As we move from Galatians 3 to 4 it’s important you keep in mind that Paul’s original letter did not contain chapter and verse breaks. (Chapter divisions were first introduced by English Archbishop Stephen Langton in the early part of the 13th century. Then in 1551 a Frenchman by the name of Robert Estienne added the verse structure. Both developments occurred to make the reading and referencing of the Bible easier.)
This means chapter 4 is nothing more than the continuation of Paul’s concluding point in chapter 3. Galatians 3:24-29, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
As we noted last Sunday because of our faith in the work of Jesus on the cross we are not only spiritual descendants of Abraham, but we’ve been made adopted “sons of God” meaning we’re now “heirs according to the promise.”
In chapter 4 Paul is now going to explain how it is we’re “heirs” and the implications of this incredible reality all the while illustrating the true silliness of those who’ve been saved by Grace returning again to the law (seeking to earn God’s approval as opposed to enjoying it).
Galatians 4:1-3, “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, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.”
In order to unpack the essence of what Paul is communicating to these Galatians we need to first define what Paul means when he uses this word “child” or “children.” In the Greek this word “child” and later “children” is “nêpios” meaning “infant or little child.”
Keep in mind Paul is writing to a group of Christians and he’s using this imagery of a “child” to describe the state of their lives before regeneration so that he can then contrast that particular existence with the moment they became “sons.”
Here’s why this distinction is important… While the Bible clearly states that all people are God’s creation (Colossians 1:16, “All things were created through Him and for Him”) and that God loves all people (John 3:16, “God so loved the world”) nowhere does the Scriptures describe all human beings children of God.
Instead the Bible makes the case that only those who are born again (placed their faith in Jesus) are in actuality “children of God.” John 1:12, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
The reality is (and this is a difficult pill to swallow) before regeneration, while in our rebellion, we were all in actuality children of the devil! John 8:44 Jesus told the Pharisees that they “belonged to their father, the devil.” In 1 John 3:10 we’re told, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”
Understand… Paul is retrospectively speaking of these Galatian believers as always being heirs of the promise even though they had been children of the devil because they had already accepted His adoption as “sons.” Think about it like this…
If you accept Jesus and are born again we can speak of you as always being an heir even though you were once a child of satan. And yet, upon death, if you’ve still rejected Jesus and died in your sins it becomes evident you were never an heir and always a child of the devil. It honestly doesn’t have to become more complicated than that.
Continuing… Paul states that while “heirs” when these Galatians were “children” they were in actuality “slaves” because they were “under guardians and stewards… in bondage under the elements of the world.” Sure while one day they’d become “masters” in this particular season their lives were defined by servitude and slavery, not liberty and freedom!
“Guardians” or an “Epitropos” was a non-parental authority responsible for the child.
“Steward” or an “Oikonomos” was a non-parental authority responsible for the estate.
Paul says as a “child” these Galatians were “in bondage” or literally “made a slave of or given wholly over to serve the needs of another.” To what then were they in servitude? He says it was “the elements of the world” or literally in the Greek the “stoicheion kosmos.”
Q: What is Paul referring to with this phrase “the elements of the world?”
In it’s most simplistic definition Paul is referring to “the first thing from which all other things in this world belong.” This phrase “elements of the world” can be translated as “first principles, the ABC’s, or the material cause behind the physical world.”
And while we have a greater understanding as to what the “first principles of our universe” actually are through the advancements of quantum theory and atomic science, this advantage takes the essence of what Paul is referencing out of its cultural context.
To help us unpack what Paul says we were all enslaved to before we came to Christ we need to look at Colossians 2:8-10 for a frame of reference. In this passage he encourages the believers in Colossi to “beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles (stoicheion) of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
Paul warns against being deceived “through the philosophy” of the day, which he bases in “the traditions of men” and “the basic principles of the world.” Then to point out the silliness of reverting back to these things Paul says Jesus “is the head of (or literally supreme to) all principalities and power” driving this deceitful philosophy.
And in this point we’re given a fundamental clue… While this word “principality” or “archê” in the Greek can mean “beginning or origin” it can also refer to angels and demons. Paul will use the same word in his letter to the Ephesians 6:12 writing, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
It would seem that by “elements of the world” Paul is referencing their false gods. If you quickly you look down to Galatians 4:8-9 this seems to fit, “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. 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 (stoicheion), to which you desire again to be in bondage?”
In classical culture most held to the belief that spiritual forces controlled the physical universe. For example… If you were a farmer, you made sacrifices to appease Apollo (sun god). If you were trying to get pregnant, you made sacrifices to appease to Aphrodite (fertility goddess). If you were a seaman, you made sacrifices to appease Poseidon (god of the sea). If you were trying to get rich, you made sacrifices to appease Plutus (god of wealth).
In its cultural context by using this phrase “elements of the world” Paul is referring to their former pagan idolatry and the “bondage” that came along with their constant attempts to appease these gods; but what’s interesting and more important is that by connecting this word “principalities” to the idea of the “elements” Paul is also affirming the existence of a real demonic power behind their pagan idols and gods.
1 Corinthians 10:20, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” Please understand there are real, demonic, spiritual forces behind all of our idols!
What Paul is communicating to his Galatian audience through the first three verses of Galatians 4 is that before Christ liberated them through His grace they had been enslaved to this idea that they had to make sacrifices in order to receive God’s favor.
Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”
Paul is saying while you were enslaved in sin and held in bondage by your fruitless attempts to appease God with all hope of breaking free seemingly lost, God still had a plan! He says when the “time appointed by the father” or “the fullness of time had come…”
“God sent forth His Son…” This statement affirms that Jesus was sent by God, as God (“His Son”), and had always been God (His eternal existence before the incarnation).
“Born of a woman…” This word “born” or “ginomai” in the Greek has many meanings and in this particular context means Jesus “received His being of a woman.” This is important for it explains how God was able to take on human flesh without assuming the sin nature given to all of humanity through Adam. In Genesis 3:15 God prophesied that the promised Savior would come through the “Seed of the woman” which spoke of the virgin birth. Though human Jesus’ nature remained divine.
“Born under the law…” Literally, Jesus came “to be made under the law.” This means who Jesus was was validate and He was able to accomplish His core mission because of the law. Jesus’ divine nature was authenticated through His sinless life. The very fact He never broken the law served to affirm He had never “fallen short of the glory of God.”
Q: For what purpose had Jesus been sent by God?
Galatians 4:5, “To redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
Understand, the entire reason Jesus came to earth was the redemption of humanity. Once again this word “redeem” was unique to Greek and Roman culture for it spoke of a very particular transaction on the slave market. Just because you went to the market to purchase a slave didn’t guarantee the transaction was occurring to set the slave free.
It was normal to purchase a slave in order for them to work in your house or to even pay off a debt. And yet, to “redeem” someone from the market was to permanently set them free.
Paul is making it clear Jesus redeemed you for freedom with no strings attached. He didn’t liberate you in order to subjugate you in His servitude. He didn’t set you free under the pretense you’d have to spend your days paying Him back. Jesus freed you from the bondage of this world “that you might receive (what was promised) the adoption as sons” of God.
In this passage Paul is describing two incredible works provide by Jesus central to making us “heirs of the promise.” First, we’re redeemed in that we’ve been purchased out of slavery for freedom so that we can then accept the adoption of God making us a member of His family.
Galatians 4:6-7, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
What Paul is saying in these verses is rather remarkable… “Because you are sons” in that you’ve been redeemed and adopted, “you are no longer a slave but a son and heir of God.” This means positionally your standing before God upon redemption is 100% complete.
Paul’s point in the context of these Galatians falling into the trappings of legalism by reverting to the Anti-Gospel of “Grace, And” and “Grace, But” is to illustrate the very stupidity of the endeavor itself. If you’ve been made a “son of God” through His grace, how can you possibly think the moralistic efforts of the law could increase or add to this standing?
Because of your redemption through Jesus and your adoption by God extended by grace alone and not merit, your standing before God is the exact same as Jesus!
How really “foolish” it is to then think that somehow your standing in heaven could eclipse that of Christ’s… That there is something you could do to cause the Father to love you more than the Son! You cannot do anything to cause God to love you anymore than He already does! How can you get a better standing with God? Grace has made you a son!
And yet, while glorious a reality our position in heaven is through Jesus Christ, Paul doesn’t stop there… “Because you are sons” in that you’ve been redeemed and adopted, “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”
First, Paul explains in a very practical way the mechanism by which you and I become “sons of God.” In Romans 8:15 Paul refers to the “Spirit of adoption.” Understand, we become sons and daughters of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The only reason you’re given this standing in heaven as an “heir” and this new identity as a “child of God” is that in your adoption “the Spirit of Jesus” was sent “into your heart.”
Consider what Paul is actually saying… At the very center of your redemption and adoption rests this idea that God gave up His own Son Jesus. God the Father allowed His only Son to die a brutal death so that He could redeem and adopt you as His child…
Then “God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your heart” so that when you “cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” whose voice does God hear? Understand… He hears not your voice, but the voice of Jesus speaking through you! Let the implication of all this settle in for a moment… When you cry out to God He hears the voice of His Son Jesus!
In using this phrase “Abba, Father” there is no doubt Paul is referring to a powerful moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed just moments before His arrest, trial, and execution, (Mark 14:36) “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
This word “Abba” was the Aramaic word for “papa or daddy.” It was an endearing word. It’s been said “Abba” was a word you could say without teeth meaning no matter your age the idea could be expressed.
It’s ironic that the orthodox Jews held the name of God in such high regard that not only would they never utter the name, but they wouldn’t even write the name of God. Though the law creates a healthy fear of God, it’s grace that enables an intimacy with God.
What an incredible privilege we’ve been afforded as children of God in that we’ve been given the “Spirit of His Son Jesus” so that as Jesus we to can call Him Dad.
So follow Paul’s logic… You were once a “child” enslaved by the elementary principles of this world until God intervened by sending His Son to “redeem” you and set you free so that you could not only become an “heir” with Jesus, but you could be a “son of God” as you’ve been filled with “His Spirit.” Your position in heaven, favor, and access to God is the same as Jesus and all this occurred as a mechanism of His grace and not your efforts!
Paul is seeking to illustrate to these Galatians what legalism in the life of a believer really is… Seeking to earn God’s approval is akin to a “son” laying aside his position and inheritance as an “heir” and going back to being a slave! But it’s worse than that!
Galatians 4:8-11, “But then, indeed, when you did not know God (restating their position as “children”), you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God (become “heirs according to the promise” as adopted “sons”), how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (these spiritual forces behind physical elements), to which you desire again to be in bondage (the difficulty of seeking to appease God through works)? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”
Wow this is intense! Do you understand what Paul just said? This reference to “observing days and months and seasons and years” was all about this legalistic position that required Christians to adhere to the Jewish Feasts. In placing this in context with these “weak and beggarly elements” Paul is equating this position with being on par with demon worship!
Basically, Paul is saying when you do anything to earn God’s approval or favor you are not worshipping God, but instead honoring and placing yourself in bondage to demons!
It’s crazy but Paul sees the pagan practices of self-mutilation, temple prostitution, and human sacrifice on par with any aspect of religion that seeks to justify a person before God apart from grace! He even goes so far as to say “I’m afraid for you, lest I have labored in vain.”
Let’s make this personal… One of the reasons ministry in the Bible Belt is so difficult is that most everyone thinks they know God when few actually do! Sadly, almost every aspect of our Christian experience is so twisted according to Paul it’s actually pagan!
Here’s an easy example… Did you wake up and come to church this morning freely or did you begrudgingly come out of some warped sense of religious obligation or pressure?
Did you come to church out of a joy to worship God, study His Word, and connect with His family - a desire that naturally manifests itself from God’s amazing grace or did you come to church because you feel you have to explaining why you’re counting the minutes to leave?
Now don’t get me wrong going to church is important, but please understand… If you’re here this morning thinking your attendance makes you right with God or scores you points in heaven then you’re not only mistaken but you’re in actually placing yourself in bondage! The law demands I do when grace frees me from this burden.
Paul is making it clear that if you’re engaging in any aspect of the Christian life (church, Bible study, evangelism or missions, service, giving, the Sabbath, Lint, worshipping) out of a desire to earn God’s pleasure (or at a minimum maintain God’s pleasure) as opposed to these things being a response of His pleasure… You, as “sons of God” and “heirs of the promise,” are re-enslaving yourself and worshipping demons.
It deserves repeating, but Jesus “redeemed” you for freedom with no strings attached. He didn’t liberate you in order to subjugate you in His servitude. He didn’t set you free under the pretense you’d have to spend your days paying Him back. Jesus freed you from the bondage of this world “that you might receive (what was promised) the adoption as sons” of God.
Your position in heaven as an “heir,” favor by “His Spirit,” and access to God as a “son” is the exact same as Jesus… Why? Because of grace and not your efforts! And this becomes incredibly freeing because it says God’s love is unconditional! Because there is nothing you can do to cause Jesus to love you more or to love you less you are set free to simply enjoy His love!
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