Galatians Bible Study (Set The Captives Free)

Galatians 4:1-11, No Longer A Slave


The third chapter of Galatians closes with a beautiful picture of the amazing blessings that we have in Christ. When we are in Christ we have everything. When you are clothed with Christ there is nothing else to do and nothing else to add to your situation. You have full standing and equal access to the Father and the promised inheritance. The law was not the solution to sins. The law was intended to prepare people for Christ. The law could not bring right standing before God. The law was to show our utter helplessness, completely imprisoned under sin, awaiting the promise of the Christ. But Paul is not done describing the rich blessings we have in Christ. There is a particular aspect of belonging to Christ that must not be missed by any Christian.

In Galatians 3:29 the apostle Paul declared that if you are in Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, which means you are an heir of the promise. What does it mean to be an heir? We think of children of royalty as being heirs to the throne. Being an heir means that you are in line to receive something. Being an heir means that you have rights to the inheritance. I want you to keep this concept in mind as we explore how Paul describes those who are in Christ. To do this, Paul will show the inferior situation under the law and the superior situation we have in Christ.

Prepared As An Heir (4:1-3)

Paul’s illustration concerning an heir continues in the first verse of the fourth chapter. When the heir is still a child, the heir really is no different from a slave. Everything still belongs to the father. The heir is under guardians and managers just as a slave is under restraint. But there is a date that is set when that will change for the child. Under Roman custom, the father would set a particular date for maturity. We do not have this custom today. I do not determine the age of the maturity for my children when they will no longer be treated as minors. But this is what would happen in the Roman culture. Paul uses this illustration from Roman society to show that this is the same situation for the world spiritually.

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:3 ESV)

The difficulty of this sentence is understanding what is meant by “the elementary principles of the world.” Some translations read “elemental forces of the world.” The word was used in Greek to speak of the element of the natural universe. The word was also used to speak of the alphabet, thus, elementary principles like your ABCs. I think both of these ideas work in capturing what Paul is getting at in this statement. Remember that the apostle is speaking to Jewish and Gentile Christians and must write in a way that captures both of their former situations. Our context thus far has been about the Law of Moses, and that the law only served to increase sin and held people captive under it. Therefore, the apostle Paul would be saying that the Law of Moses served as the alphabet, the elementary principles for those under it. But it is interesting that Paul says that these are elementary principles of the world. So it seems that the apostle is also bringing in the Gentile Christians and reminding them of the slavery they were also under to idolatrous and pagan way (which will appear in verse 8 — “you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods”). The point is that all people were in a time of being childish, awaiting maturity so as to enjoy the privileges of being an heir. Everyone was waiting for freedom.

No Longer A Slave (4:4-7)

Therefore, the fullness of time arrived. I think we miss the mark if we see the fullness of time as the advent of the Roman roads, unified language, and the like. One could argue that now would be a better time for the arrival of Christ, with all our technology, air and car transportation, computers, video capabilities, phones, etc. The fullness of time is not about the culture. Go back to verse 2. Maturity would come at a date that was set by the Father. The fullness of time is the date that was set by the Father before the foundation of the world for the arrival of Christ. The new era in salvation history began with the arrival of the Son. Therefore, this was the time that the Father planned and established for the children to no longer be enslaved but to receive adoption as sons (4:5).

God had two clear purposes that reveal the love of God toward us. First, God sent his Son to redeem those who were under the law (4:5). There needed to be rescue from slavery. Everyone and everything was enslaved under the Scriptures (3:22). No one was excluded from slavery because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But God redeemed. We saw this word “redeemed” back in Galatians 3:13. Redeemed was a word used to buy a slave back. We were enslaved to sin (for that is the function of the law — increase sin as we saw in Galatians 3:19 and Romans 5:20). But Jesus was sent to buy us out of our enslavement. Yet this is not all. Second, God sent his Son that we might receive adoption as sons (4:5).

Throughout these paragraphs the apostle Paul has described all the things we were held captive under. We were under the law (3:23; 4:4). We were under a curse (3:10). We were under sin (3:22). We were under a guardian (3:25). We were under the elementary principles of the world (4:3). Paul wants us to know all that we were held captive to. But Christ has redeemed us. We have been set free from these things so that we can receive adoption as sons.

This status before God is amazing and Paul wants us to understand this in verses 6-7. Because we are sons, this changes everything about our standing before God. Paul says it like this: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!'” (Galatians 4:6). The apostle Paul made the same point to the Romans.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15–17 ESV)

The proof that these Christians were children of promise is that God had given them the Spirit of his Son into their hearts. We saw Paul make this very point in Galatians 3:1-5. These Christians had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promises of God. These things did not come by the works of the law but hearing with faith. You have everything in Christ. You have equal access, equal blessings, and equal privilege before God. You do not need the works of the law to have these things. You are already in God’s kingdom. You already are a child of God. You already are heirs of God. You already are in covenant relationship with God. You already are heirs of the inheritance. You are already recipients of the promise. When you were baptized, you clothed yourself with Christ and received these very blessings (3:26-27).

But the end of verse 6 is so powerful. We have the Spirit of the Son crying, “Abba, Father.” Who is the only person who ever called God, “Father?” We see Jesus say this in Mark 14:36 to God. We might think that everyone called God as Father in history. No one ever addressed God this way! Israel never prayed to God as Father. Never! To call God “Father” means you must have a very close, intimate relationship with him. God never gave that direction to Israel or anyone throughout all the Old Testament writings. But because we are sons, we are able to cry, “Abba, Father!” You have the relationship with God because of the death of Jesus that you can called God your dad. Many scholars have powerfully written that we are mistaken to understand “Abba” to be the equivalent of a little child saying, “daddy.” To say this is to make this word be more sentimental than its original meaning. But it speaks of intimate relationship. No one in this room can call Berry Kercheville, “Dad.” But I can. I have that relationship that you do not have. For all of history no one could come before God and call him “Dad” or “Father.” But now we can because through Jesus God has made us sons! We have received adoption as sons. Think about what Jesus did when the disciples were taught how to pray. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven'” (Matthew 6:7). Call him your Father!!!! We are enabled to call upon God as our Father, a relationship that no one else has with him. Only those who are in Christ receive this amazing blessing. It is so special.

Thus, listen to verse 7. “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Don’t you know what it means to call God your Father? You stand in line to receive the inheritance! You are no longer held captive to anything. You are no longer enslaved. You have been redeemed and adopted so that you have it all. You are an heir, not by your works, but through God. You already have all you need. So often people are looking for something special and something more. You are looking for something that you already were given by God: intimacy with God. But do you want it? You have it. But do you want it?

Do Not Throw Sonship Away! (4:8-11)

This is Paul’s concern in verses 8-11. You have intimacy with God. Are you going to throw it away? You have come to know God (4:9). Are you going to turn back to the weak and worthless elementary principles? Going back to idolatry or going back to the Law of Moses is turn back to the weak and worthless. They are weak because they do not have the strength to redeem. They are worthless because they do not have the wealth to bless us. Why would you ever turn back to the weak and worthless things of the world? Why would you even turn to the Law of Moses and try to find justification or standing there? For the Galatians, they were turn from one slavery to another. They were enslaved to idolatry, were set free in Christ, and now were enslaving themselves to the Law of Moses. Anywhere you turn is to turn to slavery. We are only set free in Christ. We are only children in Christ. How can we turn God away for the emptiness of this world? Do not throw away your inheritance. Do not cast off our identity in Christ. Do not reject your access to God to call him Father. Draw near to God and love him for he has redeemed you and made you his child.

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