Online Bible Commentary
Galatians 4:1 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. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing to believers in southern Galatia likely from his home city of Antioch, Syria in 49 A.D, prior to attending the Jerusalem Council meeting which occurred that same year. Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The new believers in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel of salvation by grace and not a combination of grace and works.
In this passage, Paul is writing of the Christian’s standing with God. He uses the terms heir, child, slave, and master. Under this Jewish analogy an heir is a son who will inherit his father’s property. The child is that heir before he has inherited the property. The slave is one who does not own property and is not due an inheritance. And the master is one who owns property.
The child and the slave do not own property (v. 1a). Therefore the child is no different than the slave (v. 1b). Though he will someday be “master of all”, for now, the child is ruled by “guardians and stewards” until such time that he is granted his inheritance “by the father” (vv. 1c-2).
Paul then takes this analogy and applies it to the spiritual life of the Galatian Jews who have become Christians. When they were still yet Jews, “children”, they “were in bondage” to “the elements of the world”, meaning the law (v. 3). As Jews they were under the law, their “guardians and stewards”.
But then, “in the fullness of the time”, “God sent forth His Son”, Jesus Christ (v. 4a). The term “fullness of the time” means that this was the perfect time for Jesus to be sent into the world. There was world peace, an excellent road system and a common language all across the Roman Empire, Koine Greek. Conditions were perfect for the spread of the Gospel.
Jesus was “born of a woman”, a reference to His unique virgin birth (v. 4b). He was also “born under the law”, being a Jew from birth (v. 4c). He was uniquely qualified to be the pure sacrificial Lamb who would “redeem those who were under the law”, the Jews, by taking the curse of the law upon Himself (v. 5a). By paying the penalty for the sins of the Jews, they would “receive the adoption as sons” (v. 5b). They would have the privileges and responsibilities of sonship.
They were now sons of their Father in Heaven (v. 6a). And because they were sons of the Father, He sent “the Spirit of His Son” Jesus, the Holy Sprit, to live in their hearts (v. 6b). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.
The indwelling Holy Spirit creates in Christians an awareness of their sonship so that they joyfully cry out "Abba, Father" (v. 6c). The Aramaic term “Abba” is a loving, personal term for Father which equates to the use of our term “Daddy”. Slaves would never be able to address the master with this term. It was only reserved for family members.
So this meant that no longer was the Galatian Jew who became a believer “a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (v. 7). The Jews who became Christians were no longer slaves, living under the rule of the law. They were now sons, heirs of God. Since Christ is God’s Son through blood, “through Christ”, Christians are God’s adopted sons.
So Paul has explained to these Galatian Jews who have become Christians that they are no longer under the law. They have been saved by God’s grace through their faith in Jesus Christ, and not by adherence to a law to which they would never be able to adhere.
Such is the status of every Christian. Through Christ we are adopted children of God. We are entitled to the inheritance of eternal life in Heaven. We are entitled to this inheritance by the grace of God and not by anything we do, or don’t do. We are entitled because of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.