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"From Guardianship to Sonship"
Galatians 4:1-7

Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
February 22, 2006

This passage is a high-point of Paul's letter. Following this letter, Paul engages in a harsh rebuke of the Galatian believers; but as we see here, his rebuke is based on the wonder and glory of who these believers truly are in Christ. Given who they now are in Christ, how can they - in practical terms - cast it all aside and return to the bondage from which they had been set free?

Once we truly realize the liberty into which we have been brought under grace, we should never want to go back to the bondage of the works of the law. In stead, we should be eager to live in the glorious liberty of full 'sonship' in Christ. How important it is, then, that we understand (1) what bondage it was that we were once under, (2) how it is that we have been released from that bondage, and (3) into what glorious liberty we have now been brought in Christ!

A. Paul begins by showing us what we were once under. He points to a principle that was seen in everyday cultural experience. A son - even a son who was destined to be the heir of a great inheritance - is like a slave while still a child. He may indeed be technically master of all that he is destined to possess; but nevertheless, he is under guardianship as a minor until the time appointed by the father (vv. 1-2). It was a position that a child could be very grateful for; but it was inappropriate to remain in this state after the time of childhood had passed.

B. This principle is spiritually applied to us (v. 3)

1. We were children in "bondage".
a. The law, as Paul has already taught us, was meant to "confine all under sin" (3:22). Before faith, the law kept us under guard (v. 23), and served as our "tutor" (a paidog§gos) to lead us to Christ (v. 24).

b. But here, we are described as being under the authority of "guardians" (epitorpos; a manager into whose care a thing is entrusted) and "stewards" (oikonomos; a household manager) - even though, technically, we were destined to be the "masters".

2. We were in bondage "under the elements of of the world". The word translated "elements" (stoicheion) refers to the order or series in which things are set. (Some ancient writings used it to describe the alphabet of a language.) Here, it is used in a figurative way; and speaks of the basic principles of the law that had their focus on the tangible things of this world (2 Peter 3:10). Paul uses the same word in Colossians 2:20, when he speaks of "the basic principles of the world" - the "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" rules that all concerned things which perish in the using (v. 21 -22).

C. This was a kind of "bondage". We had to conform to "rules" and "regulations" under the guardianship of the law - rules that it was not in our power to keep, and that thus brought condemnation upon us (Gal. 3:10-11). It made us need a Savior. The law, then, was our 'prep-school' for God's grace. Again, this was a state that was infinitely more to be preferred than to have no connection to God at all. But it was inappropriate to remain in after the appropriate time had passed. It was meant to lead to something better.


A. When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His own Son. Several factors are involved in the idea of the fullness of time:
1. Israel had come out of its babylonian exile; and had forsaken its idolatry. It had filled the world with synagogues in which the law had been taught.

2. The law itself had been taught everywhere; and thus did its preparatory work for the gospel.

3. Roman expansion had filled the world; making a unified government that facilitated ease and safety of travel.

4. A common language (Greek) covered the known world.

5. The old pagan mythology was beginning to die out - leaving people hungry for spiritual truth.

6. And most importantly, the specific time that God had set by prophetic promise had come (Daniel 9:24-25).

B. His coming was in accord with our own condition. He came "born of a woman", making Him a human being like us (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14). But He also came "born under the law", just as we ourselves are under the law. Like a man, He was accountable to the requirements of the law as we are; yet unlike us, He never failed in His keeping of the law. He lived the righteous life that we could not live.

C. His coming accomplished what was needed:

1. He came to redeem ("buy back") those who were in bondage under the law.

2. He came to see to it that we may receive the full adoption as sons of God - with a fuller understanding of the rich mercy, love, compassion, care, and loving discipline of the Father than under the law.


A. We have "identity" as sons in the sense that we are "grown-ups" - appropriate in maturity to receive the blessings of the inheritance. We are such sons right now in Christ. Our sonship is not a future event. It is a reality right now - in the full!

B. We have the enablement to be sons through the Holy Spirit. Because we are sons, God has placed the spirit of His Son (the Holy Spirit) in us to testify to our sonship (Romans 8:14-17). He even helps us to cry out to God in the most intimate terms - "Abba, Father".

C. We have rights as sons. Paul shifts from a plural to a singular here; suggesting a very personal experience. We are no longer slaves. We are sons right now. And as sons, we are, right now, fully "heirs" (see Romans 8:17). We have been taken out of the realm of "guardianship" by Christ; and have been brought into the glorious fullness of "sons and daughters of God".

* * * * * * * * * *

This being true, how then could we ever go back into the bondage of the law? What more could the law give us than we now have in Christ? May we, by God's grace, rejoice and enter fully into the experience of full sonship in Christ!

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