What does Galatians 4 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Galatians 4:1–7 paints the picture of the heir of a wealthy son, who remains without freedom himself until he actually receives his inheritance. This corresponds to the customs of the time, when even wealthy children lived under the control of teachers and guardians. Paul insists that the crucial day has already come for all who trust in Christ. We are no longer under the supervision of the law of Moses. Christ has bought us out of slavery and into God's family. In Him, Christians are adopted as full children—we are God's heirs. We are given the Holy Spirit, making it possible to call Him our ''Abba,'' meaning ''Father.''
Galatians 4:8–20 reveals that the Galatian Christians have already begun legalistically following the law of Moses, by observing special days. Why would they want to go back to slavery by following the law to be justified by God, Paul asks? Why have they gone from blessing him and trusting in Christ to rejecting him for telling the truth? The false teachers are only using them to bring glory to themselves, Paul insists. Paul is in anguish for them as a mother in childbirth. He longs to see Christ formed in them.
Galatians 4:21–31 contains Paul's allegory about Abraham's two wives, and the two sons born through them. Paul sets out to use Scripture to show the difference between being born into slavery, by human effort, as opposed to being born into freedom, by the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Ishmael was born into slavery as Abraham's son, but he was cast out when the child of promise arrived. In a similar way, living under the law became pointless when Christ arrived. Those who trust in Him become children of promise by God's power.
Chapter Summary:
In this chapter, Paul uses three new methods to teach his Galatian readers an important lesson. It is futile to follow the law of Moses in order to be made right before God, since justification comes only by faith in Christ. First, Paul shows that the arrival of Christ made it possible for all people to become God's children through faith in Him. Next, Paul makes a more personal appeal, asking what has changed to cause the Galatians to turn on Paul's teaching of the gospel. Finally, Paul builds an allegory from Scripture, illustrating the difference between being born into slavery and being born into the promise by faith in Christ.
Chapter Context:
Galatians 3 ends with Paul stating, once more, that those who are in Christ are Abraham's offspring, just as He is, making us heirs along with Him. Galatians 4 continues that idea, showing how Christ's arrival signaled the moment all people could receive the inheritance with Him and be adopted as God's children. Paul makes his appeal personal, asking why the Galatians moved from blessing him to rejecting the message of Christ. The chapter ends with Paul's allegory about the difference between being born into slavery under the law and being born into freedom by the power of the Spirit through faith in Christ. Chapter 5 will continue by expanding on the freedom we have in Christ.
Book Summary:
Galatians is sometimes called “a short Romans” for its similar themes of justification and sanctification through faith. A group of Christians known as “Judaizers” were preaching a gospel of legalism, rather than grace. Paul’s main purpose in writing the letter to the Galatians was to reiterate the true nature of the gospel: we are justified (made righteous) and sanctified (made more Christlike) through our faith in Jesus Christ alone. This letter was probably written shortly before the church elders in Jerusalem issued their official refutation of the Judaizers, commonly called the Jerusalem Council.
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