When I was a child, I thought like a child. I acted like a child and I reasoned like a child. And I reasoned that I was a slave. I did; I really did. I reckoned that I was a slave. It wasn’t always negative, but I did wake up every morning and do whatever my parents told me to do. Get up; Go to school; Wear pants while eating; Mow the lawn. It went on and on. Sure, there was often promise of payment – but that promise was not always realized. It seemed to me, for all intents and purposes, that I was a slave. I couldn’t see the whole picture. I couldn’t see that even though I was a son, for a time I was kept under the guardian of rules and chores in the role of slave until such time when I would be released and be given the status of a son. In the text today it says that, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son to redeem those who were slaves under the Law, in order that they might receive adoption as sons. We are those who have been adopted as sons. THROUGH THE REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST, OUR STATUS HAS BEEN CHANGED FROM THAT OF A SLAVE TO THAT OF A SON.
(I. As long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave.)
(II. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son to change slaves into sons.)
Paul has been working now through chapters 3 and 4 to try and describe what is going on between God and us because of Christ Jesus. We read his account of the Jerusalem Council in chapter 2 and his encounter with Peter in Antioch before Paul drops this bombshell, “We know that a person in not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 2:16) Paul then uses the distinction between the Law and the Promise to show who exactly the offspring of Abraham are – those who were baptized into Christ and have put on Christ. Those who are in Christ are now heirs according to His promise.
But if we are heirs of the Promise as Paul says, what is that whole Law of God thing about? Paul writes, “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.” (vv. 1-2) The imagery here is from Greco-Roman law. Both stated that a son was considered a minor until he was around 18 years old, much like today. Legally, the son was a son, but was not able to enjoy the benefits of being a son. He had no right to his inheritance or the property of his father and he was kept under the watch of a guardian who would keep him in line until such a time was set by his father for him to become an adult.
In the same way, Paul writes, “we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” (v. 3) When I was a child I thought like a child, acted like a child, and reasoned like a child. I reckoned that I was slave. I was right. But I wasn’t just right about me – we were all slaves. As children, in our old sinful nature, we were slaves. Apart from Christ we were slaves both to the Law and to our own heathen activities. We were slaves to the Law in that that which was put into place to curb sin was turned by the Old Adam into an idol. Instead of having the Law as blinders, like uneducated children we put the Law directly in front of our eyeballs so that all we would see is that; but we didn’t even know it. Do to others as you would have done to you was the golden rule we lived by as we ourselves locked the shackles of Law upon our arms and legs.
Or, instead of being slaves to the Law we were slaves to freedom. We released ourselves from the stocks of legalism only to be encased in the glass prison of freedom. We lived as we wanted and taught others to do the same. Out of fear of telling people that something is not permitted, we became slaves to our own tolerance. Thus on either side, the Law or freedom, we were slaves. As children and apart from Christ, that is what we were. Truly, as Paul says, before faith came we were held captive.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (vv. 4-5) Under Greco-Roman law a male child was pretty much a slave until a time set forth by the father. He was a son, but he had no access to the benefits contained therein. In Greece the change from slave to son took place during the festival of Apatouria while a Roman child became an adult during the Liberalia. It was there that a father formally claimed his son as an heir and the child’s dress was changed from a child’s toga to that of an adult. Paul writes to us about the time when we were changed from slaves and received the full status of sonship. When the fullness of time had come, when time had reached and fulfilled its purpose, God sent forth His Son from heaven to be born on earth. The eternal Son of God was sent to break forth into time and be born of a woman and under the law. The master was made a slave so that the slaves could become masters.
In order to take us from our guardian of the Law and from our turning it into an idol, Jesus was born under the Law just like us. In order to save us from the prison of freedom Jesus was tempted in every single way possible, yet without sin. All this He did in order to redeem us, who were under the law. In His death on the cross He paid for our sins and removed the reason for which the Law exists. In His resurrection Jesus has removed the guardian and has made us sons, adopted through faith in Him.
“And because you are sons,” Paul writes, “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (v. 6) And now, because we are sons who have been redeemed by His blood and adopted by His grace, God has sent to us the Spirit of His Son, the Holy Spirit that proceeds from both the Father and from the Son. The Spirit cries out within us, “Abba! Father!” It cries out, “Daddy!” Because of the redemption we have in Christ Jesus. And through His Spirit, as sons we have a direct line to God our Father. At any moment we can pray and know without a doubt that we are heard. We are no longer slaves who follow orders and who may not ever hear directly from the master. We have a direct line to God in our prayers and hymns while God speaks to us through His Word and Sacraments. In His Holy Scripture we hear of the salvation that has appeared before the face of all people – our Savior who became flesh under the Law in order to redeem us and make us sons instead of slaves. No longer do we eat the sloppy, tasteless meal of a slave but we feast extravagantly on the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the life-giving meal that is more satisfying than we can ever know – one of the many benefits we now have as sons.
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (v. 7) When I was a child I thought I was a slave. Turns out I was right. In our old nature, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, each and every one of us was a slave. Though we were predestined to life through Jesus, we turned the Law into our master or let our misguided understanding of freedom imprison us. But now, through Christ, through His being born under the Law to suffer and die in our place, we have been adopted as sons of God. We have been given the Holy Spirit, which cries out within us and grants us the privilege and right to speak to our Father in heaven to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood here on earth. So then, we are no longer slaves. We are sons.