1What 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. 2He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:1-7, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Previously in the letter to the Galatians, I wrote about how Paul has asked his readers if they’ve been bewitched. He wants to know if they’ve been theologically scammed because even though they started out trusting Jesus and his death alone as the source of their right standing before God, it’s clear that they have since fallen back into a works-based system where adherence to the law became paramount in maintaining God’s favor.
Now, in chapter 4, Paul continues his explanation of why it’s foolish to try to earn God’s favor by keeping the law. He does so by giving the illustration of sons vs. slaves.
Remember that Paul’s audience is not Jewish, so he must use illustrations and explanations that are familiar to his audience.
In the very first verse, Paul says that in Roman culture, children were no better than slaves, even though they may be entitled to the inheritance.
In Roman law, sons had no real rights regarding their future estate until they were to come of age. This happened at the discretion of the father, unlike Jewish culture where a boy became a “man” at a certain age.
Paul’s point is that while the boy was still a child, he was viewed almost the same as a slave. He had no say or rights to the estate, even though it would become his at some point.
The law has that same effect. While under the law, we were not free. We were no better off than slaves and the law could not provide the promised inheritance. It was simply like a guardian to keep us until we would come to Christ, who alone provides the promised inheritance.
In verse 3, Paul says that when we were children, that is, when we were under the law, we were in slavery to the basic principles of the world.
The term “basic principles of the world”, or in some versions “the elemental principles” refers to basic religious principles, practices and systems from which we seek to derive our righteousness and acceptance before God. In this case, it was a Jewish system but it could be any religious system. They all lead to bondage because they are based on human effort vs Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Verse 4 delivers the big “But”. It shows a contrast and what is being contrasted is our relationship as a slave versus our relationship with God as a son!
Jesus died to redeem us, to free us from slavery and to make us adopted children in God’s family.
The proof that God has redeemed us and brought us into His family is the Holy Spirit, who is given to those who believe in Jesus.
The fact that we have God’s Holy Spirit in us proves that God considers us his sons and daughters.
If we are sons then we are also heirs. Our inheritance is eternal life, something that the law could never provide for us.
Do you want to inherit eternal life? Then you must become an heir. You become an heir by becoming a son, or daughter. You become a son, or daughter, the moment you place your faith in Christ and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If we insist on staying in some kind of religious rules-based system in order to gain favor with God, whether it’s the Old Testament law or some other religious system, then we are choosing to remain slaves who have no legitimate claim to an inheritance.
What do you think is the allure for people to follow a rules-based system when it cannot provide us an inheritance?
In what ways are you tempted to act like a slave instead of a son or daughter?
What are some of the “basic principles of the world” that we can get enslaved to?
What steps can you take to ensure you continue to live as sons instead of as slaves? What do you think is the key to living out our freedom?