Lesson Text: Galatians 3:23—4:10
Supplemental Text: 1 John 3:1-3; Romans 8:14-17; Titus 3:3-8
Aim: Choose the identity of a son and heir of God instead of a slave.
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By Mark Scott
The rich young ruler and the lawyer framed up their questions about eternal life to Jesus in telling ways (Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25). They both wanted to know what to do to “inherit” eternal life. One does not normally do anything to inherit something. That is based on what someone else does. Do their questions betray a works righteousness system?
Paul continued his arguments about being made right with God by faith in Christ as opposed to works of the law. He argued his point by speaking of the timing of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the place of Abraham, the purpose of the law, and when the promise of God to save the world through Jesus entered the progressive revelation (i.e., the unfolding of the biblical story).
In this section, Paul used several metaphors to drive home his point about being saved by faith in Christ as opposed to works of the law; the primary metaphor Paul used was inheritance.
We were held in custody until God turned a new page in history (think about the old and new covenants and the Epistle to the Hebrews). Custody is a military word implying being in prison. We were locked up (shut up or enclosed) until the time of Christ. Prison cannot “fix” the prisoner any more than a flashlight can “fix” a broken car. Prison and the flashlight can only reveal the problem.
Guardian and Trustee
Galatians 3:24-25; 4:2
The word guardian translates two different Greek words in our text. In Galatians 3:24, the word means schoolmaster or governess (maybe even bus driver). It is the person who escorts the kids to the main teacher (i.e., Christ). Paul said the law was to function in that role until Christ came.
In 4:2 (after an unfortunate chapter division) guardians means the people entrusted to act in another’s name. The word alongside of this (trustees) means the ones who manage the house. A person could be the legal heir of a vast fortune, but until that person “comes of age,” others must take care of the inheritance. Example: Josiah became king of Judah at age 8 (2 Kings 22:1), but he obviously did not immediately begin running the country.
Heirs is the metaphor that is closest to our key word of inheritance. Of course, heir refers to the one who is set to inherit something. When heirs “come of age” they can possess the full rights of the inheritance. We see this in these verses. Faith in Christ brings us into God’s family, and we get the privilege of being called God’s children (v. 26; cf. 1 John 3:1; Romans 8:15-17). The evidence of that faith is expressed in immersion (v. 27). Paul described it in terms of being clothed. In Roman society when a child came of age, they gave that child a special toga to indicate maturity (John Valvoord, Biblical Knowledge Commentary). Baptism is that garment. God is very inclusive in terms of who can be an heir (v. 28). Ethnicity, social status, and gender do not matter. All heirs can share in being part of Abraham’s seed—another metaphor and the word from which we get the English word sperm (Genesis 17:7).
Slaves and Adoption
Paul extended this teaching on heirs in chapter 4. He repeated some of the ideas already established. While under the law, it was as if we were still “infants” (underage). But God knew when we would come of age. Everything changed when, at just the right time, God sent Jesus. The incarnation (Paul’s hint at the virgin birth?) signaled the ending of slavery and the beginning of sonship or adoption. Jesus was born of Mary while the law (the old way of being right with God) was still in force. But the goal was to redeem (to purchase, like buying something from the market) those under the law.
This redemption would open our liberating identity, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, give us full access to the Father (allowing for an intimate relationship), and full rights as heirs. To go back to being a slave when God has made us sons would be ridiculous. But some in the churches of Galatia seemed bent on such.
Galatians 4:3, 9
Forces may not qualify as a metaphor, but Paul referred to worldly forces (elemental spiritual forces) and spiritual forces (weak and miserable forces). The world can enslave us with its own ungodly principalities and powers, but religion can also enslave us with its rituals and requirements (days and months and seasons and years). We should choose an eternal and liberating inheritance in Christ as opposed to an earthly and legalistic inheritance.
Dr. Mark Scott serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin, Mo. He retired in May after more than 30 years as professor of New Testament with Ozark Christian College in Joplin.