Summary: To be a slave your entire life is devastating and discouraging. To be under the guidance of a schoolmaster is frustrating and limiting. But to be a son or daughter, to have a Heavenly Father, that’s a relationship you can enjoy for eternity.
INTRO: I want to start the message with an excerpt of an email I received a few weeks ago where someone shared a brief glimpse of their spiritual maturation in regard to the topics we’ve been centered on for the last couple months. I enjoyed it very much then, and believe it could serve as a great introduction to today’s topic and this passage of Scripture.
After several paragraphs describing his growing understanding of justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and his identity in Christ, he mentioned how he used to view his relationship with God.
“Too often, I simply saw the call to grace as a call to recognize something that took place in the past – now get busy and work for God! My thinking was not transformed. I think that many must be like me. We are like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son who is so wrapped up in his own sense of self-righteousness that he now views his relationship with his father in terms of master and slave.”
That last part really resonated with me because I think he is right. There are many that have been joyously and gloriously saved for years and yet still think of God as a boss rather than a Father. That may be seem like a small difference to you, but I aim today to show you from the Word of God how that is a very big difference.
Jesus Christ came to shatter that. The works of the law could never offer us a meaningful relationship. To be a slave your entire life is devastating and discouraging. To be under the guidance of a schoolmaster is frustrating and limiting. But to be a son or daughter, to have a Heavenly Father, that’s a relationship you can enjoy for eternity. Let’s explore this concept deeper today.
I. The Ancient Process (1-3)
– One of the keys to unlocking the beauty of what is being taught here lies in understanding the background of ancient culture. There is some debate over which culture’s customs are being alluded to here, whether Paul is referring to Jewish, Greek, or Romans customs concerning children, slaves, and guardians.
– Regardless which of these cultures is in view, each one had a time which a boy, even though he was an heir in the family, would basically be treated like a slave. At a certain age, the status would change, and he would take on the responsibilities of manhood. He would officially pass from being a child – like a servant – to a son.
– In Jewish culture, it took place at the age of 12 when a boy would celebrate his bar mitzvah and enter into the position of sonship. In Greek culture, a boy was under a tutor until age 18 when there was a special ceremony where his hair was cut and burned to the god Apollo symbolizing that the boy was now a man. In Rome, the event was called the togavirilis where a boy would get an adult toga and burn all his boyhood toys as an offering to the gods. Many believe this could be what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 13:11 where he says, “when I became a man, I put away childish things.” The difference between a man and a boy is the price of his toys!
– That explanation unlocks what is being talked about in verse 1 that a child would be thought of and treated like a servant even though he was a part of the family and an heir. He was the heir or “owner of everything” (1), but he was under the care of guardians or managers until the father set a date to make him the legal owner (2). So one could be born Roman or Jewish or Greek, but until one had that ceremony, he was considered to be no different than a slave. In our culture, if a father dies, the child must wait until he is of age before he can get his inheritance. He may be an heir de jure (by right), but he is not an heir de facto (by fact) until he is of age.
– So Paul takes the illustration of what happens when someone receives the full rights of a son in adoption, and uses it to describe what God does in our lives by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This metaphor refers to the spiritual condition of the Galatians and the rest of us before salvation.
– But notice that there is an appointed time when all that changes! That’s just an exciting peek at something we’ll look at in a moment. But there is one more aspect to the analogy.
– Paul states that the Jews were, like little children, in bondage to "the elements of the world." What in the world does that mean? This word elements means the basic principles, the ABCs. For some fifteen centuries, Israel had been in kindergarten and grade school, learning their "spiritual ABCs," so that they would be ready when Christ would come. Jesus is referred to as the Alpha and Omega, the full revelation to man in Revelation 22:13. The phrase is used in Galatians 4:4 and Colossians 2:8 to describe the mechanics of religion.