Galatians: We Are Children of Promise!

ABCsIn Galatians 4, Paul writes of the “elementary principles of the world” the “weak and worthless elements” (ESV). The NKJV translates as follows:

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. (Gal. 4.3)

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? (Gal. 4.9)

Notice the slavery / bondage aspect to the elements. These “elementary principles” are like the ABCs, the basic building blocks of religious activity. Paul here writes of the Jewish religion, originally mediated and recorded by the hand of Moses. Although the law contains the greatest expression of God’s holiness the world has ever seen, Paul still considered it “weak and worthless” because of its inability to deliver from slavery. In fact, people were enslaved to those elementary things.

God never intended for us to stay in the ABC stage, though, and when the fullness of time came, God sent Jesus to live according to the law in order to deliver everyone from the law. The result? We become the actual adopted sons of God! No longer does the tutor watch over our every move; now we enjoy great freedom in Christ!

SlaveryWhy, then, Paul asks, would you go back to those elementary principles? Why return to the ABCs if you have already graduated? You want to become slaves again?

At the end of Galatians 4, Paul allegorizes events from Abraham’s life. Abraham had two wives. Sarah was his free wife, and Hagar was his slave wife (concubine). Each wife bore a son. Hagar had Ishmael and Sarah had Isaac. Notice Paul’s train of thought:

  1. The son of the slave woman was born according to the flesh (by the forethought and will of man). The son of the free was born through a promise (by the forethought and will of God).
  2. The slave child represents the Jerusalem below, tied to the image of Mt. Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments, the Law of Moses. The free child represents the Jerusalem above, which is free from the Law of Moses.
  3. Those in Christ, like Isaac, are children of promise. Those outside of Christ are children of bondage.
  4. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so now the children of the flesh persecute and afflict the children of the promise.

Paul ends the analogy with a quote: “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal. 4.30). Paul finds this business so serious that he will not even allow the free to live side-by-side with the slave. And who are these? The free is he who has been released from the Law in Christ; the slave is he who continues to trust in his keeping of the Law for salvation.

Brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman! We are children of promise, born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.13).

Galatians: Because You Are Sons

AdoptLet’s try to absorb the reality of our adoption by God.

Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born  of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4.1-7)

First, the Father is not forced to adopt. Parents adopted who they will. Adoption is a process of choice completely on the part of the parent. In the time of Paul, Roman law dictated that an adopted son received all the rights and privileges of a natural-born son. Bob Utley writes the following in his commentary on Galatians:

In Roman law, adoption was very difficult. A long, involved and expensive legal procedure, once enacted adoption afforded several special rights and privileges: (1) all debts were cancelled; (2) all criminal charges were dropped; (3) they could not be legally put to death by their new father; and (4) they could not be disinherited by their new father. In legal terms, they were a completely new person. Paul was alluding to the believers’ security in Christ by using this Roman legal procedure (cf. Rom. 8:15, 23). When a father publicly adopted a son, he officially and permanently became his heir. *

Second, the “we” in Galatians 4 I believe refers to both Jews and Gentiles (see Gal. 3.27-29) who were redeemed (bought back) by Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles used to be “under the law” (they both stood accountable before God), but Christ extracted and released them. Though they used to be slaves, now they were sons! How did they become sons? God adopted them into His family.

Third, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts because we are sons. The Holy Spirit in us, by Whom we cry out “Abba, Father!”, proves the fact of our adoption. See also Romans 8.9-17: the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are sons of God. If we have the Holy Spirit, we are sons–guaranteed! If we are sons, we have the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, if we are sons we are heirs of God, selected to receive an inheritance.

Doesn’t all that make you want to jump for absolute joy?!


* Utley, Robert James. Paul’s First Letters: Galatians and I & II Thessalonians. Vol. Volume 11. Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1997.