1Now 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,
2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.
Using an earthly example that the Galatians would have understood well, Paul describes the state of man before he receives Christ by faith. Before the young boy came of age, he was under the care of a tutor, a guardian, and a manager. Though these positions could have had shared responsibilities, the tutor’s job was to get the boy to school, the guardian’s job was the general care of the boy, and the steward was to manage his property until the boys would come of age. The bottom line is that being a young boy meant that they were under the control of a slave, which made them, in essence, slaves as well even though they were the rightful heirs and owners. Only once the father declared the boy to have come of age would the boy be free to live as one who was free.
3So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.
4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
This observation from contemporary culture served as a great illustration for how believers are freed from bondage to the world by faith in Christ. While we were yet sinners, we were slaves of the patterns, ways, and lusts of the world. What is fundamental and rudimentary to the world are sin, lust, and selfishness. We were this, being wicked at heart and unable to save ourselves. At God’s perfect and appointed time (see also 1 Timothy 2:6, Titus 1:3), He sent His Son Jesus to redeem us and make it possible that we could be adopted into God’s family as sons. Only Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16), though we are adopted as sons. The idea of redemption is to pay the price for our sins as one would pay a ransom to get a person back in their possession. Sin separates us from a holy God, making us at enmity with Him. Yet we were bought with a price. Therefore, we need to make the choice to honor God with our bodies and lives, first and foremost by receiving by faith and repentance His free gift of salvation. It makes no sense to try to earn this gift since the price has already been paid. As one pays to adopt a child who has no rights, hope, or love from others, so too did God make it possible for us to be a part of His family and give us love and hope. Yet we must be willing to embrace Him as our Father. Adoption must be received by faith. If not, we are still under the Law, meaning that the Law has shown us to be guilty of sin and thus hell. But when we trust Christ by faith, we are no longer under Law but under grace. Interestingly, part of the redemption process required that Christ be born in human likeness, literally by conception and birth by a human woman through the work of the Holy Spirit. Woman, like man, is condemned by the Law and enslaved by it, barring the adoption of God in Christ. Christ, though without a sin nature by the conception of the Holy Spirit, was never enslaved to the Law because He never broke it. He was righteous from His birth to His sacrificial death and beyond. He was never under the Law or enslaved to sin. He was always free. Only when the sins of the world were placed upon His shoulders on the cross did He become aware that His Father forsook Him (Matthew 27:46). Yet, once the death penalty was paid, since Christ Himself was innocent and God in the flesh, He rose from the dead, conquering sin and death once and for all (1 Peter 3:18).
6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
As Paul says in Romans 8:14-15, we who have trusted Christ by faith to save us from our sins are now sons of God. The Spirit Himself testifies to our spirits that we are indeed sons of God. The Holy Spirit in our hearts calls us to call out to our dear Father.
7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
As sons of God, we are no longer slaves, for we are freed from slavery to the Law. We are now heirs through God in Christ. We have an inheritance coming that is sure to be ours (Ephesians 1:11, 14, 18; Colossians 1:12).
8However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.
9But 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?
10You observe days and months and seasons and years.
11I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
Having just clearly demonstrated that we as believers are no longer slaves to the Law but free in Christ and heirs with Him, it makes no sense to live as if we are still under the Law. Christ has fulfilled it. Can we possibly add anything to His finished work? Of course we cannot, and to try to do so must be insulting to our Savior who paid our ransom in full. Some Galatians were observing the Jewish ceremonies and rituals that were given by God in the Old Testament. However, these were never intended for the church (Romans 14:5-6, Colossians 2:16-17). Colossians 2:17 makes it clear that these Old Testament practices were only a shadow of what was to come in Christ and the new covenant. Christ is the substance, and the old rituals are thus superfluous. There was a time when the Galatians didn’t know God but worshipped and therefore were enslaved by a false god. False gods and idols are no gods at all. Yet such is slavery to sin and the devil. Yet they came to know God, which is better understood as God coming to know us. He, of course, always knew of us and about us, but there are those whom He will turn away at the end of time because He never knew them (Matthew 7:23). They were not His children. True believers are known by God because they are His children and likeness. Paul’s concern is not that the Galatians lost their salvation but that they were children of God who were living like slaves of the world. Obviously, God didn’t want His children to live as slaves but as inheritors. Yet by the Galatians turning back to the weak and worthless things of the world, they were making themselves to be slaves once again. They weren’t bound by the power of sin, of course, but they were willfully letting themselves be shackled by its power. Paul’s point is to question why they who are free in Christ would want to be enslaved. It makes no sense from a spiritual standpoint. The particular bondage for these individuals was a return to trying to earn God’s favor through a legalistic adherence to the Old Testament Law. This can only insult Christ’s work and give them a pride and self-sufficiency problem, thereby enslaving them to sin. Paul hopes that his labor has not been in vain, and that this is just a temporary relapse by true children of God who will go on to bear abundant fruit. It must be awful to see those whom you have led to Christ or discipled go the wrong direction. Thus, he is passionately, vehemently, and urgently calling them back to living by grace and according to the true gospel.
12I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong;
13but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time;
14and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.
15Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.
16So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Paul reminds these Galatians that when he first came to them, they welcomed him warmly and with such hospitality to the extent that, if necessary, they would have given Paul their own eyes. They did him no wrong, yet now they may be upset with him over his corrective teaching about legalism. He reminds them to be those under grace as he is rather than under the Law. They had professed Christ as their Savior from the penalties of not keeping the Law. Paul had once been a legalistic Pharisee, but he had become as they now are, free from the slavery of sin and to the Law. Yet, even though free, they are not living like it as they ought to. Paul had first come to them to preach the gospel because of an illness. Perhaps he needed to rest up, and they took care of him in that time. God worked good out of his suffering yet again. This suffering of Paul in his body was not despised, but these people took him in and cared for him as they would have done for Christ or an angel. Their hospitality and warmness toward him was overwhelming. Now he wonders where that warmness to him went.
17They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.
18But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you.
The Judaizers wanted to throw the church back into enslavement to the Old Testament Law. These people sought out the true church with a serious desire to convince them that they were right and the church was wrong. This would shut the true and faithful believers out from the fellowship of the Judaizers, perhaps causing them to desire to accept their teaching for the sake of acceptance. Paul is seeking the welfare of the Galatians with just as zealous of a concern, if not moreso, and his desire is that they live under grace when he is there and when he is not. Even when they are threatened, insulted, and pressured in the community and workplace to assimilate to the old covenant, they must stand firm in the grace and gospel of Christ.
19My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you--
20but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Figuratively speaking, Paul is saying that these spiritual children (disciples) of his are causing him to be as if he was yet again in labor. In other words, he is having to go back to the basics with them to remind them of the fullness and freedom of their salvation in Christ. Rather than teaching them new things, he is having to preserve the very foundation so that the false teachers don’t lead these sheep astray. If he could speak with them in person, he would probably be able to speak more as a parent to them. Since he is writing, he is having to speak more forcefully to communicate the hard truth. Regardless of the tone, he is perplexed and confused about what has happened and why they have fallen into legalism after having professed Christ as Savior.
21Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?
Paul’s point is that even the Old Testament foretells and foreshadows Christ. Even the law should be directing these believers to grace, not self-righteousness and slavery.
22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.
23But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.
24This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.
25Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was born by Hagar by the will of the flesh of Abraham and Sarah. The promised son of God through Sarah was Isaac. Hagar was a slave, and her son was thus also in bondage. Isaac was the son of Sarah who was free, and thus he and his descendants are also free. Symbolically, Hagar could be said to represent living by the flesh according to sin and under the Law. The Law was given at Mount Sinai, so it is fitting to make the connection between the mountain and bondage. Those who live under the Law are slaves. Hagar’s life situation as a slave and participation in an act of the flesh is an appropriate illustration for the Judaizers in Jerusalem. The Jews refused the grace of Christ and chose rather to live under the Law. Thus, in the illustration, though they are offspring of Isaac who was free, they are living as if they are descendants of Ishmael.
26But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
27For it is written,
"REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR;
BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR;
FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE
THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND."
28And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.
The Jerusalem above is the dwelling place of the saints with God in heaven. The earthly Jerusalem was the centerpiece of Judaism with the temple worship and Law-keeping. We, who are born again in Christ by faith are citizens of the New Jerusalem. We are free in Christ, not slaves of sin and an earthly works-based system. Like Isaac, we are children of the promise. Quoting from Isaiah 54:1, Paul makes the point that there are more who choose to follow their own works-based righteousness and sin than those who choose Christ. Israel had a spiritual husband in the Lord Himself, but because of their rejection of the Messiah and disobedience to the Lord, the pagan nations (desolate because of their alienation from God) grew more abundant and prosperous. We as Gentiles can join with believing Jews to embrace Christ as our spiritual husband (Ephesians 5:32).
29But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
Ishmael mocked the day that Isaac was weaned (Genesis 21:8-9). Isaac was born according to the Spirit because he was the miraculous fulfillment to the promise of God given to Abraham and Sarah. Ishmael was born according to the flesh because of the lack of faith on the part of Abraham and Sarah using Hagar to accomplish “God’s” will. When Paul wrote this letter, it was the Judaizers who were mocking the true Christians.
30But what does the Scripture say?
"CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON,
FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN."
31So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
Just as Hagar and Ishmael were cast out, so too will be those who live under the Law and refuse to accept the grace of Christ. Only those who are justified by faith are those who can be heirs of the promise. We who have received Christ as our Savior by faith are those who are children of the promise and therefore free.