for us.  He steps into our shoes and He does for us what we could never do.  V4 says He is ‘born under law’.  That means that He put Himself under the obligations of God’s commandments. So whatever God wants from human beings, the Son of God gives.   Jesus paid to His Father the debt that we owe

[SLIDE – arrow up]

All the worship, obedience, devotion, prayer, love and sacrifice which the Father demands, the Son performs.  God wants human obedience.  But our human obedience is paltry, pathetic, perverted.  So the Son comes born of a woman to do in our place what we should have done.

And then v5 tells us He does this that we might receive the full rights of sons. This verse uses the male ‘sons’ here because in those days it was the males who inherited and Paul has inheritance in mind.  So it’s actually very much an equal opportunities thing.  The bible is saying – anyone, male or female, can have the rights of sons.  Men and women can inherit equally – which would have astounded Paul’s first readers.  Anyone can have the full rights of sons.

Now as we think about inheriting, let’s think about who we are inheriting from.  The Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.  He has an estate that He wants to leave to His children.  It’s called the universe.  But it’s better than that.  It’s not just this universe He wants to give His children, it’s this universe renewed – cleansed from sin and death and the curse.  It’s this universe resurrected and perfected.  It’s a new heavens and a new earth to be enjoyed forever.  That’s the estate.

Now who has the right to inherit the universe?  You?  Do you have the right to inherit the universe?  Speaking for myself, if I play my cards right, I might get to inherit grandpa’s stamp collection – maybe.  That’s what I get to inherit by rights.  Do I naturally have the right to inherit the universe?  No.  And neither do you.

But I know someone who does have the right to inherit the whole estate.  His name is The Son.  He has full inheritance rights.  But He became our Brother at Christmas so that we can share in the family inheritance.  He earns for us what we don’t deserve.

Have you ever inherited something out of the blue?  It happens. A great uncle dies and leaves a substantial amount of money.  The reading of a will can change your life.  The Bible is like the reading of a will.  You wake up of a morning and you think – Same old, same old.  But you read the will and it says “To Glen Scrivener I leave the universe.  Signed Jesus Christ.”  That changes your day doesn’t it?  That’s why we read our bibles.  The reading of a will will change your whole life.  And in the bible we learn about a staggering inheritance.  And it’s ours because of Jesus.

How come we benefit from this will.  Well imagine you’re at school and you have to sit a big exam.  Your teacher tells you all the books to read, she coaches you in the best exam technique, she gives you summary sheets of all the key teachings with helpful memorisation tips, she sets you practice exams and then gives great feedback at the end. That’s one way your teacher can help you.  But she’s still just your teacher, and at the end of the day your performance is still down to you.

But now imagine you’re in the middle of the exam and you’re struggling.  You look up from the paper and your teacher sees you frowning.  She comes over, bends down and says “Move over.”  She tears up your answers, gets a new sheet of paper – she writes your name at the top and starts again.  You just sit back and watch her answering every question perfectly.  She does it in your name, on your behalf, as your substitute.  She writes the perfect exam FOR YOU.  And you get the perfect score.

That’s what Jesus does.  He sits the test and earns you the inheritance.  When you read the Gospels it’s like you’re watching the teacher sit the test for you.  He is living the life that you and I should live, the life that we, in our better moments, want to live; the life we know, in our heart of hearts, we don’t live.  But Jesus does it all, born of a woman, born under law to redeem us – to give us the full rights of sons.  He’s doing it in our name, on our behalf, as our substitute.

And I benefit in full because, chapter 3 verse 29 says I belong to Christ.  I belong to Him, who did it all for me.  Or in chapter 3, verse 27 we have even more pictorial language, it says: I am clothed with Christ.  In myself I am a failure, but I am wrapped up in Jesus.  And He offers the perfect worship, obedience and sacrifice to the Father.

If you belong to Jesus, the Father looks on you and sees Jesus.  He looks on you as His beloved child and says ‘Behold, my son, my daughter, who I love, with you I am well pleased.’  Everything that belongs to Jesus now belongs to you – because you belong to Jesus.  You have the Father’s love, you have the Father’s verdict of righteous, you have Jesus as your Brother and the whole universe as your inheritance.

Now if that weren’t good enough, chapter 4 verse 6 tells you – you don’t only have the Son of God wrapped up around you, you also have the Spirit of God in you.

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

[SLIDE – Holy Spirit]

The Father sends the Spirit of the Son into any who belong to the Son.  Do you belong to Jesus, do you trust Him?  Then you have the Eternal Spirit of God living in you.  And the Spirit calls from within us ‘Abba, Father’.

‘Abba’ is a very intimate term, it means something like ‘daddy’ or ‘father dearest’.  It’s something so intimate.  I mean think of calling the Queen ‘Liz’ and that is a fraction of how incredible this is.  Are you able to call the Creator God ‘Daddy’?  Well not naturally?  By rights, only the Son of God gets to call the Creator God ‘Daddy’.  But now, if we belong to Jesus, we get to do what Jesus did and call the Most High God – Abba – Daddy.

The Spirit sweeps us up into the Son’s relationship with the Father.  If you’re a Christian, the Spirit has swept you up into the Son’s relationship with the Father.  God is love and you have been invited in.  God is a dance and the Spirit has linked your arm to Jesus’ arm, and you have joined the dance.

Everything that the Son has by rights, you now have through Him.  Everything that the Father feels towards His Son, He feels towards you who are clothed in Him.  You have the God the Spirit in you.  You have God the Son as your Brother and God the Father as your ‘Daddy’.  Our privileges in Jesus could not be greater.  As 2 Peter chapter 1 says, we ‘participate in the divine nature.’

The trinity is not a maths problem!  It’s the meaning of life.  It’s the good news that God is love, and you are invited.  Do you know these truths?  Do you know them in your heart?

Because how you live in 2010 depends on knowing these truths in your heart.  How you live your whole life depends on knowing this stuff in your heart.  It’s the difference between living as a slave and living as a son.  That’s the way Paul describes it. Chapter 4, verse 7 says that God has done all this so that you won’t be a slave, instead you’ll live as a son.  You won’t be in bondage, you’ll be free.  But those are the options.  You either understand the wonder of the trinity, or you live as a slave.  Either you get the trinity – and join the trinity.  Or you live as a slave.  That’s really how important it is.  But the tragedy is that, by default, we all live as slaves.  And even as Christians we fall into slavery again and again.

The whole letter to the Galatians is written because these Galatian Christians are living like they’re slaves.  They are living as though it’s about their performance, their obedience, their morality, their sacrifice, their worship.  And it’s slavery.  Because you end up doing, doing, doing – but you never get the verdict you’re looking for.  It’ll never be enough.  It makes you a slave.

In chapter 4, verses 1-3 Paul talks about how slaves and sons can often be right besides one another.  And outwardly they can look very similar.  He asks us to imagine a family estate where the household slave and the father’s son are both out working in the field.


Now which one is the slave and which one is the son?  Outwardly you can’t tell, but inwardly there’s all the difference in the world.  One of these boys is a slave, the other one owns the whole estate.  The vital difference is their relationship with the father, but outwardly you can’t tell.

There are slaves and sons together in every church in the world.  They’re sitting here this evening together – slaves and sons.  Some here tonight know what it is to call the Almighty God, Daddy.  Some of you only know about the arrow up, you’re just working in the field, and you’re in slavery.

I lived for many years as a slave.  Outwardly I looked like a Christian – I said the right things, I tried to do the right things.  You’d have looked at me and thought I was a child of God – I was a slave.  I thought it was all about my arrow up to God.  And so I tried and I tried and I never knew if it was enough.  Then one day the Spirit opened my eyes and I saw Jesus properly.  I saw that Jesus isn’t my example – He’s my Saviour.  He’s not my coach trying to help me do better – He’s my Substitute, stooping down and saying ‘Move over, I’ll do this for you.’

And the weight that came off my shoulders.  The knowledge of a Father’s love.  The assurance of an inheritance that I could never earn, came flooding in.

Are you a slave or a son?  I pray that we would all know the truth of that old hymn:

"Lay your deadly doing down. Down at Jesus' feet.

And stand in Him, in Him alone,. Wondrously complete."

There are some who need to lay down their deadly doing, their arrow up Christianity, and be clothed in the Son.  Maybe the Spirit of the Son is bringing sons and daughters into the dance of God tonight – that’s what He loves to do.

I started with a mental test, let me give you one more.  A new year has begun, it’s often a time when we assess our Christian lives and think about how they’re going.  If I were to ask you ‘how is your prayer life going?’ How would you respond?  If you belong to Jesus, you can look me in the eye and tell me ‘my prayer life is unimprovable’.  How’s your prayer life? ‘My prayer life is divine.’

I am clothed in the Son of God and His prayer-life is pretty darned good.  And chapter 4 verse 6 tells me that the Spirit of the Son is in me.  And what is He doing?  He is praying.  What is He praying?  He is praying the prayer of Jesus to the Father.  ‘Abba, Father’ is Jesus’ own prayer – He prayed it in the Garden of Gethsemane – it’s Jesus’ own prayer “Abba, Father.”  And the Spirit OF THE SON is praying that prayer from within ME.

I’m not just invited to pray, I am already caught up in the prayer life of God.  The Spirit is already praying Jesus’ perfect prayer IN me and praying it to the Father.  The Spirit is praying from within you right now, ‘Abba, Father, Abba, Father, Abba, Father’ – it’s as constant as your heart-beat.  ‘Abba, Father’ – that is your spiritual pulse.  The Spirit of the Son calling out to your Father from the depth of your being.

And those words ‘Abba, Father’ – they are not just the first line of a prayer.  ‘Abba, Father’ is the essence of prayer.  It is resting like a needy child in the arms of a strong and loving Heavenly Father.

And all our little prayers that we say (when we get around to it) – they are the ‘Amen’ to the Spirit’s continual prayer.  We’re always late to prayers – did you know that?  However early you get up in the morning – the Spirit has been up earlier, and He’s been praying in you.  You join in late and add your own Amen.

And as we go on in the Christian life, the Spirit of the Son will help our little prayers to become more child-like, so that more and more we call out “Daddy” the way He does (Rom 8:15).  And then we stop praying like slaves and start praying like sons.

Every time I forget I’m a son, I start praying like a slave and it kills my prayer life.  I pray like I’m a slave and He’s a slave-master, like I’m a soldier and He’s a commanding officer.  But Jesus didn’t teach us to pray ‘Our Sergeant-Major in Heaven’ or ‘Our Line Manager in Heaven’  – instead: Our Father in Heaven.

We need to be little children in prayer and thankfully the Spirit of the Son makes us exactly that and helps us to pray child-like prayers where we depend on our heavenly Dad.

Our own attempts at praying won’t be very good but, wonderfully, the Spirit takes even our most rubbish efforts at prayer and wraps them up in the Son’s perfect prayer and lifts them the to the Father.

Do you see the difference between slaves and sons?  Do you see how important it is to see God rightly?  He is the Loving Father, the Saviour Son and the Praying Spirit – our God is love, and we’re invited.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You that we can call you Father.  Thank You that Your Son has become our Brother and so You have become our Father.  Thank You for inviting us into Your family.  Thank You for sending Your Spirit into our hearts. If we are Christians here, may each one of us know that we are clothed in Your Son and loved with an everlasting love.  For those who don’t yet belong to Jesus, would you draw them, would you woo them, would you claim them as your own.  May we all live in your love, Generous Father, Gracious Son and Powerful Spirit.  Now and always, Amen.


0 thoughts on “Trinity – the difference between slaves and sons

  1. Pingback: Trinity – the difference between slaves and sons « Christ the Truth |

  2. Dave K

    Great sermon. Question that's been nagging me recently though... Is the question "What was God doing before the creation of the world?" biblical or helpful?

    As soon as we ask that question we're taking our talk about God away from his saving acts, his saving acts which as you show from Gal 4:6 display the Trinitarian nature of God. And I can't think of the bible really ever answering it - except in relation to our salvation.

    Interested in your thoughts.

  3. Glen

    Hi Dave,

    You're right that the bible always relates pre-creation to our salvation (e.g. 1 Peter 1:20; Titus 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Colossians 1:15-17; Ephesians 1:4-6; Revelation 13:8; Proverbs 8:22ff). Which is astonishing! But it still talks about pre-creation.

    So these verses certainly ward us away from one kind of pre-creation talk. The biblical data makes it impossible to speculate on some 'God in Himself' who is other than what we see in 'God towards us' (i.e. in salvation). So any answer to the question that paints the pre-creation picture as something different to what we see in Jesus is extremely dangerous.

    But I think it's worth asking the question for the very reason that the biblical answer to the question shows a God who is other-centred love down to His bootstraps so to speak. We pretty naturally (in the west at least) think of 'God' as a divorced, detached reality. To think of the Triune Fountainhead makes us realise we are the ones who are divorced and detached - alienated in our minds. God is eternally an outward-going God - shining out and drawing in - and to see this is to be caught up in His revealing/saving activity.

    But maybe my initial answer of "Enjoying one another" is not quite other-centred enough - given the verses above. Perhaps I need to say "Enjoying one another and desiring the spreading of this ecstatic love." Or something.

    Would you say that even that is too speculative and not grounded enough in salvation history?

  4. Dave K

    Sorry for the slow response. Been a bit busy for the internet over the last few days.

    I like your amendment.

    I'm not sure that I have the answer. I can see why you (and others) ask that sort of question. It has some pay-off which I don't think you can get easily any other way. But I do wonder if could lead to problems that I'm not quite aware of.

    But I don't want to be too uptight about it.

    Still thinking.

  5. Ben

    Hi Glen!

    I had a friend who introduced me to your website and I must say I absolutely love it. Thank you for taking the time to do this and to answer questions.

    I have been reading, going through trials, and seeking the Lord like never before in my life. I have come to realize we live in an extremely lopsided world of those who have and those who have not. I know that we are in Christ and Christ is in us and we shall call ourselves adopted Sons of God. Hallelujah. And i know we can never "earn" our way to the Father. But, the Word of God also mentions to us about being lukewarm and about being lazy servants, it is truth we cannot ignore. If we are truly grafted into the vine shouldnt we be so joyous and "DO" the work of the Lord?

    Why would our good Brother Yun who comes to the developed world and call our churches "the sleeping churches of the west"? And saint Jackie Pullinger refusing to sit around and eat risotto and gave it all up for Jesus. How do we fall in love with Jesus so much that our faith shows by our works?

  6. Glen

    Hi Ben - I love your final question:

    "How do we fall in love with Jesus so much that our faith shows by our works?"

    That's exactly right - we are motivated by love for Jesus and so we go out in sacrificial service to love others.

    I guess this post is all about declaring the grace of Jesus that wins our hearts. Without it, our service is a clanging cymbal or a resounding gong - even if we give our very bodies to the flames (1 Cor 13:1-3).

    It is the grace of Jesus that really wins us to God's service.

    In a sense, the son is so much *more* "possessed" by his father than the slave.

    And the indicatives of grace ("you will") are much stronger than the imperatives of law ("you must").

    And if you really get this gospel of freedom - like Paul did - you will open all your letters with "Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ"!

    There is a slavery on the near side of sonship and it is death. But there is a slavery on the far side of sonship - and that's what we aim for. But we can't get there any other way than by constantly holding out the free grace of Jesus.

    Glad to 'meet' you Ben,

    yours in Him,

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