This letter was all about assuring these Gentiles that they are justified before God through faith in Christ Jesus. Their assurance comes from discovering they are looking at God as their Father in that kind of intimate, caring, expectant way we look at our Dad. This declaration of their acceptability hinges on the suffering of Jesus. Justification is tied directly to the cross endured Jesus who claimed to be the One promised to Abraham and to even Adam. Now they, pagan Gentiles, who have never lived according to the Old Testament law, are adopted into the family of God. They are sons with all the rights and privileges children have. They have inherited the blessings of the promises–to live in relationship with God as if they had never sinned and were not sinning now. And to cap it off, they have a Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord Jesus Christ promised would come (John 16:7-13). Paul said,” …so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14).
All the law given to Moses does not cancel out this promise given to Abraham. “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Gal. 3:18). The reason the law was given was that after 400 years surrounded by Egyptian worship of sun and other idolotry, the law was useful to reveal their sinfulness and cause them to fear and respect God (Exodus 20:18-21). They also needed visual images of the promised Christ’s blood being shed for them found in the sacrificial system. They would vividly see their own sin and need of a Savior through their failure to keep all the Ten Commandments. (We do too!) They would experience some of the majesty of God through the festivals and special days. They would come to know something of their own uncleaness through the dietary laws. The principle that some things were clean; some unclean became a part of their life. They would be, like children, protected from themselves by the limits set by their parents. Paul’s argument was that the law was like a Trustee or Guardian. The promise of Christ was kept in a legal Trust–riches reserved for them when they came of age. They could look forward to getting it. But, like children whose rich parents die leaving everything to them, they could not spend the money yet. They had to grow up first. Paul’s argument is that the promise of the blessings in Christ Jesus are like that–kept in trust until He came (4:1-7). Their responsibility was to accept this discipline and look forward to Christ’s coming. Moses, Joshua, and Caleb certainly did that.
The question Paul asked is: Why would you want to go back to those kind of restrictions now? You have been justified by faith. The promised One has come. He has died for you. You are no longer unclean! You have the Holy Spirit. You were not Jews, but you were living as slaves or children under guardian restrictions when you were pagans. He extends his argument to their Gentile experiences. You might have worshiped the Greek gods like Athena or participated in some other system seeking to pacify the gods. You were a slave to ceremony, rituals, diets, special religious days, astrology perhaps. Why return to that kind of system by adopting the rituals, circumcism, and diets of the Jews? You will be restricted again, enslaved. “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal: 4:9). By adding anything to your faith, you are returning to your pagan traditions or adopting Jewish laws which were meant to be object lessons so everyone could understand the gospel. God gave the law to show us all our sin and our need of a Savior and to give us visual images to learn more about Him.
Be very clear about one thing. Paul was not talking in this passage about how we might become more like Jesus and show the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, kindness, self-control. This passage is not about the process of growing more like Christ Jesus. Here he was attempting to stop teachers adding some law or ritual to justification by faith alone. What a joy to know we will live forever in relationship with God, being legally declared holy and acceptable to Him now and forever. Those of faith are sons, not slaves or children living under the restrictions of a legal document. They are in possession now of the inheritance–the promises of God made real to our heart by the Holy Spirit. We can live with those promises at our disposal. We can pray, knowing God hears us and is faithful to keep all His promises. We can intercede with God for others while “Standing on the promises of God my King; ….” as the old devotional hymn reminds us. We are free to stand on these promises–to spend our inheritance, so to speak. Paul’s application of this principle was, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). Reject the teaching of those who urge you to add something to faith. Don’t become a child again, living under a system of rules. Don’t be a slave again to someone’s false view of salvation. Being right with God is through faith alone; nothing added. Baptism won’t cut it. You will never be good enough, no matter how hard you try. Stand firm; be a woman of faith.
May I recommend two books: The Law and the Gospel by Ernest Reisinger (P and R Publishing, Philipsburg, New Jersey, 1997). ( I helped him proofread it.) http://www.cvbbs.com
The Chequekbook of the Bank of Faith by Charles Spurgeon (there are many editions out; Banner of Truth Trust; Moody Press). He shows you how to make the promises your own and urges you to cash in on them.