Scripture Text – Galatians 4:1-18
One of the great setbacks to legalism in the Christian’s lifestyle is that it gives the appearance of spiritual maturity when, in reality, it leads the believer back into a “second childhood” of Christian experience. The Galatian Christians, like most believers, wanted to grow and go forward for Christ; but they were going about it in the wrong way. Their experience is not so very different from that of Christians today who get involved in various legalistic movements and denominations, hoping to become better Christians. Their heart and motives may be in the right place, but their methods are wrong.
This is the truth Paul is trying to get across to his beloved converts in Galatia. The Judaizers had convinced them into thinking that obeying the Law would make them better Christians. Their old nature felt an attraction for the Law because the Law enabled them to do things and then to see the results of those actions; it was works, under the guise of the Law. As they took stock of themselves and their achievements, they felt a sense of accomplishment, and, no doubt, a little bit of pride. They thought they were going forward when in actuality they were regressing.
Paul takes three approaches to this situation as he seeks to convince the Galatians that they do not need legalism in order to live the Christian life. They have everything they need totally and completely, by abiding in Christ Jesus.
He Explains Their Adoption
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. – Galatians 4:1-7
Among the blessings of the Christian experience is adoption (Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). We do not enter God’s family by adoption, the way a homeless child would enter a loving family in our own society. The only way to get into God’s family is by regeneration, being “born again” (John 3:3).
The New Testament word for adoption means “to place as an adult son.” It has to do with our standing in the family of God: we are not little children but adult sons with all of the privileges of sonship.
It is unfortunate that many translations of the New Testament do not make a distinction between children of God and sons of God. We are the children of God by faith in Christ, born into God’s family. But every child of God is automatically placed into the family as a son, and as a son he has all the legal rights and privileges of a son. When a sinner trusts Christ and is saved, as far as their condition is concerned, they are still a “spiritual babe” who needs to grow (1 Peter 2:2–3); but as far as their position is concerned, they are already an adult son who can draw on the Father’s wealth and who can exercise all the wonderful privileges of sonship.
We enter God’s family by regeneration, but we enjoy God’s family by adoption. The Christian does not have to wait to begin enjoying the spiritual riches they have in Christ. “If a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Now follows Paul’s discussion about adoption. He reminds his readers of three specific facts.
What we were: children in bondage (verses 1-3). No matter how wealthy a father may be, his infant or toddling child cannot really enjoy that wealth. In the Roman world, the children of wealthy people were cared for by slaves. No matter who their father was, the child was still a child, under the supervision of a servant. In fact, the child was not much different from the servant who guarded him. The servant was commanded by the master of the house, and the child was commanded by the servant.
This was in reality the spiritual condition of the Jews under the age of the Law. The Law, you recall, was the “guardian,” as the Word states, that disciplined the nation and prepared the people for the coming of Christ (Galatians 3:23–25). So, when the Judaizers led the Galatians back into the legalism from which they were freed, they were leading them not only back into religious bondage, but also into moral and spiritual infancy and immaturity.
Paul states that the Jews were, like little children, in bondage to “the elements of the world.” This word elements means the basic principles, in other words, the ABCs of the world. For some fifteen centuries, Israel had been in kindergarten and grade school, learning their “spiritual ABCs,” so that they would be ready when Christ, the Messiah, would come. Then they would get the full revelation, for Jesus Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega.” – Revelation 22:13. He encompasses all the alphabet of God’s revelation to man. He is God’s last Word (Hebrews 1:1–3).
Legalism, then, is not a step toward maturity; it is a step back into childhood, into guardianship. The Law was not God’s final revelation; it was but the preparation for that final revelation in Christ. It is important that a person knows their ABCs, because they are the foundation for understanding all of the language that one must eventually learn. But the person who sits in a library and recites the ABCs instead of reading the great literature that is around them, is showing that they are indeed immature and ignorant, not mature and wise. Under the Law, the Jews were children in bondage, not sons enjoying their liberty in the Father.
To Be Continued