No Longer Slaves
Whenever we speak of God and his relationship with us, we must necessarily speak in metaphor. In Galatians 3 Paul uses a familial metaphor to explain how God relates to us: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
Paul is continuing this thought as we come into chapter 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 (4:1-3).
Paul draws his picture from Roman culture. According to Roman law, a child before the age of majority was subject to servants that his father had placed over him. Even though he was the heir and the entire estate would someday belong to him he had no access to it and had to do everything he was told to do. He was, as Paul says, “No different from a slave.”
“Until the time set by his father.” Every culture has an age when a child is considered to be an adult. For the Jews it’s 13. For us, it’s 18. But under Roman law, it was determined by the father when the child would be old enough to inherit.
“So also . . . we” this is a signal that the application is coming. This isn’t about Roman law, it’s about us. Like the Roman child under the tutelage of servants, we were “in slavery to the elemental spiritual forces of the world.”
What does that mean? “Elemental spiritual forces” is the word in Greek stoicheia. It means the basic things, the ABC’s. There is some sense that it refers to the order of things.
For Jews that means the law. The law was given by God to his people to protect them and to give structure to their society, but it had no power to save.
The gentiles weren’t under the law but they were in slavery to other things -- superstition and the sensuality of paganism – to the old gods and things like astrology and witchcraft.
Get the picture: These gentiles had come out of paganism and bondage to that system, they had come into the freedom of the Gospel, and now they were considering putting themselves under the Jewish law – exchanging one slave master for another.
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 (4:4-5).
Just as under Roman law, the father set the time when the child would reach adulthood, so to God had set a time when the rule of the law over his children would end. That time was the coming of Jesus into the world.
Jesus was “born of a woman”. That is, he was fully human. He wasn’t some angelic visitation or cosmic projection. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, was carried for nine months in her body, and was born in the manner of an ordinary child. But he was no ordinary child – he was God’s Son – the eternal Second Person of the Trinity. Fully God, yet fully man.
He was “born under the law”. As a Jew, he was obligated to obey the law, but unlike every Jew till that time, he kept it perfectly. And so, by his death he could redeem – buy back – those who had been enslaved. A slave must be purchased before he can be freed and that’s what Jesus’ death and resurrection has done for us – paid the price we could not pay to free us from our slavery to sin.
That, in itself, would be good news! But that is not the end of the story. We have been redeemed from our slavery to be freed – and to be adopted into God’s family.
The word for adoption here is the word that refers to the adoption of adult sons for the purpose of making them an heir. This, again, is from Roman culture. Romans would often adopt adults and make them their heir.
This is not how we think of adoption. A couple goes to an agency and they find a small child and make that child their own. This is the adoption of an adult into the full privilege and responsibility of sonship.
6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (vs. 6)
Notice that the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of his Son” here. God adopts us as full members of the family and he sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts so that we can call God what Jesus called God – “Father”.
This is the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of talk about the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some would tell you that you need to have a “second experience” – a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” – to experience the fullness of God. But, let me tell you that I find no warrant for that in the scripture.
No, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit is for all his children. And, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).
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 (vs. 7).
In Christ, you are a child of God – not a minor child, under the control of tutors, but a full son with all rights and privileges of a full son.
And freedom. The children of the King are free and yet we place ourselves under slavery to legalistic rules and regulations, lists and codes. We define our Christianity by what we don’t do rather than by who we are.
So many Christians are burdened by guilt and fear – living a dry, solemn existence – it’s no wonder that non-believers aren’t interested in our Christ. Because they haven’t seen him. All they’ve seen is our judgmentalism and rigidity.
In Christ, we are free. It’s not about keeping the rules – it’s about being a child of God. And when we are free Children of God a funny thing happens. We obey him because we love him and want to please him, not because we fear him.
Let me close with a final passage from Galatians 5:1.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.