Redeemed from the Law

SynopsisThe Law was an interim stage; by design, it had a termination point. Christian believers are no longer “under the Law” - They are “in Christ" - Galatians 4:1-7

Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash
Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash
In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Galatians, Paul continues his argument by stressing that adopting the rite of circumcision would constitute regression to something rudimentary, a reversion to an earlier stage in Redemptive History (Galatians 4:1-7).

The adoption of a Torah-compliant lifestyle means a return to a minority status and the reintroduction of social divisions. Not only so, but it also constitutes enslavement under the “elemental” forces of the old era that were superseded by the arrival of the Messiah. “Elemental principles” translates a single Greek noun, stoicheion, a term that refers to the basic components that comprise a larger whole. Its sense is something that is “elemental, a first principle, rudimentary” (Strong’s #G4747).

In Greek literature, stoicheion refers to the elemental principles of art, science, and discipline. From this came the idea of “elementary principles.” It could refer to a single letter, a part of a word or phrase. It conveys the idea of something rudimentary and simple.
To adopt circumcision now that Jesus has come is to regress to something that is rudimentary and incomplete. It is comparable to an adult who, though he possesses his inheritance, chooses to return to minority status under the custodianship of a pedagogue.
By “elemental principles,” Paul has in view the regulations of the Mosaic Law. This is borne out by his usage of stoicheion in verses 9-10 where he describes Jewish calendrical observances: “but now that ye have come to know God…how turn you back again to the weak and beggarly elemental principles (stoicheion), unto which you desire to be in bondage over again? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.”

For a Gentile to submit to the regulations of the Torah is tantamount to returning to the elemental teachings of the pagan society from which God had delivered them through faith in His son. Likewise, Jesus freed Jewish believers from being under the regulations of the Torah. Its requirements were needed during Israel's minority but not after the promised "seed," the Messiah, had arrived. Non-Jewish Christians should not, therefore, submit to the rituals that Jewish followers of Jesus were no longer required to keep.

God sent forth his Son, having come to be from woman, having come to be under law.” Jesus was born a Jew under the covenant obligations of the Torah until the fullness of time came. Once more, Paul sets temporal limits on the Law’s jurisdiction.

Jesus came in order to redeem them “who were under the Law, so that they could receive the adoption of sons.” This refers to Jews and, especially, to Jewish Christians. The need for redemption implies that being “under the Law” was tantamount to bondage. Paul’s previous statement is conceptually parallel:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, CURSED IS EVERY ONE THAT HANGS ON A TREE: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14). 

The result of this redemptive act is “adoption.” Men and women are not “children” of God by birth but, instead, by adoption. All human beings are God’s creation but not all are His children. Jews, likewise, became sons by adoption; they do not automatically attain that position because of their biological ancestry (Romans 8:15-23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).

Because Gentile Christians became God’s sons, He sent the “Spirit of his Son into your hearts” (Verse 6). This rounds off the argument that began by pointing out they had received the Spirit while in an uncircumcised state (Galatians 3:1-4).
Throughout his long argument bear in mind that Paul is addressing a specific set of "works," the "works of the Law," and not good works or human effort in general.

The phrasing, the “spirit of his Son,” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit to mold the believer’s life into the image of Jesus Christ. What greater proof of their acceptance into God’s covenant community could the Galatians possess?

The Apostle Paul concludes his entire argument in the statement, “So that you are no longer a bondservant but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God”; all who are “in Christ” are “heirs.” Since already they are heirs of the Promise apart from the “works of the Law,” why do they now seek what the Law could never deliver?

Throughout the argument, the temporal factor is prominent. The Law was an interim stage; by design, it had a termination point. Christian believers are, consequently, no longer “under the Law” but, instead, they are “in Christ.”


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