Galatians 4:1-7 KJV (NIV Link Below)
1Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
3Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
An Adopted Son
If the law had remained in place, then those under God’s covenant, his children, would not have the freedom that comes from growing into adulthood. The law acted as a guardian until the “proper time.” While the guardian is in place, from an outsider’s perspective there might be little difference between a servant and a son of God. The son still has to listen to the guardian or trustee, and may even have chores or other tasks to perform. The role of the guardian in the first century Roman Empire was to train and instruct the soon to be heirs. It was a system grounded in the ethics of Greek philosophy. A good ruler, even over a single estate, had to be trained properly. If a child was not properly trained, including understanding how the servants lived and worked, then he would not be able to manage the estate well once he took on his inheritance. He might be abusive or uncaring or not altogether frugal and waste the inheritance. Instead, the son needed training in various tasks even if he was never to perform them as the adult heir. While outwardly the heir appeared no different from a servant, the inward reality was radically different. And, at the appointed time when training ended, the son took his rightful role as the heir and ruler of the estate.
At the proper time, God, to show his “first-born son” Israel what its true identity was, sent his actual begotten* son, Jesus, to them. And Jesus became born of the flesh under the law, like all other Israelites, that he might redeem them out of the law.
Paul has used a few different metaphors for salvation so far, and it may be useful to specifically identify some of those. He has talked about salvation as rescue. We’ve discussed salvation as the transition from childhood to adulthood. Paul refers to salvation as the move from bondage to freedom, and from division and isolation to unity and community. Now he talks about salvation as the move from servitude to adoption.
The inclusion of the gentiles in redemption is so radical that the metaphor of an heir growing into his adulthood must be broadened. It wasn’t just the right time for Israel to grow up, Jesus also broadened those who could be called son, and we became adopted sons of God. This isn’t just a legal status, either, because by this adoption we have a Spirit within in us that cries to God as son of birth does: Abba, Father. God changes your status: from slave to son, but he also changes your very being. It is a transformation that goes to your very core. You are now more than fallen human flesh because God’s spirit is within you by the transforming power of adoption. God is transforming your very character and personhood into a true son.
Add your thoughts below. Here are some reflection questions to help you get started: What does it mean to you that you can now call God “Father” in a very real and informal sense? Do you sometimes struggle to understand how we can be God’s son (and Christ’s brother), especially since we don’t always act like it? What does it mean to you to know that Christ, who was above the law and made the law, made himself subject under the law to redeem us from it? How would you contrast the life of a servant with that of the heir to a rich estate? How would you compare this to your life before and after Christ?
*Sorry for the somewhat arcane use of the word “begotten.” I was attempting to distinguish it from “first-born,” which in the Hebrew of Exodus refers to a legal, social, and relational standing and actually says nothing about the act of birth. Jesus is the only one who is “born” in the sense of being God’s offspring (John 3:16). Without getting into a lengthy discussion of the Trinity, let me just leave it by saying that Jesus has been described throughout Church history as being “eternally begotten of the Father.” That is a difficult thing to get our minds around, but it is an important distinction because everyone else is the adopted son of God. For a good infographic on the Trinity you can click here for a WordPress blog featuring one that is taken from Tim Challies blog.
**Ladies you’re sons too. (In the idiom of my former professor Gerald Bray “If I can be a bride of Christ, you can be a son of God”)