In this text Paul expands on his point from verses 24-26 in Chapter 3. The Law was a guardian that led us to Christ, but now that Christ has come we are no longer under the authority of the guardian. We are free. We are sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And as sons we have privileges and position. As sons we no longer fear a Judge but love a Father. We are adopted into the family of God and as a result have His Spirit in our hearts and cry out to Him, “Abba! Father!” We were slaves, but now we are free because Christ redeemed us. We were slaves, but now we are sons because God adopted us. Why would anyone who has enjoyed freedom and sonship want to enter slavery again?
As he did in verse 24 of Chapter 3, Paul uses as an example the method of raising boys in wealthy families in Greek culture. Boys are put under the authority of others – often a trusted slave – until they reach adulthood. In this way, Paul says, the boy does not differ much from a slave. He may be heir to everything – he may technically own everything – but until he reaches the age of responsibility set by the father, he is under the authority of others and has very few rights.
In the same way believers were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. Before Christ came believers were heirs to the promise made to Abraham – the promise of the Messiah. But until He came we were kept in custody under law (3:23). We were heirs to the promise but treated like slaves because the promise was not yet fulfilled. The Law pointed to Christ but did not enable anyone to reach God. The Law was a jailer who set the terms of freedom but did not enable anyone to gain it.
This point is similar to what Paul said in 3:23-25 with one exception. Instead of saying we were in bondage under the Law, in verse 3 he says we were in bondage under the elemental things of the world. It is hard to know exactly what this means. The Greek words can be translated “rudimentary teachings of the world” or “elemental spirits of the world.” The first translation would mean the era of the Law was a time of very basic principles that was surpassed by the era of faith ushered in by Christ. The Law was elementary school; Christ brought us to high school. This fits with the illustration of childhood Paul develops in the first two verses but it does not explain how it was a time of bondage.
The second translation seems to be better. Paul equates our time under the Law to being enslaved by evil spirits or demons. This goes along with what he will say in verse 8 also. This is shocking terminology, however. Serving the Law was like serving Satan? The Law was given to Moses by God and angels and yet those who lived under it were really living under the authority and dominion of Satan and his minions? Not exactly. What he seems to mean is that Satan used the Law – which was from God and was good in itself – to enslave people. What God intended as a weapon of grace to point people to Christ, Satan used to lock people up under its impossible demands. Anything that enslaves us and keeps us from God’s grace is really of the devil. And even the Law, when it is used this way, is as evil as pagan rituals and demonic rites.
God intended the Law to reveal sin and to drive men to Christ; Satan uses it to reveal sin and to drive men to despair. God meant the Law as an interim step to man’s justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation. God meant the Law to be a stepping-stone to liberty; Satan uses it as a cul-de-sac, deceiving his dupes into supposing that from its fearful bondage there is no escape. – John Stott
Consider: This really puts a whole different spin on legalism for believers. When we fall into the temptation of living in our own strength and reducing our relationship with God to a set of rules we keep for our own credit, what we are really doing is serving Satan. Satan loves us to be religious when the basis of our religion is not the love of Christ but the love of self. Legalism is ultimately just another weapon of the Enemy and one much more dangerous in many ways than outright sin and temptation.
Believers reached the age of responsibility and inherited the promise when God sent forth His Son. God sent Jesus who set us free from our guardians and free from the elemental things of the world. And note when God sent Him – it was at the fullness of the time. God prepared the world and circumstances such that it was the perfect time for Christ’s coming and the movement He began (e.g., Greek was spoken throughout the world, Roman domination and its roads made travel easier than ever, Jews were living all over the world as a result of the Assyrian dispersion which made the Law more well-known, etc.). It was also the high point of world history. His coming was not random – it was according to God’s perfect timing and as a result of God’s premeditated action. God SENT Him. [It is always good to remember when we wait on God that everything happens in the “fullness of the time” – everything is according to His perfect timing – Habakkuk 2:3.]
Jesus was born of a woman – He was fully human. He was born under the Law – He was Jewish. Because He was human He could pay the penalty of sin for humans. Only a human could die for human sins. Because He was God, He was perfect. And because He was Jewish, He perfectly kept the Law. The Law was forever made obsolete because Jesus kept it perfectly and thus set anyone under it free with His death. He was born under the Law that He might redeem those who were under the Law.
He did not stop at redemption, however. He not only redeemed those under the Law but made it possible for us to receive the adoption as sons. He redeemed AND adopted. Remember that justification is not only having our sins taken from us but also having Christ’s righteousness imputed TO us. In the same way, Christ’s death did not just redeem us – it also enabled us to become part of the family. The Son of God enabled us to become sons of God.
And because we are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Since we are part of the family of God we receive the family gift – God’s Spirit. Since the members of the Godhead (notice the clear allusions to the trinity in verses 4-6 – God sent forth His Son and sent forth the Spirit of His Son who cries out to the Father) live as one, we also live as one with God as His Spirit indwells us. We become partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4) and share in the trinitarian unity by receiving the Spirit of God. [Stop and meditate on this. This is not a point to breeze through. This is the doctrinal equivalent of holy ground – a burning bush to approach in awe].
Do not miss what the Spirit cries out. Abba! Father! is a cry of intimacy. It is similar to saying “dad” or “daddy” in our culture. God’s Spirit in our hearts enables us to call God our Father – our Dad. He is the omnipotent Creator and Sustainer of the universe who will judge all men and whose wrath is to be feared. But if we are His sons through faith in Jesus Christ then He is also our DAD.
The Spirit enables our relationship but is also proof of our relationship. We know we are sons of God because His Spirit is in our lives. And the way He assures us of our sonship is not by some spectacular gift or sign, but by the quiet inward witness of the Spirit as we pray – John Stott.
Consider: We do not live in fear of a remote Judge or out of the sight of an uninterested Deity – we live daily with a FATHER. A Father loves rather than judges. A Father does not change His love based on the actions of His son. A Father seeks relationship and intimacy. A Father loves hearing from His sons, leading His sons, teaching His sons, watching His sons grow in their maturity. And a perfect heavenly Father loves when His sons become more and more like Him because He knows that is what is best for them. This is why He grieves when His sons do things that interrupt their closeness with Him because He knows what they are missing. He loves His sons so much He gives them the greatest gift He can – the greatest gift an omnipotent God can give – Himself.
Paul ends his case about sonship with a logical conclusion. If we are sons then we are no longer slaves. We are sons and heirs – we are fully in the family of God. And we are heirs of God through God. We are not sons based on our efforts or merit. We are sons through God who sent His Son at the fullness of time to redeem us and adopt us, and sent His Spirit to enable us to live in intimacy with Him. Everything we are before God we are through Him.
Paul uses what he just said about sonship to renew his appeal to the Galatians. When they did not know God they were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. This goes back to verse 3 – they were slaves to the elemental things of the world, and the elemental things of the world are by nature not gods. This seems to refer again to some kind of spiritual/demonic power. Since this is the case, why would anyone want to go back to that slavery?
When the Galatians were in slavery they did not know God. But now they have come to know God, or rather to be known by God. They know God because of Christ and they are known by God because of Christ [To know God is the most wonderful pursuit in the world and what it will take all of eternity to (never fully) accomplish. To be known by God is the most wonderful state in the world and is the basis of salvation and means we are fully His sons and fully adopted into His grace]. They are adopted sons who have God’s Spirit – they know God and are known by Him in intimate relationship. How can anyone want to turn his back on the intimate relationship afforded only to sons and go back into slavery? Why would anyone want to exchange a father for a slave master? Or exchange God’s freedom for demonic oppression?
Paul’s ending appeal is chilling. He says they observe days and months and seasons and years – their religion is all about externals, rules and regulations. They no longer enjoy the freedom of sons because they choose the cold ritual and duties of slaves. Because of this Paul sadly says, “I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” If Paul had never come to them they would be in the same slavery they are now choosing.
- Christ redeemed us.
- Even more, He enabled us to be adopted by His Father and to become sons of God.
- Since we are God’s sons, God sends His Spirit to us so we can share in the unity He has with the Son.
- Since we have His Spirit we get to call Him “Father.”
- Since He is our Father we live our lives in loving relationship with Him as heirs, not in fearful wonder like slaves trying to merit His approval or avoid His wrath.
- As sons we try to imitate Him and become more like Him (Eph 5:1).
- As sons we want to talk to Him and spend time with Him.
- As sons we want to know him more and more.
- As adopted sons whose standing is entirely dependent on the actions of our Father, we live thankful lives giving all glory to the One who enabled us to be in the family.
- As redeemed and adopted sons we know our best does not deserve our Father’s favor and our worst does not fall outside the scope of His redemption.
- Because we do not earn our standing or our Father’s favor we are quick to confess our sins to Him and to repent of anything that might interrupt our intimacy.
- As sons we are not subject to our Father’s wrath, but to His discipline.
- As sons we trust our Father when He leads us through difficult times we do not understand or like.
- As sons we love other sons adopted into the family.
- As sons our ultimate desire is for the Father Himself.
And you think about how amazing this is. You look at God. God who created everything out of nothing by the sheer will of His desiring and decreeing it into existence. The God who flooded the earth because He was sick of sin. The God who rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah and killed people for perversion, according to Jude. The God who has killed His enemies. The God who sits on a throne and rules over everything.
And Hebrews 10:31 tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” You understand this kind of God, and then you come to Him after Jesus has saved you, and you look at Him, and you ask Him, “Well, what should I call you?” The Jews were so scared of this; they wouldn’t even pronounce God’s name.
God looks at you and He says, “Call me Dad.” “Oh. Call you dad.” “Yeah, I’m your dad.” “That’s not what I was expecting. I was expecting me to call you boss and for you to give me a job description and for me to do it cowering in fear. And if I fail, to expect something terrible to happen. But ‘Dad’, that’s totally different. I can call you Dad?” “Yes. I’m your Father. I’ve adopted you. You’re my son. I’ve sent Jesus to die for your sins. So, today, I declare you an adult. You’re mature now. And I put my Holy Spirit in you so you can live by the power of the Holy Spirit, and He’ll lead and guide you. And any sins that you commit, Jesus has already forgiven.” – Mark Driscoll