This is the third installment of a three-part New Year’s Hear the Music series on Paul’s coming-of-age images in Galatians 3:23–4:11. You might want to read that Scripture first. You can read the first installment here.
In an effort to look the part, the Gentile Galatians have simply traded their pagan rules for Jewish rules. But as far as Paul’s concerned, it all amounts to the same thing. Their New Year’s resolutions read like a list of soulless rules they won’t keep.
Instead of living the deep, substantial, robust life of the Spirit, they’re ticking off boxes on a to-do list. He taught them to read Shakespeare and they’ve gone back to reciting their ABCs. When he left, they were ringing “Carol of the Bells,” but now they’ve bought a Chevy. He laments, “I’m afraid I labored over you in vain.”
Which begs the question, then, if we’re not going to judge our success by how well we keep the rules, how do we really know we’ve inherited Christ’s character and power and joy? I can choose to trust what Jesus says. I can act as though Paul is right and I have inherited with Christ. That’s faith. But how I do I know that I am daughter heir, that I’m actually hearing his tune in the midst of all this cacophony?
Paul says, “God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts crying out ‘Abba! Father!’” Abba is the familiar word that children in Jesus’ day used with their fathers at home. It’s not the “our Father” of synagogue prayers. It’s not even the more personal “my father” of direct address. “Abba” is the first sound that babies make to name their dads; it’s like our “Dada.” As far as scholars can tell, Jesus is the only one who ever used “Abba” to name God. We hear it in his prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Please. Remove this cup from me. Yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
Apparently it’s not that you succeed in your godly endeavors. It’s not that you succeed in choosing godly endeavors over self-indulgent ones. It’s not even that you see God’s answer when you ask him for help. Rather, you know that you’re hearing the music when you open your mouth and Jesus’ voice comes out, crying like he did in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Dad, please!”
And this is good news for those of us who are hiding under our purple robes. Mouthing the words, so no one hears us croaking. Desperately hoping no one will notice that underneath the robe, we stink. Dreading the day when they figure out that the solo we sang that one time was a fluke.
And this is also good news for those of us who volunteer for every solo. We’d rather sing our ABCs to get Nanny’s applause than struggle to hear Dad’s voice. Or we’d rather test the limits of the law—what are fast cars for?—than wait for Dad’s power and joy. We look good in purple and we know it.
In Christ, there is no race-, rank-, or gender-advantage (John Stott). In Christ’s choir, we all sing in our crying voices. We all pray in our native desire, the deepest longing of our hearts.
And in Christ, it’s music—beautiful, haunting, calling music, summoning us to be the people we have grown up to be in the fullness of God’s time—it’s music because we sing with one voice. His voice. Publically declaring our inheritance and our intentions, not by announcing our names, but by crying God’s name: Abba.
Later on in the book, Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then. Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). You inherited Christ’s character and power and joy at your baptism. Crying your longing to God is the witness of the Spirit to this inheritance. In 2015, how would you like these two truths to set you free or keep you free from the tyranny of keeping the rules?