Slaves or Sons? (Galatians 4:1-11)
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 4:1–4:11
When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)
Slaves or Sons?
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
September 9th, 2012
I. The Former Slave’s Response
A letter that was first written 147 years ago resurfaced earlier this year. It is a letter written by a former slave, and written to his former master, who apparently had contacted him, after his emancipation, and invited him to come back and work on the plantation where he was a slave. Listen to the following excerpts from the former slave’s response:
“Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865 To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee. Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can…Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living…I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me…Mandy [his wife] says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to…If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense.”
He concludes by adding, “Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me. From your old servant, Jourdon Anderson.”
THAT is what we would expect a former slave to say when given the chance to go back to his or her old master. THAT response makes sense in light of the horrors of slavery. Keep this THAT in mind as we return this morning to our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
II. The Passage: “You are No Longer a Slave” (4:1-11)
Open up this morning to Galatians 4:1-11. Now, before we sink our teeth into this passage, let me remind you of what we’ve already learned about this letter. In terms of the broad context, we’ve learned that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to churches in the region of Galatia (what is today southeastern Turkey) in order to warn them about the lies of certain Jewish-Christian teachers who were teaching the necessity of obeying the Law of Moses.
These guys were essentially saying that in order to be a good Christian, you first had to be a good Jew, that is, that you had to keep ALL of the Old Testament commandments, even the ones about being circumcised, and keeping a kosher diet, and observing certain holy days. Only by keeping this Law, would the Galatians experience God’s acceptance.
In terms of the specific context, Paul has just been explaining to them the purpose of the OT Law in God's bigger plan. As Paul makes clear in chapter 3, the Law was not ultimately given to be a ladder on which we could climb up to God. No, the Law was ultimately given to be a thermometer…to show us how sick we are because of sin. But Paul has also talked in chapter three about the idea of being Abraham’s offspring, and thus, the heirs (i.e. the inheritors) of the promises God gave to Abraham. Now with that in mind, look at 4:1…
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,  but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  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 because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  You observe days and months and seasons and years!  I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
Okay, what I’d like to do is make sense of this passage by defining three exhortations, that is, three strong encouragements that Paul is emphasizing in what he’s written:
A. Recognize the Common Shackles of HumanEffort! (4:3, 8, 9)
The first thing I’d like to point out about this passage is that Paul is desperately wanting his readers to recognize the common shackles of human effort. I think we can see this idea when we dig into verses 3, 8, and 9.
Let me explain how I'm arriving at that conclusion. Do you see the phrase that verse 3 and verse 9 have in common? Yes, it's the phrase “the elementary principles of the world”. In the original Greek in which this letter was written, “elementary principles” is actually just one word, stoicheion. In Hebrews 5:12 that same word has to do with the basic elements or first principles of the faith. In II Peter 3, it is used twice in reference to the basic elements which form the earth.
So here stoicheion is used in to talk about the basic or first principles of the word system. But what is so important to see is the two different contexts in which this word is used. In verse 3, Paul is talking about the Jewish people being under the guardianship of the Law of Moses (this is a continuation of 3:24). And so Paul declares that being under the Law in this way, “we”, the Jews, were in fact enslaved to “the elementary principles of the world”.
But when you get down to verses 8 and 9, Paul switches from “we” to “you” because he is now talking about the pagan past of his Gentile (non-Jewish) audience. They didn't have the Law of Moses. No, before hearing the message of Christ, they were worshipping gods and goddesses like Zeus, and Apollo, and Aphrodite. But notice how Paul describes their condition in verse 9: how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world?
Now at first, there seems to be some kind of mistake here. How can Paul put the Law of Moses in the same category as the worship of false gods? But that's where we need to be careful and look again at what Paul is saying. The only similarity between the OT Law and pagan worship has everything to do with the issue of human effort. Whether we are trying to follow the commands of the true God or performing rituals to a false god, our misguided bent is to make everything about our religious performance.
What the Jewish and Gentile worshiper had in common was the fact that both were utlimately focused on human effort. Paul is stating that a knowledge of the true God and a knowledge of His commands is not enough when it comes to human effort. The end result is no different than following a false god. What a stunning conclusion!
And so Paul desperately wants the Galatians to recognize this similarity. He wants them to see that depending on human effort is, in reality, a return to shackles; a return to chains.
B. Resist the Common Temptation to Go Back to Slavery! (4:1-3, 9-11)
Look at how he brings this out more fully in the second point he emphasizes here. Paul is also tellling them, resist the common temptation to go back to slavery!
We see this in two places: in verses 1-3, and in verses 9-11. Remember what Paul has told them about the “elementary principles of the world”. Both Jews and Gentiles were enslaved by the common shackles of depending on human effort to find spiritual deliverance. For the Galatians, this took the form of worshiping false gods. (v. 8)
But look at what Paul emphasizes in verses 1-3. Even though the Jews were God's covenant people, even though they were to inherit God's promises to Abraham, they were still like children of the landowner, children under the supervision of guardians and managers. And so they were in sense, as Paul put in 3:23, “held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.”
And so as Paul expressed in verse 1, when the heir is a child, he is no different than a slave. Why? Because both lack true freedom. And this is exactly why Paul is warning the Galatians. For them to turn to the Law of Moses in order to be right with God is just like going back to the very slavery they knew when they were worshiping false idols.
You see, the deception was incredibly subtle, wasn't it? Yes, it was the the Law of the true God, but the Law could not be used as a ladder! And so the very freedom they sought when they first heard the gospel, was the very freedom they were giving up by trying (v. 10) to observe things like the holy days of the Law. If only they could see that turning to God's Law in this way was just like turning back to the slavery they once despised.
C. Rejoice in Our Common Position as SonsofGod! (4:4-7)
But there is one more point that Paul wants them to understand. The Galatians desperately needed to recognize the common shackles of human effort, and resist the common temptation to go back to slavery, but Paul is urging them here to face that deception by rejoicing in our common position as sons of God!
Paul has already introduced this amazing truth back in 3:26, where he wrote, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. The Galatians didn't need to keep the Law in order to go from the 'outside' to the 'inside' with God. They were already inside! They were God's own children. Talk about acceptance by God! They couldn't be in a better position!
And how did they arrive at that position? Not by keeping the Law. But (Look at verses 4-7 again... But) when the fullness of time had come...That's the “date set by the Father” from verse 2... “at just the right time” according to Romans 5:6...
[When the fullness of time had come]...God sent forth his Son, born of woman...Jesus was made to be like us, so He could stand with us and for us... born under the law,...Jesus was born under the Law in order to do what we could could NOT do and could NEVER do; He was born under the Law in order to keep the Law...perfectly.
And He did that in order that He might redeem those who were under the law...Since he obeyed the Law perfectly, He was not imprisoned by the Law; he was not a slave because of sin. No, he stood on the outside at was able to redeem, or 'buy us out of slavery' through the payment of His own death. Remember verse 4 of chapter 1? Paul began the letter by speaking of Jesus who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.
And that redemption was more than just a transfer of ownership from one master to another. It was that. But that redemption was also adoption! Through the cross of Jesus, the slave becomes a son. Isn't that incredible? And the proof of that adoption is the Holy Spirit, whom Paul has already emphasized in verses 2, 3, 5, and 14 of chapter 3. As Paul put it in 3:2... Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? They knew the answer to that question. It was by faith that they received this Spirit of adoption (cf. Romans 8).
As Paul make clear in verse 6, this Spirit could also be called the Spirit of God's Son (which is a wonderful reminder of what we call the Trinity...one God existing as three persons, all working for our deliverance...God (the Father) sends the Spirit of His Son into our heart, in order that we might cry out, “Abba! Father!”) We do not need rely on human effort to earn acceptance from God, because the Spirit of Jesus himself gives us assurance that we already belong to God.
And remember what that word “abba” means. That's the Aramaic word for 'father' that Jesus himself used with God (as we see in Mark 14:36). It was a title of intimacy, a term that a child or an adult would only use in reference to one's own father. And it was so meaningful that Paul carries it over from Aramaic and shares it with these Greek speakers. You see, he doesn't want them to lose that connection to Jesus, and the astounding relationship with God that Jesus made possible for us.
And so, if we are indeed sons and daughters of God, by grace through faith, we are no longer slaves. And if we are God's children, then we are not earners, we are heirs.
III. Why Would You Go Back?
Brothers and sisters, friends, God's word tells us that we are either slaves of sin or sons of God. That's it. Every single person in this world can put in one of those two categories. Slaves of sin, or sons of God. Where are you? Which category are you in?
If you are a son or daughter of God, by God's grace, through faith, because Jesus bought you back, then God is asking you this morning, through Paul, “Why would you ever want to go back to the slavery you once knew?” That former slave we heard about at the beginning of our time this morning, that former slave understood the reality of his bondage. And his letter to his former master confirmed his understanding.
But like that former slave, every day, you and I are invited to return to our former master; we are tempted to return to the mastery of sin. Specifically, we are tempted to return to the shackles of human effort. Can you imagine how awful, how ridiculous, how insane it would be to see a former slave walk back to his former master, pick up his former chains, and snap them back on? What freed slave would ever do such a thing?
Well, anytime that you rely on our performance rather than God’s provision, we are doing that very thing. When we think that Jesus isn’t enough, that vacuum is always filled by our moral ability and religious accomplishments. Somehow the Galatians had been deceived into thinking that very thing.
But the “elementary principles of this world” are a two-edged sword. You see, turning back to our efforts either leads to feelings of pride or condemnation. We either think, “I am good enough to be accepted by good” OR “I am not good enough to be accepted by God.” Now the first statement is never true, and the second statement is always true, but should never be used to define our acceptance by God. Yes, we are not good enough, but our acceptance is not based on our goodness, on what we DO. It’s based on what Jesus DID.
If we are followers of Jesus we cannot believe we have received God’s commendation because we’re good people (because we’re not). But we also cannot believe we live under God’s condemnation (because we don’t). Jesus removed that condemnation from us by taking it on himself on that bloody, splintered cross.
If God saved you from the despair of life without Him, why would you go back to despair, only this time, the despair of trying to earn the acceptance Jesus died to give you? If God saved you from a life of addiction, why would you go back to a life of craving, only this time, craving the acceptance you already have because of Jesus? If God saved you from your disastrous failures, why would you go back to being defined by failure, only this time, the failure that will always come when you try to perform for the acceptance Jesus died to give you?
This doesn’t make our actions inconsequential. What we DO can never be the basis for God’s acceptance, but our actions can be an indication of whether we truly are a slave or a son. As Paul makes clear in verse 11, he was beginning to wonder whether the Galatians EVER really understood the gospel. True faith brings change. The Spirit brings change.
Let me ask you this: What does God think of you? Or, how does God feel about you?
Listen, whenever we imagine what God thinks of us or how God feels us about us, and we immediately follow that thought with some assessment of our performance (e.g “I’m a good person.”, OR “I’m such a failure.”), when we go THERE, then stop and listen for clinking sound…do you know what that is? Do you hear it? It’s the chains. It’s the shackles of human effort. It’s the old master saying, “Welcome back.”
But we don’t have to go there, because we are God’s children. We are a part of His family. We are already sitting at His table, feasting on His unconditional love. And it’s all because of Jesus. Let’s pray and thank God for the gift He gave, the gift we could never earn.