In Galatians 4:1-10 Paul continues to take us through his argument to discourage us away from religion of any kind or form and encourage us into the relationship with God that is only made possible through Jesus Christ. So far, in Galatians 3:1-6 we learned how utterly stupid it is to let religion have any place in the life of a person who has been rescued into a relationship with God. In Galatians 3:7-15 we found out Jesus is greater than anything the Mosaic Law offers. In Galatians 3:16-29 we learned the purpose of the Mosaic Law is essentially a prison law that made a way for the Jews to be identified and blessed by God while living in the prison of the curse of sin that everybody else in the world is under. The Law at no point had any purpose of getting them out of the prison, only how God wanted them to live while they were known as His people in the prison. Jesus however came to free us from the prison, and as such we are no longer under the law meant for the prison. We have an entirely different reality to live in!
In chapter 4 Paul continues where he left off in chapter three and as such fleshes out the significance of what Christ has done for us in freeing us from the prison and the Mosaic Law; and it continues to do so with another illustration. Let me read this to you in its entirety first, then I want to go back and explain it because it is rich with doctrine, encouragement, and application!
1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! (Galatians 4:1-10)
Let’s break this apart and dig into what God has given us here!
In Galatians 4:1-10 there are 4 parts to Paul’s explanation of the type of relationship Christ has given us with God.
The Illustration - A boy who loses his parents and inherits their wealth still must wait until he is an adult to have the personal freedom of an adult, as well as the right to decide what to do with his inheritance. (4:1-2)
1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.
“In Roman law, boys from birth to 14 years of age were in the charge of a legal guardian (cf. 3:23–25). From age 14 to 25, their property was administered by trustees (cf. 4:2). Paul was alluding to this Roman custom by using these precise terms.”
There is a variety of ways you can view this illustration, but I think the best way, and as such the intended way, is to see it as an illustration of a boy whose parents have both died and is the legal heir and owner of everything his father had. However, because he is not yet an adult, he is not allowed to freely do with his inheritance what he wants, nor is he allowed to do with his life what he wants. As such, the child is placed under two different types of authorities.
As we briefly discussed last week, in Roman society a guardian is a person who was hired to essentially raise a child for the parents. In this illustration the guardian is hired because the parents have died, proved by the fact the child is the legal owner of all his dad had (4:1b). Guardians served as the disciplinarians and moral instructors that consequentially also have authority over the decisions of the boy’s life, just as a parent would have. The guardians determine things like where the child will live and how they will be educated. They determine the moral, ethical, and behavioral standards the child will be held accountable to, as well as how the child will be held accountable to them. The guardians determine when the child will go to bed and wake up, what the child will eat, how the child will dress, who their friends can and cannot be, and the list goes on. The guardian is the authority in their life and everything about their life falls under their authority.
Managers, or trustees as they may also be known, have the responsibility and authority to oversee the inheritance in order to provide for the boy in his youth and secure the inheritance until the time deemed by his Father that he can have authority over it himself. It’s the trustees decision on how the money is invested and spent, and although they can certainly entertain the desires of the child, they have no obligation to them at all, despite the fact that everything they are managing actually belongs to the child.
Therefore, the point of the illustration is that even though the child’s parents are no longer alive to exercise authority over him, and despite the fact the child now owns all his father’s possessions and wealth; he still has no freedom. The child’s reality is no different than a slave. His life is entirely under the authority of somebody else and despite owning his father’s estate and wealth, he has no right to make any decisions with any of it, just as a slave has no authority over his life or the estate and wealth of his master.
The second part of Paul’s explanation of the type of relationship Christ has given us with God is …
The Meaning of the Illustration – Religion left us enslaved to sin and incapable of a relationship with God. However, the Father sent The Son to purchase us out of that reality with His own blood so that we could be adopted as children of God. (4:3-4)
3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
“Elements is from … [a Greek word that] refers to first principles. … The “elements of the world” refer here therefore to the first principles of non-Christian humanity; in the case of the Jew, to the symbolic and ceremonial character of Judaism and its legal enactments, and in the case of the Gentiles, to the ceremonial and ritualistic observances of the pagan religions.”
““worldly rudiments” as elementary teachings regarding rules and regulations, by means of which, before Christ’s coming, people, both Jews and Gentiles, each in their own way, attempted by their own efforts, and in accordance with the promptings of their own fleshly (unregenerate) nature, to achieve salvation.”
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations-- 21 "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)--according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)
In other words, no matter what name a religious system has as its deity (Allah, Brahma, Zeus, Baal or even Yahweh,), every religion, including Judaism and religious Christianity, are all the same. They enslave us in something that is not a relationship with God and as such leave us enslaved to sin because they are of themselves systems for a life that is enslaved to sin. As we said last week, even the Judaism that God gave Moses was a way of life for the prison until Christ came and freed them!
In verse 4 Paul then takes us from where we all (Pagan, Heathen, Jew or Christian) are without Christ, to where we can be because of Christ!
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
“4 But when the fullness of time had come,”
Going back to chapter 3, Paul wrote that The Mosaic Law was given, “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (Galatians 3:19). That time was the appointed time God determined.
“This point of time marked some outstanding events in the history of the human race. First, it was the moment which God had ordained for Messiah’s coming. To Daniel was given the date of His coming, 483 years after the edict of the Medo-Persian government to rebuild Jerusalem. Second, the Mosaic law had done its educational work, showing to the world that the most highly-favored nation on earth, the Jewish nation, was, despite all of God’s blessings and mercy, totally depraved, giving the Gentile portion of the race a picture of its own totally depraved heart. Third, the Mosaic law in its three sections, the ten commandments, the laws governing social relationships, and the Levitical system of sacrifices, was done away with as a legal system, to be superseded by the gospel of grace centering faith in an historic Saviour. Fourth, the Roman empire maintained world peace. Roman roads made travel for missionaries easy. The universal use of the Greek language made the speedy propagation of the gospel possible. The earth-stage was all set for the greatest event in the history of the human race, the incarnation, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection of God the Son.”
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son,
This demonstrates a crucial doctrine in the Bible. God sent his Son, meaning His son was already in existence. The Bible teaches that Jesus has eternally existed as the Son, or as John called Him, The Logos.
“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-4)
56 Your father Abraham (Christ’s Father was not Abraham but God the Father!) rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." 57 So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" 58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:56-59)
All three persons of the Trinity are in this passage. The point here being that this is one of the many proclamations in the New Testament of the eternal deity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. The significance of this doctrine cannot be underestimated. If Jesus is not God, then His righteousness isn’t enough, His death isn’t enough, and His resurrection isn’t enough. However, if Jesus is God, then in giving us His righteousness as the eternal Son of God we have enough! If Jesus is God, then He is able to pay the eternally unpayable debt we owe the Father. If Jesus is God, then the resurrection we have in Him is one that has totally overcome death, never to die again!
But it’s still not enough for Jesus to just be God and this is why Paul writes,
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law,
When Paul writes “born of woman” here, he is not attempting to teach the doctrine of the virgin birth although it is certainly implied. He’s speaking of being “born of woman” not “born of a woman.” The virgin birth of Christ is most certainly taught elsewhere in the Bible. (Isiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25, etc.)
What Paul is teaching us here is that Jesus wasn’t just 100% God, He was also 100% man. Again, John wrote,
Note: 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
He was born of woman, not man, so that he is not under the curse of Adam, and as such born incapable of knowing God, incapable of holiness and under the curse Himself. But nonetheless born of woman so that He is clearly 100% human. This not only means he lived life fully as a human, experiencing everything from the perspective of a man, but also so that He could justly pay the penalty of mankind. He was born into the condition of humankind as well, not in our sinful condition, but in experience. Jesus was tempted as we are. Jesus felt pain as we do. Jesus experienced grief over the death of loved ones as we do.
Paul even says Jesus was born under the law, but which Law? Well, there are a wide variety of opinions. Is Paul speaking of the Mosaic law or the Law of God in general, the breaking of which left Adam cast out of the Garden and in the prison of sin and death, the same prison we are all born in. I think he is referencing both, not in the legal condemnation of those laws, but rather in the reality created by them; that is, both the law that Adam broke that we are condemned by, and the Mosaic Law the Jewish brothers and sisters were living under while waiting on Him; the Law God gave the Jewish people that left them clearly incapable of getting out of the prison of sin. As such, Christ didn’t just come to die for those set apart in the prison of sin as God’s chosen nation, but rather for all, who because of Adam’s sin, are in the eternal prison of Sin and Death!
This then takes us to the purpose of being born a man, which is to redeem mankind! To redeem is to make the payment necessary to free somebody from slavery or prison. The death of Jesus on the cross was the only death that could be sufficient to pay the price, that is suffer the consequence of our sin that eternally separates us from God, and as such redeem those who are in the prison of the curse of sin. But it wasn’t just to set us into some arbitrary freedom. This was not the picture of a person paying off a debt of prisoner so he can be released from prison with no debt, but nonetheless a totally broke indigent pauper! But rather, this is the picture of a prisoner being adopted as a favored child of the KING!! Look again at what Paul wrote,
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
We are not redeemed to wonder the world again without God, but we are saved to be with HIM as HIS family, HIS children! He brings us out of the prison and into His household as fully adopted and fully favored children!
“With respect to this adoption it … bestows upon its recipients not only a new name, a new legal standing, and a new family-relationship, but also a new image, the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).”
This leads us straight to the third part of Paul’s explanation of the type of relationship Christ has given us with God.
The Impact of the Illustration – Because of Christ we get to have the same comfort, confidence, and familiarity with God that a child should have with their father. (4:6-7)
6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
In referring to the “Spirit of his Son” Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit.
Paul teaches that because we have been adopted as Sons, the Father has sent the Holy Spirit to indwell our hearts. The fact that Paul said the Holy Spirit lives within our hearts is huge.
“It is the hub whence radiate all the spokes of his existence, the fulcrum of feeling and faith as well as the mainspring of words and actions … “Out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).”
“Note that it does not say into our heads or our brains. The Spirit of God doubtless illuminates the intellect and guides the judgment, but this is not the beginning or the main part of His work. He comes chiefly to the affections. He dwells with the heart, for with the heart man believes unto righteousness.”
Now, interestingly, Paul doesn’t say we cry out “Abba! Father!” but rather “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" This should take us straight back to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was to be arrested. Facing the reality of what He was about to do in taking upon Himself the entire wrath of God on all of mankind’s sin, in feeling the eternal separation that our sin creates, the Bible records,
36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
“Abba” is the Aramaic word that is equivalent of a child saying Dad. The word translated “Father” is the Greek word for the same. Jesus was crying out to the Father at one of the darkest moments in His life, and as such, He cried out with the most intimate terms He could use – Dad! With the kind of comfort, confidence, and familiarity that comes in a healthy relationship with a parent, Jesus turns to the only one He knows can understand His heart – His Father!
However, Paul writes here that the Holy Spirit cries out to the Father with the same comfort, confidence, and familiarity as Jesus did to the Father, but does so from our hearts! In other words, we are not only legally adopted into a relationship with God, but we are pulled into an actual relationship with God as His Children. The Holy Spirit abides in our heart, which is not just the seat of our emotions but also our identity, the nucleus of who and what we are, and as such transforms our heart to want to know God, to want to experience Him, to want to RUN to Him as the one we believe to be capable and trustworthy to see us through everything including our own sin and failures!
The Holy Spirit who has transformed our hearts and dwells within our hearts leads us to cry out in one voice with Him to God as our Father! Whether it is in the moments of realizing we are living in sin, or we have found our lives upside down, or lost in the darkness of life; if we have been saved, we will find our hearts crying out to GOD because the Holy Spirit is in our hearts doing it! He has not only adopted us, He has sent the Holy Spirit to regenerate us into those who once wanted nothing to do with God but now want to run to God as our Father; as our DAD!
I want you to think about the significance of that a little more with me. We are calling God, who is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe, Dad! It is universally accepted that the most well-known and influential Christian in modern history was Billy Graham. If you don’t know who he is, or if you’ve never been to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, you would be blessed to go and learn all about what God did through his life. While in college I got to be friends with a guy named Will, a guy a year after I met him, I found out from somebody else, was Billy Graham’s grandson, and the son of Franklin Graham, another highly influential Christian in the world. I had no idea! Since then, I’ve only met Franklin Graham one time and it was no more than a formal handshake and brief greeting. I never had the privilege of meeting Billy Graham. However, had I met Billy Graham, the way Will could talk to him and relate to him would have been very different than my experience. Mine would have been formal, very brief, and with no commitment towards my life and future; the same was true when I met Will’s dad Franklin. However, for Will its very different. For Will the relationship he had with his grandfather and especially the one he has with his father, is one of total commitment towards Will and his life and future; one of total trust and love. As such, there is a confidence Will can have when he’s out on a trip with his dad, one of total assurance and familiarity, and it’s for one reason that he can always have that with Franklin and I will never have it, nor should have it with Franklin – I’m not one of his kids!
Now listen. The Holy Spirit cries out from our heart, “DAD!” because He gives us that kind of relationship with God!
“Instead of looking upon God as a Judge, they could now look upon Him as their Father with whom they have the privilege of living as His sons.”
Being able to call Him our Father is not because we have respect for Him or want Him to be our Father, but because through Christ He is our Father. Do you know how weird and awkward it would be for some random kid to be going around calling you dad? It would at minimum start some rumors you wouldn’t want said about you!
But Christ has brought us out of the prison of sin that separated us from God, that left us under the condemnation of God, to now be in relationship with Him as adopted sons and daughters that He fully favors as His sons and daughters, and as such, we are heirs! Charles Spurgeon wrote something so eloquent and inspirational on this that I have to read it,
“Believers are at this moment heirs, but what is the estate? It is God Himself! We are heirs of God! Not only of the promises, of the covenant engagements, and of all the blessings which belong to the chosen seed, but heirs of God Himself. “Yahweh is my portion, says my soul” (Lam 3:24). “This is God, our God forever and ever” (Psa 48:14). We are not only heirs to God, to all that He gives to His firstborn, but heirs of God Himself. Therefore, live as such. By faith possess and enjoy the treasures of divine grace. Cast doubts and tremblings to the wind, for why should heirs of God live like slaves?”
This leads us straight to the fourth part of Paul’s explanation of the type of relationship Christ has given us with God.
The Challenge of the Illustration – Why would you exchange a son/daughter relationship with God for a slave relationship to a religion or anything else? (4:8-10)
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.
Note: It wasn’t only religion they were in; it wasn’t just that they were in the prison of being sinners, but in that prison they were serving that which wasn’t even God! The “gods” they used to worship weren’t capable of doing anything for them in the prison of this sinful world because they don’t even actually exist!
9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!
Through Christ, God has given us a relationship with Him where we have the right and expectation to dwell with Him with the comfort, confidence, and familiarity of Him being our loving Father who never forsakes us or leave us; who is committed to love us no matter what; who has promised to work all things together for good! We get to have this relationship not because we got to know Him, but because He came to us to know us! Have you ever let the weight of that sit on you?
There are no globally or even nationally important people trying to get to know me; that is, people who are significantly impacting life for everyone in this world or nation. Now I have met with and had meaningful conversations with US Senators and Congressman, however, none of them have ever sought to really know me. Be sure that I’m not at all offended because if they are doing their job well, they literally shouldn’t have space in their life for me to be a priority relationship for them, not to mention I haven’t sought to get to know them either, so how could I throw stones! However, the GOD of the UNIVERSE, The ONE the entire UNIVERSE is dependent on sought me to know me!!!
So, Paul then asks the question to these churches who are considering leaving the grace-based relationship they have with God as sons and daughters, to instead go back into the prison of religion! It makes no sense!
When they were pagans, they tried to know and be known by gods through obeying certain laws and adhering to certain religious practices and traditions. They were enslaved to those laws, practices and traditions, but those laws, practices and traditions did nothing to bring them into a relationship with God, much less the pagan gods that actually don’t even exist.They were not turning back to the pagan versions of those law, practices and traditions; but rather Jewish versions of it, the Jewish versions that even though they were known by God as His chosen people, worked no better for the Jews to bring them into a relationship with God than the pagan practices did for the pagans with their gods (that were not even actual gods). Remember, even the Law God gave Moses was never designed to allow them to experience life outside the prison in a relationship with God as their Father, only a better life in the prison than everybody else, but nonetheless in the prison! To that end every religion has the same goal and as such none of them bring you into a relationship with God, nor do they mature your relationship with God. It doesn’t matter if they are “about” God or “about” pagan gods that aren’t gods; neither works!!! So, Paul is saying, why in the living world would you go back to that???? NO matter what form it takes; Jewish, pagan or Christian … religion of every kind is WORTHLESS practices and traditions that only prove we are living separated from God!
“The question, “How is it possible that you are turning back again to the weak and beggarly rudimentary things to which ye desire to be in bondage again?” is a rhetorical one, the purpose of which is to show the absurdity of their actions. It also calls the attention of the Galatians to the ineffectualness and poverty of their old religious system, contrasted to the power and richness of the gospel. It is of course a perverted form of Judaism to which they were turning, but pagan religions are included in Paul’s thought as just as ineffectual. … When Paul speaks of the rudimentary forms of religion, calling them weak and beggarly, he shows the utter impotence of these to do and bestow what was done and bestowed by God in grace. They are weak in that they have no power to rescue men from condemnation. They are beggarly, since they bring no rich endowment of spiritual blessings. … “It is a fair inference, I think, from St. Paul’s language here, that he does place Heathenism in the same category with Judaism in this last respect. Both alike are stoicheia (στοιχεια), ‘elementary systems of training.’ They had at least this in common, that as ritual systems they were made up of precepts and ordinances, and thus were representatives of ‘law’ as opposed to ‘grace,’ ‘promise,’ that is, as opposed to the gospel. Doubtless in this respect the highest form of heathen religion was much lower and less efficient than the Mosaic ritual. But still in an imperfect way they might do the same work: they might act as a restraint which, multiplying transgressions, and thus begetting and cherishing a conviction of sin, prepared the way for the liberty of manhood in Christ.”
“Luther, commenting on this verse and applying the lesson to his own day, tells us that he had known monks who zealously labored to please God for salvation, but the more they labored the more impatient, miserable, uncertain, and fearful they became. And he adds, “People who prefer the law to the gospel are like Aesop’s dog who let go of the meat to snatch at the shadow in the water.… The law is weak and poor, the sinner is weak and poor: two feeble beggars trying to help each other. They cannot do it. They only wear each other out. But through Christ a weak and poor sinner is revived and enriched unto eternal life.”
“The days probably refer to the Sabbath days and to the feasts which were observed just for a day. The months refer to the monthly recurring events (Isaiah 66:23), or to the seventh month (Numbers 29). The reference also could have to do with the celebration of the appearance of the new moon (Numbers 10:10, 28:11). Times refers to the celebrations not limited to a single day, such as the Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, and to the feasts of the fourth, fifth, and seventh months (II Chron. 8:13). Years may have reference to the year of Jubilee or the Sabbatical year.”
“days and months and seasons Among the heathen, there were diverse “lucky” and “unlucky” days, sacred days, and days in which they indulged in sensual excess. They had even “holy” months and “unholy” months. Now all that kind of thing is done away with in the case of a Christian; He is set free from such weak and beggarly superstitions. Among the Jews there were certain sacred festivals, times that were more notable than other seasons—but they also were done away with in Christ. … to the true believer, there should be no special observance of days and months and years. All that is a return to “the weak and beggarly elements” from which Christ has delivered him. That bondage is all ended now. But there are some who still “observe days, and months, and times, and years,” and Paul says to them, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” Every day is holy, every year is holy, to a holy man. Every place is holy, too, to the man who brings a holy heart into it.”
Challenge: What kind of relationship do you have with God – a religious show, an entitled narcissistic me monster, a rebellious sinful fool, or a grateful adult child who loves being loved by God as your Father?
The imagery Paul uses in Galatians 4:1-10 is not of a small child’s relationship with their father, but of an adult child of a King who is now living and leading in some area of the Kingdom. They are not being overseen by a guardian at a boarding school, they don’t have a committee that approves their decisions with the what has been given to them by the King who is their father; but instead they answer straight to the King who is also the Father that they can sit down and eat breakfast with, watch a game with or go for a walk with. It’s the Father they bow down to because He is also KING, but it’s also the Father they sit on a boat with and fish while they talk about the weather! We have no system that regulates our relationship with Him other than His love for us and His authority over us.
The invitation of the Gospel is to step into a grown up favored kid relationship with God and as such, be so blown away by that invitation that you have to keep pressing forward in that kind of relationship!