What It Means to Become a Child of God
We were in bondage (Galatians 4:1-3)
A child is typically considered to be a minor until he reaches a certain age. The word “child” in Galatians 4:1,3 refers to someone prior to puberty who is lacking in strength and easily deceived (naive). It doesn’t matter that one day he will inherit his parents’ wealth. As a minor, he remains protected. In Roman times, a minor was placed in the charge of a guardian or tutor until he reached his majority at the age of 14. If he was to inherit property, the estate was governed by someone appointed until the heir reached the age of 25.
The heirs are those who have faith in God (Galatians 3:29). They would mostly come from the Jews but not exclusively. However, the believers could not inherit the promise while the Old Law was in effect. The Gentiles were excluded by the Old Law (Ephesians 2:11-12) and the Jews were bound by the Law to sin. Thus, they were like minor children. A minor child has no more control over his life than a slave because of the limits placed on him to protect him. The limits on the Jews were the Old Law (Galatians 3:24). Thus, Paul is arguing that the Jews under the Old Law were not much better off than the Gentiles.
The elemental things in Galatians 4:3 refer to basic or fundamental teachings found in this world. The Greek word stoicheia literally refers to basic things placed in a row, like the ABCs, as can be seen in Hebrews 5:12 and Hebrews 6:1. The Jewish teachings were more focused on matters of this world, as opposed to spiritual teachings (Colossians 2:8, 20-23). The Gentiles, of course, were in the world but still able to learn morality (Romans 2:14-15). The result is that all (“we”) were in bondage.
- Looking at Galatians 3:13; 22-25, who is the “we” in Galatians 4:3?
- Notice in Galatians 3 and 4 the shifts between first, second, and third person. What is the reason?
At the right time, we were adopted as sons (Galatians 4:4-7)
When the time was right, God sent His Son into the world. This answers the question of why didn’t God send His Son right after Adam and Eve sinned. While we don’t know all the factors that God was weighing, we are told that mankind wasn’t ready. Since Paul compares the situation to a minor child, it hints that mankind had to reach a certain level of maturity.
Jesus was born of a woman, as prophesied (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14). He was also born under the Law of Moses so that he could redeem the Jews (“those under the Law”). But he also came that those of faith (“we”) could receive the adoption as sons.
As a result, the Spirit of Jesus enters our hearts. Notice that the Spirit is sent because we are sons and not so that we might become sons (Acts 2:38; Galatians 3:26-27). Since we become sons we have an intimate relationship with God and can call God our Father (Romans 8:15-16). Paul uses both the Jewish term for father and the Greek term to show the equality of adoption of both groups. Both Jews and Gentiles are no longer slaves but children of God and heirs of the promise through God.
- What are some lessons, do you suppose, that mankind needed to learn before Jesus could redeem us from our sins?
- Is the Spirit of Jesus in Galatians 4:6 a) the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), b) Jesus himself, c) the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, d) that which makes us take on the characteristics of Jesus (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 4:15)?
We were slaves before, so why go back? (Galatians 4:8-11)
Paul’s focus shifts back to the Gentile Christians in Galatia. Prior to becoming sons of God, before even knowing who God is, the Galatian Christians were serving idols. They were in spiritual slavery to an imaginary concept that didn’t really exist (I Corinthians 8:4; 10:20).
Now that they are accepted by God as His children (I Corinthians 8:3) and they know more about the only true God (I John 1:5-7), Paul wants to know why they want to return to the rudimentary things (Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:8). These things are called weak and worthless because they are unable to rescue sinners from their sins (Hebrews 7:18). Paul says, “again” to the Gentiles even though they had never been under the Law of Moses because they are returning to similar rudimentary rituals as they had when they were idolaters. Their behavior suggests that they long to return to slavery (Galatians 2:4; Colossians 2:20-23), much like the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
Paul makes clear the type of rudimentary things he had in mind. The Galatians have been following the Jewish Sabbaths, new moons festivals, feast days, sabbatical years, and Jubilee years (Colossians 2:16; II Chronicles 8:13). This acceptance of the requirements of the Old Law makes Paul wonder if he had wasted his time teaching the Galatians to be Christians (II Corinthians 11:2-4; I Thessalonians 3:5).
- This section is particularly difficult to parse if you don’t pay attention to the pronouns being used.
- Go back through Galatians and make a list of the pronouns.
- Try to use the text to define who the pronouns refer to.
- Are the pronouns used consistently? For example, does “you” always refer to the Christians in Galatia (Galatians 1:2-3)?