From Slaves to Sons

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Galatians 4:4-7

Do you come from a distinguished family? Is your ancestry a source of pride for you? Well, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then whatever your background, you belong to the most important family in the world.

It is very difficult not to be interested in your own family. Several years ago one of my father’s cousins traveled to Europe to explore our family’s roots. He visited a little village called Eefde bij Zutphen, where he researched our family history in the town records. He came back with a family tree tracing our ancestors back more than 250 years. Now ordinarily I’m not much for genealogy, but I couldn’t resist looking through that document full of unfamiliar names and dates. After all, it’s hard not to be interested in your own family history. We belong to all those people, even if we have never heard of them before.

In Galatians 4 the apostle Paul talks about the most important family connection of all. He explains how it happens and what it means that you and I can become part of God’s family.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Galatians 4:4-7

Paul has been concerned in this section of his letter to the Galatians to explain the purpose of God’s law. Stated simply, his argument is this: The law cannot be a means of self-justification. Theoretically it would be possible to merit salvation by keeping all of God’s commands perfectly and completely. But since no one can even come close to doing that, the law’s practical result is to show us that we are helpless to save ourselves by our own good works, and to cause us to look for an alternative.

That alternative is faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation. This is Paul’s subject in the last half of Galatians 3 and the opening verse of chapter 4. He makes his point with an extended analogy drawn from a common feature of education in the first-century world. Well-to-do families would hire a slave, called a paedagogos, to see to the education of their sons. The job of this slave was not so much to teach the boy himself as to lead him to the schoolmaster and oversee his studies, disciplining him when necessary to ensure he learned his lessons. Now, says Paul, we are in the same position as that young child. We may be heirs to the whole family estate (4:1), but really we’re no better than slaves because we are under the power of the law (v.2). When we were slaves to sin, and also to the spiritual powers of evil (v.3), what held us down was the law which revealed to us the presence and nature of sin (3:21-23). But the law, though negative in function, was positive in purpose, for its intended use was to lead us to Christ so that we could be justified by faith and be set free (v. 24-25).


Now Paul comes to the heart of the matter in verse 4 of chapter 4. When we were helpless, when we were prisoners under sin to a law that could only condemn us, when we were enslaved by evil powers and the principles by which the world runs, at that moment God did something wonderful to help us.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

Galatians 4:4-5

Listen to that remarkable statement again. Every word, every phrase, is pregnant with meaning.

“In the fullness of time,” Paul writes, that is, at just the right moment, God sent his Son into the world. Now we are all God’s children, in one sense, by virtue of creation. But Jesus is God’s only Son, his Son by very nature. Whatever it means to call us children of God, it does not mean that we are God’s children in the same sense that Jesus is God’s Son. The difference between us is not one of degree but of kind. Jesus is not just a better child of God than we; he is a different kind of child. He is called God’s Son because he shares God’s very nature. We are called God’s children because he made us. If we’re Christians, in a very special sense we are God’s children because he has adopted us into his family, by grace, on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Paul adds that God’s divine Son was born of a woman. It is no remarkable thing to say that a person was born of a woman; there is no other way to become one! What is remarkable, though, is that the Son of God, who from all eternity was one with the Father, that this one should be born of a woman and enter the world just like every other one of us. He is truly God. He could have just appeared on earth, or descended in some sort of cosmic spectacle, but instead he entered our world the same way we did, through a birth canal with labor pains and blood. He did it because he’s also truly human.

In the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth in Palestine, right above the spot where tradition says Mary received the news from the angel that she would bear a child, there is an inscription which says in Latin, “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est”: Here the Word Truly Was Made Flesh. And so he was.

Then Paul adds that the Son of God was born under the law, which means he was born not just to humanity in general but to a specific woman, a Jewish woman to be exact, in a particular time and place. He wasn’t a generic man; he was Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew. The phrase “born under the law” also means that he undertook all of the law’s obligations. As one ancient liturgy states, Christ “was sent of the Father into the world to fulfill for us all obedience to the divine law, even to the bitter and shameful death of the cross.” “By putting the chains on himself,” comments the learned theologian John Calvin, “he takes them off [us].”

Finally, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law. The Lord Jesus came into our world in order to redeem us, to “buy us” out of our slavery to sin. Christ’s obedience cancels and covers our disobedience. His death on the cross pays the penalty declared by the law for sin, and so rescues us from death and hell and sets us free from the condemnation of the law. His perfect obedience, his righteousness, is granted to us as our own just as if we had fulfilled all the laws demands ourselves.


So here is a wonderful summary of the content of the Christian gospel: God sent his one and only Son Jesus Christ to be born a true human being, born under all the obligations of the law, in order to keep those obligations perfectly and so to save us. His death is our redemption, our deliverance. His life is our righteousness. When we know him, trust him, put our faith in him, we are saved.

But there is even more. Paul says that God sent Jesus into the world “in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (v. 5). Faith in Christ not only saves us; it gives us a whole new identity and status. It doesn’t just redeem us; it transforms us. We become God’s children by adoption. We are changed from slaves to sons (and daughters). What an incredible transformation! How can you begin to even imagine all that that means? There is no analogy that does it justice, no human story that even starts to convey the magnitude of this change. It’s better than any fairy tale prince rescuing an imprisoned maiden. It’s more moving than the most romantic novel where the poor, ragged child turns out to be the long-lost heir. In the gospel, these unbelievable happy endings all come true. Lost men and women who were slaves are turned into God’s sons and daughters, through faith in Jesus Christ. “And because you are children,” Paul adds, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (v. 6).

John Wesley, one of the great Christian leaders of all time, said that in spite of his early religious training, in spite of his good works, in spite of the fact that he was an ordained minister, even a missionary, he only really knew salvation when he “changed the faith of a slave for that of a son.” There’s a spirit of slavery, you see, that only can view God as a fearsome authority. But the Holy Spirit, when he comes into our lives, opens our minds and hearts to the truth that, if we are in Christ, then God is our loving Father. The Spirit speaks to us on a level deeper than words or arguments, driving home the understanding that in spite of our sinfulness we are loved by God and accepted in Christ, the Beloved. He causes a filial love to flood our hearts in response, so that we cry out to God, “Abba . . . Father . . . Daddy.” At that moment we truly know ourselves to be God’s very children.

And as children we experience God differently. We have access to God and intimacy with him; we are comfortable in his presence. There’s a famous photograph, made 40 years ago, of President John F. Kennedy in his office in the White House. The President is standing, conversing with an aide, while at his feet his young son is playing hide-and-seek under the desk. The change that the Holy Spirit works in us when we come to Jesus Christ is like the difference in that picture between the presidential aide and the presidential child. One is a servant, on duty, tense. The other is a little boy at home with his daddy. As God’s children, God’s sons and daughters, we have security in our relationship with him; we are sure of our identity and status, sure of his love.

Paul makes one point more. “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (v.7). Paul uses the example of adoption to illustrate the nature of the blessings of salvation. But even this illustration falls short of the reality. In our society, where the supply of healthy babies is limited and there are many childless couples longing to adopt, adoption is as much a joy and blessing for the parents as for the child. But in the ancient world, the blessing was all one way. It was an act of pure grace, completely changing a slave’s present life and future prospects in one breathtaking instant. So by adoption we become God’s children, changed from slaves to sons, and if children, then also heirs. And what can the heirs of God look forward to inheriting? The answer, in a word, is glory (Romans 8:17).

The assurance God gives us is of a future glorious life of joy without tears, light without shadows, delight without pain, gain without loss, life without death. And all that can be yours. With believers of all the ages you too can become the recipient of this magnificent inheritance. You can become a child of God. How? By putting your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and committing your life to him. God stands ready to adopt you as you are and grant you all the privileges of membership in his family. The present security and joy and the glorious future of the children of God can be yours. It’s better than winning the world’s biggest lottery, or belonging to a royal family, or receiving a Nobel prize. There’s just no comparison with anything else. As a child of God, you have infinite status, divine resources of grace and power, and an eternal future of glory. And it’s all yours by faith alone.