"Slaves Vs. Sons" Page 2 of 4 (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)


1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

“Until the time appointed of the father.” What time was that? It was the time when a father recognized that his son was capable of making decisions on his own, and he brought him into the position of a full-grown son. Notice it was the father who determined when his son reached the age of maturity. It wasn’t an arbitrary law as we have in our society. It used to be that a young person became of age at twenty-one; now it is eighteen. I believe some people are as mature at eighteen as they are at twenty-one. Also there are some who have not reached maturity at sixty-five. But in Paul’s day it was the father who determined when the age of maturity was reached. Then they held a ceremony known as the toga virilis, which gave him the position of a full-grown son in the family.

No matter how wealthy a father may be, his infant son or toddler child cannot readily enjoy that wealth. In the Roman world the children of wealthy people were cared for by slaves. No matter who his father was, the child was still a child under the supervision of a servant. In fact, the child was not much different than the servant who cared for him. The servant was commanded by the master of the house, and the child was commanded by the servant.

This also describes the spiritual condition of the Jews under the jurisdiction of the Law. The Law, you may recall, was the “guardian” (schoolmaster, tutor, steward) that disciplined the nation of Israel and prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ—“But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3.23-25). Consequently, when the Judaizers led the Galatians back into legalism, they were leading them not only into religious “bondage,” but also into religious and moral infancy and immaturity.

Paul states that the Jews were, like little children, immature, not realizing the glory and fullness of his future inheritance, and in bondage to “the elements of the world.” This word “elements” means the basic principles, the ABC’s (the period when Israel was in bondage, under the Law). It was the childhood of Israel when they were under rules and regulations. For fifteen centuries Israel had been in kindergarten and grade school, learning their “spiritual ABC’s,” so that they would be ready when Christ came into the world. So the Old Testament saint lived in the shadows, saw things indistinctly and dimly. But today under grace the shadows are gone and we have the full revelation of our sonship, because Jesus Christ is the “Alpha and Omega”— “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Rev. 22.13). He encompasses all the alphabet of God’s revelation to man. He is God’s final Word (Heb. 1.1-3).

4 But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

The Cross stands between Law and Grace. Before the Cross, there was no “putting away” of sin. God pardoned the sinner, suspended judgment, covered up his sin, in anticipation of the coming of the Redeemer. God pardoned the saints before Calvary upon the promise of the coming of Christ. Before Christ there was no full forgiveness for the sinner, but after Calvary sin is put away. Before Calvary, sin was pardoned; after Calvary the sinner was justified by grace upon the full payment of the penalty of the Law by the death and resurrection of Christ. Before Calvary, no one could go to Heaven, but was placed in Sheol, until sin could be put away—“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. FOR THOU WILT NOT LEAVE MY SOUL IN HELL; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Ps. 16. 9.10).After Calvary, the believer no longer goes to Sheol, but directly into the presence of God in Heaven, absent from the body, but present with the Lord. We are now “placed” as mature sons of God. This is probably a good time to point out a very important key to the understanding of Galatians. It is in the use of the two pronouns “us” and “we.” Paul was a Jew writing to Gentiles. Wherever, therefore, the pronoun “us” or “we” is used, it always refers to Israel, but the “ye” and “you” always refer to the Gentiles. Remember this and it will make the study of Galatians much easier. And it will prevent you from mixing Law and grace as these Galatians were doing.

Although Israel was compared to an irresponsible child, under the strict discipline of the law, we today are adult sons and take our place fully in the family of God.

The expression “the fullness of time” refers to the time the world was providentially ready for the advent of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah and man’s Savior. Many things had to come together and dovetail perfectly before He would come. Historians tell us that the world was in great expectation, waiting for the Deliverer, at the time when Jesus was born. The old religions were dying, and the old philosophies were empty and powerless to change men’s lives. Strange new mystery religions were invading the empire. The Greek dialectal had become the language of scholars and the New Testament would tell Jesus story in that language. The Pharisee had risen in influence in the Jewish and would represent all that Jesus was opposed to. Religious bankruptcy and spiritual hunger were everywhere. From a historical point of view, the Roman Empire itself helped to prepare the world for the coming of the Savior. Roman laws protected the rights of citizens, and Roman soldiers guarded the peace. Thanks to both the Greek and Roman conquests Latin and Greek were known throughout the empire. God was preparing the world for the arrival of His Son. Christ’s birth at Bethlehem was not an accident; it was an appointment made in Heaven; Jesus came in “the fullness of time.” (And it is worth noting that He will come again at the exactly right time.)

Paul is careful to point out the dual nature of Jesus Christ, that He is both God and man. As God, Jesus was “sent forth,” but as man, He was “made of a woman.” The ancient promise said that the Redeemer would be of “the woman’s seed” (Ge. 3.15) and Jesus fulfilled that promise (Matt. 1.18-25). Paul also says here that He was “made under the Law.” This means that He was reared in accordance with the requirements of the Law, and thereby fulfilling all righteousness. It was necessary that He keep the Law perfectly in order to redeem His people from the bondage and curse of the Law and to secure for them “the adoption of sons.” This privilege came to them as a gift of grace and not as a result of a long period of tutelage under the Law.

Paul has told us who came—God’s Son; he told us when He came and how He came. Now he explains why He came: “To redeem them that were under the law.” “Redeem” is the same word he used earlier (Gal. 3.13); it means “to set free by paying a price.” A man could purchase a slave in any Roman city (There were about 60 million slaves in the empire.), either to keep the slave for himself or to set him free. Jesus came to set us free. So, to go back into the Law would work to undo the very work of Christ on the cross. He did not purchase us to make us slaves, but to make us sons. Under the Law, the Jews were mere children, but under grace, the believer is a son of God with an adult standing in God’s family. Perhaps at this point a chart will help us better understand the contrast between being a “child of God” and a “son of God.”

The Child The Son
By regeneration By adoption
Entering the family Enjoying the family
Under guardians The liberty of an adult
Cannot inherit An heir of the Father

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