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Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.

“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Galatians 4:6, 7

The young Christians in the Christian churches of Galatia were being deceived by Judaizers. The chief point of the Judaizers was that the Christians were still servants under the law. As a result, these young Christians were reverting to their old way of thinking, that they had to be good enough to be saved and to stay saved. They saw themselves as servants who had to earn a position, not as children and heirs who already had and could not lose the position.

Paul explains that the Judaizers were wrong. During the time of the civil and ceremonial laws, it may have seemed as if the Judaizers were right, but that was because in the old dispensation believers as a whole were spiritually as young children and not as mature adults. Just as a child ought not to be treated as a mature adult, so in the old dispensation the church was like a child, not different from a servant, though one day the child would be the master of the servants (1). The Judaizers were still wrong, however, because by the performance of the civil and ceremonial laws the people of God did not earn a position. They were only being taught like children.

It is more obvious that the Judaizers were wrong now that the fullness of time has come. “God sent forth his Son…to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” They are sons (not servants). And “because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.” The only ground and reason for the Spirit of the Son being sent forth is “because ye are sons.” The presence of the Spirit in their hearts enabling them to cry, “Abba, Father,” is the proof that they are children of God and not His servants.

Therefore, do not be foolish and act like slaves. You are sons. And you are heirs in the Father’s house.

Who is this Spirit of the Son?

God is one, undivided in His essence and in all of His attributes. And the God who is one in essence is three in person. There are three divine subjects or persons in the eternal Godhead. These three live in the entire Godhead, not just in a part of it. God the Father lives the whole divine life as Father; God the Son lives the whole divine life as Son; and God the Spirit does the same as Spirit.

The person of God the Son joined His eternal divine nature with our human nature by coming into our flesh. As God the Son did this, so God the Spirit became the Spirit of the Son. On Pentecost Sunday, Peter explained that when Jesus completed the mission that the Father had given Him to do, God raised Jesus from the dead, exalted Him to His right hand, and gave Him the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). Thus the Spirit became the Spirit of the Son. And then Jesus, the Son of God, gave His Spirit to those whom God had elected to be His sons and daughters. The Spirit whom the Galatians received is the Spirit of the Son.

How is this Spirit sent forth? There is a parallel between God sending forth His Son in the fullness of time (4) and God sending forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (6). God sent His Son into our human nature with the Spirit. The Son, as the Head of His people, received the Spirit at His baptism when He revealed that He was actively accepting the mission the Father had given Him to save those given to Him by the Father. Then, when God exalted Christ with all the blessings of salvation in Him, He gave Him the quickening Spirit as the means to apply the blessings of salvation to those whom God had elected. This Spirit the Son of God gave to His church. Out of the Father, through Christ, into the church.

The incarnation is necessary for the sending forth of the Spirit. Without the Son coming into the likeness of our flesh, there is no possibility of a relationship between Jesus Christ and those given to Him of the Father. God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because we are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.

The Spirit is sent into the hearts of those who have been redeemed unto the adoption of sons.

Scripture speaks of the sonship of God’s children as taking place in different phases. In the legal sense, we are children by God’s act of giving us the right to be God’s children. The legal right of adoption is given already in predestination. God “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). This means that we always have been God’s children. The ground for our adoption is established in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus established the basis for our right to be children of the living God. God sent forth His Son “to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” And God realizes our adoption in regeneration. We are born again after the image of God’s Son. We are made to look like Him spiritually. And by the Spirit within us He assures us that we are God’s sons.

Because God adopted us as His sons, He sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. Because of our adoption in election and in the cross of Christ, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, and this was so that we might know that we are His children.

Our text says that the Spirit was sent “into your hearts.” The heart is the fountain, the center, of our life from a spiritual-ethical viewpoint. So when the Spirit of the Son dwells in our hearts, then we are truly children of the heavenly Father. And it is by the power of the Spirit of the Son in our hearts that we learn to live the life of His children.

Not slaves. But we are children of the heavenly Father!

What is the result of the Spirit of the Son being in our hearts?

The first result is that the Spirit of the Son dwelling in us cries, “Abba, Father.” It is the Spirit in Christ who cries “Abba” to His Father. And it is the Spirit in us who cries “Abba” to our heavenly Father. When this Spirit cries “Abba, Father,” then He enables the adopted children to cry the same (Rom. 8:15).

Also, it is a striking thing that the Spirit in us does not say this, but cries it. There is the implication of something spoken with deep emotion, with fervency and earnestness. It is not something you think about before you say it, but it is instinctively expressed, especially in the time of some trouble.

Those who cry “Abba, Father” have childlike feelings regarding God. They do not simply believe in Him, but they love Him and enjoy Him. They love Him for the love He has for them. The adoption of wretched sinners into God’s family reveals the greatness of God’s love. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (I John 3:1). Adoption puts us into a family relationship with the eternal and holy God. The realization of the grace and love that characterize His relationship to us is the basis for our prayers and our cries to Him, especially in time of need.

The cry “Abba, Father” needs nothing to be added to it. The mere address of the Almighty God as our Father says it all. The Spirit of God’s Son works in us the realization of the intimacy of the relationship established, and of the nearness of help for those who are His children.

The second result is the realization that we are heirs of God through Christ. The present relationship of adoption implies a future inheritance. We have a portion allotted to us by the Father.

This inheritance is ours “through Christ” because He is the Heir of all things (Heb. 1:2). We become heirs only as co-heirs with Christ. We are heirs because we are in Him (cf. Rom. 8:17a; Luke 22:29, 30; and Rev. 3:21).

That which is our portion is God—we are heirs “of God.” We have Him forever; we sup with Him and He with us forever. This means that we have all the blessings and privileges of being in His family and of having Him as our Father. After being guided by His counsel, we are received by Him in glory where we have Him. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?”

What tremendous benefits! All because the Spirit of God’s Son is in our hearts. We are nothing less than children of the living God Himself! And if children, then heirs! May the wonder of Pentecost live on within us.