Galatians 4: Slave and Free

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

And because you are sons and daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:6-7).

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is not transactional?

What if God were like a Facebook friend who after one “bad hair day” simply unfriended you?  Who would ever be comfortable in their relationship with such a god?  Could you ever really love God knowing that you were constantly being evaluated?  Or, turning the question around, could you ever really love God knowing that your love was purchased with wealth or fame?

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is a real relationship?

In Galatians 4, the Apostle Paul describes what it means to be a child of an (unconditional) promise.  When we are promised a gift (like friendship), we need only believe in the promise.  The promise is unconditional.  We do not have to do anything to earn the gift.  That is what the word, gift, implies.  The good news is that God’s grace is a gift.

Law works differently.  Law is a conditional promise.  If you obey the law, then you earn the reward promised under the law.  For example, if you apply to become a U.S. citizen, the law covering citizenship applies.  If you meet the conditions of this law, then you are eligible to become a citizen.  If you do not meet the law’s conditions and you desire the reward of the law, then you are a slave of the law (and your desire) until you meet those conditions.

With this argument concerning conditional (law) and unconditional (grace) promises, Paul is making two points:

  1. Being under law is like kids waiting to be old enough to inherit from their parents (vv 1-3).  Being under law implies immaturity.  Mature adults are under no such restrictions.  What adult would prefer to be a kid again?
  2. Being under gospel implies freedom from law, but it does not imply freedom from relationship.  We are God’s adopted children—children of the promise (vv 5-7, 23-28).  Free people do not behave like slaves because they are in relationship with their parents which includes having an inheritance (v 30).

Paul’s discussion of our freedom in Christ continues into chapter 5.

Paul’s discussion of the relationship between Abraham and his two wives, Hagar and Sarah, has generated a lot of discussion over the years.  Paul argues that being under the Mosaic covenant (the Law of Moses) is like being a slave to law.  Because Hagar was a slave woman, he equates the two (law and Hagar) in his allegory.  This causes heartburn for Jewish interpreters because the Jews were biological descendants of Sarah, not Hagar.

Paul’s argument revolves around God’s covenant with Abraham.  The Jews have not taken to heart the second half of the covenant to Abraham:  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV).  The covenant with Abraham required that Abraham become a blessing (וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה) [to the nations]—which essentially means that the Gospel needs to be told.  The Galatians were like Sarah (and the Jews were not) because they more completely fulfilled Abraham’s covenant obligations.  At a minimum, sharing the love of God has to start with sharing who God is!  Niceness is not enough; obeying the law is not enough (Galatians 5:14).

Our question is:  Are we children of Hagar or of Sarah?

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