Read Galatians 4
4 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Paul’s Concern for the Galatians
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Hagar and Sarah
21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”
Galatians is all about the freedom we find in Christ. Paul wrote this book to the churches he had founded in the Galatian region of modern-day Turkey. False prophets had infiltrated the churches claiming salvation by works. These false teachers claimed that all Christians needed to be circumcised according to Jewish tradition. Paul spends the first two chapters of the book reminding the church of who Jesus is and His sacrifice on the cross that freed them from the works of the law.
Paul then addresses their error in seeking justification from the Mosaic law. His message is simple: we are justified by faith, not by works. No one can perfectly keep the law. That is why Christ took on the curse of the law and the consequences for falling short. Paul says, “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (v. 4-5). They were free from the law yet living as though still enslaved to it. They needed to understand that salvation is not found in following the law, but in trusting in the person of Jesus.
Paul uses the sons of Abraham to illustrate his point. God’s promise to give Abraham many descendants did not depend on Abraham’s strength or Sarah’s fertility, but on the Lord’s sovereignty. Paul sums this up by saying, “His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise” (v. 23). Born “according to the flesh” meant by their own works. Abraham and Sarah relied on human schemes instead of trusting in the Lord’s provision for a son. Isaac, on the other hand, was born according to God’s promise through Sarah, who was beyond childbearing age. God supernaturally intervened to fulfill His vow. (For more context on this, check out Genesis 16.) God’s promise to Abraham did not depend on Abraham’s strength but on the Lord’s sovereignty. Paul uses this allegory, comparing the law and the promise, to point out that the Galatians were not walking in the freedom that was available to them.
The Galatians were reminded that they were no longer slaves to the law, but sons and daughters adopted into God’s family. When the Galatians heard the word “adoption,” they might have thought of something different than we do today. The word adoption in this text translates to the Greek word “huiothesia,” which means “placed as a son.” In the first century Roman empire, adoption was a common practice. Those who did not have male heirs would “adopt” a son to pass on their wealth and inheritance to. Many well-known Roman emperors were adopted, including Augustus and Nero. When someone was adopted, their debts were canceled, and they received a new name and the benefits of being a part of that family.
This is true of us today. We are no longer orphans. We are adopted sons and daughters of the King! Our debts have been canceled through Christ, and we are given a new identity. The message of the New Testament is that we receive adoption through atonement. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross allows us the opportunity to become a part of God’s family. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” What a privilege that is! Theologian J. I. Packer puts it this way: “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.” As believers we are freed from the law to walk in the identity and privilege of being children of God.
- What did you learn from reading this chapter? Is there a verse that stands out to you?
- Do you find your identity more often in what you do, or who you are as a child of God?
- The life of a child of God looks a lot different than that of a non-believer. Write down some words that come to mind when you think about being a child of God. Does your life reflect this truth, or do you live with an orphan mentality?
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