The Jewish people took great pride in their heritage. They identity was bound up in the fact that they were children of Abraham and descended from the 12 tribes of Israel. Therefore it may have come as something as a shock when, in the last chapter, Paul stated that all who believe as Abraham believed can be reckoned as Abraham's children and heirs according to the promise. But that is nothing compared to what he is going to say in this chapter.

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

All who believe are children of Abraham

We have received the adoption of sons and call God our Father

It is one thing to speak of being a son of Abraham. It is quite another to speak of being a son of God.

The Jews normally refrained from any mention of a "son of God." This need not have been the case. The prophets of the Old Testament occasionally likened the relationship of God with His people as that of a father and son.

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, "Thus says the Lord, 'Israel is My son; My first-born.

"So I said to you, 'Let My son go, that he may serve Me;' but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born.'" (Exodus 4:22-23).

When Israel was a youth, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. (Hosea 11:1).

Israel was described as both the son and the first-born of God. But what we shall see in this chapter is that Gentiles are also able to enter into this child-parent relationship with God. And not only that, the relationship that we enjoy today is actually BETTER than the one that the Jews enjoyed with the Lord under the Old Testament system.

Jews under the Old Covenant

Believers under the New Covenant

Though they were heirs of the kingdom, they were like child-heirs who must submit to tutors and baby-sitters until they have reached their adulthood

We are no longer under the tutelage of the Law, but have been brought into the family of God with all of the privileges of adult sons.

Paul does not want to present the Law as being a bad thing. It is not. The Law of the Lord is perfect. But the Judaizers were trying to do something with the Law that it was not designed to do. Furthermore, their desire to remain under the Law was a sign of their own immature faith.



Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.

So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. (Galatians 4:1-3).

Paul closed the last chapter with the truth that those who belong to Christ are heirs according to the promise given to Abraham. Now we see that being an heir is not all that it is cracked up to be.

He is going to use the contemporary son-placing customs of his day to illustrate the relationship that we enjoy as Christians.

1. The Jewish Custom of Bar Mitzvah.

Among the Jews, a boy received his Bar Mitzvah at around the age of 12 or 13. At that time he would become a "son of the commandment" and would be legally reckoned as an adult.

2. Roman Customs of Son-placing.

A Roman child became an adult at the sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, held annually on the seventeenth of March. At this time the child was formally brought into adulthood by the decree of his father and received the toga virilis in place of the toga praetexta that he had previously worn.

It did not matter whether you were Jewish or whether you were Roman, if you had not reached the age of adulthood, then you could be an heir but still not have the freedom of the house. You would be under the authority of guardians and managers.

In the same way, the Jews who lived under the Old Testament era were heirs of the kingdom, but lived under the rule and the bondage of the Law until the time that they could come into their inheritance. This tells me something of the Old Testament era. It was a time of CHILDHOOD. But this period of childhood has now matured into an age of adulthood.

Here is the principle. The Law was a temporary measure given until God's people grew up and were ready to partake of their inheritance.

Those who lived under the Law were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. Their existence was realy quite simple and elemental. They were told, "Do this and don't do that." These rules generally focused only on the outward actions, not the inward attitudes.

Notice that Paul is speaking in the first person plural - "while we were children." He is speaking of himself and his fellow Israelites. But when he comes to verse 6 he will change and speak to the Galatians ("you are sons"). The Galatians were never children under the Law. They did not becomes elevated into a position of adulthood after having first served under the tutelage of the Law. Instead we shall see that they were ADOPTED into that position.



But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5).

The coming of Jesus took place when the fullness of the time came. This correlates to the illustration that we saw in verse 2 of the date set by the father. This indicates that there was a long wait before the fulness of time had come. And it points to the fact that everything that happened up to that point is affected by it. Everything after this point could be described as "the last days."

In a very real sense, Jesus was born when the fulness of time came. His birth took place at a propitious time in history.

This verse is arrange in a type of parallelism known as a chiasm. It is designed to contrast the idea of sonship versus the idea of the Law.

God sent His Son...

That we might receive the adoption as sons



Born of a woman, born under the Law


To Redeem those under the Law

Jesus was born and raised and lived under the Law. He allowed the Law to exercise authority over Himself. He had made the Law. But He became submissive to it. The One who instituted the rite of circumcision was Himself circumcised.

When I was growing up there were rules in my house. There were rules for cleaning and for sleeping and for eating. There was only one person who did not come under the rules -- the maker of the rules. But in Jesus' case, the maker of the rules allowed Himself to be placed under the authority of those rules.

Jesus became....

  • A man that He might redeem men
  • A Jew that He might redeem those who were under the Law

Jesus was born under the Law. He was Jewish. The Law exercised dominion over His even to the cross where it judged Him as though He were a guilty sinner.

The purpose of Christ's coming was that He might REDEEM. This is the same word that we saw in Galatians 3:13 where Christ redeemed those who were under the curse of the Law.

The basic Greek word for redeeming is . It comes from the root word agora, describing the marketplace. It describes the act of purchasing a slave in the marketplace. But both here and in Galatians 3:13 there was a prefixed attached to the word -- exagorazo. The prefix that is attached takes in the idea, not only of buying the slave within the marketplace, but then taking him out of the marketplace.

This is important. Christ did not purchase His people so that they might remain under the bondage of the Law. He purchased them in order to take them out from under that bondage.

As a result of that redemption, we now receive the adoption as sons (4:5). This brings up an interesting question. To what does this adoption refer? There are two possibilities:

1. Adoption of those who were not Previously Related.

When we normally speak of "adoption" we think of the taking in of a homeless child and giving him a family and a name. My son-in-law is such a case. He was adopted by a family who gave him both their name and their love and a portion in the family inheritance.

Christ has provided that kind of adoption through the redeeming work upon the cross. He has effected our entrance into the family of God.

2. Placing of the Son as the Legal Heir of the Inheritance.

Paul has already reminded us in the early verses of this chapter that a young child was regularly kept under the supervision of tutors and stewards. It was not until a specified date that the child was taken and placed as an adult son so that he came into his full inheritance. The word translated "adoption" in verse 5 lends itself to such an event. It is a compound word, made from the joining of two Greek words:

Though the combined word normally refers to adoption in our own modern sense of the word, it is also possible that it is used here to describe the placing of an adult son as the heir to the family inheritance.



Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:6).

When a child came of age, he would come into his inheritance. What is the inheritance that we have received as adult sons of God? It is the inheritance of the very Spirit of Christ who has come into our hearts. God not only PROVIDES the inheritance; He IS the inheritance.

There are several different aspects to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They each seem to have their own distinctiveness:

Ministries of the Holy Spirit




For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:9).

Be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Takes place once and for all


The Spirit does a work for you

The Spirit does a work in you

You cooperate with the Spirit

Paul here is describing the indwelling ministry - the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. The results of that ministry is that we find ourselves in the closest possible relationship with God.

The term "Abba" is taken from the Hebrew/Aramaic Ab, "Father." This rendition of it seems to be an endearment akin to our modern, "Daddy."



Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

You observe days and months and seasons and years.

I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:7-11).

Having established the fact of our adoption as sons of God, Paul goes on to speak of the ramifications of that adoption. There is a lesson here. It is that no teaching of the Bible is an end to itself. All doctrine requires application in order to be profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

  1. If you are a Son, then you have an Inheritance: And if a son, then an heir through God (4:7).
  2. You know what an inheritance is. It is made up of all of the wealth that a person owns. That accumulation of wealth is taken and given to the heir.

    The value of an inheritance is in direct proportion to the wealth of the benefactor. If a poor man leaves you an inheritance, then you might not even bother claiming it. But if the King of the Universe who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the planets around a billion galaxies makes you His heir, then you have incredible fortune.

  3. If you are a Son, then you Know God: You have come to know God, or rather to be known by God (4:9).
  4. There are two parts to this. The first part is that a son knows his father. There are those unfortunate children who do not know their fathers. For one reason or another, they have been abandoned. My own mother was such a child. She was given up on the streets of San Juan as an unwanted child. But if you are a Christian, then you know your Father. And that means that you know God. You've heard the expression that it is not what you know, but WHO you know that is important. It is true. And if you are a Son, then you know the One who really counts.

    But that is not all. If you are a Son, then you are known by God. This is the kind of knowledge that expresses love. It is the kind of knowledge that the Old Testament is describing when it says that Adam knew his wife and she bore a son. It is a knowledge that includes intimacy and love. If you are God's Son, then He knows you in the most intimate and loving manner possible.

  5. If you are a Son, then there is No Going Back to your Former Slavery: How is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? (4:9).

If you have gone from being a slave to a son, from being an enemy of the kingdom to being the heir of the kingdom, from being an ignorant idol-worshiper to knowing God and being known by God, then why would you possibly want to go back?

What You Were

What You Are

A Slave (4:7)

A Son and an Heir (4:7)

You did not know God; you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods (4:8)

You have come to know God, or rather to be known by God (4:9)

In light of where you have been and where you are now, it is absolutely ludicrous to contemplate returning to the spiritual poverty that you once enjoyed. The Lord wants to treat you as an adult son rather than as a baby. Babies are fun, but to develop a real relationship requires adulthood.

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