8 September 2014Galatians 4:4-7
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (vv. 4-7)
Imagine what it would be like to receive a letter telling you that your deeply-held religious beliefs are not just ill-informed, but fundamentally wrong, and that your cherished relationship with God is nothing of the sort. "Your understanding of the 'gospel' is fatally flawed; your revered church leaders are, at best, hypocrites; your religious rules, regulations and rituals are rubbish; you're bewitched, cursed, fools and enslaved to evil spirits; why don't you just go and mutilate yourselves?" Paul was very angry!
Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia (modern eastern Turkey) was written to a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. The Jewish Christians, it seems, kept themselves apart from the Gentile Christians and regarded themselves as superior, wanting to impose their kind of Jewish Christianity on the rest. Being Jewish already, and living by Jewish law (Torah), they believed gave them a head start as Christians. They couldn't have been more wrong!
In today's passage, Paul is addressing these Jewish Christians, those 'under the law'. And he is telling them that God sent their Jewish messiah, Jesus, in order to give them a new status and identity as God's adopted children, transformed by the Spirit and heirs of God's kingdom - an identity and status that, crucially, they shared equally with Gentile Christians. To emphasise his point, he tells them that their pride in their imagined religious superiority is a kind of slavery, from which Jesus has freed them. For Paul, all that mattered was that Jesus was the supreme authority on earth, greater even than the Roman emperor, and that Jesus had been raised from the dead, making possible a new way of being human. Religious regulations, rules and rituals no longer mattered. And so all God's adopted and transformed children are equal before God.
- "... because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" If Paul was right, what might this mean in terms of actual experience?
- If Paul was also right that religious regulations, rules and rituals no longer matter, what might he make of Christianity today?
- The Torah-keeping Galatian Jewish Christians would have thought of themselves as sincere 'Bible-believers'. Yet Paul regarded their commitment to Scripture as a kind of slavery. Should Christians believe in a book, or a person? What might Paul say to 'Bible-believing Christians' today?