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The Heir as a Slave

St. Paul writes to the church in Galatia, and indeed, proclaims to us today something that is fundamentally true. We are told that at one point, we were no better than slaves. This is not the slavery to sin that we speak of, though our willingness to sin and to disregard God’s commandments is a voluntary servitude to sin. Rather, God speaks to us about the process of salvation, the manner in which His plan has been worked out through history, and how He has made provision for us despite our sin.
The Law is a fact. The Law was given to Moses on Sinai, and we have the Law written on our hearts. There is no human being who does not know the Law, try to deny it though we might. We all are aware of the Law of God simply becauase we are human, it is a part of being a creation of God and of being made in His own image. God has created us where we know what His Law is, and we know what good is. Through our sin, we have also come to know what evil is.
To begin with, we knew only the good. Adam and Eve knew the good Law of God, they knew what it was to please God and to rightly obey His commandments. The entrance of the distinction of good and evil into the world was learning what evil is, learning what it is to disobey God’s Law. Like our first parents, we are born knowing the Law, and knowing what is good. Due to the sin of our first parents, we are also born into sin and born with a drive to disobey this Law, to want our own way, to choose our own so-called good. Darkened though our concept of what is good for us may be, we know what the Law is.
And we are under the Law. All humans are under the Law, and we all know what the demands of the Law are. We all know what is expected of us, what is good, and really, what is good for us. For it is no bad thing to keep the Law. The Law is an expression of God’s own eternal goodness and will, and when we are free, we are free to keep the Law, free to do the good. The Law is a wonderful thing, even for sinners.
For we are sinners. And under the Law we have been placed under the instruction of another. The word here that our lectionary translates as “elemental spirits of the universe” refers to nothing other than the Law. It is God’s own Law that is the elemental principle of the universe, and it is under God’s own Law that we have been placed as under a tutor. The Law is there to keep us on the path, to teach us in the way that we should go. The Law is a tutor, a pedagogue, it is what teaches us what the good and perfect will of God is and how we are to live. The Law itself is a guide to life.
Yet we do not follow the Law. Though we have been placed under it, and it was there to teach us and to guide us into full humanity, we are like little children playing hooky and blowing up mailboxes. We disregard God’s Law, and prefer to make our own law. We serve our own interests, we chase our own desires, and even in the Church we make little laws about what we can and cannot do, about what is permissible and what is not, and we build fences and barriers - keep those others out, don’t look like these ones, don’t act like those ones. These little, human, sinful laws try to take the place of God’s Law, and when we make them, we are not only sinning by placing our little laws above the Law of God, we are sinning because we as the Church are making a new law to be put under, a new and man-made law that has to be obeyed.
Yet we are, as St. Paul tells us, in a rather different situation. When we were children, we were slaves to the Law. When we were in sin, we were slaves to our own desires and the little laws of our hearts. Why then should we set up little laws in the Church? Why should we allow only this, or prohibit that? Again, the sin of our hearts comes out, and this is only proof that we need salvation daily.
For when the time had been fulfilled, God sent forth His Son! Jesus came and was born of a woman, and born under the Law. St. Paul talks about these two things as if they are the same, one interprets the other. To be born of a woman is to be born under the Law, as every human is. And in a startling contrast, Jesus is not born of man, but born of a woman. Adam, who sinned, was created from the dust. Eve, who sinned, was created from Adam. Jesus, who did not sin, was born of a woman, to save all of humanity.
Jesus became like us. He placed Himself under the Law, and walked the earth while under it. While He was under the Law, He did not set up little human laws, He did not have any time for replacement laws, but only for the Law of God. And He fulfilled that Law perfectly. He actively fulfilled the Law in all of His actions. He was a perfect keeper of the Law in everything He did, and beyond that, He fulfilled the demands of the Law in our stead in His atoning death.
This is what we hear in the Gospel today, as well. He was brought to be presented in the Temple, as the Law demanded of every firstborn male Jew. Our passage actually starts right after the nunc dimittis, where Simeon praises God for being allowed to see the Messiah come, the one who will be a light to all the people and who will bring salvation. In the same way, the Church remembers on January first the circumcision of Jesus, for He was circumcised according to the Law and given the name Jesus, as the angel said before He was conceived. Every part of the Law was fulfilled in Jesus’ actions.
Jesus kept the Law of God in His actions, and in His suffering and death. Jesus fulfilled the demands of the Law on humans actively and positively, and paid the penalty for the transgression of the Law that we have committed. His death was the fulfillment of the negative demands of the Law, the consequence of disobedience that is rightly ours, and which we earn daily in our sin. Jesus did these things, both the active and passive fulfillment of the Law, so that, as St. Paul says, we might receive the adoption as sons.
Jesus became like us. The Son of God became human, so that humans might become sons of God. He became like us so that we might become like Him. This was God’s plan from eternity, knowing that we would be under the Law, knowing that we would fail to keep the Law, knowing that He would come down for our redemption and take humanity up into Himself, so that we might become like Him. We who are under the Law are in need of redemption. You, who have transgressed the Law, are in need of redemption, for the penalty for transgressing the Law is death.
There is a One who has paid this penalty for you in His suffering and death. Jesus Christ, the Lord, came down and became human, to pay your penalty. His death on the Cross paid the penalty for your sin, and you have been redeemed. You were bought with the price of His own blood, and by His sacrifice you have been forgiven your sin. This was in order that you might receive adoption as a child of God.
You are a child of God. In an inheritance sense, it was sons who inherit, and for this reason Paul speaks about becoming sons of God. You are no longer a slave, not a slave to sin, not a slave to the Law, not a slave to anything, but an heir of the promise, given this inheritance by Jesus Christ. We, together, affirm and believe this, that Jesus is Lord and that by His death and resurrection we have been made children of God and inheritors of the promise.
We believe. This is what we claim, this is what we proclaim. Because you are inheritors of this promise you are the ones who receive the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God’s Son, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit Himself. We receive not only Christ and His benefits, but we receive the Holy Spirit, who is connected inextricably to Jesus. The Spirit comes into our hearts and makes real, makes actual the cosmic work of Christ in each of us. We as individuals confess only by the power of the Spirit that Jesus is Lord and that God is our Father. We cry out, as Paul says, that God is our Father.
This cry is in one voice, it is with one mind and one spirit, even the Holy Spirit that is come into our hearts. In the ancient world, religious rituals included an acclimation, something the community cried out together as a confession of belief and expression of unity. We too acclaim something to be true, we confess with our mouths and with one mind. What we confess, no human can confess without the power of the Spirit. What we claim to be true, no human can claim without the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, even that gift of Himself. What we acclaim together, in one mind and with one voice, no humans can acclaim without that Holy Spirit in their hearts, the Spirit that binds us together in Christ and which makes true for each of us the redemption in Christ Jesus.
We claim God as our Father. We confess that Jesus is Lord, and by our confession with our mouths we are saved. We acclaim that we are the children of God, and through God we are no longer slaves, but sons. Children. Inheritors.
For if we are sons, then we inherit the promise. We inherit the promise that God made to Adam, to provide a redeemer. We inherit the promise that God made to Noah, to preserve His righteous ones. We inherit the promise to Abraham, that all shall be blessed in the One that is and was and is to come. We inherit the promises to God’s own people, promises of peace, promises of a redeemer, and promises of the Kingdom itself in which we are taken into and in which the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings reigns forevermore, even that Kingdom which breaks in to our world today.
We inherit the promises. You are a child of God, an heir of the promise. You inherit what God has promised to His people, you inherit God Himself. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for your sins. When He died, He left a testament, and you were made an heir. His death makes you inherit, and this Testament is for all time. We receive still His own Body and Blood, we receive Him. We receive the Spirit, and claim God as our Father. He died for you, and was raised up for you on the third day to give you new life, that you might receive the adoption as sons, that you might become an heir of the promise. You have been made like Him, the first of those resurrected from the dead, and that salvation is still being worked out in you today, as you are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, God become man, so that you might become like Him.
We confess and believe, we proclaim and acclaim, Jesus is Lord, and through the power of His death and resurrection, God is, indeed our Father.
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