Sunday, January 17, 2016

Galatians 4:6 " The Tri-Une God Helps Us In Prayer"

The text before us is  certainly  a most encouraging one: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”   (Gal. 4:6).  

Our  thesis  is  that  prayer is an inevitable accompaniment  of  our salvation.   If you are a Christian, you are able to pray because God  is in your  heart, and therefore  prayer should be as natural and spontaneous as the act of breathing is to your body! 

Prayer  can be at once    the easiest  activity and  yet at the same  time it  can also  be difficult.  Prayer is easy  in that a little child can pray and speak to God in an effective way and it can be difficult in that  an adult,  having  walked with God for many years, may  find  themselves stuck their prayers  and find  some of them unanswered. There are no easy  answers as to why this is so.  Some possibilities may include  the fact that one may have lost their  intimacy  with God in prayer, because somewhere along the line, an un-confessed   sin has  grieved the Holy Spirit (Eph.4:30), and so   has shut the ear of God. Perhaps,  somewhere along the line,  a husband’s prayer is no longer answered because they  fail to live with their wives in an understanding way, failing to show honour to her as the weaker vessel. (1 Pet. 3:7).  Perhaps  there has been a substituting  of a religious, legalistic habit as evidenced in a begrudging, “I suppose I  have to” attitude, for  a glad obedience  which is  rooted in  thankfulness and thus a deep  loving  relationship  with the Jesus  who has saved them. 
Other  difficulties associated with prayer are that  God may withhold His presence  and answers to prayer  for  sanctifying purposes. The story of Job fits into this category. It may be that He is  teaching us  perseverance and faithfulness by withholding answers to our prayers  (Luke 18:1ff).  

Our focus is however not  so much on  the hindrances to prayer, but on the fact that  all Christians are enabled to pray !  Our text says,  “…and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”   Every true Christian, despite their many  challenges to prayer  can call on his /her  Abba- Father, because  God has sent the Holy Spirit into  their hearts.

But before we get to this great affirmation  we  want to understand  the context: Paul had been instrumental in the founding of a number of churches in  Galatia, and soon after he had left them, false teachers (also known as the Judaizers)  had begun to infiltrate  and undermine the freedom that  these churches had begun to experience in Christ.[1] The Judaizers were Jews who  believed that Jesus was Israel's Messiah but  they also believed that Gentile converts to Christianity needed  to be  circumcised and keep the dietary laws etc.  in order to be justified. 

The  letter to the Galatians is Paul's response to this very  dangerous  undermining of the gospel.  Paul  is  astonished  at the seeming ease and speed  with  which these Judaizers were able to persuade the Galatians into  abandoning the  gospel principles  which he had so clearly  taught them (Gal.1:6,7).  He is angry[2] with them  that  they  have so easily accepted this  false gospel which is, as Paul says, no gospel at all. In fact, the letter to the Galatians is Paul’s least courteous and loving letter among all his epistles. He is brimming with indignation.   For Paul, the sum and substance of the Christian faith is faith in  Jesus Christ and in His saving work ALONE! 
Now please note that Paul is NOT condemning Moses and obedience to the law as such. He is  taking on  these  Judaizers  who  claimed  that Christ ALONE is not sufficient to save the believer. Paul is condemning the teaching that says that the believer has to add works (i.e. law keeping) to the sufficient work of Christ on the cross for our salvation.  The Judaizers   said that,  in addition to Christ, circumcision  and Jewish  food laws   and  the keeping of certain days  had to be added to  obtain salvation.  Again, for the sake of perspective, Paul is not saying that Christians should not be obedient in keeping the moral law of God, BUT he is saying  that    the keeping of the law  is not the standard by which anyone  will  merit their salvation.  And again, let it be said   that the basis of  the Christian faith  is coming to  Christ  through faith ALONE  (3:26). This faith is  then expressed by being baptized into Christ  and  by putting on Christ in our daily walk (3:27), but neither baptism  nor  good  behaviour  form the basis  of our  salvation. They are important New Testament expressions, and out-workings, and extensions of our faith, but faith  IN CHRIST ALONE is sufficient  for salvation.

Now concerning this primary theological fact Paul says, that Christians cannot go on being childish in  their  thinking  (4:1-3).  It is time to grow up. It is time to  stop being children, who  are  enslaved to the elementary principles of the world under the law which at this time  held  its sway  for 1300 years. Paul argues that now,  in Christ, the full revelation of God   has been granted to  every believer. Believers are no longer in a state of childlikeness, under  the  law which has been acting  as a guardian and manager, to whom they were enslaved  as it were.  The truth  is that all God’s children now, having received Christ, having  been fully  redeemed from the consequence of  their  sinful nature, and  being at peace with God, are adopted  by God. (Gal.4:5). By this process they  were made members of the great family of God, and the revelation of that great family awaits  them when  they get to heaven[3]!

Now,  following that statement  on adoption in v.5  we find our text and thesis  in v.6: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Here  then is the basis of all true prayer!  Here is the prime reason why prayer is possible at all! 
1.   You will immediately  notice  that  the three  persons of the Trinity are  mentioned in this text.  God  firstly sends His Son into the world. Secondly, He sends His Spirit into our hearts. Leon Morris  observes that ”the presence  of the Spirit in believers is in their hearts; it is something that happens  in their innermost being and is not a minor disturbance on the surface of life.”[4]  Prayer is possible  and inevitable because  the Tri-une  God  comes and lives in the heart of every true believer! 
2.  God  the Father has  taken the initiative in  prayer : God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.  Therefore prayer comes to us outside of ourselves. Prayer is not  having a conversation  with an imaginary friend. Prayer, biblically speaking is an impulse created  in us by God who  has given us His Holy Spirit in our hearts.  And  so today when we pray, it is important that we pray according to the sufficient revelation  of God, in the written  Word of God, which has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. (2 Tim 3:16).  The Bible, the ‘outbreathed’ Word of God  in its totality, and  with every verse in  context, provides us with the knowledge and theology of prayer. My personal prayer is enriched by the  Spirit inspired Word of God, and therefore I would strongly counsel you that you never start prayer without  saturating your prayer in your meditation upon the Scriptures.  Praying  according to the will of God  means  praying God’s thoughts after Him.  What does all this imply for our understanding of prayer? Who changes what through prayer? The idea  of a God who  needs to be persuaded  by our prayers has no biblical warrant.  Again, it is important that  we realise that good theology  is essential to biblical prayer.  If we are to ask for anything “according to his will” (1 John 5:14), then  this does not imply a carte blanche, but  we must refer to his will as revealed in His word.

3.  Prayer  is possible  because of  Jesus. Paul’s  frequent  description of believers   being “in Christ” and “with Christ” indicates that  believers, i.e.  all who are in union with Christ by faith (Heb. 10:19-22) have access to the Father. The Father has accepted the  substitutionary sacrifice of  Jesus whom He loves , on behalf  of every believer.  The Father loves us, because He loves His Son. We are accepted in the  Father’s Beloved.  That is the essence of our justification by faith. If the Father always hears the Son, then he always hears those who, in Christ, are sons.  In addition we are also reminded that we are able to pray because  Jesus  continually intercedes for us.  (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).

4.  Prayer is possible because the Holy Spirit indwells us. In Romans 8:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit  helps us in our prayer, particularly when  we do not know how to pray. That is very comforting. The Holy Spirit in us   directs our prayers. This  raises an important question:  What does it mean to pray in faith? It is sometimes suggested that when our specific prayers are not answered it is because we do not have enough faith. Passages such as these become proof texts :
·         According to your faith, be it done to you (Matt 9:29).
·         Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith(Matt 21:22).
·         Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will (Mk 11:22).

The teaching that puts faith  in  a subjective way is dangerous  and downright  discouraging. What if   a certain answer does not come in response to the prayer of my faith ? (e.g. when someone is not healed) .  We need to  be reminded of what faith is and what it is not. This is where the  place of the Holy Spirit becomes important.  The biblical truth is that the Holy Spirit in me  directs my faith.  This is how it works .
In the first place  we need to understand  that our very first prayer for salvation,  ‘Lord save me’ ,   was  by the power of  the Holy Spirit  who directed us into Christ. We would not  have believed if the Spirit of God did not first remove our blindness and our hatred of God's truth[5] .

Secondly, the Holy Spirit  continues  to direct our faith in life, particularly as we look  to God  through the lens of scripture,  and  when we learn to  pray,  “Your will be done!” We  may be sure of this  always.  God is  good.  He is committed  to His children.  He knows what we need,  and  from the Lord’s prayer  we know that  He is committed to give  us everything we need for life:  physical , emotional, spiritual. True  faith and true  prayer is not an emotion or subjectively  based  feeling.  Our faith is  being led by the objective, Holy Spirit inspired gospel.  We pray according to the  Word of God , and as  we  pray for the means to the end (safety, food, material needs, healing etc.), we must be prepared for God's gracious "no",  while we trust Him for the best.

Lastly, remember that at the end of our prayer  there is our Abba – Father. Abba  is the Aramaic  diminutive form of  father -  daddy.    Every  true child of God is heard  and cared for  not by a ‘force out there’  but  by a God  of whom Jesus said  that He cared for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and much more  so for His beloved children!

Thus, this Trinitarian perspective on prayer  is well summed up in Paul’s assertion in Gal. 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  Thank God  that  He is at the beginning of all prayer. Prayer is possible because Father, Son and Holy Spirit are at work  in  stirring up prayer in us. Amen!

[1] This is a very common problem in  Paul’s epistles . As soon as  the oversight  of a church is  gone, the wolves come in very quickly ( see Acts 20 :29-30)
[2] Gal. 1:8,9; 3:1-10; 5:7-15
[3] Revelation 7 : 9-12;
[4] Leon Morris : Galatians : Paul’s Charter of Christian  Freedom, IVP , p. 131
[5] John 6:37, 44-45; 16:8-11; Eph. 2:8-9

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