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Galatians chapter 4

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What does Galatians chapter 4 mean?

In Galatians 4, Paul continues teaching an important lesson to the Galatian Christians. According to Paul, it would be foolish for them to begin to follow the law of Moses in hopes of being acceptable to God. In this passage, he takes three additional approaches.

His first argument has to do with a kind of servitude endured even by heirs of a wealthy man. Paul's illustration this time comes from the Greek culture of his day. A child might have been destined to inherit everything his father owned, but until the day of his inheritance came, he continued to live under the supervision of managers and guardians. He was not truly free.

In the same way, those under the law lived in a kind of servitude until Christ arrived on earth. We could not escape our own sinfulness, which the law revealed. Christ bought us out of that slavery by paying the price for our sins with His life. As a result, God adopts those who trust in Christ as His own full children. More than that, God sends His own Spirit to live in the hearts of these new sons and daughters (Galatians 4:1–7).

In a similar way, the Galatians themselves were slaves to false gods. Why are they beginning now to follow the law and become slaves again? This, Paul's second argument in Galatians 4, is more of a personal appeal than a point of logic. He sounds emotional and desperate. He reminds the Galatian Christians of how openly they honored him and the message of Jesus when they first got to know each other. Even an illness suffered by Paul, described as a trial to the Galatians, did not keep them from believing (Galatians 4:8–14).

What has changed, Paul asks. "Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?" In truth, Paul knows what has changed. The Galatians have begun to see him and the message of God's grace as untrustworthy because of the false teachers in their midst. Paul reveals the motive of these teachers. They only want to glorify themselves. Paul, on the other hand, calls them dear little children. He is suffering for them once more as a mother suffers through childbirth. He wants nothing more than to see Christ take shape in them (Galatians 4:15–20).

Finally, Paul builds a somewhat complicated allegory from the life of Abraham to show that in choosing the law, the Galatian Christians will be choosing slavery instead of freedom.

In this allegory, Abraham's slave-wife Hagar (Genesis 16:1–3) represents living under the law of Moses and his free wife Sarah represents being justified before God by faith in Christ (Hebrews 11:11). Ishmael, born to the slave woman, is born into slavery. Isaac, though, is the child of God's promise and born from supernatural power.

One day, Ishmael mocked Isaac. In response, Sarah demanded that Abraham kick both Hagar and Ishmael out of the family (Genesis 21:8–14). She did not want Ishmael to share in the inheritance with her birth-son Isaac. God supported Sarah's request, and Abraham cast them out. Paul concludes that the same has happened with those who follow the law and do not trust in Christ to be justified. All who do trust in Christ are born into God's family and share in that promise by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:21–31).
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