Let us read Galatians 4, and we’ll begin to examine the subject of “Sons of God,” the wonderful doctrine of adoption. All other religions, as well as false forms of Christianity, teach that people are delivered from divine punishment by their own works: works of morality and works of religion. And that is Satan’s big lie, and it has covered the world through human history since the fall.
Here we are, five hundred years after the Reformation and the church of Jesus Christ is still trying to figure out the gospel. This is not surprising since Satan works very hard to place error where the truth has been removed. So we are always in every generation fighting for the true gospel because the majority of evangelical Protestants think that salvation is obtained by faith and works.
People keep preaching a distorted gospel even today, and thus we have come to the book of Galatians which was the book that Luther was reading after he posted his theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg. He was reading Galatians and also Romans when he was converted a couple of years after he had posted his thesis of protest. He knew their religious system was wrong.
But he was converted when the power of the book of Romans and Galatians swept over his soul in the hands of the Holy Spirit. So we all have to go back and be sure we really understand the gospel. So the book of Galatians is a book for all believers in all places and all times in the history of the church to make sure we are clinging to the truth and proclaiming that faith alone saves.
Paul is the agent of its clarification. It is God who chose him to write thirteen letters in the New Testament and spell out the essence of the gospel, and the heart of it is that salvation is by faith apart from works. Galatians 2: 16 says, “A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, for by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified.” It’s not by the Law, it’s by faith in Jesus Christ.
It’s not something you earn, it is a gift you receive by believing. We are justified by faith. Justified means that God declares the sinner righteous in His eyes because the sinner believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. God considers such a believing sinner to be the recipient of His own righteousness. This is a remarkable reality that God justifies the ungodly person who believes.
Paul has been contrasting what the law does and what faith does, and they cannot be mixed. When the Judaizers came along and said it’s faith plus works, they mixed things that cannot be mixed. The law has a purpose in Galatians 3:19, “It was added because of transgressions.” There are four reasons for the law. One, to define sin at its broadest level. There is a law written in the heart of everybody, we all have a conscience.
But that is not the complete law; and so God revealed His law to Moses in all of its completeness to define sin at the broadest possible level. Secondly, He revealed His law to demonstrate that sin is a violation of the law of God and is in fact open rebellion against God. Thirdly, because we have violated the law and rebelled against God, we are under the sentence of death. The wages of sin is death.
And fourthly, God sent the law to demonstrate that the law could not save. There it was in the hands of the Jewish people who had the best opportunity to fulfill the law, to obey the law. And they swore they would. They took a blood oath, back in Exodus 24, that they would obey the law. But they did not obey the law. In fact, they violated the very first of the commandments, which was to have no other gods.
And they violated the law of God at every point; and ultimately judgment fell on their heads, they were taken into captivity, they were taken out of their land. But Israel still exists in disobedience, apostasy and rebellion against God in a collective sense. The only thing that saves is faith, faith in God and faith in Jesus Christ. So Paul makes that distinction between the law and its work, and faith only.
Galatians 4:1-7, “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”
“5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” What does it mean when he says, “I was a slave”? He means he was a slave to the law.
The law was that guardian who had the responsibility to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. The law is to show you hell as the inevitable reality at the end of your life, and thus in desperation drive you to Christ, whom you receive by faith alone. And in Galatians 4, Paul continues with his condition in Christ, how he goes from slavery to the law to freedom in Christ.
The subject is still justification by faith alone in Christ alone; but the terms are so rich, as we come to understand the doctrine of adoption: what it means to no longer be a slave, but to be a son. The doctrine of adoption of one of the most precious of all Christian doctrines. Surrounding the reality of salvation and regeneration, you also have this great doctrine of adoption.
The doctrine of election is for the purpose of the doctrine of adoption. God chose us so that He could adopt us; and that is what adoption is. It’s when you choose someone to be your child. That doesn’t happen in birth, you just get what shows up. Adoption is where you take a son that essentially comes from another family. That glorious truth is part of the glories of our salvation.
We were chosen by God out of a world of sinners to become His adopted children. Now in these seven verses we learn so much about the wonders of this work of God called adoption. Paul says, “Let’s use a natural illustration to make the point.” A child may be an heir, but he doesn’t differ at all from a slave, because as an infant he is under a guardian until the date when he does inherit everything.
In the Jewish world, a boy on his twelfth birthday was set to come to the first Sabbath subsequent to his birthday, and his father would take him to the synagogue; and he would be presented to the rabbi, and be told that he is now ‘bar mitzvah’, son of the law. He is now passed out of his father’s hands and he is now responsible to God for his adherence to the whole law.
The father would utter a benediction. And the Jewish father would say: “Blessed be Thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility of this boy.” Now if you don’t think there’s been a change in the world, imagine turning your twelve-year-old son loose, taking your hands off your responsibility. No. What the father meant was, “He is now subject to You God and Your law.”
The boy then prayed the following prayer: “O my God, and God of my fathers, on this solemn and sacred day which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes to Thee and declare with sincerity and truth that henceforth, I will keep Thy commandments and undertake to bear the responsibility of my actions before Thee.” That was the true and ancient bar mitzvah.
This is true of sincere Jews, although many now just give money. They were given the promise that came to Abraham; and through him it was going to go to Israel and the world. It was reiterated through David, through the prophets and the New Covenant. The promise of salvation was given. The inheritance was waiting, but it was not available to those who were still in infancy, still children.
For the Jew, his bondage was essentially defined by the written law of God. To the Gentile, his bondage was also by the law of God, but the law of God was written in his heart, because he didn’t have a written law. The law written in the heart for Gentiles, the law written in Scripture for Jews, created this bondage. And we are never released from that bondage until we become mature sons.
Look at the phrase in verse 3, “the elements of the world.” What are they? Look at Colossians 2:8, “See that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” So the “elements of the world” are whatever bondage you were in.
To a Gentile it would be their philosophy, deception, and tradition of men. Or it would be in verse 21, certain rules, like don’t touch or taste. Or down in verse 23, “The appearance of wisdom in self-made religion, self-abasement and severe treatment of the body.” There are religions that think holiness is achieved by flagellation and inflicting pain on yourself. That is all a part of the elementary principles of the world.
If we’re talking about the Jews, it says in verse 3, “We were children held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.” Even the law is an elemental thing. All religion, even Judaism is really elementary. There’s no real maturity in any basic religion, if you stayed there you would be doomed. The point was to get from there to Christ. Only in Christ there is full maturity.
Any philosophy is elementary. 2 Corinthians 10:5, “Any godless idea raised up against the truth of God.” Tradition is the pattern of the past perpetuated into the present. Verse 4-5, “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.”
The law was known by the Jews, and after the Babylonian captivity when they came back into their land they never again worshiped an idol. Idolatry had been literally taken from them in their captivity. So religiously, the Babylonian captivity had resulted in Israel’s final turning from idols and focusing on the one true God. That cleared the way for the coming of Christ.
Culturally Alexander the Great had made it a Greek world, which meant there was a common language across all those many ethnic groups, which then allowed for the New Testament books to be written in a language that everybody could read. Politically the Roman Empire had built roads everywhere so that the gospel could then be taken to the world. So it was the right time humanly speaking.
More importantly, it was God’s perfect time. He sent forth His Son, who already existed. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But John 1:14 say, “The Word became flesh.” The eternal Son became man. God sent forth His Son. He is God in human flesh. John says, “We beheld His glory as of the only begotten of God, full of grace and truth.”
God sent forth His Son. He is deity. But not only deity, it says He was born of a woman, full humanity. He had to be God to accomplish the divine person, overpower sin and death; but He had to be man in order to be the substitute for us. He had to be God to have the power of an everlasting and eternal life. He had to be God to conquer sin. But He had to be man to take the sinner’s place.
Further, it says that He was born under the law. And He adhered to the Mosaic Law in every detail. He was circumcised on the eighth day when He was an infant. He was faithful to the law. He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separated from sinners. As any Jewish man, He was responsible to the written revelation of God’s law, and He kept it perfectly. And then He became a curse for us.
Romans 8:3, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son.” What could the law not do? The law couldn’t save. It wasn’t the law’s fault, it’s holy and good; but the flesh is weak. And as an offering for sin God condemned sin in the flesh so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. Christ fulfilled the law for us.
He sent His Son. Why? Verse 5, “so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” He wanted to redeem us, and pay the price. Our Lord kept the law perfectly. That’s His active obedience. And then He died in our place, that’s His passive righteous obedience. “And He did it to redeem us that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
Wait, aren’t we regenerated? We were born again, and now it says we are adopted. How can both be true? Because both are symbols of a salvation reality. They explain two different aspects of our salvation. We were regenerated, we were given life, and we were also chosen and adopted; both are true. We are the recipients of regeneration, justification, conversion, union, sanctification and adoption.
What’s our former family? “You’re of your father the devil,” says John 8. Sons of disobedience. Our home is the world system. We were in bondage to sin and death and hell. This is the universal human condition. But God displayed His glory through love and grace toward us. And Galatians 3:26 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:17 again speaks to this magnificent truth, “If children, you who are the children of God, if you’re now children you are heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” This is what it means to be a son of God. You’re no longer a slave, an immature child, no better than a slave. You have been delivered from that bondage; now you are fully adopted as a son. Let us pray.