Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – Part 3
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Part 3 of Paul’s case against combining the Law and Grace
Paul has been showing the Galatians that all believers in Jesus are children of God. We are also descendants of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise God gave to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. This blessing would come in the person of Jesus, also a descendant of Abraham, who would make it possible for the Gentiles to be justified by faith. Although the promise came before the Law was given, its fulfillment came later. In the interim, the Law was given to God’s people as a guardian. Now let’s resume our study with chapter 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 basic principles of the world (Galatians 4:1-3).
Paul compared the time between the giving of the promise and its fulfillment to the life of an underage heir, subject to guardians and trustees. Even though the heir really owns everything, he is not authorized to exercise any control over anything before reaching a certain age. Until then guardians and trustees appointed to act on his behalf control everything, and the heir has no more power than a slave would have.
So it was in the time between the giving of the promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Law was given as a guardian for the people. It controlled every aspect of their lives and they had no more control than slaves. In effect they went from being prisoners of sin to being prisoners of the Law.
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. Because we 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 4:4-7).
In both the Greek and Roman cultures, when an heir came of age, there was a formal adoption ceremony where he legally became a son, entitled to all of a son’s rights and privileges including the right of inheritance. After that, there were no more guardians or trustees telling the heir what he could or could not do. He was authorized to act on his own.
When Jesus came to redeem those who were held prisoners under the Law, God authorized everyone who believed in His Son to receive the full rights of adoption. John was speaking of this when he said, “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, or human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13-14). We call this being born again.
Paul made this even clearer when he said because of our faith we have been legally adopted into God’s family, signified by the seal of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing our inheritance. The Law no longer serves as a guardian telling us what we can or cannot do. We have the full rights of sonship including the right of inheritance, which is eternal life. Therefore, there is no longer any reason for anyone to go under the Law. God does not require it, and we cannot benefit from doing it. On the contrary, it could be counterproductive for us, a step backward in our spiritual growth.
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? 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 4:8-11)
In their pagan past, the Galatians had worshiped things they thought were gods. When they became believers they realized their former gods couldn’t save anyone. But Paul said that by going under the Law they were repeating their previous mistakes. The rituals they were following now were different but they produced the same result—enslavement. Instead of obligating themselves to observe the pagan festivals of their past they were obligating themselves to observe the Jewish festivals instead.
I have said before that there is great value in learning about the Feasts of Israel, especially as they reveal God’s prophetic plan. Seeing how the first coming of Jesus was clearly foretold in the spring feasts, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the second coming in the fall feasts gives us an overview of God’s plan for all of mankind. But even if we only put ourselves under obligation to the Law out of “obedience” while claiming to be saved by grace, we’re doing something God neither commands nor desires for us.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul cautioned his readers not to let anyone judge them by what they eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day. He said they were a shadow of things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).
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. 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 4:12-16).
The account in Acts 13-14 of Paul’s time with the Galatians makes no mention of this illness so we don’t know what it was. From extra Biblical sources I’ve read that the journey from the Mediterranean coast to the inland region of Galatia was an exhausting one, over rough terrain and fraught with danger, and one of these sources suggested that Paul suffered a bout of malaria as a result. Others say that because of Paul’s reference to the Galatians being willing to give him their eyes, it could have been eye trouble.
But Paul’s point was not the illness, it was the change in their attitude toward him. It looked to him like the Judaizers had succeeded in turning the Galatians against Paul. Remember, they said he was not an authentic apostle and accused him of giving the Galatians a watered down version of the Gospel in order to convert them.
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. 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 4:17-20).
Imagine the frustration Paul must have felt. After spending nearly two years in the region (46-48AD), much of it in Galatia, Paul and Barnabas had returned to Syrian Antioch. It was now several years later, and He was responding to reports that the Judaizers had undone much of his work, teaching the Galatians to abandon the doctrine of Grace and submit to the Law.
There was no love lost between Paul and the Judaizers. In 2 Cor. 11:13-15 he said,
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
From his comments about still being in the pains of childbirth for the Galatians, it sounds like he’s wondering if they had ever experienced a new birth in the first place. He was obviously very concerned about the spiritual condition of people who, having been saved by Grace, would voluntarily go under the Law.
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 will now use three pairs of symbols to show the difference between Law and Grace; two sons, two women, and two cities. One son (Ishmael) was born in the natural way to a slave woman (Hagar). The other son (Isaac) was born according to a divine promise to the free woman (Sarah). Before you suggest that Isaac was also the result of natural childbirth, remember that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born and Sarah was 90 (Genesis 17:15-17). Ishmael, whose mother Hagar was of childbearing age, was born in the natural way. But it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that Isaac, whose mother Sarah was long past childbearing age, was the result of a supernatural birth, the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham. This is just one way in which Isaac was a foreshadowing of Jesus.
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 labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” (Galatians 4:24-27)
And finally, the two cities. Hagar, the slave woman, represents Jerusalem, the city of those who are enslaved by the Law. Sarah, the free woman, represents the New Jerusalem, the city of the redeemed Church, saved by grace and free from the law.
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)
In this example, Hagar and Ishmael represent the Law and its children. Ishmael persecuted Isaac, and along with his mother was sent away, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son (Genesis 21:8-14). Sarah and Isaac represent Grace and it’s children. The Law persecutes Grace and has been sent away, for the Law will never share in the inheritance of eternal life with Grace. The children of Grace have become the sole heirs of eternal life. We are those children.
It’s important to remember that although obedience to the Law was required in the Old Testament, it was powerless to save the people because they could never meet the standards it demanded. The requirement for obedience was intended to demonstrate that fact. In Romans 3:20 Paul said, “No one will be declared righteous by observing the Law; rather through the Law we become conscious of sin.”
Without the belief in a coming Redeemer who would pay the penalty for their sins, no one could be saved by obeying the Law. The children of the Law will never share in the inheritance with the children of the promise.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). No matter what we were before, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, if we are in Christ we are a new creation. The old has gone the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). If we belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s descendants and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). See you next time.