Exploring the Book of Galatians – Chapter 4

If you’ve ever made a will, you know there are so many questions. Who will be the executor? Who will get all your earthly possessions? And if you have young kids, you know there are so many questions in regards to who will be their guardians. One of the other big questions is in regards to when your kids will no longer be dependant on the guardian for the distribution of their trust fund. I remember when the lawyer asked us this question he gave us numerous options: 19, 21, 25? Which one to pick? How responsible will your kids be? Will they be able to understand what getting an inheritance entails?

Today we’re going to talk about inheritance. Yours and mine. An inheritance we have, but maybe aren’t aware of or not living as if we possess.

Our passage for today is primarily in Chapter 4, but it starts in Chapter 3, so we’re going to begin there.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male more female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are Son’s, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 3:26-4:7

Leaving an estate or inheritance in the hands of minor children is never a good idea. Paul points out here that a child heir is really no different from a slave despite owning the entire estate. The child doesn’t come into full possession of his inheritance until he comes of age. Until that time, he is very much like a slave under someone else’s control.

Paul is using this illustration to explain how every person ever born has been a child in this sense or under slavery. There are three major levels of this:

1. God’s people received the promise of spiritual liberty through the covenant on Mount Sinai, but they had not come to possess or experience it. What does this mean? With a few exceptions throughout history, most people under the Mosaic covenant did not experience the promised intimacy and freedom, because the means and assurance of forgiveness was general and vague.

Hebrew 10:1-4 puts it best:
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once and for all, and would not longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

2. All humans are “spiritual slaves” before coming to Christ. We are all still in a sense “under the law” even if we have never heard of the Bible or Moses. How? We are all desperately trying to achieve and meet some standards that burden us with anxiety. Our relationship with God is distant or non-existent.

3. As Christians, we may to some degree fail to experience the freedom and joy of their salvation. We can continue to live day to day as slaves, instead of living as the free adopted sons of God that we are.

Despite being rich in the gospel, adopted children of God with complete and direct access to the Father, we can easily slip back into relating to Him only through our deeds and moral achievements. It’s like being given a gift which we give back to the giver and try to earn.

Now before we go any further, I want to address why Paul addresses us as sons. Timothy Keller gives us more insight:

“Some people are put off by Paul’s language of adoption because it’s gender insensitive. They argue, “Wouldn’t it be better to say that we become sons and daughters of God?” It would, but that misses the whole point. Some time ago, a woman helped me understand this. She was raised in a non-Western family from a very traditional culture. There was only one son in the family, and it was understood in her culture that he would receive most of the family’s provisions and honor. In essence, they said, “He’s the son; you’re just a girl.” That’s just the way it was.

One day she was studying a passage on adoption in Paul’s writings. She suddenly realized that the apostle was making a revolutionary claim. Paul lived in a traditional culture just like she did. He was living in a place where daughters were second-class citizens. When Paul said—out of his own traditional culture—that we are all sons in Christ, he was saying that there are no second-class citizens in God’s family. When you give your life to Christ and become a Christian, you receive all the benefits a son enjoys in a traditional culture. As a white male, I’ve never been excluded like that. As a result, I didn’t see the sweetness of this welcome. I didn’t recognize all the beauty of God’s subversive and revolutionary promise that raises us to the highest honor by adopting us as his sons.”

So, if slavery is our natural state, then how do we “come of age” and enjoy the fullness of being of age?

The work of Jesus Christ is the answer. I love how verses 4 & 5 put it: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

When the time had fully come means, both in history and in our own experience, God gave and continues to give us the answer in His Son. Jesus redeemed us by removing all penalty or debt under the law. He was born under the law, into a state of obligation to God’s law, as we all are. But Jesus was unique in the fact that He was able to “redeem all those under the law”.

He also transfers to us “the full rights of sons” (verse 5). This means that not only does God adopt us as His sons, but He bestows to us all the riches and blessings only Jesus deserves.

In ancient times, having an heir was a big deal. So what did a man do if he had no heir apparent. Genesis 15:3 gives us a hint: And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household with be my heir.”

Men without children would be forced to adopt one of their servants so that the estate would be left to someone. Once adopted, the former servant would be fully considered a child of the house and be the rightful heir of the estate. The riches were his to enjoy and not to earn.

This is what God did for us. He adopted us into his family. Our slate has been wiped clean, and Jesus has written His righteousness on it. Our inheritance has already been given and does not have to be won.

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Don’t give the gift back to God so you can earn it. He’s our Father and wants to see us enjoying the freedom of the inheritance bought with the blood of His Son.

Reflection Questions:

1. What has most excited you in this Bible section?

2. When are you most in danger of living as a slave, not a son?

 


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