In Galatians 4, Paul talks about Christian maturity. Who is the more mature Christian–the one who lives by rule-keeping or the one who walks by faith in what Christ has done for him and in what Christ will do in and through him?
In Galatians 3:24-25, Paul had said, “24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
The Old Testament law covenant was like a type of childhood. Its purpose was to show people their need for faith in Christ and to bring them to him in faith.
4:1-3: 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, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
Ask, “In what way was the law covenant like childhood?”
Childhood is a time when someone in authority over us keeps giving rules for us to follow with rewards and punishments to enforce them. “Do this. Don’t do that. If you do that, I’ll…”
4:4-5: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
The context shows that when Paul talks about adoption he is talking about receiving an adult standing, having been redeemed or released from the custodian of the law.
4:6-7: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Ask the Witnesses if they consider themselves to be slaves or sons. Watchtower teaching is that only the 144,000 are sons and heirs of God. If that is what they tell you ask, “Is Jehovah your spiritual Father, then? If not, who is your spiritual father?”
4:8-11: Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
The Witnesses may misinterpret this to mean that we shouldn’t observe holidays and birthdays. But in Romans 14:4-6, Paul states: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
How do we reconcile Galatians and Romans on this point? It appears that the Galatians thought they were being made righteous by law-keeping, by what days they did or didn’t observe. The law’s purpose was fulfilled when it brought them to Christ. But now they thought in order to be spiritual they had to go back under law.
4:12-16: Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Paul is making a personal appeal. He led the Galatians to faith in Christ. Why wouldn’t they trust him now?
4:17-20: They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
It seems clear from this that false teachers were trying to convince the Galatians that the way to spiritual maturity was to go back to the law and measure their spirituality by how well they kept the rules. (This is how the Watchtower measures spirituality. An example is the way they treat Witnesses based on how many hours of door to door witnessing they report each month.)
4:21: Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?
Paul is going to use the law to prove that Christians are not under the law.
4:22-27: For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
Is Paul denying the historicity of the Genesis account? No, nor is he inviting us to turn Bible history into allegories. But he is showing the superiority of faith over law and also showing that living by faith and trying to be righteous by law-keeping don’t mix; they are opposed to each other.
4:28-31: Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
Sometimes Witnesses will tell you that Isaac represents the new covenant, which they say applies to the 144,000 only. If they tell you this, ask:
- Whom today does Ishmael represent? In other words, who are the ones who are enslaved?
- If Isaac represents the 144,000 only, then by whom are the “great crowd” of “other sheep” represented?
- Doesn’t this passage teach that in order to have Christian freedom from enslavement to the power of sin, that we—like Isaac—need to be in the new covenant, born by the power of the spirit? Where is another way to freedom indicated in this passage?
Ask the Witnesses to summarize the main points of Galatians 4. When it is your turn, you can make the following points:
Paul is not against having standards and following them. Rather, the problems with legalism are:
- Thinking that we are spiritual because we “keep the rules”
- Judging other people on the basis of those standards
- Christian maturity is not measured by rule keeping
- Christian maturity comes from relying on grace, faith, and the Holy Spirit rather than on our own efforts to be righteous and on enforcement systems