Which One Will It Be? Part 4:Slaves or Sons (Galatians 3:23-4:7)

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7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. If you have ever asked your child to help you with the chores, or do a little extra work around the house you have probably been accused of treating them as a slave. Much like I’m sure you thought of your own parents when you were young and mistaken. But while there are some places in this world where children are actually and routinely treated as slaves, children here in Canada actually have it pretty good. Maybe too good sometimes. But then again, maybe we shouldn’t fault children for thinking they are like slaves of their parents, because while they are worlds apart – slaves and sons – in some ways the two are not so different. Or so Paul explains to the Galatian Christians.

4:1I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 3:23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

What Paul describes here is the fact that under the ancient Roman legal system the status of a child still under the care of a guardian (a pedagogue) was roughly that of a slave. The child could be punished by the guardian who was a slave himself and neither were able to enjoy the inheritance. But what, you ask, does this have to do with anything? The point Paul is making is that the Jews were slaves to the law until Christ came. Gentiles were slaves to their pagan way of life. Each controlled by a guardian that would brook no dissent and rule over their life. Each guardian demanded, but promised nothing back. Neither was truly free. In wanting to listen to another Gospel, please other men, and go back to living under the confines of the Old Testament Law the Galatians were basically saying that they were OK with being children under a guardian again. They were content to be slaves in the household of God, instead of the heirs God had made them to be in Christ. But that’s foolish.

No matter how diligently a slave performs his duty, obeys his master, and serves faithfully; or if a free man directs and governs either the commonwealth or his private affairs in a praiseworthy way; … these truly magnificent and outstanding gifts and works do not avail anything toward righteousness in the sight of God. In other words, whatever laws, ceremonies, forms of worship, righteousness, and works there are in the whole world, even those of the Jews, who were the first to have a kingdom and a priesthood that was divinely instituted and ordained, together with its laws, devotion, and forms of worship—nevertheless none of these can take away sins or deliver from death or save.1

No matter how good a slave is – even if they are as righteous as Joseph in Egypt – they will never sit at the table with the master. They will never inherit the home. They will never be part of the family. And we who strive under the sole guardianship of the Law are likewise denied any happy future. Slaves don’t normally get a happy ending.

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

And here again, is that sweetest of Gospels. At a specific and appropriate time in human history, God acted to fulfill his eternal purpose. The master of the household became a slave of all. On that first Christmas so long ago Jesus was born under the Law of Moses, which He fulfilled in perfection. Every thought, word and deed giving back to God the Father the full duty owed by those enslaved to the Law. Even the final duty of dying to pay for the sins of one and all alike. And because Jesus took our place as a slave, He has now offered us the chance to live in His as God’s child and heir.

This faith is our victory (1 John 5:4); with it we conquer the terrors of the Law, of sin, death, and every evil, though not without a great struggle. Those who are truly devout and are vexed by severe trials every day really sweat over this. They often get the idea that Christ intends to rebuke us, that He intends to demand of us an account of how we have spent our lives, that He intends to accuse and condemn us … the terrors of the Law, the fear of death, and other sad specters keep coming back to hinder faith, so that one does not take hold of the blessing of Christ, who has redeemed us from the slavery of the Law, with as much certainty as one should. It is extremely important, therefore, to keep in view and always to consider this statement, so delightful and full of comfort … for then throughout our life, in every danger, in the confession of our faith in the presence of tyrants, and in the hour of death, we can declare with a sure and steady confidence: “Law, you have no jurisdiction over me; therefore you are accusing and condemning me in vain. For I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom the Father sent into the world to redeem us miserable sinners who are oppressed by the tyranny of the Law. He poured out His life and spent it lavishly for me. When I feel your terrors and threats, O Law, I immerse my conscience in the wounds, the blood, the death, the resurrection, and the victory of Christ. Beyond Him I do not want to see or hear anything at all.”2

And just how can we be so sure? Because the adoption has already been signed, sealed and delivered. As Paul says: 3:27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Jews and Gentiles alike are all united to Christ by Baptism and so become heirs of the promise and therefore are righteous before God. Baptism is the Great Exchange, our slavery for His Sonship. Our sin for His perfection. Our guilt for His glory. Our punishment for His inheritance. It is in Baptism that we are freed from slavery and adopted as heirs.

In Baptism, then, it is not the garment of the righteousness of the Law or of our own works that is given; but Christ becomes our garment. But He is not the Law, not a lawgiver, not a work; He is the divine and inestimable gift that the Father has given to us to be our Justifier, Lifegiver, and Redeemer. To put on Christ according to the Gospel, therefore, is to put on, not the Law or works but an inestimable gift, namely, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, peace, comfort, joy in the Holy Spirit, salvation, life, and Christ Himself.3

So what, then, will it be? Are you happy to live as a slave, or will you grow up and enjoy the inheritance that is yours as Sons of God and heirs of His kingdom? God doesn’t treat you like a slave, so why live like one?

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

Therefore the emphasis lies on the phrase “we were slaves,” as though he were saying: “Our conscience was subject to the Law, which exercised its tyranny over us with all its might, It whipped us as a tyrant whips his captive slave. It held us confined and captive; that is, it made us fearful, sad, pale, and desperate, by threatening us with eternal death and damnation.” This theological slavery is very harsh—not permanently, however, but as long as it lasts, as long as we are children, that is, until Christ comes. So long as He is absent, we are slaves, confined under the Law, lacking grace, faith, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But after Christ comes, the imprisonment and slavery of the Law come to an end.4

One final story of sons and slaves will help us finish our thoughts for today. The story of a young man who upon reaching the age of independence, snubbed his father terribly and wasted his life. Taking everything for granted he eventually found himself sitting with the pigs wondering how life could be so wrong. He knew only one person who could fix it. The prodigal son thought it was all he could ask, to live as a slave, because he didn’t deserve any better. And he didn’t. But he could only think this because he didn’t really understand the true depth of his Father’s love. Do you?

God loves you so much that He gave His only Son for you. That you might no longer be a slave, but His beloved child. His grace has given you an eternal inheritance and a family as big as heaven. His care for you has given you an honoured place at His very table, and gifts of forgiveness life and salvation beyond compare. His mercy is such that in Holy Baptism He makes slaves into Sons. And why? Because He is your Abba, your Father, your loving Daddy. So which one will it be? Slaves or Sons.


1 Luther, M. (1999, c1963). Vol. 26: Luther’s works, vol. 26 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Ga 3:29). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.





About kenmaher

When I'm not working I enjoy Astronomy, Camping, Comic Books, Epic Fantasy Novels, Games (both playing and designing), Hiking, Juggling, Sci-fi, and building strange things out of pvc pipe. I also enjoy being an honorary pre-schooler with my four great children ... much to their mother's dismay.
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