Guardians, Adoption, Slavery and Freedom – the difference between law and grace

A couple weeks ago I covered some cases for another judge. It was the Friday guardianship and adoption calendar, an assignment I used to have in my own courtroom but hadn’t seen since I transferred back to a criminal assignment a couple years ago.

Guardianships concern kids – from babies to late teens – who need someone to care for them. Typically their parents are facing their own difficulties, whether illness or something else that keeps them from being able to provide for their children. The guardians are usually family members or close family friends who volunteer to take on the duties of a parent. A formal court-ordered guardianship allows the adult to carry out the responsibilities of a parent with the legal authority to make decisions in the best interests of the minor. With that authority comes annual court reviews to make sure the child is well cared for. Some guardianships last until the minor turns 18, while others are merely temporary until the parent is able to take the responsibility back and provide a home once again for their child.

Adoptions, on the other hand, are permanent placements. I’ve presided over adoptions of infants and teens and even a couple of adult adoptions. Sometimes the child’s biological parents are so unable to care for the child their parental rights have been terminated by earlier court proceedings. Sometimes the parents are dead. And sometimes a parent has relinquished their legal rights in order to allow another person to become the parent recognized by law for that child. In any case, when it comes to the child and the adopting family, these proceedings are filled with joy for the people in court. Family, friends, pictures afterward with the judge – there’s a lot of celebration going on.

Divinely Coinciding

There was a divine coincidence in taking those cases that Friday, found in the scripture passages I heard in the sermons over the next two weekends.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith … .

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. (Galatians 3:23-26, 4:4-5.)

Paul’s analogy to guardianship doesn’t correlate directly to modern guardianships, and perhaps not even to those in his own time. Rather, he characterizes this as a guardianship of slavery: the law of Moses is a guardian for those who are slaves to sin, locking them up and holding them in custody, while true freedom is not found under that guardianship but in the later work of Jesus.

The result of this later work of Jesus is compared to an adoption proceeding, and the particular type of adoption proceeding identified by Paul is striking in its extremity. When he wrote “receive the adoption of sonship” he meant adoption into the highest family status imaginable. Paul’s language refers to a legal proceeding placing a child into the position of firstborn son, the child who inherits the largest share of a family’s estate.

In the eternal and spiritual sense, this is Jesus’ position. Yet we are somehow adopted into the same position as Jesus, God the Son? Yes.

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 4:7.)

When writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul touched on the same truth of being adopted into God’s family:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ … . (Romans 8:15-17.)

Being co-heirs with Jesus is the eternal reality for those who belong to God. There is no reason to turn back to a status of being under a mere guardianship. Rather, as Paul told the Galatians, embracing the law would indicate a desire to return to slavery.

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 principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:9.)

Jesus fulfilled the law for you and embracing the grace of God indicates a better desire to enjoy God’s freedom from the law and sin.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1.)

The spiritual guardianship God provided for those under the law was not freedom. Freedom came through Jesus and our new relationship with God through him. You are a child of God, fully loved and fully included in his family.

Live in that freedom.

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2 Responses to Guardians, Adoption, Slavery and Freedom – the difference between law and grace

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    That is so interesting about being adopted into the position that actually belongs to Jesus. Amazing!

    It does strike me that, in contrast to spiritual guardianship and adoption, these human proceedings (even if they do involve much celebrating in the courtroom) are part of a long, very painful path in many cases. They wouldn’t even be happening if there wasn’t some kind of trauma or pain. Not to minimize what you’ve said – just the reality of our broken world.

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