FREEDOM FROM ELEMENTARY STUFF
…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26 & 29)
Our series on freedom continues. Today we are on part eight and we will enter into chapter 4 of Galatians. The book of Galatians has been called the Magna Carta on Christian freedom. It is un-arguably the most violent attack against the slavery of religion and legalism in the Bible. It is also, unapologetically, the clearest proclamation of the free grace gospel of Jesus Christ. We are saved be grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The point of this letter and this series is that we are not saved by what we do – instead we are saved by what he has already done. The thrust of the Gospel is this: “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”. It is Christ alone and not of any works of our own. We are saved by Christ – not by any works of the law. We never mix or mingle law and grace. It is grace alone. As one author said it so very cleverly… Grace must be drank straight! No ice, no water, and certainly no ginger ale. (Robert Capon) We do not add anything to Jesus complete and finished work on the cross.
once Enslaved to the guardian
We ended last week with the illustration of a school master or guardian.
So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:24-26, ESV)
The Greek word for guardian is “pedagogue” which was a slave placed over the care of children in the ancient world. Wealthy parents who had slaves would put this slave in charge over their children. They taught them and they protected them and they kept them out of trouble. In chapter 3 Paul teaches us that we have been set free from that pedagogue or schoolmaster. When we place our faith in Jesus we become heirs of his kingdom. We become sons and daughter. We are children of God and free from the law. So now, let us look at chapter 4.
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. (Gal 4:1-2)
Imagine a young boy. He has a very wealthy dad. This little boy has a huge inheritance waiting for him one day. He is heir to all his father’s wealth. However, since this boy is just a child, even though he is the heir, he is treated no different than a slave. He gets bossed around and told what to do. His hands are constantly getting slapped and all he hears is “no!”. He has little to no freedom. In fact, if you think about it, all of this freedom is actually being taken from him by a slave. The slave that is placed as his baby-sitter actually has more freedom than the son of the slave owner. It is a bit ironic if you think about it.
There is a famous dialogue recorded between Socrates and a young friend.
‘Do they let you have your own ruling of yourself: or do they not trust you with this, either?’
‘Trust me with it, indeed!’ he said.
‘But as to this, who has the ruling of you?’
‘This man here,’ he said, ‘a tutor’.
‘Being a slave, eh?’ ‘But what of that?’ said he;
‘yes; only, a slave of our own.’
‘An awfully strange thing this,’ I said, ‘that you, freeman that you are, should be under the ruling of a slave.”
Plato’s ‘Lysis’ (p. 208, C).
Paul is saying… “We are heirs of the promises of God but we where once very much like that little boy. Enslaved to the law. Until the date set by his father.” There is a time a “coming of age” where a boy becomes a man. This is not something we do very well here in America. In fact, I have read a handful of books on how we really need to invent our own little ‘coming of age’ ceremonies for our teenaged boys. For some, it is getting the keys to the car or shooting their first buck. But in ancient cultures there was typically a set time, or date, which may even be accompanied by a ceremony. In ancient Rome, for instance, a boy become a man at the age of 14. It was then that he was able to exact control over his estate. In Judaism, a boy becomes a man at the age of 13. That day is celebrated with a Bar Mitzvah. Today, here in America, a boy becomes a man at the age of 32, when he finally moves out of his mother’s basement. But that is a different subject for a different sermon. Back to our text, Paul says…
In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Gal. 4:3)
To continue the illustration, we were once just like a young boy, enslaved to elementary principles. This is really an interesting term Paul uses here. He says we were enslaved to the “elementary principles of the world.” Well… what in the world does that mean? If we follow his train of thought it is obvious that these “elementary principles” are those simple, basic, elementary things that school aged kids deal with on a regular basis.
The greek word is ‘stoicheia’ which literally is translated as “things placed side by side in a row” (Bruce). This term is used of the letters of the alphabet or the ABCs. This is the sort of stuff that you deal with in elementary school. One of the first things you learn is your ABC’s. You remember that colorful laminated alphabet above the chalk board at school. The letters are lined up side by side in a row. The ABC’s are elementary stuff.
Now, to interpret Paul’s meaning he is saying that “the elementary principles of the world is the childish belief that we can unlock the inheritance of freedom and life by ‘living better’.” (Tchividjian) You know how children are, they are always seeking approval from their parents and friends. Paul is writing this letter to Gentiles (or non Jews). So… he is not just saying that they were once under the Jewish law, but rather they were under a thing that was just like the law. Specifically, that they were also under some impression that they need to measure up to a divine standard.
Paul elaborates this concept of the elementary principles of the world in verse 8. Let’s jump down to verse 8:
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11, ESV)
Formerly they were in slaved to some religious system where they sought to find God’s approval through the celebration of religious holidays, or solar seasons. They once thought that they could win approval from God through religious behavior. That is elementary stuff.
Now, it inters tong because Paul uses this exact same phrase in an entirely different letter. Perhaps if we look at that letter it might shed some light on this subject here in Galatians. I want to show you that. Let’s look at Colossians chapter 2.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8, ESV)
If with Christ you died to the elemental principles of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, ESV)
Clearly, as you can see, this concept of ‘elementary principles’ is the childish reasoning that somehow our behavior effects our salvation or inheritance. Listen to this, It is elementary stuff to think or teach that we need to try harder, and do better, and be good’r. It elementary and it is slavery because when you a re in elementary school you are under the care of tutors and slaves. When you are a child, that might be natural to think. But once you become a full heir, you would never think that because the inheritance is already yours.
“This is a picture of how Christians may to some degree fail to experience the freedom and joy of their salvation. Christians can continue to live day by day as slaves, instead of as the adopted sons of God that they are. Though we are rich in the gospel, adopted children of God with complete and direct access to the Father, we can go back to relating to Him only through our record and moral merits.” Timothy Keller
NOW SET FREE IN CHRIST
verse 4… But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…
Fullness of time – remember all the “until’s” we saw last week? Remember the expiration date or the ’best if used by’ label that Paul kept putting on the law? Well… here it is again – ‘the fullness of time.’ When the fullness of time had come God sent his son. Once Jesus came we are no longer under the law. We are no longer under the elementary rules of don’t handle, don’t touch, don’t taste. We are no longer slaves to our guardians. Now, we are heirs.
Once the expiration date was reached, God sent. I want you to notice that. “God sent.” There are 2 things that we need to see in this verse. First, please note who is doing the action. It is God. “When the time was right, God.” That is what we need to hear. God made this thing happen. God brought you out of slavery and into your inheritance. You didn’t do it. God did it. And secondly, how did he do it? He sent.
Guess what? This is an excellent opportunity for me to tell you, once again, what that means. It means that God is a missionary. He is always sending. The word “missio-Dei” literally means “the sending of God”. God is on a mission to reach out to people who are far from him. You and I are a part of that mission. So he sends. There are tons of people in this community who are a part of that mission. So he is sending. We call our church MISSIODEI because we are committed to being a part of that mission. We want to be on the mission of God. Nothing more. Nothing less. God is sending us. Not to build a church, but to reach the lost. Not to run programs, but to make disciples. Anyway, back to our study here in Galatians…
… born of woman, born under the law…
Jesus was born as all human beings are, into that same state of ‘under the law’. Jesus was born into the same world that has those elementary principles. They are the elementary principles of the world, remember? Jesus was born into that world. He had a mother, he was a human. He was under the law. But, he was also God. And he did not just come to fulfill the law, but to redeem you and me, and the world from the law.
… to redeem those who were under the law…
The word redeemed is the same word we saw in 3:13:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Galatians 3:13, ESV)
It literally means “to release a slave from his or her owner by paying the slave’s full price. Here, the slave master is the law. Jesus pays our full price to the law. He completely fulfills all the law’s demands on us. And so He is able to free us from it.” (Keller)
“When Christ came He found us all in prison. What did He do about it? Although He was the Lord of the Law, He voluntarily placed Himself under the Law and permitted it to exercise dominion over Him, indeed to accuse and to condemn Him. Christ, however, “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” (I Pet. 2:22) Hence the Law had no jurisdiction over Him. Yet the Law treated this innocent, just, and blessed Lamb of God as cruelly as it treated us. It accused Him of blasphemy and treason. It made Him guilty of the sins of the whole world. The Law brought all its fright to bear upon Christ until He experienced anguish and terror such as nobody else ever experienced. His bloody sweat. His need of angelic comfort, His tremulous prayer in the garden, His lamentation on the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” bear eloquent witness to the sting of the Law. He suffered “to redeem them that were under the law.” Martin Luther
… so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Jesus did not just come to redeem, or to ransom us from the law, he also came to adopt us. Paul says, “So that…we might be adopted as sons. That is the amazingness of the gospel. The gospel does not just set us free from our sins, or set us free from the law, but it also sets us free as heirs. We become as sons or daughters. We have been adopted as a children of God. Redemption has a double aspect. First, it delivers from bondage to the law. But second, it delivers to us adoption.
“It is very easy and common to think of our salvation only in terms of the first and not the second—that is, only as the transfer from us of our sins, but not as the transfer to us of the Son’s rights and privileges. When we think like that, we are really only “half-saved by grace”. We can get pardon, but now we have to live a good life to earn and maintain God’s favor and rewards.” Keller
“As certain as we are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please God, because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our sins, yet as often as we sin, God’s mercy bends over us. Therefore sin cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our certainty is of Christ. So long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have nothing to fear from the anger of God.” Luther
Sons who cry abba
… And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Notice again the sending of God. First God sent his Son, then, after we have become sons and daughters, G0d sends the Spirit. God is a missionary, he is always sending. Not only did he send his Son to redeem us but he has also sent the Holy Spirit to seal us. Jesus did something in space time history to pay for our sins and set us free from the bondage of the Law, but the Spirit is doing something for us right now. Jesus did something to make us sons, but the Spirit does things to make us feel like sons. The spirit dwells in our hearts and gives us a present experience of what Christ did for us. Specifically, that experience makes us cry out to God as our daddy. Abba – means father, or daddy.
So think about this, the Spirit moves into… you … he makes his residence in your heart, giving you the feeling of sonship and the confidence of your inheritance. The Holy Spirit creates in you the experience of a true son. So clear is this experience that your heart cries out to God like a true son would, by calling him daddy. It is interesting that Paul uses this Aramaic word to Greek-speaking Galatians. Why does he do that? Well, because this is the word Jesus used when he prayed. By using this term Paul is driving his point home that in Christ we have legally inherited the rights of Jesus Himself.
… So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Paul wraps up his argument. His concluding remark is, “So… with all that in mind, the point I am trying to make is that you are a son, not a slave. He is teaching us that we once were one thing but now we are another thing. We once were slaves but now we are sons. And, if we are sons then we are also heirs or co-heirs with Christ. We have been given the inheritance of our Daddy. So… act like a son, not a slave. Live like a daughter, not a slave. You are no longer under the pedagogue, you have had your coming of age and you are free. “We don’t walk in fear of anyone or anything; our Father owns the place!” (Keller).
If we are ever to enter fully into the glorious liberty of the children of God, we are going to have to spend more time thinking about freedom than we do. The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. It has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that it has made us like ill-taught piano students: we play our pieces, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music but to avoid some flub that will get us in trouble. The church, having put itself in loco parentis (in the place of a parent), has been so afraid we will lose sight of the need to do it right that it has made us care more about how we look than about who Jesus is. It has made us act more like subjects of a police state than fellow citizens of the saints.” Capon
DISCUSSION “Do you most often think of yourself as a slave, or a son? When are you most in danger of living as a slave, not a son?”
When Jesus prayed he referred to his Father as Abba. He had an intimacy that no-one had ever seen before. In-fact, it was a scandalous kind of intimacy. For the jews, who could not even say the name of God, but invented names that were safe to say, it was scandalous indeed to hear Jesus talk to God the Father by referring to him as Abba.
And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:33-36)
Jesus cried out, just as the spirit living in you and I causes us to cry out. Jesus cried out, Abba, Father. And now, because God did not take that cup from him, and because Christ did endure tremendous suffering, under the law in order to free us from that law and to adopt us as children, we too have that same privilege to cray out to our Father and call him by a most intimate name. Abba.