It should be evident from the first verse of chapter 4, that we are jumping into the middle of an argument. It’s probably not wise on the part of the ancient scribes to divide the chapter this way, but such it is. However, we must consider the context of the preceding chapter in order to understand what follows in chapter 4.
Paul ended chapter 3 by saying, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” That mention of being an heir gives us context to understand why he is speaking of an heir in chapter 4, but really the crux of the argument is what constitutes being a descendant of Abraham.
And what elucidated that principle is found in chapter 3 vs 14 which says, “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
So what Paul has been driving at is that the Gentiles are made descendants of Abraham and thus heirs of the blessing, by faith in Christ Jesus. That’s the basic thesis of his argument. Now we should remember that the blessing of Abraham is the promise that he would have a seed, and through that seed, which was Jesus Christ, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
The question should be asked, what does being blessed by God entail? I suggest that the blessing is salvation, being made the sons and daughters of God, and receiving eternal life and living forever with the Lord. Notice though in chapter 3 vs 14 that Paul seems to equate the blessing with receiving the promise of the Spirit. That’s key. The Spirit is the One who regenerates us, by whom we are born again, and who dwells in us. Receiving the the Spirit is key to receiving the blessing. You cannot be saved without the regeneration by the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of the Spirit.
Rom 8:9 says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” You cannot be born again without receiving the Holy Spirit. The teaching that you can be saved and then seek a second baptism which is receiving the Holy Spirit is not taught in the scripture. Being born again is contingent upon receiving the Holy Spirit at regeneration. You can’t be born again without receiving the Spirit.
Now one more thing I want to emphasize about that process. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of [God’s own] possession, to the praise of His glory.”
The key phrase that I want to emphasize there is “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” Being a descendant of Abraham makes us an heir of the promise of blessing, which Ephesians tells us is the Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance. So you see that when we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we receive the Holy Spirit, and He dwelling in us is the down payment of our inheritance as heirs, and that inheritance will be fully realized when we see Jesus at His second coming.
Now all of that is accomplished without reliance upon the law for our salvation. That’s the main argument that Paul has been contending with since he began this letter. The Judaisers claimed that salvation by faith in Christ plus keeping the law made you an heir of the blessing. They especially were concerned that professing Christians be circumcised and keep the ceremonial laws concerning diet and days and festivals and so forth.
And so Paul has argued that those who are of the faith of Abraham are the sons of Abraham. He showed that circumcision came after Abraham had been reckoned as righteous by faith. So the law did not contribute to Abraham’s salvation, and it doesn’t contribute to ours. Furthermore, in 3 vs 24 Paul says, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor [to lead us] to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
So the law was given to make us cognizant of our sin. It was given to make us realize that we needed a Savior. And when we are saved by faith in our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, we no longer need a tutor. We no longer need a tutor because the Holy Spirit is within us who rules over our hearts. So if you belong to Christ by faith, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
That brings us to chapter four, where Paul uses a human illustration to help make that point. He uses the analogy of an heir being taught by a tutor, who in Roman times was often a slave. He says in vs 1, “Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.”
The illustration given is of a child who is the heir of a very large estate. A child refers to an age between birth and before being considered an adult. And as I said, in a large estate the father would give tutors and guardians the charge to raise the child and teach him. Those tutors and guardians were usually slaves, very educated slaves who lived in the house, and had authority over the child. They were responsible for teaching and educating the child, dictating what he could and couldn’t do. They controlled how he was to live.
Both Roman and Jewish culture had customs concerning the coming of age of a child to being considered a man. But it seems that Paul had more in mind the Roman culture when he wrote this. In Roman culture, there was no specific age when the boy became recognized as a man, but it was determined by his father when he was ready.
So as a child he doesn’t differ from the slave even though he is to be an heir of everything. But he is under their authority, just as a slave was under the authority of the master of the house. Yet he is destined to one day be owner of everything.
Then in vs 3, Paul gives the spiritual correlation to this illustration. He says, “So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.” The law was our guardian, our tutor when we were still children, which held us in bondage to the elementary principles of the world. That is speaking of the law, which teaches us do not do this, and do not do that. It was the authority that trained us in what not to do. In just the same way as the tutor taught the child what he could and couldn’t do, so the law taught us.
The word that is translated elemental refers to things that were placed in a row, in a line. It eventually came to refer to the ABC’s of a language, the alphabet. And so the elemental things referred to the alphabet. If the elemental things of the world include the Gentiles as well as the Jews, he’s saying that when we were children we were in bondage to all of their human, basic principles by which men sought to justify themselves. In the case of Israel it was the misinformed use of the Ten Commandments as a means of salvation. For Gentiles it was the law of God written in their consciences by which they were seeking righteousness by the things that they do.
But having said that, he comes in the 4th verse to the main spiritual application of this illustration. He says in vs 4, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
When the fullness of time means when the time was completed, when the time appointed had come. God the Father appointed a time when the children would come of age. God appointed a time when Jesus would come to earth, to offer Himself as a sacrifice, and a substitute. It was the time appointed from eternity. It was the right time in history. It was a time when the pax Romana, the peace of Rome, extended over most of the civilized earth and when travel and commerce were therefore possible in a way that had formerly been impossible, which greatly facilitated the spread of the gospel. Great roads linked the empire, and its diverse regions were held together even more significantly by the Greek language which was spoken throughout the empire. The same language in which the New Testament was written. And so many cultural and political entities came together at the right time ordained by God for Jesus to be manifested.
It’s also important to notice that Paul says that God sent forth His Son. That indicates that Jesus was preexistent with God before His incarnation. As John 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld HIs glory.” So Paul establishes Christ’s deity by saying God sent forth HIs Son.
Then Paul states Christ’s humanity. Paul says He was born of a woman. Jesus laid aside His glory He had with the Father since time immortal and became flesh. The eternal Son of God in heaven added humanity to His deity and became a man, by being born of a virgin. The Holy Spirt came upon her and she became with child.
If Jesus was to be the sacrifice for sinners, then He must be deity. He must be the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If He is to be our substitute, then He must be our representative man. He must be fully God and fully man.
And Paul says He was born under the law. He fulfilled the law perfectly, as no man can ever do or has ever done. He kept every ceremony, every Sabbath, every jot and tittle of the law. Jesus said in Matt. 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Only by being blameless could He be the sacrifice for sinners.
Paul says He came to redeem those who were under the law. To redeem is to purchase for the sake of setting free those who were held in captivity under the curse of the law. Jesus came to purchase us out of the slave market, from our bondage to sin and the elemental things of the world. As we read in chapter 3, vs10 “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” So then in vs 13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”– in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” The law condemned us. We were under it’s curse, but Christ became a curse for us so that we might become sons of God..
So He became a curse for us, redeemed us, so that we might receive the adoption as sons. It would be enough that we are purchased out of the slave market. But God’s work for us doesn’t end there; we are then elevated to the place of sons of God by adoption. And notice that according to his earlier illustration, the child becomes an heir when he is recognized as a man.
When we are adopted as sons, God becomes our Father, and we have all the benefits and privileges of a son. Adoption is a fitting metaphor for our regeneration. God chose us for salvation before the creation of the world. Eph 1:4-5 says “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
In adoption, the parents choose to love a child, to make him a part of their family. The adopted one receives the family name, full privileges of the house, and full acceptance as a son or a daughter. Adoption really is a beautiful thing. It’s unfortunate that not all children who are adopted recognize it as such. Sometimes I have known adopted kids who end up despising their adoptive parents and tried to connect with their birth parents. I say it’s unfortunate because they don’t realize the full extent of the love their adoptive parents have for them.
Paul’s words here in describing our adoption is that we are declared as sons, fully heirs, no longer under the tutor, but receiving all the inheritance of God. We have all of the blessings that belong to the person who has been acknowledged as the son of God. Paul says in Eph. 1:3 “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ.”
Paul goes on to describe that blessing in vs 6 saying, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Notice if you are a son, then an heir, and because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. I want to remind you of what I said earlier, the Spirit is the blessing, He is the deposit of the inheritance that we receive as sons. I don’t know what sort of expectation you have when you think of heaven, or what’s sometimes called glory, or called our inheritance, or just called eternal life. Maybe you imagine a mansion in heaven that God has prepared for you. Maybe you imagine streets of gold and gates of the city being immense pearls. I don’t want to debate those kinds of things right now. But I will say this; the greatest thing about heaven will be being in the presence of the Lord. To live in the presence of God will be the greatest joy, the greatest satisfaction that a person can experience. I can’t describe it. I can’t comprehend it.
Theologians over the centuries attempted to describe it as the beatific vision. I would try to interpret that, but I don’t think words can do it justice. But as God is the source of light, the source of life, the source of every good gift, the source of goodness, the source of joy, the source of bliss, to be in His presence is to have all those things in super abundance. As Jesus said, I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.
And as Paul says, the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts is the down payment, the deposit of that fullness of blessing that we will one day receive. We receive the Spirit of Christ because we are sons. Because we have accepted and believed in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. We receive everlasting life now in exchange for our sentence of death. We receive all the promises given to sons of God.
And as sons, we cry out “Abba, Father!” Abba is the Aramaic word for father, in the emphatic state. It simply means Father. It has connotations of intimacy. I think some people have tried to translate it as a more common intimate word for Father, such as Daddy, or Poppa. The studies that I have seen seem to say that though it may have had it’s origins from that sort of word, by the time it was used in the text, it had acquired the formal definition of father. So the point of Abba Father is the Aramaic is given, and then the Greek is given as in interpretation. So you’re not reading it as if to say Abba Father, but simply Abba! Which means Father.
Now I don’t want to spend time arguing semantics and lose sight of what Paul is saying here. The point to what he’s saying is that because we are sons, we are able to cry out to God as “Father.” That indicates a tremendous difference in our relationship to God. That the God of the universe, Elohim, Jehovah, Lord God Almighty, becomes our Father, to whom we can cry out for help, cry out to deliver, to save, to provide because of His great love by which He adopted us as his sons and now He is our Father – this is a tremendous thing. This is a blessing that is beyond our comprehension. I’m afraid we really take it for granted.
The world’s relationship with God is as the King of the world, the Judge of the world, the Creator of the world. Their knowledge of God is through fear. The Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But for the unregenerate, that’s as far as their relationship goes. They are not sons of God, they are sons of their father the devil. To become sons of God, you must be born again of the Spirit. And only those born again of the Spirit can claim sonship and an heir to God. But because we that have been saved are sons of God, we can cry out to Him “Father!” And our heavenly Father, who never stops thinking of us, who never takes His eyes off of us, He comes to our rescue when He hears our cry.
We that are parents understand that relationship, don’t we? What parent hearing the sudden scream of their child who was playing in the backyard doesn’t drop everything and run as fast as they can to help their child? If we as imperfect parents act so with our kids, then how much more can we expect from our Heavenly Father?
Paul uses a little circular reasoning here in order to lay stress on this point of our sonship. He says in vs 6, because we are sons, we receive the Spirit, who makes us call out Father! And then in vs 7, he says, “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
The distinctive is in vs 7 when he says you are no longer a slave. The slave is equated with the law. We are no longer under the tutelage of the law. We don’t need a tutor anymore because we have something better. And that is we have the Spirit of God in our hearts. The Holy Spirit tells us how to live, He leads us in the way we should go. He teaches us to love one another. He gives us the strength to live. He helps us to live in a way that is pleasing to God.
In Hebrews 8:10 we read about a new covenant, not like the old covenant which was the Law of Moses. It says, “FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.”
This is describing the work of the Spirit in our hearts when we are regenerated. We do not need tablets of stone which are decrees against us, but we have a new heart quickened by the Holy Spirit, that we might do the things of God.
Another passage which talks about that is Ezekiel 36:24, “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. “You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”
To be the sons of God, is to receive the Spirit of God, by which we are made heirs of God, and to know God as our Father. We have received the Spirit of God in our hearts as a deposit of the fullness of our inheritance that is laid up for us.
Let me ask you in closing, have you been born again? Are you a son of God? Have you received the Spirit of God? If you don’t have any evidence that you have been regenerated by the Spirit of Christ into a son or daughter of God, then I urge you to call upon Jesus Christ today as your Savior and Lord. Believe in Him, and you will receive forgiveness of your sins, and receive the Spirt of Christ in your hearts, that you might receive the blessing of God.