We Are God’s Children, Not Slaves: Break the Chains

We Are God’s Children, Not Slaves: Break the Chains June 18, 2023

“Break the Chains,” Monument remembering the Dutch role in slavery; Artist: Alex da Silva (2013); Rotterdam, The Netherlands; 28 April 2021, Author: Rob Oo; Creative Commons.

Today, our country celebrates Father’s Day. Tomorrow, it celebrates Juneteenth. The Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 4 bears import for how followers of Jesus might look at both days in terms of spiritual import. We need to live as free people. Break the chains. Paul writes,

“What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:1-7; NIV)

How often do we live as slaves, even though we are God’s children? Maybe we act as if God the Father does not really love us, as if we are not really any different than we were before becoming God’s children through faith in Jesus. Perhaps we are not attentive to the Spirit’s call in our hearts that God is our “Abba” or Daddy Father.

How often do we listen to other voices in our heads that we are of no worth or import to God, but merely a bother? If so, why would God send his own Son into the world to die and rise anew to make us God’s children, sons and daughters of the Most High God?

Stories and misconceptions exist and persist in our collective consciousness as Americans that people who were enslaved were merely slaves. They had no other identity. That is hardly true! I will go further and state that we should never confuse the verb “enslave” with the noun “slave”. Just because someone is enslaved does not make them slaves. Their identity as persons, as those created in God’s image, signifies that no matter what others did or do to them, they are not slaves. They are indeed persons of infinite and indescribable worth.

Turning again to Galatians, we were formerly enslaved to demonic spiritual forces and oppressive structures that oppose God and God’s good will for us. As Paul writes, may we not capitulate and live as though we are still under their rule. We need to break the chains.

Here I call to mind the formerly enslaved Temple “Tempie” Cummins’ account of how her mother, a cook for their master, overheard him say in 1865 that he wouldn’t tell his slaves they had been emancipated until they harvested one more crop or two. Rather than stay silent, she came out into the open and cried out, “I’s free, I’s free!” She then went out and told the other enslaved people against their former master’s will that they were free, free indeed. They dropped their tools of enslavement and quit working under the weight of the master’s oppression.

How about us? Do we know we are free? Do we act like it, or do we still live as though we were enslaved? Do we act as if God doesn’t love us, as though Jesus did not die for us, as though the Spirit does not call out from within our hearts that we are God’s precious children? Do we seek to prove to God we are worthy of the Heavenly Father’s affection? If so, we fall prey to further oppression by the demonic principalities and ideologies that in reality are nothing more than “weak and miserable forces” in view of God’s all-powerful, liberating, and secure love! Paul writes,

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Galatians 4:8-10; NIV)

What are the ways in which we surrender to those “weak and miserable forces” in the effort to gain God’s favor? We who know God should realize that we are known by God, as Paul writes. God knows us far more than we know God or ourselves, and God accepts us as his children by faith, not by our efforts to prove our worth? His work on our behalf through Jesus and the Spirit proves his love!

God loves us far more than we know and love ourselves. No amount of observing special days or working ourselves to the death every day of the week will gain God’s favor. How can it when God already favors us as his children? May we not operate like the man who sought to gain the favor of a father long dead, whom he could never please and never accepted him! God our heavenly Father truly loves and accepts us.

I close my meditation today by recounting what a CNA (certified nursing angel) told my son Christopher yesterday. She brought a tear to his eye when she told my son lying on his back with a trach for secretions and a feeding tube for nutrition that he is by no means a bother to her or to his family. Amen! No matter how much his traumatic brain injury has devastated him and his family, no matter what, he matters. As his CNA told me later, it is an honor to care for him. She told my son that his daughter adores him, and that his parents and family deeply cherish him. No doubt, this is one reason why he slowly, gradually improves. (If you are interested in knowing more, please check out my post, “My, How You’ve Grown?” which I uploaded yesterday at his page.)

I agreed with this CNA when she recounted yesterday what she shared with Christopher. I told him the same thing at his bed side last night. He is a wonderful dad. He is a wonderful son. I told him he is not a bother. As his CNA told me, so I shared with my son, embracing him as I spoke: “It is an honor to care for you. It is the greatest privilege of my life.”

I didn’t make this up out of thin air. I wasn’t copying the CNA, as much as I admire and respect her. After all, I dearly love my son. He is my very own. I also find this same emphasis in the Bible in how the heavenly Father cares for us. We are his very own. It is the greatest privilege and honor that God favors us in view of his Son Jesus who died and rose to bring us home to God. Similarly, my own Father cared for his children in this way, laying down his life daily for us.

If this is how God loves us, how can we live out our days in self-condemnation? We need to rise up from the bed of our enslavement, the bed of being traumatically injured emotionally by how others condemn us, or how we condemn ourselves, and live as those dearly loved by God, as free people. After all, we are truly and eternally free. Break the chains.

In view of such freedom, may we also see others as God sees them. Rather than condemn them, or treat them as slaves, may we see them as those dearly loved as created in God’s image, as God’s children, as our brothers and sisters, as persons, not things. Together, may we live to please God, not to gain God’s favor, but because we experience the pleasure of God’s favor as God’s children and heirs, co-heirs with Jesus Christ. May we live into the freedom of obedience that Jesus has won for us in the liberating and loving power of the Spirit. We are free, free indeed, on Father’s Day, Juneteenth, and to eternity. Break the chains.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdmans, 2007) and More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture (IVP Academic, forthcoming in 2023). You can read more about the author here.
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