Picking up imagery from 3.24-26, Paul now illustrates his point with situations that would really have resonated with the Galatians.
He begins by saying that the heir of the promise – the churches in Galatia, you, and me – have no justification or rights in the family whilst we are in unbelief (v.1). The guardians and managers are there to keep a close watch over their charges and to safeguard the inheritance until the child is ready to inherit. Yesterday we said that this guardian or manager is the law (vv.24-26). Under Roman law at the time, a child was given a date set by their father when they would come to maturity, so to speak (v.2). Living under Roman law, the churches in Galatia would have instantly understood the picture Paul is painting here. As a Roman father sets a date for coming-of-age, so too your heavenly Father has set a date for your coming to faith and to inheritance.
He then draws from the abstract example to the personal and says in v.3, so also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world. This is often taken to mean living under Mosaic law: “Oh ok, they were Jews, now Christians…”. But this cannot be the case. Most of them were Gentile believers (remember the Judaizing argument of “You need to be circumcised”?). Rather, basic forces seems to mean living in a childlike way. It seems to mean living simply ‘under the sun’ as Solomon might say, having no concern for the big picture truths of the world.
But, Paul says, at the most perfect time imaginable, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights (vv.4-5). This really was the perfect time for Jesus to come. Donald K. Campbell writes,
“This “time” was when the Roman civilization had brought peace and a road system which facilitated travel;
when the Grecian civilization provided a language which was adopted as the lingua franca of the empire;
when the Jews had proclaimed monotheism and the messianic hope in the synagogues of the Mediterranean world”.
Circumstances and situations had all been aligned to provide the perfect conditions for the Messiah to come, and news of Him to spread widely and quickly.
Because of this then, because of His coming and your faith in Him, as Paul writes we now have the opportunity to be adopted as sons with full rights. Again, to the Roman-law-abiding churches in Galatia, this would have meant a great deal more than it does to us. It meant being accepted, included, a totally new way of living with totally new possibilities.
So then, because of this Divine and human Messiah (v.4), by grace through faith you also have the Spirit of his Son, you are no longer a slave, and you are also an heir through God (vv.6-7).
Have you truly understood and accepted just what is on offer to you by putting faith in Jesus? No longer do we have to live like children with an ignorance and innocence about the world which is fitting for a season, but wrong when we grow up. No longer are we slaves to our basic thoughts, feelings, and urges, but we can live as part of the family of God. We have the opportunity by grace through faith to live as part of the renewed creation, as those under the renewed covenant between God and man, and in a renewed way. We have the opportunity to live as a child of God and an heir of the promise.