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Son and Heir

Galatians 4

Lesson Audio

In this lesson we are introduced to one of the more controversial aspects of interpreting the Scripture: the use of allegory. It is a frequent contention of many evangelical preachers that the Scripture is not to be interpreted allegorically. Alas, we must put that belief away if we are to follow what the apostle teaches.

Labored in vain

Gal 4:1-11 NASB Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, (2) but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. (3) So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. (4) But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, (5) so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (6) Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (7) Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (8) However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. (9) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? (10) You observe days and months and seasons and years. (11) I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

The question: why is the Law no longer applicable?

It’s a question the early church had to face. It is the clear contention of Christianity that Christ’s coming was prophesied throughout the Old Testament; indeed, that the point of the Old Testament was to look forward to the Messiah. He has arrived; but why does that set the Mosaic Law aside?

Paul’s answer is to draw a parallel to a child with an inheritance. As a young child, he is just as much subject to the orders of the trustees and guardians appointed over him as a slave (common in that time) would be. Only when the appointed time came could he break free of this. Indeed, we would expect the guardians to so train the child that he would use his freedom wisely. All depends upon the time appointed.

So it is with the Law. The time appointed has come; the guardianship is over. That does not mean that the Law is useless; it’s still a good example. We may extract from it the wisdom intended, and use it in the freedom given in Christ.

The benefits of Christ

Indeed, like our heir in this, it is to our benefit to leave the tutelage of the Law. Paul points out three benefits that the Law could never deliver:

· Deliverance. We are delivered from the Law – and also the curse on man which caused that Law to be given to the Israelites.

· Son-ship. Our relationship to God has changed; He is still the awesome God; he is also our Father.

· Heirs of the kingdom. This is no poverty stricken son-ship; no, all the joys of the kingdom of God are ours, both now and at His return.

What about the Gentiles?

The example seems to break down if we’re not talking about the Jews. They never had the law of Moses in the first place. But is it really that different?

· They were enslaved in an even worse position; they were slaves to “gods” who were not gods at all. Indeed, Paul assures us that these “gods” are in fact demons.

· Such “gods” had their own equivalent law, often bizarre. If it’s good to be released from the Law of Moses, how much more so the law of demons?

· Worse – if it is evil to go back to the Law of Moses, how much more evil is it to go back to the worship of demons?

Paul sees the storm coming in the Galatian church; but the ship is not yet wrecked. He now makes his personal plea.

Personal Plea

Gal 4:12-20 NASB I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; (13) but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; (14) and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. (15) Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. (16) So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? (17) They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. (18) But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. (19) My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you-- (20) but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

The example of Paul

Paul makes an emotional argument to remind the Galatians where they have been, spiritually. He begins with himself as example:

· He started as one who persecuted the church – which, as we will see later, is the fate of those who are spiritual.

· He was a thorough legalist.

· Most important of all to the Galatians, when Paul arrived there to preach the Gospel, he was a sick man.

So how did the Galatians deal with this man?

Reaction of the Galatians

Paul recalls to them their reaction. They did not scorn him; far from it. The bearer of the Good News was treated quite differently:

· First, he was received despite his medical problems; indeed, his difficulty only leant credibility to his words.

· Second, the message was so precious to them that they sympathized with his ailments – to the point of organ transplants, if that were possible.

The result of this? Not bitterness, but a sense of blessing. The Galatians knew they were on the receiving end of things.

There is a parallel today to which I would call your attention. In a recent sermon on tithing, our preacher compared the reaction he gets from those who are sure they cannot tithe, and those who do tithe. The former, when asked about it, plead how tight the money is in their household; there is nothing they could give up that would produce a tithe. The latter, when asked, hem and haw a bit and begin their explanation with, “Well, God has blessed us so much…” The one who gives more, is blessed more. God works that way, you know?

Paul’s worries

Paul now expounds his concerns for his children in Galatia:

First, he is concerned that they will remain “in the truth.” He fears that they will be suckered into going backwards. It is instructive to see how this is done, as the method is still used today.

The method is simple: you create an “exclusive” club – and demand an entrance price. The price is the abandonment of grace and the embrace of salvation by works. Make this as attractive as possible, and it will seem a good thing to join this club – no matter how much work.

Now, it is a good thing to have people want you to be with them. But it can be twisted, as in this instance. Satan still cannot create, only twist.

Second, Paul longs to be with them. He knows that if he were, his tone of voice would be different – and hopes that this letter has the same effect.

Finally, he is anxious that “Christ is formed” in them. The Greek word (related to our verb morph) implies that the ingredients are there, but the pie is not assembled and baked. In short, he wants them to shun this temptation and continue to grow in the Spirit..


Gal 4:21-31 NASB Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? (22) For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. (23) But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. (24) This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. (25) Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. (26) But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. (27) For it is written, "REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND." (28) And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. (29) But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. (30) But what does the Scripture say? "CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN." (31) So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.

A Pedagogical Diversion

The ancient church held that there were four ways to interpret the Scripture:

· First, there is the literal interpretation. Hagar was a real person, this is what happened.

· Second, there is the allegoric interpretation: using the literal as symbols for the more general. In this instance, Hagar represents the physical Law, the old way of external observances. We conclude that we are to believe that the spiritual way is the right way.

· Third, there is the moral interpretation: just what is it that I am supposed to be doing because of this? In this instance, I would avoid going back to the ceremonial law, as I have the spirit of One who is greater than the Law.

· There is also a mystic interpretation, which asks the question: what should I hope for, because of this passage? Should I not hope for the new Jerusalem, the Jerusalem above?

There is an easy way to remember these last three: faith, hope and love. For the allegory, what should I believe? For the mystic, what should I hope for? For the moral, what should I do, doing all things in love?

Two ways

The comparison here is still one which is valid today. There is the way of the flesh and the way of the spirit. The way of the flesh, represented by Hagar and her son, says that (in this instance) circumcision is required – going back to the old Law. This method usually emphasizes the physical: what regulations must I follow, what should I do with my body – in short, focus on things which are physically visible.

The way of the spirit, represented by Sarah and her miraculous offspring, also uses a ceremony for entrance (baptism) – a ceremony with explicit allegorical meanings. The spiritual emphasizes the heart, encouraging love, but the focus is on the things invisible.


The choice often looks like this. On the one hand, there is a hard set of rules to follow – but if followed completely, there is the reward of being one who is in the inner circle. Acceptance at last! The spiritual looks much easier – but starts with the admission that no amount of holy labor will save.

I would bring to your minds three final points:

1. The choice must be made. You cannot sit on the fence; either the rules are right or the Spirit is. You cannot do both; to try is to fail at both.

2. The physical inevitably persecutes the spiritual. There is no more diligent foe of the faith than the man who follows all the rules and has all the answers. Paul knew that from personal experience.

3. Count the cost: if you turn back from grace to a set of rules you can follow, what will the Lord of grace do about that?

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