Setting

This is a bright and assuring passage in the epistle. In the previous passages, Paul explained that the law was a guardian that kept us for the faith to be revealed. Building on this analogy, Paul points out our identity as the sons of God through faith and our status as heirs to the promise. Being sons and heirs, we are not under bondage but have liberty in Christ.

Key Verse

(3:26)

Did You Know...?

Elements (4:3,9): “The Greek term meant essentially ‘things placed side by side in a row’ (as the ABCs) and then came to mean fundamental principles or basic elements of various kinds.” [ref]

Outline

  • Sons and Heirs in Christ
    (3:26-29)
  • Receiving the Adoption as Sons
    (4:1-7)
  • Warning against Turning Back to Worldly Elements
    (4:8-11)
  • Personal Appeal
    (4:12-20)
  • Abraham’s Two Sons
    (4:21-31)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    In which paragraph do you see Paul digressing from his line of argument? How is the tone of this paragraph very different?

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    In verses 12-20, Paul suddenly shifts from doctrinal arguments to
    personal appeal. He recalls the strong affection the Galatians once showed him, and he expresses his deep tender love for them.

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Segment Analysis

  • 3:26-29

    1.

    How does this paragraph relate to the previous paragraph?

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    Whereas the previous paragraph shows us our former status as a child under the guardianship of the law, this paragraph emphasizes our present status as sons through faith in Christ.

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  • 2a.

    Based on verses 26 and 27, what spiritual effects take place through baptism? Explain the meaning of these effects.

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    1. We become sons of God when we are baptized. We used to be dead in our sins. But through baptism, we have been raised with Christ to a new life through the remission of sins and regeneration (Col 2:11-13; Rom 6:3-4; Tit 3:4-5).

    2. Through baptism we are now in Christ, for we were baptized “into Christ” (27). To be in Christ means belonging to Christ (“you are Christ’s” in 29) and being able to partake of all the spiritual blessings
    in Christ, including eternal life (Rom 6:23; 2Tim 1:1), redemption (Rom 3:24), the love of God (Rom 8:39), sanctification (1Cor 1:2), new creation (2Cor 5:17; Eph 2:10), God’s grace and kindness (Eph 2:7; 2Tim 1:9; 2:1), consolation (Phil 2:1), joy (Phil 3:3), and salvation (2Tim 2:10).

    3. Through baptism we have put on Christ. In this context, putting on Christ means being found righteous in Christ (2Cor 5:21). By His atoning sacrifice, the righteousness of Christ covers our shame and we become righteous in God’s eyes. Having put on Christ, we have also put on a new identity as sons of God (Jn 1:12; cf. Lk 15:22).

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  • 2b.

    How does this passage refute the false teaching that baptism is a work of the law?

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    We are baptized into Christ through faith in Christ Jesus (26). Baptism is meaningless without faith in Christ, for it is the blood of Christ that washes our sins in baptism. This is why baptism naturally follows belief in Jesus Christ (Mk 16:16; Acts 8:35-38; 10:34-48; 16:30-33). If baptism is
    a work of the law, is Paul suggesting in verse 27 that we are in Christ by observing the law? The fact that he mentions baptism in discussing faith in Christ Jesus, which contrasts with the discussion on the law in the previous paragraph, shows that baptism is of faith and not of the law.

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  • 3a.

    According to 28, what has been removed among the believers in Christ?

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    In Christ all ethnic, social, and gender barriers are torn down (cf. Eph 2:11-16).

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  • 3b.

    How is this truth applicable to the problem that Paul was addressing?

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    By advocating the necessity of circumcision of observance of the law, the Judaizers have drawn a distinction between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. But Paul rebuts with the truth that all believers are one in Christ.

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  • 3c.

    How does this teaching apply to our life in the church today? Have you seen conducts or attitudes that are not in line with this teaching?

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  • 4:1-7

    4.

    What contrast does Paul set forth here?

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    He contrasts the heir as a child and the heir as a son.

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  • 5.

    In what sense are those under the law like an heir who is still a child?

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    They still remain under the guardianship of the law and live as slaves to the law.

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  • 6.

    What are the “elements of the world”?

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    These are regulations and observances that unbelievers, whether Jews or Greek, adhere to before they come to Christ. In 4:10, the elements include the observance of days and months and seasons and years.

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  • 7.

    What does it mean that the Son of God was born under the law?

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    The Lord Jesus came in the likeness of men and shared in our humanity (Phil 2:7; Rom 8:3; Heb 2:14-18). He was without sin, but He took upon Himself our transgressions and died under the curse of the law (Gal 3:13).

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  • 8.

    What does the phrase “adoption as sons” (5) suggest?

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    We are not born as sons of God because we were dead in our sins. Neither did we earn our sonship. In His mercy God chose to adopt us as His sons through the atonement of Christ.

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  • 9.

    How does verse 6 identify the Holy Spirit?

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    The Spirit of God’s Son. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 16:6-7). This contradicts the view that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are “distinct and coequal persons”.

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  • 10.

    According to this verse, what purpose does the Holy Spirit serve?

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    He is the seal God gives us to testify with our hearts that we are sons of God and heirs of the inheritance (Rom 8:14-17; 1Cor 1:21-22; 5:4-5; Eph 1:13-14).

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  • 4:8-11

    11a.

    Why are the elements of the world “weak and beggarly”?

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    They are weak because they are powerless to deliver us from sin and bring us righteousness (cf. Rom 8:3-4). They are beggarly because they have nothing to offer in comparison with the riches in Christ (Eph 2:7;3:8).

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  • 11b.

    In what sense is turning to these elements similar to serving false gods?

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    A believer in Christ who turns to the works of the law in order to find justification is like a pagan who hopes to please the gods with religious rituals nd observances.

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  • 12.

    Why does Paul add the phrase, “or rather are known by God” in verse 9 (cf. Nah 1:7; Jn 10:14; 15:16; Rom 5:8; 1Cor 8:3; 2Tim 2:19)?

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    Paul is reminding the Galatians that it was not by their own efforts that they came to know God, but that they have been called by God in His mercy and grace. Consequently, they should not turn back to the elements of the world in order to be justified by works.

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  • 13.

    In what ways could a believer make the mistake of the Galatians and serve God as if he is serving other gods?

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    If we ever forget that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and take pride in our dedication and offerings to God, then we are justifying ourselves on our own merits. This was what the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable did (Lk 18:9-14). Sometimes, it is easy to fall into a mere outward formality in serving God and find security in our own zeal but forget to come to Christ for mercy and help.

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  • 14.

    What is Paul’s fear for the Galatians?

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    He feared that the Galatians would forsake the grace of Christ and that his efforts in leading them to Christ would have been in vain (11).

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  • 4:12-20

    15.

    What does Paul mean by “I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (19)?

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    Although Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among the Galatians as crucified, they still do not fully know Christ. Paul calls his efforts to restore their faith as the pains of a second childbirth, the first being the hard work that led to their conversion (cf. 11).

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  • 16.

    What differentiates true servants of God and false teachers? What can we learn from Paul in this paragraph?

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    The false teachers zealously court the Galatians for self-interest, but Paul labors genuinely for the benefit of the believers. In this paragraph, we can learn much from the motherly love that Paul demonstrates toward the Galatians. He considers the Galatians his little children, and he is deeply anxious for their spiritual welfare. While reasoning with them on the truth, he cannot help but digress from his argument and speak to them tenderly, pleading with them to turn back from the deception of the false teachers.

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  • 4:21-31

    17.

    If you are not familiar with the background of Paul’s analogy, read Genesis chapters 16, 17, and 21. Identify all the sets of contrasts found in this paragraph.

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    The son by a bondwoman versus the son by a free woman; born according to the flesh versus born through promise; bondage versus freedom; the old covenant versus the new covenant; Jerusalem which now is versus the Jerusalem above; the desolate versus she who has a husband; born according to the flesh versus born according to the Spirit; being cast out versus being heir.

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  • 18a.

    What is the covenant from Mount Sinai?

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    This refers to God’s covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, which stated that if the Israelites kept God’s law, they would be God’s treasured possession (Ex 19:5). In other words, under the old covenant, which included the Old Testament law and regulations, obedience is the condition to a favorable standing with God.

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  • 18b.

    Why does it correspond to “Jerusalem which now is” (25)?

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    The historical Jerusalem was, and still is, the center of religion for the Jews (cf. Jn 4:20). Thus, the earthly Jerusalem represents the observance of Mosaic law.

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  • 19.

    How are those who keep the law like the son who was born according to the flesh?

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    Seeing that God’s promise had not come true, Sarah gave Abraham, Hagar the maidservant, through whom Abraham had a son. This decision was based on man’s device and effort in the same way that those who seek justification through the works of the law attempt to replace God’s promise with their own efforts.

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  • 20.

    What is the Jerusalem above? How is she free?

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    The Jerusalem above is the church, the assembly of believers in Christ (Heb 12:22-24). Those who are born of God through Christ are set free from the burden of attempting to become righteous through the works of the law. Instead, through faith in Jesus Christ, they are able to live a renewed life through the power of the Spirit (Rom 7:6).

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  • 21.

    What will be the consequence of those born according to the flesh?

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    They will be cast out and not have a share in the inheritance.

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