In the fourth chapter of Galatians, Paul continues to talk about law vs. faith. Again, Paul’s examples and metaphors he uses to make his point are there to teach us how justification through our own performance is futility. Human nature teaches us that nothing is free, why would we think our salvation is any different? This is why the good news of salvation by grace through faith is such a foreign concept for people to grasp.
Sons and Heirs
Paul continues his analogy of children and fathers. Many times our thinking about God is more like a slave-master than a father. How do we as fathers treat our own sons? Why do we expect God to treat us differently than that?
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
– Matthew 7:9-11 (ESV)
Are we graceful and merciful when it comes to our own children? I think most would say yes. Sure we discipline them when they do wrong, but on the whole, we tend to have grace towards them… perhaps even more than we do for other people’s children. Why? Because we love them. We don’t treat them like slaves. Especially after they have grown up. How do we deal with our grown children? Mutual love and respect right? Grown children may do what a father requests of them, but now because they love their father and not in order to avoid punishment. This is how we are to love and obey God. Our obedience is in response to our love for Him, not in order to achieve His favor.
While they are children, they must obey those who are chosen to care for them. But when the children reach the age set by their fathers, they are free. It is the same for us. We were once like children, slaves to the useless rules of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son who was born of a woman and lived under the law. God did this so he could buy freedom for those who were under the law and so we could become his children.
Since you are God’s children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and the Spirit cries out, “Father.” So now you are not a slave; you are God’s child, and God will give you the blessing he promised, because you are his child.
– Galatians 4:2-7 (NCV)
Paul then begins to commiserate over the people of Galatia and how they seemed to understand when they first heard, but are now being told that grace and faith are not sufficient.
But now you know the true God. Really, it is God who knows you. So why do you turn back to those weak and useless rules you followed before? Do you want to be slaves to those things again? You still follow teachings about special days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid for you, that my work for you has been wasted.
– Galatians 4:9-11 (NCV)
Our heritage’s tendency toward legalism never ceases to amaze. This passage is about the freedom of faith vs. slavery of rule keeping. It is in line with this same thought the whole book is focused on. However, I have actually heard this passage used as a legal reason why celebrating Christmas, Easter, or even Birthdays is wrong. Really? Stop trying to find rules everywhere! Especially in verses telling you to stop finding rules everywhere! The point is not that special days and seasons are wrong. The point is there’s no rule telling you to keep certain days holy anymore. You are free to celebrate a day or not to. Romans 14:5-6
Paul then continues to remember his first encounter with them and his past relationship with them. He then commiserates why they would now disown him for being truthful with them.
Now am I your enemy because I tell you the truth? – Galatians 4:16 (NCV)
This is another passage often quoted out of context anytime someone feels “the truth” is different than how another person or people group worships or practices. Again, using the scriptures for the exact opposite that Paul was when he made the statement. “The Truth” Paul is referring to is the simplicity of the good news… that justification comes by faith and not by laws.
Hagar and Sarah
The second half of Galatians 4 is an example Paul makes to again symbolize the contrast between performance and faith. Paul turns to Abraham again, but this time to discuss the promise God made to him concerning his heir.
Abraham’s son from the slave woman was born in the normal human way. But the son from the free woman was born because of the promise God made to Abraham.
– Galatians 4:23 (NCV)
Look at what Paul is doing in this example. God makes a promise to the elderly Abraham about having a son. He and Sarah know this is physically impossible for her. So they set about to achieve this goal through their own works, which results in Abraham having Ishmael through Hagar. This is not the promise given by God because God wants it to be about HIMSELF and not Abraham’s ability. But then Sarah conceives Isaac miraculously as a gift from God! No one worked to earn the promise. It was given to them and they received it by God’s work. Such is our salvation and our justification before God. When we try to make it all about a set of rules, we end up messing it up like Abraham did. Hence, we’ve divided the Kingdom of God a million ways and thus have defiled His temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
– Galatians 4:30-31 (ESV)
We play a dangerous game when we think “the truth of the Gospel” is about some legal requirements set forth by Christ and the disciples instead of it simply being about Jesus doing all the work required for us if we place our faith in him. If we are still relying on our own understanding of scriptures + our own personal adherence to those rules to justify us, we have become slaves to our own devices… and children of the slave woman are not children of the promise.
As we continue into Chapter 5 we will see more clearly how dangerous it is to be legally minded concerning our salvation. Adhering to the strictest set of rules is not the safest path. In fact, it can be detrimental to our very salvation. This is why Paul laments:
I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. – Galatians 4:11 (ESV)