Summary: Do we embrace the status of slaves or sons? Our relationship to God gives us the courage to take a stand for truth.
Introduction: Last time we were faced with a choice: Do we trust the Law to save us, or the Promise of God? Today we have a similar decision: Do we embrace the status of slaves or sons?
Verses 1-10 On the way to the Promised Land, the Israelites grumbled and wished they had stayed in Egypt. Paul is dealing with a similar attitude-problem. The Galatians were playing around with a return to performance-based religion. They had made an idol of the Law…and so Paul makes an analogy.
Civil law dictated that an inheritance was kept in trust for minors; meanwhile, a designated guardian kept the heir under discipline until he “came of age.” This may have felt like slavery for young people under a guardian’s authority, yet the system in place was necessary. That’s the value of God’s Law; it gives us “the alphabet of His will” (Ryken). We’re under the Law’s moral discipline; it keeps us out of trouble. But to advance beyond the A B C’s of the Law, we embrace God’s grace. Obedience proves we’re loyal servants, but not that we’re sons. Yet we do obey--out of love, not out of fear. Paul was astonished that the Galatians would choose to revert to prior religious experience. He compared the rituals they were counting on to save them to slavery, because the Law set a standard no one could ever achieve.
When salvation becomes a matter of being “good enough”, God must appear to be a tyrant. I recall two Commanding Generals of the 3rd Armored Division in Germany. One was a bully with a fiery temper, but the other was a grandfatherly leader. Everyone feared the wrath of the one, and wanted to please the other. The tyrant treated his position as a stepping-stone to higher positions, while the granddad-General treated his position as an opportunity to help soldiers “Be all they could be.” I don’t have to ask you which one we were sorry to see go. In the Lord’s army, we need not fear our Heavenly Commander; He loves His children and wants what’s best for us.
This brings up a issue I mentioned last time: Why does Paul say “sons” in verse 5? Why not “children”? Because only sons had legal status and inheritance rights. This wasn’t a biblical sanction (don’t blame the OT); it was a civic decree. Paul had just stated in 3:28 that there was “no difference between male and female” in the eyes of God. To regard male and female believers as “sons” is to grant them equal standing and value--a radical, new view of Sonship. Eugene Peterson states, “We are not rivals competing for a prize, but participants in a common life, brothers and sisters in a single family.” We share the same destiny.
Believers are freed from “the elemental spiritual forces of the world,” verse 3. In the case of the Galatians, this refers to the superstition of their former pagan trust in deities and in the basic elements of earth, air, fire, water, and astrology. We regress when we live like unbelievers, when we allow the world to crowd out Christ, when we no longer find time to fit faith into our plans, when we live apart from matters of eternal importance. Jesus has dethroned the elemental forces, but have we enthroned Jesus?
Our Savior came at just the right time--a set, appointed time--to set us free, verse 4. Spiritual hunger was everywhere. Jesus came for Gentiles who were dissatisfied with their pagan gods, and for Jews who resented religion being reduced to a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts. Holiness is more than the sum total of the things you don’t do. Jesus came to rescue us from the hostile clutches of darkness. He came so that we might be adopted into His family with the full rights of sons. And Jesus came to redeem us, verse 5. Our sonship-status is based on what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. Without His sacrifice we could never be acceptable to God.
Paul says in verse 6 that, on the basis of our status, God sent His Spirit to assure us that we are His beloved children, to seal the family tie. Accepted by God, we cry out “Abba,” an intimate term of both endearment and respect. No servant could ever address his master this way. A son has a future; a servant does not.
Paul urges his readers not to relapse to their former worldview. Some call this defection “backsliding.” Anyone who has embraced their status as sons shouldn’t want to go back to their former status as slaves.
Robert Robinson wrote the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” when he was 23 years old. The third verse says: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Sadly, this was true of the composer; he lapsed into sin. While aboard a train he heard a woman humming his hymn. He told her who he was, and how he regretted his unhappy life.