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Liberated from Legalism pt 18 [8-29-21]

When we began our series on Galatians on April 25, we summarized the three thematic sections of Paul's letter:

  • Chapters 1 & 2 deal primarily with Paul's apostolic authority.

  • Chapters 3 & 4 deal primarily with the truth of justification by faith apart from works of the law.

  • Chapters 5 & 6 deal primarily with how the truth of chapters 3 & 4 is lived out in the life of the believer.

Chapter 4 continues to spell out the foundation of our salvation and the reasons why legalism was, and is, such a threat. Here in chapter 4, Paul is finishing up explaining the who and the why and the how of salvation. After that, in chapters 5 and 6, he'll detail what a saved person looks like and how a saved person lives out his or her life.

Let's start with a hypothetical situation. Imagine you're talking with a

neighbor. The conversation turns to spiritual things. At one point your neighbor says, "Well, I believe we're all children of God. He created us all and loves us all, and saves us all, whether we're Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim." How would you respond? What would you say?

We have been building a foundation for a response as we move into the fourth chapter of Galatians. Let's now look at verses 1-11…

Here's Paul's foundational argument:

Salvation is not gained by human merit but solely by God's sovereign grace through faith.

Micah Wilder grew up in Utah, in a Mormon family. He was the model Mormon. From rigorously observing the laws of his religion to serving in leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilder did everything he could to establish right standing with God. It was while on his two-year mission trip, in Orlando, that he became a Christian. His family and church leaders back home were not happy.

In his own words:

“Mormonism is a works-based faith. So I was faithful in my church attendance. I tithed, I followed the moral codes and went to the Mormon temple and so on, believing these things contributed to my right standing with God. I longed for intimacy with Him. I tried so hard to live out the tenets of my faith. I had a desire to be everything that I thought that I needed to be, according to the standard of my religion. Of course, unfortunately, that bred a burden on my shoulders where there was an uncertainty as to whether or not I’d ever done enough.”

That is a modern manifestation of the false teaching Paul was dealing with. The false teachers wanted to subordinate the gospel of grace to following the law as the way to salvation. And so Paul spells out, one last time, the insanity of expecting to keep the law after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He does it by referencing back to his earlier discussion about inheritances and children and adoption.

First, inheritances. Paul continues with the example of an inheritance as a way to describe the free gift of salvation.

Twenty-two years ago, in England, the duke and duchess of Northumberland went to court to block their son from inheriting his fortune when he turned 18. They weren't doing it vindictively or punitively. George Percy's parents had what they believed to be his best interests in mind. It's hard to disagree with them. Their son, who was 14 at the time, stood to inherit the family castle, $1,500,000 cash, and a $500,000 annual income. It's frightening to think what would have happened to me if I had come into such a windfall at 18. His parents didn't want him to inherit too much, too soon. The country roads of England have been littered by the wastrels who came into too much money too soon. So the parents of Early Percy, as he is titled, set up a trust to manage his fortune until his twenty-fifth birthday.

Here's how this modern tale of wise counsel intersects with Galatians 4.

Paul said that the law was necessary until the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Until then, God's people needed a way to stay on track in their relationship with God. In God's sovereign will, He knew when Jesus was going to be born and when he would die. So God gave the law as a way for His people to understand how to have a right relationship with God and how to navigate living in the midst of pagan cultures. The law served a good and worthy purpose.

Just as with the case of Earl Percy, in Paul's day, it was customary for a rich man to put a guardian in charge of his heir. The child knew he was the owner of great wealth, but didn't have it yet. In other words, as Paul explained it in verse 1, he was "Lord of everything," but for now by title, not possession.

In practical terms, the heir had about as much liberty as one of the father's servants. He had no legal or property rights. He was subject to the discipline of his guardian. So you can understand how, under this system, he felt more like a servant than a son. But remember…it was for his own good. Eventually he would receive his inheritance.

That, Paul said, was the purpose of law. But the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ moved them from guardianship to become children of God, heirs of the promise. Who would ever want to go back to

the way things were before?

Which leads us to verse 3. Here's the ESV translation:

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

There are a few different ways to understand this verse. Were the "elementary principles" the "powers and principalities" that Paul spoke about in other places, meaning evil forces at work in the world? Or was Paul referring to basic, foundational things, like letters of the alphabet? Or was he referring to the basic elements and rituals of human religion? Interesting, right?

Here's as literal a translation of verse 3 I could find:

So also we when we were children under the basic principles of the world were held in bondage.

I think Paul is talking about the basics of God's law. This was how they learned the alphabet of God's will. They learned the basics of worship and making God-honoring choices and how to relate with pagan cultures. The

law held them in guardianship until Christ came.

Using the 10 Commandments, here's a good way to think about it. The 10 Commandments cover our relationship with God and with each other. Both are important. Imagine the commandments as boundary markers. They are like guardians. We know that when we live within the God-given boundaries of the commandments, while life won't be perfect, it will be much more manageable as we will have better relationships with each other and God. Consider adultery, for example. Think about all the pain and sorrow and disease that results from adultery. So the law kept them within the care of God's grace and mercy.

Can you imagine someone like Earl Percy, once he turned 25, wanting to return to the position for being under the guardianship of someone else? As Paul said earlier, that would be foolish. Here's something you might want to write down:


If we believe in Jesus Christ, we have treasure beyond measure. Who

would take a step back into the old system?

Here is how verses 4 and 5 address the answer to that question:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons {and daughters}.

Contained in these two short verses are six central teachings about the coming of Christ. Remember, his death and resurrection brought God's people from slavery to becoming children of God. They could now enjoy their full inheritance as children of God.

While we're not going to break down all six central teachings in these two verses today, let's start with the first one.

The first essential teaching is about…

1. The Timing of His Coming.

"But when the fullness of time had come," verse 4 begins. Time and time

again in Galatians we hear such expressions of God's sovereign will. This is

all about God's planning and God's timing. God is in charge of the time,

place, and process for our salvation.

Here's what we know about ancient law and inheritances. The father had the right to set the time when his son would receive his estate. In the same way, God the Father determined when God the Son would come to give all God's children their inheritance. In other words, God's timing is perfect and precise. Jesus affirms this in Mark 1:14-15:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus came at exactly the point in human history when God had determined it to happen. Here's how John Calvin described it:

Jesus came when the time which had been ordained by the providence of God was seasonable and fit.

The second essential teaching is about…

2. The Origins of Christ's Coming.

This is about the eternal deity of Jesus Christ. As Paul said, "God sent forth

his Son." The words were chosen to clearly state the divine nature of the

Son of God. "Sent forth" means to dispatch on a service or agency. What

that means is that the Son was sent before he was born in Bethlehem. He existed…was there with God when the decision was made…before he was born. Here's the last thing you might want to write down:


When the determined time had come, the eternally divine Son of God came down from heaven into the world to save us.

And that is a beautifully positive note to end on.

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