Have you ever felt that your whole life, your whole being was under the control of someone else? Someone who claims authority over you and possession of you. Someone who tells you what to do and when to do it – when to eat, when to sleep, when to work, who to hang out with, how to think, speak and act – from sunup to sundown. This someone pays you nothing, gives no breaks, is quick to criticize and gives no credit for a job well-done. You exist at his pleasure: you own nothing; he owns it all, from your food to your clothes to whatever kind of roof he chooses to put over your head. You are under his thumb, his eye, his control in every conceivable way, every single day. No, I’m not describing your job or marriage. This is a description of slavery. Have you ever been a slave? Are you sure? We’ll come back to that. Broadly speaking, we’ve all experienced that situation in our lives – and there are many individuals who still are; it’s called being a child. Of course, we all know there’s a big difference between being a slave and being a child: a slave is truly oppressed and enslaved while a child is being trained and protected – although children may not see it that way. Keeping this in mind will help us understand what Paul means in these verses which we will consider under the theme: Christ became a slave so that we might become children.
“Believing in Christ is not enough for salvation; you must also obey the OT Law to be saved” – this was the message the rival teachers were preaching to the Christians in Galatia (e.g., Galatians 5:4). In the heat of controversy, you might expect Paul to throw the Law out altogether; to argue that it has no role in Christianity. But he doesn’t do that. He instead clarifies the proper role of the Law: Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. Have you ever felt yourself enslaved, imprisoned by the Law? If not, that’s not a good thing. It means you either don’t know what the Law demands of you – in which case you should open up your Catechism; or it means that you don’t think God is serious about his Law – in which case you need to reread the conclusion to the 10 commandments. Anyone who has taken God’s Law seriously knows how brutal a slave master it is. How every morning you wake up the Law is there, spelling out God’s will for our lives, it’s just ten items long and yet they’re 10 things that we are naturally opposed to, that grate against our idea of being independent and autonomous and free-willed. All day long the Law is there watching, analyzing, judging our thoughts, words, and actions – stinging and shaming us when we disobey, creating fear and guilt and remorse, offering no encouragement, no support, no congratulations when we do obey (because obedience is nothing more and nothing less than our duty (Luke 17:10)). And at the end of every single day, the Law issues its stern and unforgiving evaluation: you are guilty, guilty of breaking every one of God’s commandments, guilty of disregarding your Creator’s will and following your own instead. This verdict demands death (Ezekiel 18:20). If you’ve experienced this – then you know what it’s like to be a slave to the Law. This is the Law’s job. The Law doesn’t hear excuses or appeals, it doesn’t care about intentions or feelings, the Law is not about mercy and forgiveness but threats and judgment and damnation. But, the good news in this verse is found in that little word until – the law only can enslave, imprison us until faith [is] revealed.
So Paul shifts the image somewhat in verse 24: So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. That’s a poor, misleading translation. Better would be the law was our chaperone until Christ, so that we might be justified by faith. The Law doesn’t lead to Christ, only the Gospel does that, but the Law was our chaperone until Christ came. The Greek word is paidogagos from which we get our English “pedagogue.” In the ancient Roman Empire, a wealthy father would assign one of his slaves to serve as the “pedagogue” for his son. That slave would be the boy’s guardian, his escort, his chaperone to make sure that he got to school and back safely – and that he didn’t go off on his own, as boys so often do. The “pedagogue” was not the teacher – his job was to ensure that the child got to the teacher. Paul explains further at the beginning of chapter 4: what I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. From the child’s perspective, he’s no different than a slave – he doesn’t have free will, he must go where his chaperone leads. There’s a difference though. Eventually, the child would outgrow his need for his chaperone – he would finally be liberated, free to assume his rightful place as child and heir.
That’s how the law functioned in our lives – it served as our “pedagogue” to make sure we got where we needed to go. How does the Law – which always convicts, always condemns, always crushes, always commands us to do things we cannot do – get us where we need to go? Kind of like a toothpaste tube. The Law closes off all other avenues to salvation. The Law shows us that we will never, ever get right with God on our own. The Law with its unchanging demands and unrelenting pressure squeezes repentance and cries for mercy out of us. The Law cannot save us, only Christ can. But before we can get to Christ, we need to see our need for his salvation – which is the first and primary use of the Law. That’s why we need to hear the law preached to us week after week – to show us our sin and our need for a Savior.
But once the law has done its job of exposing our sin and revealing our need, then the Law has to get out of the way. Paul goes on Now that faith (a reference to the object of faith – Christ) has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Because now you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. What we couldn’t do through the Law God has done for us in Christ: given us a place in his family. Like those boys in ancient Rome who reached the age of maturity, we no longer need the law to supervise us, chaperone us, enslave us. Now we are treated as sons of God, with all the freedom and privilege that entails. (By the way, when Paul talks about “sons” here, he is in no way excluding women, but in that culture the only sons normally received an inheritance – and ladies, that includes you.)
The great question is: how did this happen? How did we go from being slaves to sons – and not only sons, but heirs of a heavenly inheritance? All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Whereas human nature will try to work out all sorts of complicated ways to earn our way into God’s family – try harder, do more good than bad, follow a complex set of rituals and ceremonies – the Gospel solution is simple: be baptized. Your baptism was your adoption into God’s family because in baptism you were clothed with Christ. In the Roman world, your clothing said a lot about you. It told the world where you were from, whether you were rich or poor, a slave or nobleman. In Baptism God clothed you with Christ, his righteousness, his holiness, his status. So that when God looks at you he sees Christ and the words God spoke over his Son at the Jordan River: this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17) now apply to you.
And what’s more, in God’s family there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul is not saying that we are all equal in this world. This isn’t the great progressive social dream – where all distinctions melt away so we become some big genderless, faceless, nebulous blob. Paul is not describing a change in worldly status, but a change in status before God. Out there we are still men and women, parents and children, employers and employees – but in here, before God, we are one in Christ – equally sinful and equally forgiven. This transformation is far more revolutionary and effective than any kind of social engineering proposed by our world today. Just look around: in a society that seeks to divide and conquer, we stand united in Christ’s Church; bound together not by our own will-power or effort but by our common baptism, common faith, common confession, and common Father (Ephesians 4:4-6).
But there’s more: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Do you remember the promises God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12? I will make you into a great nation…I will make your name great…I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3). The false teachers who had come to Galatia were telling the Christians there that they had to become Jewish by obeying the OT Law in order to claim Abraham as their father. Paul says that if you have been baptized, if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s descendent and you receive the benefit of all the promises God made to him. You are a member of Abraham’s nation in the Christian church. You are under the perpetual blessing and protection of God – which he will give you yet again at the end of the worship service. God is leading through this dark world to the Promised Land of heaven. All the promises God gave to Abraham – whether you are genetically related to him or not – are yours through faith in Christ.
There’s got to be a catch, right? It can’t be that easy. That’s right, it wasn’t. It cost God dearly to give us a place in his family: when the time had fully come, God sent his Son (Take that to heart. When God decided to save you, he didn’t send more laws, he sent his Son!), born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. To free us from our slavery, God sent his Son to be born of Mary in a cattle stall in Bethlehem, one with us and subject to the very same Law we are. Unlike us, he was up to the challenge of carrying the yoke of the Law, fulfilled its demands, perfectly. He was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), presented in the temple on the 40th day (Luke2:22-24), he came to the Temple for all of the appointed feasts and festivals (Luke 2:41-52), he loved God with his whole heart and he loved his neighbor as himself. The free, all-powerful, independent Son of God became a slave to the law and did everything the law requires. That’s called Jesus’ active obedience – he actively obeyed the Law in our place. But the Law required one more thing. The Law required death to be paid as the wage for sin (Romans 6:23). Holy, sinless Jesus willingly allowed himself to be nailed to a cross in our place to receive the punishment we deserved. This is called Jesus’ passive obedience. Jesus’ submission to slavery to the Law is your salvation. Jesus has liberated us from slavery to the Law by obeying it and suffering it’s punishment for us, in our place. He became a slave so that you might become God’s child.
And you bear evidence of this changed status right now: because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” If you can call God your Father – and not righteous judge or harsh slave master – and mean it, then you are no longer a slave, you are a child of God. Some have understood “Abba” as the equivalent of “daddy.” But, Paul’s point here is not to express intimacy but rather status. You have every right to call God your Father, every right to ask him anything, every right to expect him to keep all of his promises to you because God has freely adopted you as his child. While some of us may have suffered at the hands of earthly fathers or mothers, have experienced the pain of a broken home or broken marriage, or maybe struggled with our identity – the assurance the Spirit of Christ gives you in your heart is that nothing in the universe can separate you from the love of God your heavenly Father (Romans 8:39). It’s no longer about who you are, it’s about whose you are – and in Christ you are God’s child.
And so you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Who are you? In Christ, you are no longer the sum total of who you are and what you’ve done – that would make you a slave again to the Law. No, Christ lived and died as a slave so that you might be called a child of God and heir of eternal life. No matter where you come from or what you’ve done – through Baptism that is whose you are! Amen.