Galatians 4: ​It Changes Every Thing

At Christmas, we celebrate and reflect on how God gave his Son so that Jesus could do what we could not (fulfil the requirements of the law) so we could have what we do not deserve (The fullness of life in God)

Galatians 4:1-12

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forcesa]”>[a] of the world.But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.b]”>[b]Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,c]”>[c] Father.”So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.Paul’s Concern for the Galatians

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forcesd]”>[d]? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong.


As we go through life there are often moments that change us: They can be random one-off events or something expected, yet underestimated. After these moments we are no longer the same, we have been profoundly impacted and challenged.  Today we are looking at the effects of one moment on us as individuals and all of humanity: The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Impact of a Moment

I love Christmas and over the last two years, I found myself especially looking forward to Christmas after coming to the end of busy terms. I think the ease of expectation was added to by the energy of being in the Irish Capital – Dublin. every Tuesday we would head in to the city for class in Trinity – I would get the LUAS from near the Church of Ireland Theological College and end up at St Stephens Green: From there to get to the main trinity building you had to journey down Grafton street: A place full of life no matter the time.  Towards the end of our Christmas term last year I had decided that I was going to stay in Dublin for the day and get some work done in the library; So, like normal I headed in after our morning service and made my way along Grafton Street, none of the shops where open, yet, the street was full of life: lorries and vans carrying masses of deliveries  and rushing them into the shops to get ready for the relentless day of shopping that lay ahead: After class I headed back down Grafton Street to eat and I remember the sheer number of people out shopping in the middle of the day – the street was alive, in a different way nonetheless as people buzzed about from shop to shop trying to find the perfect gift. After a few hours working in the library I needed a break so  once again I headed for Grafton Street to find myself perplexed that the street could be busier still; as even more people crushed into the street trying to find a path from shop to shop: Even during a dark December night the Christmas light’s blinked like stars and light flooded the street from the shops.

At the end of the day, one last time I made my way down Grafton street to the LUAS Station at around 10:30pm – long after the buzz of people shopping had since evaporated; the lights of the shops had dimmed and the Christmas lights didn’t seem to glisten as brightly.  Yet, even in the darkness and coolness of the night, there was still living on the street: every shop entrance that hours ago had let people in to spend money on things they didn’t really need, would become home for the night to those who had no home to go to.  For the first time, I had seen the homeless problem that blights Dublin City.  Grafton Street was alive as it was throughout the day, but in a way, it should not be.  The reality of that walk home changed how I looked at life in the city. it might sound strange but that walk back was significant as God used it to challenge how I think about the world; about those who still suffer in seasons of joy.  I am sure there are moments in your life that you can think of that impacted you in a similar way.

Todays few verses describe the effects of one such moment when not just an individual world was shaken – The whole world was and would never be the same again. The challenged for us today is how we relate and still allow the wonderful news of the coming of Christ to affect our world today.

Galatians: The Letter as a whole 

As always when we are looking at scripture it is important to understand the context:  The letter to the church in Galatia was written by Paul, probably around 48 AD to deal with with the negative influence of false teachers who were seeking to add to the Gospel and the work of Christ. Teachers who demanded that Gentiles who came to faith in Christ would become Jewish via the following of the Mosaic Law or participation in outward facing ceremonies: It was a case of Jesus plus something: Circumcision, festivals, moons.  We learn from the letter that the Galatians have come under the influence of these teachers (1:6), yet thankfully we also learn that Paul still has hope, hope that they will grasp the fullness of the Gospel, the truth that the Gospel and work of Christ frees those who follow Christ from the burden of the law; the burden to perform: It was a teaching that said the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was not enough. Thus, this is one of Pauls harshest letters in relation to how he describes and deals with the audience he is writing to his audience;  Yet his motivation is clear, he loves them and longs for them to return to the truth that Christ is enough.

The effects of the Law (4:1-3)

The first part of the fourth chapter directly follows on from the end of the third chapter, where Paul talks of the role of the law which acted as our guardian or custodian until the coming of Christ; the imagery is further expanded in these three verses. We are told at the end of Chapter three that if we are with Christ then we become as part of the line of Abraham and with that heir to the promises that God made to him – That which God promised to the people of Israel he also offers to the New Israel, the body of Christ. Paul than to further teach and explain this extends the imagery of being an heir:

Within Roman Culture, children were not seen or treated as people until coming of age or entering adulthood, meaning they held not status or privilege:  under the law, they held status similar to a slave. So with that understanding, imagine a situation where a parent died to leave behind them a great estate; under Roman law that child would not be able to inherit the estate or use any of its resources until it reached adulthood: Instead the estate would be managed by trustees or family on behalf of the child until they where able to inherit: meaning the child has no freedom or decision-making rights, instead the child is a slave to the whims and desires of their Guardians/Trustees which is what Paul is talking about in the second verse. Paul takes the same imagery and applies it to what life was like before the coming of Jesus. Before that, all of humanity was like children; slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world (the law).

Paul is reminding the Galatians and us, that the law was never to be the mode of salvation but simply a reminder of our sinfulness and need of a saviour.  Paul builds up this imagery of the helpless child to remind us of the potency and power of that moment when Christ came. That our salvation would come from one so vulnerable Remember the imagery, remember the helplessness of life before Christ as we move forward to Life in Christ.

The Incarnation: A moment that effects everything (4-7)

But, is a word when we hear it spoken, our ears prick up and we tend to listen:  The ‘but’ translated here is being used to contrast to the imagery that Paul has employed and developed in the first three verses of this chapter. Where before Christ we do not know freedom and our slaves to the whims of the desires of this world. This helplessness and sense of being stuck are what Paul wants you to hold in your mind as you read this next four verses.  The ‘but’ then contrasts the freedom that is found in Christ to the slavery that comes with life under the law and powers of this world, life without Grace.

Verse four describes that moment when everything changed for all who would put their faith in Christ:  When Gods sovereign plan of salvation was fulfilled through the birth of Christ. Which is in itself a reminder to us of the humanity of the Jesus,.  That is Jesus was born fully human and fully Jewish – he was born into a people who knew Gods law, its requirement and should have sought to live it. if you are wondering:  “Why did the eternal Son of God need to be born a man and be subject to the requirements of the law? we get the answer in one word: Redeem, a legal term with the sense of a ‘buy out.’ Hence, what Paul is saying is that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has ‘bought out’ the requirements of the law.  Jesus through his life and death placated the demands of the law for those who place their trust in him: From Christ, we are set free into something greater  – family:  Through Christ God forgive us our sins and brings us into his family as sons and daughters. Whereas children under the law with no right to inheritance; now, we see in the last two verses of this section that we as children have grown up and surpassed the law through Christ.  Not only then do we receive sonship, we receive the Holy Spirit who is equal to the father and the son and will work in us to make us more in the image of the son as we walk the path set before us. Over and over again, Paul reminds us of the effects of the manger on those who place their trust in Christ – it changes everything for a moment and in every moment as we live out our sonship.

“As many have learned and later taught, you don’t realise Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” Tim Keller

Conclusion: Stay Focused and Follow Christ (8-11)

The problem with moments that challenge us, is that after time their impact can change.  With all the best of endeavour and intention and challenges of walking down Grafton Street had soon drifted to the back of my mind.  The same can be true for us as Christians if we are not constantly seeking Jesus, and the same was true with the Galatians: They had forgotten the power and beauty of the Gospel, with time it had faded and the lies of the old way grew more confident, it why Paul asks his audience to look back as he reminds them of what things used to be like: before Christ, before the cross.  He reminds them of how they used to live enslaved to things that had no substance, and somethings did not even exist. Then, God changed everything in a moment: by calling each of them as his own. In the same way, God changed our lives when he reached down to us with the Good news of the Gospel.  Paul then wonders how can they long for the things of old, weak and miserable as they were.  How can they desire insubstantial things when they have to know the most substantial things; he goes on and reminds them that through their current action and living they are no better off: What is the point in Jesus dying and rising if we still have to live in a religious way. Either:  In Christ, we have all we need; or through him we have nothing.

“In fact, most of us convince ourselves that we’re actually honouring Jesus with our rules and regulations, that we’re paying attention to him and pleasing him more than ever. But all the while, we’re only demonstrating that we believe in ourselves much more than we do in Jesus. Our default faith mode is to trust, above all things, our own ability to create a safe, controllable, predictable world.” 

Tullian Tchividjian – Jesus + Nothing = Everything

However, there is a problem with us all – we are sinful and driven by our own desires.  Even when we have come to the point of placing our faith in Christ and trusting in his work, we want to believe that we can achieve something for ourselves. We want to believe that we can play some part in our own salvation and so we slip back into our own ways of living and thinking and serving: Seeking to earn the approval of whatever  idol we have given our lives to it is as Timothy Keller would say:

“If you want God’s grace, all you need is need, all you need is nothing. But that kind of spiritual humility is hard to muster. We come to God saying, “Look at all I’ve done,” or maybe “Look at all I’ve suffered.” God, however, wants us to look to him – to just wash.” 

Tim Keller Counterfeit God’s  

Paul is calling the church of Galatia to get back to basics: to let go of any sense fo their own role or ability and simply embrace Christ Paul calls them and us to stay focused on Jesus: to keep enduring and going, daily bringing it all to Christ.  He is reminding us of the reality of that moment that changes everything: we had nothing to do with it – it was God, all God and from that moment we an do nothing, its God in the Holy Spirit: who from our moment of kneeling at the cross God the Holy Spirt is continually working in us to make us more like Christ, until the moment we go to be with him; so wether we are a year in or 80 years down the road with Jesus we must keep focused and reminding ourselves of the freeing power of grace and the lies of the old ways.  The wonderful thing is that we do not do it on our own, as Paul reminded us in verse 6 of this wonderful passage, we have a helper in the Holy Spirit: Who keeps us walking on the narrow road, even when we think we are not.  The reality of the Christian life is it’s not the strength of our faith it is the object of it.  God does not care how close you feel to him, how you feel you are performing, his only desire is that you place your trust in his son and go from there and desire more of him.

Often Paul calls on people to imitate him as he imitates Christ because his life modelled the type of loving service and sacrifice that Jesus required of his disciples.  It is a beautiful picture and a reminder to us of the importance of community: we live like those we live with;  We think like those who teach us. So Paul calls us all today to look to those who walking well with God. it is those relationships and people that we should see Christ visible in some way. The question is who are you looking too? And modelling your life off? Even still, the reality today is that someone will look to you – so how are you living? Do you mirror Christ in some way or simply reflect the paleness of the world.

The challenge for us all today is to ask: “how am I living?” Are you still trying to do it your way and on your strength; Thinking that you know better than God.  If that is you then today put your trust in Christ and what he has done for you – live free.  Perhaps you call yourself a Christian, you believe in the Gospel yet you are still living a  ‘Jesus +’ life, believing that going to church on a Sunday, serving in some way, small group, prayer group, reading your bible, or belonging to something adds something positive to your salvation.  Rubbish! Today we must all grasp the truth that Jesus plus nothing equals everything and that Jesus plus something equals nothing. So, let us live as a free people whose inheritance is not in the things or worth of this world, but found only in Jesus.  Let us mirror Christ in sacrifice and service and we reflect on the moment that changed everything and live from it and to it.

“Daily Christian living, in other words, is daily Christian dying: dying to our trivial comforts, soul-shrinking conveniences, arrogant preferences, and self-centred entitlements, and living for something much larger than what makes us comfortable and safe.” 

Tullian Tchividjian: Jesus + Nothing = Everything

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