Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 9 (KJV)
Freedom as an Heir
Devotional Reading: Genesis 12:1–9
Background Scripture: Galatians 3:19–4:7
23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
4:1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. —Galatians 3:26
God’s Law Is Love
Unit 2: Faith Triumphs, Law Fails
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Restate the task of the law.
2. Compare and contrast conditions under the law with conditions in Christ Jesus.
3. State one way to express the reality of Galatians 4:7 to an unbeliever.
How to Say It
A From a Slave …
Until I was in high school, I believed that God relished the prospect of disciplining me and sending me to hell for my sins. Because of this wrong view of God, I tried to manage my works with a list of dos and don’ts. I wasn’t practicing a healthy rejection of evil, led by the Spirit; I was a slave to my own attempts to earn my salvation. This was my only relationship with God.
Paul’s words in today’s lesson had something to say to my young heart, and they yet speak to all of us as he puts the law in its proper context.
B. Lesson Context
In today’s printed text, Paul continued his efforts to instruct the Galatian Christians about the correct relationship between law and grace. Because of some false teachers called Judaizers, the churches in the province of Galatia were adding works of the law to the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6–10). Paul reflected on his own “exceedingly zealous” experience in Judaism (1:14) as he highlighted his inability to follow the law to the point of justification (2:15–21; see lesson 7). Through Christ, the promise of salvation had been revealed to the whole world (3:6–9; see lesson 8). Paul went on to show the unifying nature of that salvation for all who would believe in Christ.
Because of Paul’s preaching of the gospel of grace, some of his opponents accused him of acting in contradiction to the Old Testament (example: Acts 18:12–13). While Paul presented the new message of grace without apology, he also readily acknowledged that there was a purpose for the old Law of Moses. He strenuously maintained that the new is superior, but that the old had a vital purpose in God’s plan.
Galatians 3:15–22 (immediately preceding our printed text) focuses on the illustration of Abraham’s (singular) seed. It is in Christ alone that God fulfilled the law. And this fulfillment did not do away with the promises God made; far from it! Instead, Jesus was the means by which God made good on the promises to Abraham and his descendants. In 3:21–22, Paul focused on the limitation of the law, namely that it could not impart righteousness or life.
- Abraham’s Seed
A. Before Faith (vv. 23–24)
23. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
Unto has the sense of “until,” as in Ephesians 1:14. The Greek word translated kept is best understood here as guarding or shielding (compare Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:5). Though it could refer to being held in custody against one’s will (compare 2 Corinthians 11:22), Paul uses a different word entirely to discuss his imprisonments (6:5; compare Hebrews 11:36; 1 Peter 3:19). This might imply that the law served as a restraint, showing the extent of sin through Scripture (see Galatians 3:22, not in our printed text). We are so constrained because we are in fact guilty of sin. Every human being has been confined to a place on death row (Romans 5:12).
The faith (an appropriate translation for both instances of “faith” here) refers to a body of doctrine to be believed (see Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 1:27; 1 Timothy 6:21; Titus 1:13; Jude 3). More than a personal response, this is the set of truths that constitute the gospel. Believers were kept safe under the law, waiting for the gospel which should afterwards be revealed.
24. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
A schoolmaster was a man put in charge of a young boy by his parents. The man’s role can be described as that of a tutor and mentor, like a coach looking to form the young boy from about age 6 into a wise, knowledgeable young man of about 16. This schoolmaster oversaw the boy’s development primarily outside of the classroom, ensuring that tasks related to both schooling and household chores were accomplished properly. This position was frequently filled by a trusted slave.
This illustrates how the law played a key role in the development of God’s people, and it was a time-limited role. No one could be justified under the Law of Moses (Acts 13:39). The law’s purpose was never to save anyone; it was to show the need for the one who can save everyone. Because the law could do only so much, God sent His Son to fulfill the requirements of the law (see Romans 8:1–4). The work of Christ was the culmination of God’s plan for our salvation; placing our faith in Him is the success of the schoolmaster. Now that Christ has come, we do not look to the law as a way to be in right standing before God; rather, we look to Christ as “the end of the law for righteousness” (10:4).
Destination in View
In 1856, William Rand opened a printing shop in Chicago. Two years later, he hired an Irish immigrant named Andrew McNally, who later became his business partner. The first Rand McNally® railroad guide was published in 1869, followed by a highway map in 1904.
I remember Rand McNally maps from road trips with my grandparents. Every year they would take me, my brother, and our cousins on our annual trip. My grandma sat in the front passenger seat with the Rand McNally book occupying all the space between her and the dash. As Grandpa drove, she prepared him for every lane change and exit necessary to get us to our Tennessee mountain destination.
The Rand McNally map that guided our route on family vacations has now been superseded by the GPS features in our cars. Either might be likened to how the law was intended to guide people to the Messiah. Now that we have reached our destination in Jesus, what role does that “map” play in your faith? What role should it play? —J. M.
B. Faith in Christ (vv. 25–29)
25. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. Paul’s Galatian audience held that justification was a “both/and” construct. Their understanding of justification required both following the law and expressing faith in Christ. To correct that error, Paul highlighted the superiority and finality of faith in bringing justification. Now that Christ has come, the schoolmaster—the law—is no longer required. It is “out of work” once we come to Christ and discover the freedom that He alone can provide. At that point, we have “matured” to where we are part of God’s family.
What Do You Think?
What rules from your childhood have you discarded as an adult?
What did you learn from those rules? What lasting value have those lessons had in your life?
26. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
The false teachers in Galatia would have strenuously opposed Paul’s statement here. It was one thing to say that Gentiles did not need to follow the law, the Judaizers’ first point of contention. But to say Jews also need not obey the law would be heretical to the teachers.
Jews believed that children of God was a designation that belonged to them alone as they were God’s chosen people who followed the law (example: Deuteronomy 14:1–2). And to be fair, the term never had applied to Gentiles before. But God’s promises were always intended to come through Israel to the world, not stop with this one group of people (Galatians 3:8). Through faith in Christ Jesus all can equally be called children of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:14–16).
Paul had much more to say about faith as it relates to salvation. But right now, the summary statement we see here is sufficient for the line of argument he is establishing.
27. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Baptism is the ritual of being dipped in water, first practiced by John the Baptist. In the Jewish culture of the day, people purified themselves ceremonially by dipping themselves in water. John’s actions, however, were different in procedure and significance. Regarding procedure, the person receiving baptism did not dip herself or himself. Rather, another performed the dipping action on the recipient. Regarding significance, John’s baptism was one “of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). By contrast, Christian baptism was administered in the name of Jesus for receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1–6). We see these elements in Peter’s exhortation on the Day of Pentecost that followed Jesus’ resurrection: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (2:38; compare Matthew 28:19).
Circumcision had previously been the physical marker of whether a man was included in Israel’s covenant relationship with God. Baptism levelled the playing field not only between Jewish and Gentile men, but women as well (see commentary on Galatians 3:28, below). It is the common experience of all believers (compare Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3–4). Baptism thus is a powerful expression of the equality and unity of Christ’s followers. None are able to cleanse themselves, even those who had grown up following God’s law. All rely utterly on Christ’s cleansing. None can look to previous Israelite identity as credentials for inheriting eternal life. Rather, all must look to Christ’s death and resurrection.
To put on Christ is to be clothed in Him. Jesus’ “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) has replaced our “filthy rags” (64:6). As we grow in the Christian life, we should become more and more like Christ and more comfortable wearing His wardrobe (compare Romans 13:14). Christians are not defined by ancestral heritage or former practices but by Christ’s gracious forgiveness and gift of new life. Though we may look and act differently from one another, we all wear the same spiritual clothing. It is the uniform of the gospel that speaks of Christ alone (compare Isaiah 61:10).
In Christ, barriers are broken down. Together we are a new creation, transformed through the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:10–11). Lines of division regarding access to salvation are dissolved in Christ, and Paul used three important examples to emphasis this.
What Do You Think?
What helps you remember every day that you are clothed in Christ?
What is one article of spiritual clothing you still wear that doesn’t “go” with the outfit of Christ?
28a. There is neither Jew nor Greek.
First, Paul addressed concerns of ethnic and cultural divisions as centered on the Law of Moses. Of main concern for a Jew was adherence to the law, notably the law’s prescriptions for circumcision and the Judaizers’ intent to bind Gentiles (Greeks) to it (see Acts 15:1). But in the Christian era, physical circumcision as a covenant sign is no longer applicable for God’s people (Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 7:18–19; Galatians 5:6; 6:15).
28b. There is neither bond nor free.
Second, the structure of the Roman Empire required an economy of slavery. In the structure of God’s economy of salvation, though, the servant in bondage and the free person have equal access; both can find eternal life in Christ Jesus. Under Christ, a bondservant was to be counted as “a brother beloved” (Philemon 16).
28c. There is neither male nor female.
Paul’s third statement was not meant to disregard obvious gender differences or address varied beliefs on the roles of men and women. Rather, Paul addressed the issue of equal access to salvation, given the context of the passage at hand (see more on Galatians 3:29, below). In many cultures, the vulnerability of women becomes a basis for men to take positions of privilege. Such inequality of access includes the customs of inheritance: women typically did not inherit property in the Greco-Roman world of the first century AD. The fact that there is neither male nor female means that everyone has the same opportunity of an eternal inheritance (Acts 20:32).
28d. For ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Divisions that result from living in a fallen world, including those that vex us yet today, are overcome by the gospel. Oneness in Christ Jesus means we treat each other with absolute love and respect as equal heirs of salvation. Our differences have no bearing on one’s access to or standing in Christ. We serve as one body (Romans 12:4–8; 1 Corinthians 12:12–27).
What Do You Think?
Over the years, how has the Holy Spirit changed your heart regarding divisions that exist between people within the body of Christ?
Does that change of heart extend beyond the church? Why or why not?
29. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The word ye addresses all the baptized believers who are united in Christ. Abraham’s seed previously referred only to his physical, Jewish descendants (compare Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8). But union with Christ has made all believers heirs according to God’s promise (Genesis 12:2–3; Romans 4; 8:16–17). Being in Christ implies having full access to the promise of His blessing.
What Do You Think?
If you met Abraham today, how would you describe your experience of the blessings that God promised would come to Abraham’s seed?
How do you extend the invitation to experience God’s blessings to people who are not currently Abraham’s heirs?
- God’s Children
A. Underage Heirs (vv. 1–3)
1–2. Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
These verses take up the analogy from Galatians 3:24–25, above, to further illustrate the nature of God’s plan. Paul did so by picturing an underage child who will eventually inherit the father’s property. The underage person is treated as a servant although at the same time he be lord of all, having already been designated as the heir who will control the property. In Roman custom, an heir lacked control over family property until he reached the age of majority, around 25. The tutors and governors—like the “schoolmaster” of Galatians 3:24—exercised authority until then.
3. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.
Paul now made the comparison: like those who are underage, the Galatian Christians had lived not as heirs, but in bondage under the elements of the world. What exactly Paul is referring to as he uses that phrase is difficult to determine; see also Galatians 4:9 and Colossians 2:8, 20, where Paul uses the same Greek word that is translated here as “elements.” We derive the English word stochastic (meaning “random”) from this word, but that doesn’t really help determine what Paul means. Some students think that the word elements refers to the supernatural powers or forces regarded as having control over the events of this world, considering Paul’s uses of this word in passages just noted.
Others think that the word elements in this particular context means “something that is basic or elementary,” such as learning one’s ABCs. In the specific context of Judaizers in Galatia, these elementary things would refer to the teachings of the Law of Moses. The past tense were implies that this bondage should be over (see commentary on Galatians 4:4, below).
B. Grown Heirs (vv. 4–7)
4. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.
The word but introduces a contrast as the fulness of time was reached—the time for Old Testament prophecies to be fulfilled (see Genesis 12:3; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 9:6–7; Mark 1:15; Ephesians 1:10). The contrast is with the era of childhood, described above. Because the Galatian believers were living when God had fulfilled His purposes with the Law of Moses, its regulations were of the past. There was no reason for Christians—whether of Jewish or Gentile background—to listen to those who insisted on submission to its distinctives in order to receive salvation in Christ (compare Mark 7:19; Colossians 2:16–23; etc.).
The Son is divine, eternal, and had been sent with purpose (John 1:1, 14; 3:16–19; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 1:16; Philippians 2:6–8; Colossians 1:15–18). Made under the law affirms that Jesus was subject to the Mosaic law (example: Luke 2:22–24).
5. To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
To redeem means “to buy back” (see Leviticus 25:25–55). In that regard, Jesus’ ministry was twofold. First, He rescued us from the tyranny of the law, under which we stood condemned because of our sin. But He did not do that merely to send us out on our own; He has also adopted us into His family. We were once outside of the special relationship with God and its blessings, but now we stand to inherit the promises and their blessings as His children (Romans 8:15, 23). The use of the word sons does not exclude women from the family of God since male and female are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28; also 4:6–7, below).
What Do You Think?
What practical difference has being adopted into God’s family made in your life?
How does your adoption into God’s family affect how you interact with your earthly family?
A Selfless Act
My midwestern family learned that native Alaskan culture emphasizes respecting one’s elders and living off the land. Both of these cultural values are demonstrated when a boy enters manhood. The boy would have learned to hunt and fish at a young age. So when the father decides his son is old enough, Dad takes him out to shoot his first moose. The son, now grown, gives all the meat away to an elder in his village or town. In this way, the son demonstrates his maturity through a selfless and generous act. The underlying principle is that “boys think of themselves, and men think of others.”
Through His Son, God the Father gave us something far superior to a freezer full of moose meat. In the greatest of all selfless acts, Jesus came to redeem us by paying the sin price on our behalf. What selfless acts does our Father desire of us as we enter adulthood in His family? —J. M.
6. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
The same language of sending his Son in Galatians 4:4 (above) is used of sending forth the Spirit. To Paul and other biblical writers, the heart is where our will resides, as well as our emotions (Mark 7:20–23; etc.). The work of the Spirit of his Son in our hearts is to transform us into Christ’s image by reshaping our very desires (Romans 8:9–10).
The efficacy of our adoption is seen in the intimate language of crying to the Father. Abba is the warm, familial word used in the household for a father. It is a term of endearment and closeness (compare Mark 14:36). As children of God, we can go to God with such endearing language.
7. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Paul summarized everything he has said so far, and he applied it to each individual who is in Christ. Anyone who is redeemed in Christ and has His Spirit is redeemed from a state like that of a servant to that of, not only a son, but an heir to the Father’s glorious inheritance. We are recipients of God’s promises now and through eternity.
A. … To a Son
In my freshman year of high school, I went to a camp that described Jesus in a new way. This teaching depicted God—my Father—as one who loved me very much. This God would forgive me and never abandon me. This teaching was good news! When I surrendered to Jesus, I realized I had been a slave to a works-based salvation, a slave to sin, a slave to fear, and a slave to “trying hard, but never sure.”
But the situation is not hopeless. A pardon has been provided through the death of Jesus. In Christ, I am free from this anguish. And you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, enjoy the same status I do. We are loved; we are our Father’s children. Our new status is a result of this relationship. The Spirit lives in our hearts to confirm this. God had a plan from the beginning, and regardless of who you once were, in Christ you are made right with God. You have been bought with a price and adopted as His child. We are not to be slaves to law, traditions, cultural norms, or other restrictions; we are free through faith in Jesus Christ to live fully as the heirs of God’s promise.
Father, forgive us for the times where we act as if You are not enough. Thank You for the new identity that You give us by loving us and making us Your children. Help us to live in the promise that You give us through faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Whoever we are, wherever we come from, we can be children of God through Christ.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2023-2024 (pp. 208-226). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.