Galatians Chapter 4

Paul continued to prove to the Galatians that our subjection to the law ends at the arrival of Christ. He used the illustration of an heir’s subjection to a guardian until he is of age. The Galatians’s desire to be under the law is shown by the allegory of Isaac and Ishmael and therefore is inconsistent with their gospel liberty.

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Definition of a slave

1Now I mean that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. 2But he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

In Jewish culture, an heir to an inheritance, like us heir to salvation in Christ, as long as he is a child, is no more than a slave, and under someone else's authority.

We all love I Corinthians 13, especially these verses where Paul refers to the child-man contrast.

9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. (1 Cor 13:9-11)

How did you understand these verses before? I’m sure most of us understood a child to mean someone who is young or new in their Christian faith with much to learn, with few Bible verses to cast about when needed, etc. But we shall see later these verses meant something else. I’m getting ahead of myself here, but a Christian who still lives under the law is like a child under someone else’s guardianship.

How do you know you still live under the law?

14For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 15They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, 16on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14)></em>

You may not have the 10 commandments like the Jews, but you do have laws in your hearts, and whatever that you believe can separate you and God, that is the law to you.

3So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world.

The basic forces of the world, or “elements” according to KJV, or “rudiments.” Rudimentary religious teachings of outward things, such as legal ordinances, childhood lessons such as letters of the alphabets (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown). Our subjection to these basic rules of conducts are considered “slavery” by the Bible. Slavery because the one living under it can never fulfill it to 100%.

Haven’t we read in the last chapter that if you choose to base your life on the law you have to fulfill all of it? Even Jesus challenged the Pharisees to “be perfect” because God is perfect, and without this perfection you cannot see God? Obviously he was pushing them to admit their need of him and not relying on the inferior sacrifices that cannot take away the guilt as deep as their sinful nature.

This is why basing our relationship with God on the law is a drudgery that Paul unflinchingly called slavery.

Now is the time for something new

4But when the appropriate time had come,

The Fall began when man fell from grace, when they decided the law, the knowledge of good and evil, became their guide instead of their simple faith in God. Now was the time for Christ to come, it was called the appropriate time, or the fullness of the time (KJV). Why did it take God so long to send His Son? Perhaps it took that long for man to fully realize the enormity and deadly fruits of their sin—wars, genocide, atrocities, etc.—; and to prove to them that, had they been given ten thousand more years, none will rise up from among them as righteous in God’s eye.

God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.

It stands to reason that if Christ redeemed us from under the law, we should be free from it. From a child to full sonship of God.

6And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.

This brings us back to the previous chapter when Paul sternly asked them how they received the Spirit of God, was it by law keeping, or by believing what they heard. We know what the answer should be, that we received God’s greatest gift, the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, not because of what we do, but because of who we are: because we are sons and daughters. No works, just faith. Sounds like it cheapens God’s grace, but no, it’s the exact opposite. God’s grace is so priceless that no works can buy, and so expensive it took the Son of God to pay for it.

Heirs of Promise Are Not to Return to Law

8Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all. 9But 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 basic forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? 10You are observing religious days and months and seasons and years. 11I fear for you that my work for you may have been in vain. 12I beg you, brothers and sisters, become like me, because I have become like you. You have done me no wrong!

Who were those “beings that by nature are not gods?” Those that can dictate, or those that you have come to trust for, the condition of your salvation. Let’s not be surprise at this because so many lives have been wrecked by leaders who led them down the wrong path. The Galatians entrusted their relationship with God in the hands of those that profit from their lack of understanding.

Now that “you have come to know God,” directly, and personally, no need for any intermediary, or for anyone to be a communication bridge between you and God.

When Christians rely on a law, even a single law, to dictate the terms or quality of their relationship with God, they inevitably must rely on some intermediary to qualify their fulfillment. As foolish as this may sound, many, if not most, Christians revert back to these “weak and worthless basic forces” to be “enslaved to them all over again.”

The enormity of this reversal back to the law cannot be underestimated, as Paul was concerned that his effort for them may have been in vain, which could only mean the faith they had may not have been a “saving faith” at all, as it is based on something else, and not Christ.

Personal Appeal of Paul

13But you know it was because of a physical illness that I first proclaimed the gospel to you, 14and though my physical condition put you to the test, you did not despise or reject me. Instead, you welcomed me as though I were an angel of God, as though I were Christ Jesus himself! 15Where then is your sense of happiness now? For I testify about you that if it were possible, you would have pulled out your eyes and given them to me! 16So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Eventhough Paul’s original intention was not to preach the gospel to the Galatians, but due to an illness that he was detained, and the gospel was preached as a result. Paul reminded them of that time when they welcomed him despite his condition, when they must have heard the gospel with much joy and anticipation, and now he had become their enemy because he told them the truth: that law and grace cannot walk hand in hand, that their salvation might be at risk because of this seemingly innocuous thing: the circumcision, and perhaps other means of cleansing. Their regard for this ritual may have been so high that Paul had now become their enemy.

Paul’s birth pains

17They court you eagerly, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you would seek them eagerly. 18However, it is good to be sought eagerly for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My children—I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you! 20I wish I could be with you now and change my tone of voice, because I am perplexed about you.

They must be the legalistic leaders in their community; courting the Galatians so eagerly but not doing them any good because what they’re promoting does not benefit them at all; and the legalists want to “exclude,” or “excommunicate,” them as a way of letting them know they aren’t saved, so they may become more dependent on the law keepers. Paul’s perplexity concerning their faith must be so overwhelming that he used such harsh tones, calling them foolish several times, and never once praised them for their faith.

Lawkeepers don’t really understand the law

21Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not understand the law?

Do you understand the law? Do you know what its final objective is? If you know it, you would know that it does not bring you the justification you need for heaven. And if you know this you would also know that it would not help you please God, or make you more sanctified, or more perfect. It’s meant to terrorize you until you flee to the One who alone can give you what you need to reconcile with God.

An allegory

The allegory that we’re going to read below was designed by God using Abraham’s life to give us as a foreshadow of things to come. How He planned to save us is how it will be, it was then is as it will be now and forevermore: not by natural descent, or by works, or by human effort, but through the promise.

22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23But one, the son by the slave woman, was born by natural descent, while the other, the son by the free woman, was born through the promise. 24These things may be treated as an allegory, for these women represent two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. 25Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren woman who does not bear children; Break forth and shout, you who have no birth pains, because the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than those of the woman who has a husband.”

Do you see these contrasts? Slave/Free, Works(natural-descent)/Promise, Sinai/Zion(heavenly-Jerusalem), and Old-Covenant/New-Covenant. There must be a transition, a shifting in foundations, a change in which master we obey.

The slave woman and the law

28But you, brothers and sisters, are children of the promise like Isaac. 29But just as at that time the one born by natural descent persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is now. 30But what does the scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the inheritance with the son” of the free woman. 31Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.

“Throw out the slave woman and her son?” This is a very serious declaration from God and now delivered through the apostle Paul. Who do you think you are, or who would you choose to be identified as? Are you still under the law?

There is though one type of work that’s approved by God; it is what Jesus said in John 6:29: “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” The NIV has it like this, if you like the “work” better than “deed”: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.

Throw out the slave woman and her son. Is there anything you rely on other than Christ to maintain your relationship with God? Anything that appears to be a law that governs your relationship with Him? Throw it out, put your full faith in Christ. Make every effort to enter God’s REST (Hebrews 4:11). If there is a work that pleases God, it is the effort to get to the place of God’s rest, where Jesus said: It’s finished, and He rested. This is the work that proves your faith.

(Additional thoughts. This was the hardest work for me, and it took more than 20 years since I put my trust in Christ, the work of finding this wonderful place of rest).

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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