Galatians 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. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world”. Galatians 4:1-3

In the previous chapter the apostle, Paul introduced us to the concept of an heir of God, an ‘heir’ is someone who has been appointed to receive an inheritance.

In this chapter, Paul continues with this idea by presenting an argument against the Judaizing teachers that are based on the premise of how we have received the adoption to be sons of God.

He tells them that Sonship isn’t the result of some physical identity with Abraham, but through the spiritual identity of Abraham’s faith. Paul says although a child has a potential inheritance of his father’s estate, as a child, he is no better off in terms of relation to the inheritance than a slave, and so, in a sense, the son is kept in ‘slavery’ until the time of the inheritance.

The only advantage the son has that makes him different from a slave is that he is heir to the estate. In other words, the son is after the nature of the father, but the slave isn’t. The son has a father, but the slave is under a master, the son serves the father out of love, but the slave serves out of fear.

Paul’s point is that the Galatians were trying to return to slavery at the expense of their relationship to Christ and ultimately God. And because ‘the heir is subject to guardians and trustees’ this meant that the son has no rights to the possession of the inheritance until he actually inherits the estate at the time the father has designated.

In our culture, the custom is we receive an inheritance after someone dies, but in Biblical times that wasn’t always the case. The inheritance didn’t always mean you had to wait until someone dies to receive something, Luke 15:12.

The Christians whom Paul is addressing here were wanting to go back to the Old Testament way of life, a time when they were slaves to the law.

But Paul also seems to be addressing the Gentiles, who before Christ, were also shut up under bondage by the law unto themselves. Both Jews and Gentiles were kept under the basic or elementary principles of man-made religion until the coming of Jesus.

The Gentiles were kept under the bondage of superstitious religions that haunted their minds with fear, Acts 7:42. And although there were Gentiles who lived by faith in God before the cross, they were still in the bondage of their inability to obey any law in order to be justified before God.

Paul’s point is that both Jews and Gentiles were slaves in bondage before the grace of God was revealed through Jesus. And Paul says if they return to that kind of slavery, they were actually returning to their spiritual childhood. They were rejecting the Gospel which actually freed them from all those rules and regulations of the Old Testament.

God knew that mankind couldn’t live without breaking His laws, He knew that mankind couldn’t live without breaking their own manmade laws and so, God had to intervene to make fellowship with Him possible. God had to intervene to help mankind be free.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship”. Galatians 4:4-5

At the exact second in time, God set His plan to save mankind, He sent His Son Jesus into the world at the exact moment in time.

It was a time of peace that began with the rule of Octavius Caesar Augustus in 17 B.C. It was a time when Rome had developed a common language, roads, economic stability and national unity throughout the Roman Empire. It was a time when the world was sociologically prepared to receive the intervention of God into the world.

Jews had been scattered throughout the world because of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. The stage was set for the coming of the Messiah in Jerusalem in order to be announced to the Jews in synagogues throughout the world.

It was a time when the Gospel could be announced on earth and be shared throughout the nations of the Roman Empire. And so once again, we’re reminded that God works on His own timetable, not ours.

Notice something about this text, the NIV and other translations have made a real mess of this text because it should read, ‘God sent his Son, born of woman, born under law’. In the original text, it doesn’t say ‘born of a woman, born under the law’.

This is important because some people like to believe that this is talking about the virgin birth of Jesus but it isn’t. Paul is simply saying that Jesus was born naturally, He had a human birth just like you and me.

And notice also that the word ‘the’ isn’t in the original text when Paul talks about Jesus being born under law. He’s telling us that Jesus was subject to law, all law not just the Law of Moses.

Paul is basically asking, why would we want to return to a religious system that Jesus delivered us from? Jesus came to redeem us from the necessity of perfect law-keeping in order that we are justified by God’s grace. He redeemed us from sin which was shown in our inability to keep law.

The word ‘redeem’ means to buy back and it’s a metaphor that finds its earthly meaning in one of two sources or both. Israel was in Egyptian captivity from which they couldn’t deliver themselves and so, God redeemed them by His grace, since they couldn’t redeem themselves.

During Roman times, a slave couldn’t deliver himself but could find freedom if someone paid the redemption price for their freedom. Whichever is the source of the metaphor Paul has in mind here, the thought is the same. We were in the captivity of our own sinfulness, we couldn’t gain freedom by meritorious works of law or perfect law-keeping. Why?

Because all have sinned Romans 3:23. Law was the problem and we couldn’t find atonement in doing good deeds. God had to send His Son to die for us and now through the blood of Jesus, we’re bought out of the captivity of sin.

The Jews couldn’t keep God’s law perfectly, the Gentiles couldn’t keep their own manmade laws perfectly and so both were slaves to law.

But why did Jesus come to earth according to the text? In order ‘that we might receive adoption to sonship’. When a person gives their lives to Christ, believing and trusting in Him alone for salvation, God says they become part of His family, John 1:12. But this isn’t through the natural process of human conception, but through adoption, Romans 8:15.

No one is forced to adopt anyone, adoption is a choice and motivated by love, Ephesians 1:5-6. In other words, adoption is based upon God’s choice to adopt us and motivated by His love. It’s based upon our faith in Jesus, not on meritorious obedience to law.

Paul is saying that the Gentiles mustn’t try to go back to their superstitions, fear and bondage. The Jews mustn’t go back to depending on law-keeping which brought no justification. Bondage brings fear because everyone knows that they have broken the law but liberty brings joy and peace of mind.

Just like any new convert, they’re Jesus Christ’s heirs because He died for us, we are Christ’s heirs, not through trying to be perfect but because of His grace.

“Because you are his sons, 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 God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:6-7

Paul says because they were sons, the Holy Spirit was given to them. When they were baptised, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself who would take up residence in them, Acts 2:38.

Because it’s at our baptism that not only are our sins forgiven and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but it’s at our baptism we truly become a child of God.

Paul’s point is that the Holy Spirit wasn’t among them because they try to keep the law, but through the grace of God. They didn’t earn the right to have the indwelling of the Spirit, the Spirit was freely given. If the Galatians went back to law-keeping, they would give up their right to be sons of God and they would lose the presence of the Spirit in their lives.

The words, ‘Abba, Father’ was a term of endearment used by Jewish children in reference to their physical fathers, which again reminds us that it’s all about our relationship with the Father, we can’t call God, ‘Father’ unless we truly are His children. A slave doesn’t have that kind of intimate relationship with his master.

Those who appreciate their salvation by grace that has been extended from the Father through the cross, cry out to the Father for direction. When we say, ‘Abba, Father,’ we’re making a plea as His sons and daughters for direction from the Father.

And Paul says as sons, the Galatians aren’t slaves in their relationship with the Father. If they return to law-keeping, they will return to the status of a slave, and so they can’t address the Father as ‘Abba.’ But, since they are sons through Jesus, then they are heirs of the promise and they can call Him Father.

Paul says, ‘you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.’ The contrast Paul is making between being a son or slave is obvious, the son has a close relationship with the Father, and the slave doesn’t.

The son has hope of inheritance, the slave doesn’t, the son labours in the love of the Father, and the slave labours in fear. The son is of the nature of the Father, the slave isn’t, the son has a father, and the slave has a master.

The Galatians wanted to leave the grace of God and turn back to law-keeping, Galatians 1:6 / Galatians 3:1 / Galatians 4:20. They wanted to leave that intimate relationship with the Father and go back to being slaves. In other words, they wanted to trust in their own abilities to be right with God, rather than trust in what Jesus had done for them at Calvary.

Paul’s Concern For The Galatians

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” Galatians 4:8-9

There was a time when the Gentiles of Galatia served those gods that they had created in their own minds, gods they had used their imagination to invent. And Paul says in the past, they didn’t know the true God of heaven.

He says in the past they were foolish because they bowed down to worship idols and were scared of all the superstitions which came about because of these imaginary spirits.

And this wasn’t a new problem, even God’s own people fell for imaginary gods. When the prophet Jeremiah is speaking on behalf of God to His people, God is targeting the religious leaders and reminds them just how stupid this is, Jeremiah 2:26-28.

The beauty of Christianity is that we can become educated enough to know the difference between the One true God and any imaginary gods. We should know the difference between superstition and the One true God.

The good news is that the Galatians had obeyed the Gospel and become sons of God. In other words, they came to realise just how stupid they were and turned to the One true God.

And because they turned to God, God claimed them as His sons through the redeeming blood of Jesus. Paul asks them, how could you give up the freedom that you now enjoy in Christ in order to return to a legal system that brought you bondage and condemnation? Why would you want to go back to your imaginary gods?

The Jewish Christians were in the process of returning to the legalism of meritorious law-keeping in reference to circumcision and Old Testament ceremonies. The Judaizing teachers were taking both Jewish and Gentile Christians on a journey back to those, ‘weak and miserable forces’ of religion that produced death, not life.

In other words, they were returning to ‘another Gospel,’ a gospel that brought death because it denied the sufficiency of grace. The Judaizing teachers were inviting the Galatians to return to religions of slavery and death. And instead of living by faith, they wanted to live by experience, emotions and feelings, 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Paul says to these Galatian Christians, if you guys go back to Judaism, you’re starting a journey that will lead you back to slavery and death. You go back to the old routines of pointless religious activities.

“You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” Galatians 4:10-11

The Galatians were being instructed to observe Jewish feast days as legal requirements for justification. Remember even though Paul never condemned the keeping of certain days that were observed in a cultural situation, Colossians 2:16, but Paul did condemn the keeping of those days as a way of working for your salvation.

And so, after teaching them the Gospel, helping them see the foolishness of their former religion, highlighting that law-keeping alone doesn’t make anyone right with God.

Paul feels like he’s just wasted his time with them. He’s talking in terms of the great sufferings and trials he and Barnabas went through in the southern region of Galatia to bring them the Gospel.

Paul’s saying that all that persecution and effort was useless if they return to a system of legal justification. Imagine someone setting you free from slavery and bondage only to find out that they want to go back to it!

Paul’s basically saying they should hang their heads in shame even at the thought of going back, but Paul wasn’t to give up on them that easily.

“I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.” Galatians 4:12-14

Paul pleads with them to leave this idea of going back to try and be right with God by law-keeping and good deeds. Their actions weren’t just a simple deviation from the truth of the Gospel, their actions meant they would lose their relationship with God and couldn’t be called children of God anymore and ultimately, they would lose their salvation.

And to get his point across to the Galatians Paul makes it personal and says if you go back you’ll not only lose your relationship with God but you’ll also lose the relationship you had with him.

Paul had become all things to all men in order to win the Galatians. He had identified with them in order to cross-culturally communicate the Gospel to them, but he’s pleading that they become as he is by enjoying the freedom that he has in Christ.

Whilst in Galatia they did Paul no harm, but graciously received him as a messenger of God. He suffered great persecution and hardship in order to evangelise the areas of Galatia in doing so he became ill.

And so, the superstitious converts in Galatia would have considered either persecution or illness to be a curse that the gods would pour out on those who were wrong.

However, those who accepted what Paul preached didn’t receive him as one who was cursed. They didn’t consider Paul’s hardships or sickness as a curse from some false god.

We don’t know what this illness was that Paul was suffering from but we do know it hindered his work in Galatia. Paul’s simply saying, despite being ill, they received him anyway.

The Galatians enthusiastically received Paul when he preached the Gospel to them. They received Paul as one sent from God, not from men. Remember on one occasion the Galatians actually believed that Paul and Barnabas were the gods who had come down from heaven to visit them, Acts 14:11-12.

And so, if they could easily believe they were gods, this would explain why they would be so open to the legalistic teaching of the Judaizers. Paul wants to get to the bottom of it, he wants to know what’s happened, that’s changed their opinion of what Paul taught them.

“Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:15-16

When Paul first came to them with the Gospel, they felt greatly honoured and regarded him highly. They would have made great personal and physical sacrifices in order to help him and as a result of their reception of Paul and his message, they also received a great blessing of joy, they were blessed by his presence but now, their joy has subsided.

Paul gets straight to the point with the Galatians by asking if he has ‘become their enemy for telling them the truth’. He feels that he must say the truth, even though that truth might cause great resentment against him personally.

He’s willing to take the risk of losing their friendship in order that they do not lose their relationship with God as children of God, Romans 10:14.

The thing about legalists is that they are always accusing other brethren of something, usually of being too liberal, a heretic or a false teacher. And we can imagine them saying ‘oh Paul is making salvation far too easy, we have to do something to work towards our salvation.’ What we have to do is mix Christianity with Judaism, we’ll believe in Christ but make sure we’ll keep the Old covenant of circumcision and observe our special days’.

In other words, they wanted to turn the Galatian church against Paul and would say anything and accuse him of everything to help them do just that. But Paul is very much aware of what’s going on, he knows exactly who’s behind them wanting to turn back to those ‘weak and miserable forces’.

“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.” Galatians 4:17-18

These legalistic teachers were saying, ‘let’s go out and save the saved’, and ‘let’s convert these Christians to our way of religion.’ The legalist’s focus is never on Jesus but always on self and so, they go about trying to intimidate others to conform to their own rules, regulations, opinions and interpretations.

Can you see the difference? The legalists recruit people but God coverts people. The legalists hold up a bunch of rules and regulations but Christians by faith hold up the cross.

The Judaizing teachers wanted to influence the Galatians in order to have them in fellowship with their position. But in doing so, Paul says, the Galatians would lose their fellowship with the church and instead of having a zeal for Christ, you would end up with a zeal for them.

This basically means the legalists will demand that you agree with them on all opinions and interpretations, which also means there’s no room for freedom.

Zeal is a good thing as long as it’s controlled and guided by knowledge, Romans 10:2. In other words, we shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that the zeal of any religious group proves the truth of the group. Zeal doesn’t guarantee that they’re teaching the truth, it only confirms that the zealous firmly believe what they teach.

And Paul says to the Galatians Christians, ‘don’t be deceived into thinking that the zeal of the Judaizing teachers is evidence of truth’. People are often deceived by the zeal or by the great enthusiasm of those who are promoting their own theologies.

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” Galatians 4:19-20

Notice what Paul says here, Paul has moved in this letter from calling them ‘foolish Galatians’ in Galatians 3:1, to ‘brothers and sisters’ in Galatians 4:12, and now he says, ‘my dear children’. Paul’s harshness has moved to gentleness in a last emotional plea that they wake up to what is happening.

He says just like the pain experienced in a woman going through childbirth, he’s experiencing the frustrations of building a church. In other words, his first efforts in Galatia were strenuous as a woman in labour, he was going through the same pain in order to help them remain children of God.

They had come into Christ by being immersed into Christ but sadly they hadn’t grown in the grace and knowledge of Christ so that Christ be formed in them. And he says, if he were only personally present with them, he could nurture their spiritual growth and personally deal with the Judaizing teachers among them.

But he isn’t there personally with them, he’s ‘perplexed’ which means he’s at a loss as to what to think about them. They knew the law but didn’t understand it, they knew the law but misapplied it and they wanted to swap the law of freedom for the law of slavery.

Hagar And Sarah

“Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise”. Galatians 4:21-23

Paul asks a question that is directed to those who are seeking to return to law and he challenges them to listen to what the law says. He says that Abraham had two sons, both of which came from Abraham.

Ishmael was born of an Egyptian slave woman named Hagar, Genesis 16. We know the story where Abraham and Sarah are desperate for a child and so Sarah comes up with the idea of Abraham sleeping with Hagar to which Abraham agrees.

But what they’re really trying to do is, help God out on their own, they’re trying to bring about the fulfilment of God’s promise of a son through his seed. And so, Ishmael was born through natural circumstances, but this wasn’t the way God wanted it to happen.

The work of Abraham and Sarah couldn’t bring about the fulfilment of the promise, why? Simply because the fulfilment of the promise must be done by the grace of God.

Isaac was born of a free woman, Sarah, Genesis 21, but it was Isaac who was born of Sarah according to the grace of God, Hebrews 11:11. Sarah was well past childbearing age, that’s why she got Hagar involved because she couldn’t have children.

Ishmael was born as a result of man’s effort to work out God’s promise, but Isaac was born as a result of God’s work to carry out the fulfilment of His promise to Abraham.

“These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Galatians 4:24-27

Paul says Hagar and Sarah are two covenants figuratively speaking, in other words, we’ve not to take them as literal. He says Ishmael represents the covenant that is from Mount Sinai, the covenant which contained the law that brought death. And the reason it brought death is because no one could keep the law perfectly in order to be right with God.

Paul says all the law did was bring slavery and death, not life. The law couldn’t deal with our sin problem and the law couldn’t save you. What the law did was highlight the fact that we do sin and that we’re all sinners. And so, it pointed us to see that we need someone else to deal with our sin problem.

All the animal sacrifices of the world couldn’t take away our sin and so for us to be justified or be right with God, we have to look elsewhere, Hebrews 10:1-4. We have to look to Jesus because He was the One who showed us God’s grace by offering Himself upon the cross as the sacrificial Lamb of God.

In other words, He took our sin upon Himself, He made us right with God and it’s because of Jesus that we now stand justified, just as if we hadn’t sinned.

Paul says that this covenant and law that were established on Mount Sinai were represented by Jerusalem that stood at the time Paul wrote the letter. And it seems that Jerusalem was still the centre of religious reference for the Judaizing teachers.

Paul’s point is that there’s a huge difference between the covenant and the law which was given on Mount Sinai and this law that the Judaizers were promoting. The Jews had been drifting away from the law for years. In fact, by the time Jesus came on the scene, the Jews had introduced hundreds of extra laws which were nowhere to be found within the Old Testament.

That’s why Jesus was always having a go at the religious leaders for teaching the traditions of men. The Jewish religious leaders had added numerous practices to the original Old Testament laws in order that the laws of the Old Testament be strictly kept, Mark 7:1-4.

The Pharisees had developed a system of 613 laws, 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws but by the time Christ came, it had produced a heartless, cold, and arrogant brand of righteousness.

This was the religion that Paul came from and he thought at one time if he keeps all these ceremonial laws and the law of Moses then he can be saved.

But he came to understand that he was wrong in his theology but it took a visit from Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus for him to come to that realisation. These brethren are doing the very thing that Paul said we shouldn’t do, which goes beyond what was written, 1 Corinthians 4:6.

Paul continues and says that Isaac represents the covenant that we now have with God. This covenant relationship originated because of the grace of God and this covenant relationship brings freedom, not slavery. It’s the heavenly Jerusalem that is the focal point of worship for those who are born of the freewoman by faith.

Those of the freewoman don’t find their authority in the physical Jerusalem of Palestine, but in the heavenly Jerusalem from where Paul received the Gospel. And to further make his point, Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 where Isaiah depicted the desolate city of Jerusalem which would be restored to bring forth children once again.

In other words, the children of Abraham by faith are far more than the children of Abraham through physical lineage. When God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, Genesis 17:5, there was more to the promise than his physical descendants.

Both Jews and Gentiles who were of the faith of Abraham were also the spiritual descendants of Abraham, Romans 4:15-18.

“Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” Galatians 4:28-31

Remember that Isaac was born because of the grace and work of God in the lives of Abraham and Sarah. And we too, are Christians today because we were also born because of the grace and work of God.

Abraham and Sarah didn’t work in order to earn the fulfilment of the promise and neither can we. Salvation always was and always will be the gift of God through His grace.

Abraham didn’t doubt that God could fulfil the promise and despite Sarah being well past the time for childbearing, by faith Abraham trusted in God.

Ishmael was the only son of Abraham for fourteen years before Isaac was born but when Isaac was born, Ishmael had a rival and went on to persecute Isaac. And because he persecuted Isaac, he limited his own stay in the house of Abraham.

Paul is saying that just like Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the same thing was going on in the Galatian church. These Judaizing teachers were persecuting the true sons of Abraham by faith and because Paul was preaching the truth of the Gospel, he too was being persecuted by those who were of the slave woman.

Paul uses the Old Testament example of Hagar and her son, ‘get rid of them both’ he says, Genesis 21:10. Paul is saying that the Galatians need to get rid of those who were sons of legalism and those who were bringing them back into slavery again.

These legalisers were trying to bring God’s free children under their own legalistic umbrella. They were trying to put demands on Christians that God never demanded. They wanted them to follow commandments that God never commanded.

And Paul says, ‘get rid of them, they’ll just make you slaves again, they’ll just bring you under condemnation again’, Romans 8:1-2. Paul concludes that we’re no longer under slavery, but under the grace of God that brings freedom.

Go To Galatians 5