Redemption and Adoption

The Law was an interim stage with a termination point. Therefore, Christians are no longer under it - they are “in Christ.” 

Jesus on the cross - Photo by Esau Gonzalez on Unsplash
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul argues that adopting the rite of circumcision amounts to regression to something rudimentary, a reversion to an earlier stage in the redemptive history of God’s people. If Gentiles adopt a 
Torah-compliant lifestyle, they will return to bondage and, once more, experience the social divisions that are inherent in the Mosaic Law - [Photo by Esau Gonzalez on Unsplash].

For disciples of Jesus, enslavement under the “elemental” forces of the old era ceased with the arrival of the Messiah, the one who came “in the fullness of time” to redeem those who were “under the law.”
  • And I say, so long time as the heir is a babe, he differs nothing from a servant, though lord of all, but is under tutors and stewards till the time appointed of the father, so also we, when we were babes, under the elemental things of the world were in servitude, and when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, who came to be of a woman, who came to be under the law, that those under the law he might redeem, that the adoption of sons we may receive; and because you are sons, God sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, 'Abba, Father!' so that you are no more a servant, but a son, and if a son, also an heir of God through Christ” – (Galatians 4:1-7).

In the passage, the Greek term rendered “elemental” translates the noun stoicheion, and it refers to the basic components that comprise a larger whole. It refers to that which is “elemental, first principle, rudimentary.”

In Greek literature, stoicheion refers to the elemental principles of art, science, and discipline, and from that usage came the idea of “elementary principles.” It may refer to a single letter, a part of a word, or a single phrase from a paragraph. It conveys the idea of something that is rudimentary and simple.

CALENDARS AND CIRCUMCISION

To adopt circumcision now that Jesus has come is to return to something that is rudimentary and incomplete. It is comparable to an adult who, though he possesses his full inheritance, chooses to return to the minority status he previously held under the custodianship of a tutor.

By “elemental principles,” Paul has in view the regulations of the Mosaic Law, and this proposition is borne out by his usage of stoicheion in verses 9-10 where he describes the calendrical observances practiced by the Jewish people:
  • 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 these regulations is tantamount to returning to the elemental teachings of the pagan society from which God delivered him through faith in His son. Likewise, Jesus freed Jewish believers from being under the “curse of the Law.” Its requirements were needed during Israel's minority, but not after the promised “seed” arrived.

Since the Law placed anyone who did not do all the things that it required under the “curse,” inevitably, returning to the obligations of the Law means coming under its “curse” once more. Therefore, non-Jewish Christians should not submit to the rituals that Jewish disciples are no longer required to keep.

REDEMPTION

God sent forth his Son, having come to be from woman, having come to be under the law.” Jesus was born a Jew under the covenant obligations of the Torah until the “fullness of time” arrived. Once again, Paul sets temporal boundaries on the jurisdiction of the Law. It was to continue only until the “seed” came.

Jesus came to redeem those “who were under the Law so that they could receive the adoption of sons.”

The preceding clause refers to Jews in particular, especially Jewish Christians. Their 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 Christ’s redemptive act is “adoption.” Believers are not “children” of God by birth, but by adoption. All human beings are His creation, but not all are His children. Jews, likewise, became “sons” and heirs by adoption through Christ’s redemptive act - (Romans 8:15-23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).

Dove - Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash
[Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash]

Because Gentile Christians have become His sons, He sends the “
Spirit of his Son into their hearts.” This statement rounds off the argument that began at the start of chapter 3 when Paul reminded the Galatians that they received the Spirit while they were in an uncircumcised state - (Galatians 3:1-4).

GIFT OF THE SPIRIT

Throughout his larger argument, Paul is addressing a specific set of “works,” the "works of the Law," and not good works or human effort in general.

The phrasing, “spirit of his Son,” refers to the work by the Holy Spirit that molds the believer’s life into the image of Jesus. What greater proof of the acceptance of Gentiles into God’s covenant community can they possess than the gift of the Spirit?

The Apostle concludes his entire argument with the statement, “So that you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Thus, all who are “in Christ” are “heirs” of the covenant with Abraham. And since they are “heirs” apart from the “works of the Law,” why seek what the Law could never deliver by obligating oneself to all its requirements? Doing so places one under its “curse.”

Throughout Paul’s argument, the temporal aspect is prominent. The Law as “custodian” was always an interim stage between the original promise and the arrival of the “seed of Abraham,” and thus, it had a predetermined termination point. Consequently, believers are no longer “under the Law,” but instead, they are “in Christ.”

And Paul’s reasoning contains a strong eschatological element. The arrival of Jesus meant the commencement of the age of fulfillment, the time for the promises of God to come to fruition.



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