“Whoever made the division into chapters has mistakenly separated this paragraph from the one before, for it is simply the investigation or recapitulation in which Paul explains and illustrates the difference between us and the ancient people” (Calvin).
Galatians 4:1-5 HCSB
Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. (2) Instead, he is under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father. (3) In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elemental forces of the world. (4) But when the completion of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
I. The position of Old Testament believers (4:1-3)
A. A helpful illustration (4:1-2) Since the spiritual experience of old covenant believers no longer exists, we need such descriptive word pictures to help us comprehend the great change in position that happened with the arrival of Christ and his better covenant.
Principle: As we understand more clearly what the Lord Christ has done for us, we are better able to praise him.
1. A minor child may be a true heir, but because of his legal status, he is unable to use and to enjoy his inheritance. The believing Jew was a child of God, and so he was also an heir. God’s people in all ages share membership in God’s family and are heirs of his promises. Although the old covenant believer was a child and an heir, as far as his status in the family was concerned, he was no different from a slave.
2. A minor child is subject to guardians and trustees for an appointed time. The old covenant believer had guardians and trustees ruling over him—the rituals and regulations of the law. The old covenant believers “were not in possession of freedom, since the law like a tutor kept them under its yoke. The slavery of law lasted as long as God pleased and he put an end to it as the coming of Christ” (Calvin).
B. A clear declaration (4:3) – Here we must grasp an idea. Since the people of God are one, how can our position be different from that of the Jews? “Since we are all equally the children of God, how comes it that we at this day are exempt from the yoke which they were forced to bear?” (Calvin)
1. The Jewish believers were minor children in their legal standing in God’s family. The inheritance was theirs, but they had no legal access or power to use it.
2. In that position, they were “in slavery under the basic principles of the world.” What is meant by these basic principles? They were the worldly elements or first principles. They were elementary rules and regulations suitable to the experience of children. They are called worldly to show their tangible and external nature (cf. Brown). Life under these basic principles was the experience of slavery. Consider the ritual washings, the required observances, the set times of sacrifices, and the rules about clothing, and then you will know why it is likened to slavery. Note well: They were the objects of the Father’s affection, but they could not use the rights of adult sons in his family.
II. The way to adult sonship is through Christ’s redemptive work (4:4-5). Every blessing of our salvation was purchased by Jesus the Son of God in his redeeming death.
A. Focus on the Redeemer (4:4) – First of all, we must keep our eyes on Christ!
1. He came at “the fullness of time (cf. Mk 1:15; 1 Cor 10:11). The fullness of time under the law had come (cf. Guthrie). Now we live in the last days. However, we should remember that even in the last days there is a constant contrast between what is already here and what is not yet.
2. He was sent by the Father. While this statement alone does not prove Christ’s preexistence, it is in agreement with that teaching. Above all, we should see that he was doing his Father’s will (cf. 1:4).
3. He took on our human nature by being born “of a woman”. He humbled himself that he might enter “the prison-house where his people were held in bondage so as to set them free” (Bruce).
4. He was born under the law (the old covenant). The Son of God became subject to the law’s demands, in order that he might fulfill them perfectly and exhaust their penalty (cf. Mt 5:17-18).
Apply: We should respond to his coming with worship. We live among a proud, self-focused people, and we need to declare the praises of our Savior and Lord. We are not gods; we are created to worship. The pen in my pocket was made so that people could write with it. If it doesn’t work, it is fit for a trashcan. If we don’t worship, we are meaningless and so fit for destruction.
B. Focus on accomplished redemption (4:5; cf. Heb 9:9-10)
1. He redeemed those under the law. This, of course, refers to Jewish believers. He released them from the status of servitude.
2. He redeemed those under the law in order that we might have the full rights of sons. This was release to something. We are set free to live as adult sons. Christ’s sacrifice, since it was a redemptive sacrifice, began an ear of liberty from which there can be no turning back to the bondage of the law.
3. He redeemed so that we might enjoy the blessings of adult sonship: a fuller knowledge of God, a higher measure of filial love and confidence, and a spiritual form of worship fitting our status as adult sons and daughters of God.
1. Know the superiority of the new covenant over the old covenant. The law was good, but Christ’s new covenant is better. The unchanging God has a progressive work in history, increasing the display of his glory in Christ the Redeemer (cf. 2 Cor 3).
2. Remember that the position of adult sons of God is a blood-bought blessing. Therefore, we ought to be very thankful for the unspeakable privilege of having the full rights of sons and daughters in God the Father’s family. Christ died on the cross to put us in this position. Value it!
3. Since Jesus the Son of God purchased these full rights for us, we should make full use of what he has purchased for us! Isn’t it a shame to spend hard-earned money for something and never use, or to give a loved one a precious gift that is ignored? How much more shameful to fail to enjoy and to live in what Jesus died to purchase for us!
4. Be shocked at the incongruity of an adult son or daughter of God desiring to live like a little child. Yet how often common sense is thrown out the window when we come to theology. Since the Father sent his dearly loved Son to redeem the Jews from under the law, he will surely not put them back under the law in the future. Since the Father sent his dearly loved Son to redeem his people from under the law, he does not want his church to live under the law now. We are in Christ, in his law, and under his lordship. We are no longer under the covenant of the tablets of stone. We are in the freedom of the Son of God!
5. Since we are heirs, look forward beyond present suffering to glory.