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Galatians 4:1-5:1 Sermon Notes

By August 22, 2021Sermon Notes

Don Henley (you may know him as former lead singer for the Eagles) had a hit song in 1989 entitled “The End of the Innocence”

Songs are often musical expressions of widely held cultural worldviews.

There is a larger historical context to the song: 1989, Reagan Era, Iran/Contra, soon fall of the Soviet Union…probably not as much as right now, but lots of national division and disillusionment.

And for Henley personally, he was 42, and probably entering into what has been called “mid-life crisis”…not all experience this time of disillusionment but many do.

Life is not what he thought it would be…and he had by then, lots of experience with difficulties and disillusioning experiences….more would follow in his life.

But to the song itself…here’s the first line…

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by
When “happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

*So, the childish illusions of happiness…fail as the family dissolves.

He then goes to the refrain…which describes, essentially…do what feels good because this is the end of the innocence.

In the next line, he describes how politics and the promise of America have also proven to be a lie…so you have family level, national/international level

But behind it all is the unspoken view…the view of God…which is absent from this worldview

He sings in the refrain again…and he sings of redemption…but its purely a human redemption…self-redemption, through self-service.

“Oh, but I know a place where we can go and wash away this sin…”

You might say, “It’s just a song and an old one at that.”

Again, songs, especially like this one…communicate a commonly held world-view…and this one has not gone away…it has evolved.

Don’t trust happiness, don’t trust promises, don’t trust authority, don’t trust innocence.

Do trust yourself…do what you want.

Because what is brilliant, what is cool, what is enlightened…is to be the cynic.

And cynics cast off what they once held true…for something new…even if it is empty and actually, not new at all.

This is enticing to those who are bored with life and plodding and the ordinary and the failure of promises and hype…who have become disillusioned by what they see and experience.

Sometimes rightly so… we must be dissed of illusions…but we must not simply trade one illusion for another.

Lots of people becoming disillusioned…always have been…but sadly, trading illusion for illusion.

Today, we are in Galatians chapter 4…the Galatians, very quickly, had been influenced by what was “new” to them…but not new at all…really they were trading one illusion for another.

They were going backwards to the old slavery…but getting there by a slightly different path.

Bondage to idolatry…to a new slavery, law keeping to earn what could not be earned.

Background on Galatians in case you are just now joining us:

  1. New Christians in a region in Turkey(Galatia) were being told they must keep Jewish law in order to be fully accepted in God’s family.
  1. Paul writes this letter, telling them that this is retreating back into slavery…the attempt to be right with God through law keeping is impossible…it was never God’s plan.
  1. Relationship with God has always been by faith; the law was never intended to make us righteous…it cannot do that.

Chapter four, he continues the contrast between the freedom (of faith) and the slavery (of law keeping).

Before we jump into this chapter:

-Important to walk across a cultural/historical bridge between now and when Paul wrote.

DA Carson writes about the difference between our idea of slavery now versus that of the first century, in the commentary on Galatians that he edited, “Christ has set us free.”

Carson writes…Thomas Sowell, African American scholar, pointed out that every major world culture practiced some kind of slavery until the evangelical awakening (Europe and then America).

Hittites, Chinese, Egyptians, African, European…slavery was ubiquitous in the world.

In Paul’s day you could become a slave in different ways…two very different ways, for instance, were…

  1. As a result of your country losing a war
  2. As a result of being unable to repay a loan (no bankruptcy laws)

Two things followed on these facts:

  1. Slaves were not identified with a particular race:

-Jews, Italians, Africans…who were slaves, free, noble.

  1. Slavery was not necessarily associated with menial tasks.

-An upper-class businessperson could have lost everything and have been forced to sell himself into slavery to someone with less education and mental gifts but more money.

-Slaves were teachers, scholars, businesspeople.

*Jesus, is his parable of the talents, tells of the master who consigns his money to slaves to invest for him…these slaves…were investors were highly skilled.

One thing is common to all forms of slavery: They must do what they are told

This is important to understand because in the Gal. 4:1-7 there are two groups of people considered to be slaves.

Minors, who were “slave like”

Slaves, actual slaves

The first group: Minors who are slave-like

These are the underage who, because of their youth, have no real freedom yet.

Galatians 3 made the point that the “law” served as a “guardian” (child tutor) until Christ came…now that Christ had come, they are no longer under a guardian.

He picks up the same mental picture here…let’s read it.

4 What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Minors are like slaves…not free adults yet.

They are not slaves in the legal sense, but in the sense that they must do as they are told.

**Sometimes when I am out with one of my daughters, they will they say something like…“I think I’m going to order a latte” or “I think I’ll get some pie”…

…and I have been known to say, jokingly, “Do whatever you want, your grown.”

But in fact, they are grown and they don’t have to get my permission to eat pie whenever they want like they did when they were children.

Israel was like a minor, under the guardianship of the law until the “time had fully come”

When Christ came, he made them full heirs of the promise…the law as a guardian was no longer needed.

In verse 6 Paul turns his attention to the Gentiles who have become Christians (versus the Jews)

6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you ALSO an heir.

You Gentiles are no longer slaves, you have been adopted as sons of God.

It was most common, at the time, to adopt grown sons and daughters…heirs to run the family estate.

*When we think of adoption, we tend to think of babies or children…that wasn’t most common then.

So, both groups of slaves: Jews who were minors and had no real freedom and Gentiles who really were slaves…have now become full sons and daughters of God.

Key principle here: The Christian faith is not a bunch of rituals and oppressive rules(slavery) but a  relationship with the living God (mature sons and daughters)

Paul addresses these former “spiritual slaves” and asks…“Why do you want to trade a new slavery for an old one?”

You were slaves to idols and all the “weak and miserable principles” that accompany idolatry.

Remember, they were from a “pagan” background…and that would have involved all kinds of strange forms of idol worship and appeasement.

*So, they had lived trying to appease these fake gods by ritual and sacrifice and effort…never knowing if you had offended some fickle supernatural being.

*I was in Tibet years ago and I saw men literally crawling for miles and miles trying appease gods/spirits…it was sad to watch.

The main Temple of Tibetan Buddhism, was placed on the heart of the demoness who was believed to controlled the land and suppress their religion.

-There is no personal, live giving, relationship with idols…only this transactional thing that doesn’t bring life or freedom. 

Now, after having found freedom in Christ from that idolatry…the Galatians were being drawn into OT law keeping…for example…observing days, months, seasons and years…in order to appease God.

It is just trading one form of slavery for another…idol appeasing for law keeping.

But both are just “natural forms of human religion”…and they enslave, they don’t set people free.

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

He continues to plead with them…for them.

  1. Do not reject the gospel that has set you free for a return to slavery


  1. Do not reject me for these who are trying to drag you back into slavery.

12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.

“I became like you” (I gave up reliance on the law as the way to be right with God…in essence, I became like a Gentile who doesn’t have the law)

“Now, you must become like me” (Likewise, give up law keeping as a way to be right with God)

Then a personal appeal.

You have done me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

He reminded them of their history together…how their hearts had been knit together in the trials of illness, sacrifice and shared life together. 

Now, they are the verge of throwing this away just because Paul was challenging them to not believe what is not true.

*This past two years have magnified something that has always been a part of sinful human relationships:

-Two people can forge a trust friendship in the fires of everyday life together.

-They can walk together through illness, difficulty, sacrifice, and loss

-This is not a friendship based merely on chit chat at Starbucks…but true battle buddies.

-Then, strangely…they can differ on a theological, cultural, political, personal issue…and suddenly…they are enemies.

The bonds forged in the fires of real life…are broken, over what?

*I am not exaggerating…this is literally happening in the lives of people I know…probably in some of your lives.

Very sad…

Paul is challenging them to reconsider…their relationship with him…versus these zealots who haven’t shared life together with them like he has.

17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

When people give their lives to Christ it is common for one or more of three things to happen soon afterwards:

  1. An opportunity for a move to a different location
  2. An opportunity for new relationship (single, it is often a romantic relationship with non-believer, or non-growing believer)
  3. A false gospel of some kind…unbiblical teaching…that turns their head.

These are the enemy’s common strategies to undermine new found faith.

These teachers were full of zeal…they brought a new cool relationship, with a false gospel.

But what drove their zeal was they were self-centered (they are zealous for you so you will become zealous for them.

Paul, on the other hand…had a zeal for others to be fully loyal to Christ…not to him.

He uses a very graphic analogy to describe his desire for them…he is the pains of childbirth…until Christ is formed in them.

That is, until they are mature in their faith and are enjoying full freedom in Christ…he hurts, deeply for them.

So, contrast the cool teachers…throwing around theological ideas…full of misguided and self-serving zeal.

With Paul…who hurts with them and for them…which one will you believe?

***By the way…consider why it is true (if it is true) that you would give more credence to what someone you have never met, and have no idea as to how they actually live their life says than the person you actually know…

Why a stranger who is essentially a “talking head” (or digital head online) has more influence than those around you that you have seen live their lives authentically and faithfully (not perfectly).

Why do you trust that blogger, that website, that distance theologian…over the person right next to you?

“Well they are smarter than my friend, group leader.”

You don’t know them, learn from them, if there is something to learn…but trust the person God has put in your life.

*This whole, “the expert is always from out of town syndrome”…has been around a long time.

Jesus said “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own town.”

He wasn’t saying this is good…it’s actually quite dumb.

But this is part of what happened with the Galatians and Paul…it was silly.

In verse 21-31 he is going to use the Old Testament narrative to contrast slavery and freedom

He is writing to those with little or no knowledge of the Old Testament, who were being impressed by those who came turning their heads and hearts away from gospel freedom by quoting the Old Testament…mis quoting it…or out of its larger context.

Paul, would have always been the smartest guy in any room in regards to the OT law…so he is using his skill and knowledge here to help them live free.

Here’s his interesting way of doing that…he writes, “If you read the Law (Pentateuch) you find patterns of pairs (contrasts)

First: Two sons and two women.

21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.

Some were hearing this story for the first time, some knew it…just a bit.

Abraham was promised a son by God…he doubted God because he and Sarai were quite old.

“What I minute, I thought Abraham believed God?”

He did…until he didn’t…sounds like us, doesn’t it?

He slept with his wife’s slave, Hagar, and had a son.

Later, Sara became pregnant, and also had a son.

*It is important to know…he is using Biblical history to demonstrate a lasting principle.

-He is not disparaging Hagar and God did not cast her aside.

If you read the story in Genesis, you find that after Hagar, the Egyptian slave became pregnant…then jealous Sarai began to mistreat her.

Hagar, fled to desert…pregnant, rejected, alone(she thought)…God ministered to her and promised to take care of her and her son.

This unseen, unwed, pregnant slave is the first one in the Bible to call God by a personal name…she says  you are “El Roi…the God who sees me.”

*Side note…you don’t have to live “unseen”…no matter what you feel about what you have done or what has been done to you… he is the God who sees you.

Anyway…he sets up his point with this historical illustration:  Two women, two Sons.

One born the “natural way”: meaning easily explained by human action: Hagar was of child bearing age, no miracle required. This is the slave woman and her child.

The other born by the “promise”: Only God could have done this.  Sarah is way past child bearing age.

Okay…got it Paul.

Now he adds other pairs.

The slave woman Hagar and her son Ishmael, are paired with , the Old Covenant from Mount Sinai (where Moses first received the law) and what he calls “The present city of Jerusalem”

“Stay with me,” Paul would say… 

You have a slave woman and her son…let’s pair them as representing the Law (Mt. Sinai, Arabia), and the current physical city of Jerusalem(with all its corruption and lack of freedom)

You have a free woman and her son…they are paired with the promise and with the “Jerusalem that is from above and is free.”

Let me read, then let’s try to get a handle on Paul’s point.

24 These things may be taken figuratively (allegory), for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.  26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

What Paul has done is brilliant.

These actual historical events…he is using to bring out important theological realities.

The way he is doing this would have caused these churches in Galatia to spend many months…scratching their heads, re-reading his letter, then the Old Testament…and discussing them again and again.

He is not being obtuse, or overly clever…he wants them to dig in and think about what they are being told (that is false) and what the Bible actually says.

He does this by mis-direction.

The Jews were descendants of Abraham through Sarai and Isaac…not Hagar and Ishmael.

But, Paul writes…if you try to gain relationship with God through law keeping (human effort)…then you are, in a real sense, spiritual descendants of the slave child…that child represents the law not the promise.

Law keeping puts you in the family line of the slave child.

It is based human effort and understanding…not spiritual promise and power.

But what is up with this present Jerusalem and the Jerusalem from above?

  1. The present Jerusalem just means the actual, physical city.

-It, the prophets wrote and Jesus would say, was full of corruption and misdeeds

-It was ruled by Romans and by Jewish law keepers…creating both a physical and spiritual place of bondage.

  1. The Jerusalem from above, represented the city of God…a future place of security, provision, relationship, community…freedom of promise of relationship with God.

The prophets, like Isaiah, spoke of this future “city”

Or course, the Bible ends, in Revelation 21 and 22 with this “New Jerusalem” the place of full relationship and life with God…a place beauty, and flourishing.

So actual Jerusalem…symbolic of slavery…law keeping

The new Jerusalem…a symbol of freedom…relationship with God.

In verses 28-31 he closes in on his argument with this…

You, like Isaac, are children of promise…not of law (speaking to Gentiles)

Now…you are being persecuted, like Isaac was, by the son born in the ordinary way (Ishmael).

Misdirection again…These Jewish teachers who were trying to take their freedom…were being called “sons of Ishmael”…ouch.

So, disregard these teachers and their teaching…

Because “Gentiles or anyone who places their faith in Christ…are free sons and daughters of the promise.”

But… anyone “Who trusts their own efforts…remain slaves.”

And then this line of thought concludes in chapter 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Paul…why didn’t you just say that instead of all those pairs of pairs?

They needed to wrestle with this…this was not an email they would read then put in “trash”

This was written to continue to challenge them to grapple with…go back to the Old Testament, go the gospel, read his letter…learn to think biblically, grow up.

To learn to recognize what is true and what is false…do the work, to become mature.

*If you become exasperated because the Bible takes work to understand…back up and think it through.

What things are easy to understand…that can you read through one time and not to have to think deeply about?

Novels, comic books, some news stories.

But if you are reading to understand anything of personal depth or technical complexity…it takes effort and repetition and outside help.

Put together a bookshelf from Walmart, a kids swing set…you gotta study that document.

This is the book of God…for us…about ultimate reality, humanity, destiny.

Of course, it is challenging…but thank God we have it.

We are blessed in that children can read and apply it accurately…but we can’t plumb it’s depths exhaustively.

My grandson Ellis is four. Several weeks ago in his church class his teacher asked “How can you show kindness?” 

This is a key biblical value, essential for flourishing in life together…be kind.

He answered “I won’t kick my brother in his (groin)”…but he was more explicit.

Actually, for Ellis, it’s a very practical application of kindness….and Oliver, his brother would agree and deeply appreciate it.

But clearly, he doesn’t understand the depths of biblical kindness…it’s not just “don’t inflict pain”

But neither do we, we will spend our lives understanding it more and more.

So, Ellis…at  age 4 can capture the principle accurately…while I, at 62 am still trying to understand the principle more clearly and apply it more consistently.

So, take heart…the Scripture is accessible…you can understand and apply it.


Give full effort…there are rich depths to be plumbed in God’s word.


In Romans 1:1 Paul calls himself a “doulos” translated servant, but in fact it is a kind of slave.

He is completely at his master’s disposal…He is not free to do whatever he wants.

Now, here in Gal. 5:1 he says that…

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

So how is he slave to Christ and yet free in Christ?

How is that he says do not go back under the yoke of slavery and yet Jesus said to take up his yoke.

A yoke was put on animals of burden so they could haul loads or pull plows or carts…it was to put them at their master’s disposal.

Look at what Jesus said in Matthew 11

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

Paul is a willing slave to Christ…because in submission to the Lord’s will…is human freedom.

Taking up the yoke of Christ…is where burdens fall away…where souls find rest and peace.

How do you take up that yoke?…you transfer trust from self to Christ.

The burden of earning, and deserving, and pleasing, and living with guilt…is dropped.

You pick up the light yoke of Christ (follow him by faith)…and find rest for your soul.

So, Paul is free AND he is a slave of Christ.

There are those who stand resolved, shaking their fist to heaven and defying God…they will serve no one…they say…they are free from bondage to a “God” and his oppressive rules.

So…they become slaves their own desires, their own sin, their own despair, their own guilt, and they are slaves to entropy as their body breaks down, and eventually they are slaves to death…as it has its final way with them.

We come under the yoke of Christ (submit to him) and in that submission…we enter real freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…

You might ask…well what else would setting free be for other than freedom…isn’t this redundant?

Because Christ had set the Galatians free…so they would live in freedom…but they were choosing to live in bondage.

You can be actually free…and live as a slave.

So, God is saying to us…Christ HAS set you free…now live in this freedom.

You can’t add one thing to what’s been done for you…now, live in that rest.

The yoke of Christ is a relationship…it’s not a business arrangement.

“God, I’ll give money, I’ll go to church, I’ll have a quiet time, I’ll try to be nicer at home and work…in return I expect you to hold up your end of the bargain…

I expect relatively good health, financial security, and essentially…at least most of my dreams to come true.”

When we become disillusioned by what God does and doesn’t do in our lives then we reveal that we are living transactional rather than relationally with him…this is not the freedom of the yoke of Christ…this is the yoke of slavery of self-effort.

We do certain things as his kids in order to be near him, to be like him…not  in order to compel God to do what we want him to do.

The heavy and oppressive yoke of the law is transactional

The light and peaceful yoke of Christ is relational

It is for freedom, that Christ has set us free.

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