I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:1-7
Imagine God sitting you down at the beginning of your life. You somehow have the capacity to reason and understand all his words. He says to you:
“I’m going to give you some rules to live by because in your immaturity and ignorance you’re going to need them. Without them, you’ll go down the wrong path. But you won’t be under these rules forever, only for a portion of your life. They will serve you and prepare you for the gift I’m giving you when you reach the proper age. When that time comes, the rules will not stand as walls to keep you inside, I will write them on your heart to go with you wherever I send you, and you can walk into the freedom you will have wished you had all your life. Will you trust me? Will you follow me all the way to maturity, allowing me to set the rules both now and then? Living under these rules for so long may make it hard for you to come out from under them when you reach maturity, but will you trust me then just as you’ve trusted me all along? Listen to me now—you have a great promise, but first, you must be trained. When you receive the promised gift, don’t despise the training, and don’t act as if the training is the purpose of your life. The inheritance is worth the wait.”
That is, in essence, what God said to his elect nation of Israel when he brought them out of slavery and gave the law on Mt. Sinai. He made a promise to their father, Abraham, that through him a seed would come that would be a blessing to the whole world. They are his offspring, awaiting the promised seed. And God gives his people Moses to liberate them from Egypt and enslave them to God. Though it has been difficult in slavery to the Egyptians, and though it will be difficult now to be slaves to the law of God, they must hold on to God’s promise, trusting that one day the Seed is coming. The promise is on its way to fulfillment.
All throughout the Old Testament, God reminds his people of his promise. His law stands as strong as ever as the world races towards the fullness of time. But when the fullness of time comes, and God sends his Son and his Spirit into the world, the Galatians falter on their journey at the hand of the Jews who had received the promise. They listened to the sirens along the path, following them into slavery when God was calling them into freedom. The false teachers couldn’t understand God’s purposes. They couldn’t get beyond the law. They couldn’t see how God could grant them righteousness apart from their merit. What they didn’t understand is what Paul understood so clearly because, for Paul, it was not a new message. It was the old message, spoken by God at the very beginning. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
God is under no slavery to the law. He is free to himself. His intention for his children is no less. Paul doesn’t disparage God’s law as the false teachers accuse. He understands the proper place of the law for the Christian. The law was a guardian, keeping God’s people until the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus. In light of the fulfillment, Paul was in a hurry to move into the land of promise. Why go back to slavery when the kingdom of God is at hand?
We are too often tempted to sell our sonship for slavery. That’s where our heart leads when we forget the gospel. It’s all part of Satan’s scheme to ruin God’s plan. He knows our pride. Though we have received the gift of righteousness apart from the law, he aims to convince us the law will only add to God’s love for us. In doing this, he’s twisting God’s word as he always has. When we believe him, and begin adding our works to Christ’s, we tear down Christ’s work for us and prop up our work for him. Satan doesn’t mind our obedience to the law of God—though he is against it—if it means we abandon faithfulness to Jesus.
And if we won’t use the law as a ladder to God, Satan will use God’s law, not as a provocation toward wanting God’s righteousness as God intends, but as a gun to shoot his fiery darts of damnation. What God designed to be used to drive us to see our need for a Savior, Satan will use to convince we’re too evil to be saved. Whatever he needs to do, he will endeavor to ruin Christ’s name. He seeks to minimize the cross. But God aims to highlight it. That’s why, in the fullness of time, God gave us two gifts: his Son and his Spirit.
Jesus entered the world just as we all have: born of a woman. He didn’t skate around the law; he was born under the law to redeem all who were under it. Satan did his best to lead Jesus into temptation, but where we failed in following God, Jesus succeeded to the very end. This is the gospel—that Jesus entered our world, lived the perfect life on our behalf, and gave his life as a ransom for many. John Stott summarizes:
The divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ and the righteousness of Christ uniquely qualified him to be man’s redeemer. If he had not been man, he could not have redeemed man. If he had not been a righteous man, he could not have redeemed unrighteous man. And if he had not been God’s Son, he could not have redeemed men for God or made them the sons of God.
In his work of redemption, Jesus made us children of God. As Tim Keller says, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.” How do we use our access? God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, giving us his own voice. He provides us with a part of himself, so that when we need him, we have him calling out on our behalf, and he can never deny himself.
Only a fool would leave God’s house to build a shack to impress him.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at David's blog, Things of the Sort.