Galatians 4:1-20 (AD 48)
Before Jesus came to earth, God made hundreds of promises over hundreds of years, about the Messiah who would come to save his people. The people’s trust and love, evidenced by obedience, brought prosperity to the Jewish people in the Promised Land. However, it all rested on a promise. Countless people died trusting God, per Hebrews 11, knowing that for their trust to be rewarded, God still needed to fulfil the promise he made. They were safe with God only if God came through with a perfect Messiah, who would live a perfect life, who would die as a substitute, and who would be raised to life to conquer sin.
The faith they died with wasn’t an optimism but a certainty that, based on his long track record of fulfilling short-term promises, that God would fulfil his ultimate, long-term promise.
However, during the period before Jesus, although God in his eternal providence had decreed their sins would be forgiven, there was not yet a legal justification. The sins had not been paid for because Jesus had not yet paid for them.
That’s why Paul wrote that “when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world” (v.3). The Law cannot save a sinful person – it could only condemn them. And thus everyone was legally condemned until Jesus’ mission was complete. After that point, the Law of the written code that could only condemn, was replaced by the Law of Grace that saved. The reward for our sin was removed and put on Jesus, and the reward for his righteousness was granted to us in its place. The Galatians then and us now, enter into that state of grace, knowing that our good deeds cannot save us, but Christ has saved us. The security that comes with that knowledge we are heirs of God, of being his adopted children, should bring us joy and freedom.
Except the Galatians were turning their back on it. Nervous about grace, awkward about the idea of apparently getting everything without earning it, they turned their backs on the gospel. Encouraged by the Judaisers they went back to the slavery of the Law: trying to be perfect to earn their place with God. And in so doing, they were at risk of dooming themselves.
This was so dumb, so self-defeating and such a 180 degree turn from the gospel they accepted through Paul’s teaching, that he wondered whether “somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (v.11).
The same thing repeats itself today. Religious people, and those with rule-keeping instincts, all want to be good enough to get a divine pat on the back. All of them rely either on the delusion of thinking themselves worthy, or fall into the self-aware despair of knowing they’re not. Either way, they’re lost – without God forever.
Be saddened by your sin, yes. But be free in your mind and heart by knowing that God has dealt with all of it and none of it can hurt you. Rejoice in the grace that wasn’t free or cheap to the one who paid the ultimate price, but costs you nothing.