As he continues in the letter to the Churches of Galatia, Paul is defending the purity of the Gospel against Judaizing infiltrators who have convinced many Gentile believers that it is not enough to lay hold of the Cross of Christ and His perfect righteousness but that the deeds of the Law must be added to Christ’s work in order to be found acceptable before God.
He reminded them in Chapter 3 that they began in the Spirit as the Gospel was announced to their hearts and it is foolish of them to think that they will now be perfected in the flesh. He demonstrated to them that the Law announces a curse to all who do not obey it perfectly and that Christ came to become a Curse for us by hanging on a tree for all who have faith. He concluded by reminding that Abraham himself believed the Gospel beforehand and that all of Abraham’s true children and true heirs are those that have faith just like Abraham did.
Paul continues in Galatians 4 by reminding of a human analogy that we all understand. Children, while in a household, are much like slaves. They are under the guardianship and direction of the household and have to obey rules. While they are yet children, they are not in a position to inherit the estate of their parents until their time of maturity comes. This is to remind them of what Paul said the purpose of the Law was in Galatians 3. He builds upon that point in verse 3: 3In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
We all understand that slavery is not a good thing but what many men and women don’t want to acknowledge is that they are enslaved to anything. Especially modern men take pride in the fact that they are their own person and make their own decisions. Especially the religious, those who are convinced they are living lives worthy of God’s favor, recoil at the idea that they are enslaved to any principle. The Pharisees were ready to stone Jesus because He implied they were enslaved. They pointed out that their father was Abraham. Christ rebuked them in John 8 beginning in verse 39: 39They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father-even God.” 42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.
Ephesians 2 states the same truth about man’s bondage to sin: “1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Paul points out to the Galatians that, just like the Pharisees, they were in bondage to these “basic principles” and would certainly have perished if God had not taking the initiative in Christ. Even though both Jew and Gentile were zealous, they were zealous for false righteousness for they pursued it in the strength of their flesh, which is precisely what the principles of this world want to keep us in bondage to.
I have to say that probably the most beautiful words in the Scripture are when Paul finishes pointing out our predicament of condemnation before the throne of God’s judgment but then says the word “but”. We read in verse 4: 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
But God…But God. Such a beautiful conjunction the word “but” is when it is attached to what God has done. God interferes with our plan to destroy ourselves. Do you see how it is God’s initiating love? We were lost and enslaved but God sent His Son to be born under the Law, to sacrifice for us, to bear the curse that we deserved, to be perfect righteousness for us by fulfilling the righteousness of the law that we could not perform. What is more remarkable is that we receive adoption as sons. Not merely that God’s wrath is put away by Christ but that, through His work, we place our faith in Him and He gives us the right to be called Sons of God.
Furthermore, Paul adds this: “6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Romans 8 expresses this same idea but the setting of Romans 8 unpacks how profound it is that God sends His Spirit into us with this cry. It is noteworthy that Paul here returns to his native language of Aramaic to literally groan with utter amazement at the ability to call God Father. The Apostle John is simply beside himself in 1 John 5 when he asks: “…what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God?”
It really saddens me that this love expressed by God’s decision to adopt us is often greeted with a yawn by many people today when it should be a source of profound joy and adoration. The reason we don’t marvel at it is that modern theology in the 20th Century taught men, women, boys, and girls that we’re all God’s children. We consider it our divine right because from the time we were in grade school the world has been preaching the message that everybody is a child of God.
But we just read Scriptures where Christ called some of God’s own chosen people, the Jews, sons of the devil and Paul reminded us that we all once walked according to the principles of this world.
Thus, we are incredibly privileged to receive the right by God to call Him Father. The marvel of this is that we don’t deserve it but that, in Christ Jesus, it has been purchased for all who place their faith in Him.
But it is also incredibly important that we understand why the Spirit cries out with our Spirit that we are sons. We need to understand why it is that our heart must redound with the Gospel and cry out “Abba! Father!” in the midst of this lost and dying world.
You see the reason why we are attracted to performance according to the deeds of the flesh is that, even though we begin in the Gospel very simply, we often become guilt-ridden and feel accused by the enemy for our failings in the flesh after we first believed. After all, did God really save a wretch like me? How can that be when sin is still abiding in me? I do the things I don’t want to do and the things I want to do I don’t do. Who will deliver me from this body of death?!
Christ Jesus. That’s who. Just as at the beginning when we believed and were, by nature, enemies of God, the Cross is ever before us and will ever be the only ground on which we can stand before a Holy God. When we look within to give us assurance of our salvation on the basis of the perfection of our obedience to the Law we will always come up short if we’re honest with ourselves. But when we look to the Cross with tears in our eyes and cry out to God “Who will deliver me from this body of death?! God, I am so unworthy of the grace you’ve shown me! I believe Lord, help my unbelief!” Suddenly, the most beautiful thing happens. Suddenly the most unexpected thing happens. His Spirit comes into our hearts and consolation and strength come to us and we cry out “Abba! Father! Yes Father you have redeemed me to be your son and you don’t cast out those you have placed your favor upon.
I must remind you again of the beauty of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 because it is very appropriate here and illustrates the picture of our redemption beautifully. Every time I recount this story to myself I am overwhelmed by the profound love that we should be called sons of God.
The younger of two sons walks up to his father one day and asks for his share of the estate. In the economy of the ancient Near East, a family would inherit the sweat and toil of generations and centuries of labor as father passed down property to son and each built a bit more on it. Inheritance was so important to the Jew and Jesus uses this illustration to get their attention. The shocking part of the tale is that this young man, in asking for his inheritance now is telling his father that he wishes him dead!
The father, amazingly, divides his estate early and gives centuries of labor and puts it in the hand of this ungrateful young man. You know the story. The boy squanders this money in a short time by partying with drunkards and prostitutes. He squanders his whole inheritance, centuries of the ancestors’ work, in just a few short weeks. He’s left destitute and so poor that he can only get a job feeding pigs, so hungry that he envies the pigs for the slop they eat. Indeed, the boy is walking according to the principles of the world.
But then he comes to his senses and realizes that his father’s slaves are treated really well. He decides that he had better go home and repent to his father. He understands he doesn’t deserve to be a son anymore so he’ll just ask to be a slave in the house. This was the way of the Jews at the time. The son would be expected to earn back everything he had squandered. It was appropriate to the mind of the listening Pharisees that the young man prove his seriousness by working off his reproach for the rest of his life.
Further, when he returned, he would be expected to wait for days at the edge of town so the townspeople could heap contempt on the boy for dishonoring his father. This was the manner of men when an offense was given in families of the Near East where honor is everything.
But then the most unexpected and embarrassing thing happens. The most graphic and disturbing thing happens in the minds of religious men. The father has long since been looking for the boy and sees the walk of his ragged boy from afar off. Moved by compassion, the father does the most undignified thing you could do in that culture, he RUNS to the boy. He tackles him. He begins to bathe him in his tears of joy and kisses his neck.
But the boy is still convinced that he must complete his plan. He is going to repent to the father and then ask his father if he can be a slave. So he begins: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the plan ends there. He can’t even finish the thought. He’s about to ask to be made a slave in the Father’s house but the Father squeezes the breath out of the boy and shouts “Bring my best robe! Bring the ring! Bring sandals for his feet! This is MY SON who was dead and is now alive!”
You see the son had squandered his inheritance and brought nothing to his father worthy of acceptance. His plan to please his father with slavery, with showing his father that he was serious about obedience so he could earn acceptance was not the way of salvation. You see, beloved, in God’s Kingdom, there are no slaves, there are only sons!
Can you imagine the son’s reaction to all of this? What? Grace?! What manner of love is this that I should be called your son?! “Abba! Father!” That is what John marveled at. That is what Paul calls the Galatians to remember. He wants believers to remember that they have received the inheritance of sonship from God by earning nothing from His hand. This is what impels a believer to rejoice and then to redound back with love to his Savior for all the wonderful things He has done.
And so Paul asks with renewed wonder in Galatians 4:9 as he asks them: “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 elementary principles of the world” Do you see why Paul keeps expressing amazement that men would forget the life and the inheritance they have in Christ by wanting to go back to the principles that enslaved them? This is what righteousness by the deeds of the law represents – an abandonment of the inheritance given freely in the Gospel.
Paul concludes Galatians 4 with the most insulting thing of all for the Judaizers. He reminds everyone that Abraham had two sons and not one. One was born by natural means. Abraham took Sarah’s maid, Hagar, at her bidding to take matters into his own hands and produce offspring by the strength of the flesh. His name was Ishmael. But God wanted the Promised Seed to come by His power. So He caused a 100 year old man and 99 year old woman to be raised from death into life and gave Sarah the ability to conceive a child – Isaac through whom the promised Seed would come.
Ishmael, remember, was circumcised. But when Isaac was 3 years old, they had a big party to celebrate his weaning and Ishmael mocked the boy. Ishmael was the oldest. Ishmael was the first just like the Judaizers were “older” than the Galatians. Ishmael gloried in being Abraham’s seed just like the Judaizers did.
But the greatest shock is that the child of natural descent has no part in Abraham and is sent away because he has no faith. Those still looking to the Law delivered on Mount Sinai are living again in the Desert of Sin in Arabia outside the land of promised rest. The Judaizers trust in the Law and will not enter the rest. But all of us who trust in Christ are in the New Jerusalem, and have received the promise of rest in Christ. We are Isaac – sons and true heirs by faith.
Friends, God knows your weakness. He knows that men will try to approach Him on their own strength and men with great moral character will become proud in their own status and convince others that trusting in Christ’s righteousness isn’t enough. If you listen to them long enough and look at them long enough, you begin to be convinced of how morally upright they are. You begin to become convinced that they are the free ones – they are the good people – they are the blessed people.
But God reminds you again that those who trust in the deeds done in the flesh for their salvation will come up short on the perfect measure of His righteousness for cursed is every man that does not continue to perform everything written in it. He reminds us that even those that are set apart, like Ishmael, have lost their inheritance when they turn away from the promise inherited by faith and begin looking to performance in the strength of the flesh.
Come to your senses. Remember Christ. He did not die in vain for He knew that only He could accomplish righteousness for His people. You are a child of God saved from the principles of this world. Don’t look back but continue to ever look to the Cross of Christ – the only place where God’s righteousness on our behalf is found – the only place were freedom and the perfect rest in Christ is found.