“Inheriting Abraham’s Promise”
Lesson Text: Galatians 3:15-18, 4:1-7
Background Scripture: Galatians 3:15-5:1
Devotional Reading:Romans 4:1-8
Galatians 3:15-18, 4:1-7
15Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
17And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
18For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
1Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
3Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
To understand that our inheritance comes not by keeping the law, but by God’s promise given to Abraham.
To teach that God sent His Son to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
To affirm that because we are sons and heirs, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.
The history of making wills extends back into antiquity. In the Greek/Gentile world in particular, there were strict laws governing wills, and not all of these were like our current regulations. One of these ancient customs made it very difficult to alter a legally posted will. In that male-dominated world, a will was usually drawn by the father of a family. Once he had written his will, it was considered irrevocable.
Paul, in writing to the Galatians, is in this Greek/Gentile environment. A central point of today’s lesson is that God’s “will” as promised to Abraham is not annulled by the laws of Moses, which came later. This would be in keeping with Paul’s readers’ understanding of a will. Once God made His promise to Abraham, Paul’s readers would expect it only to be supplemented, not changed.
A key to understanding the Old Testament is comprehending the position of Abraham in the history of the nation of Israel. His story begins in Genesis 11:26 (where he is called Abram) and continues through 25:10. Abraham’s story is that of a journey of faith as he set out for a new home and homeland.
When the Lord commanded Abram to go to Canaan, he was given a promise of blessing, and this promise is repeated several times in Genesis in various forms. Central to the promise was the idea that this man’s descendants would one day become a “great nation” (Genesis 12:2).
This promise tested Abram’s faith in two dramatic ways. First, Abram had no son for many years, no legitimate male heir through whom the promise could be fulfilled. God’s commitment to keeping the promise was so strong, however, that He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning “father of many” (Genesis 17:5). God fulfilled the promise through the miraculous conception and birth of Abraham’s son Isaac (21:1-3), so Abraham’s crisis of faith was resolved.
Another crisis presented itself when Abraham was commanded to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. The death of this only son would ruin the promise of Abraham’s descendants becoming a great nation as effectively as if he had never been born. (Although Abraham had another son, Ishmael, through Hagar, God refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” in Genesis 22:2.) God intervened and provided an alternative (22:13). In these and other actions throughout his life, Abraham was vindicated as the exemplary man of faith, the one whose relationship with God was based on trust, no matter the circumstances.
The Old Testament understands Abraham’s “great nation” as coming to fruition by the descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after an encounter with God (Genesis 32:28). Through Jacob, the “great nation” of Abraham was the nation of Israel.
The New Testament recognizes an even greater role for Abraham: he is more than the father of Israel; he is the father of all who have faith in the true God. This is seen in the opening verses of the New Testament, where Matthew carefully shows Jesus to be a descendant of Abraham (Matthew 1:1,2,17). Even before Jesus’ birth, Mary sang a song of praise to God that included her belief that the birth of the Messiah was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Luke 1:55).
All of this was an important backdrop for Paul’s discussion of Abraham in Galatians. In his doctrinal battle with the heretical Judaizers, Paul used the promises given to Abraham. The life story of Abraham was Paul’s means to show the priority of faith rather than works as the way to be justified before God.
The Law Cannot Change The Promise (Galatians 3:15-18)
1. Why did Paul use the example of a covenant to explain why the promises given to Abraham could not be changed (Galatians 3:15)?
To speak after the manner of men is to take an example from the general sphere of humanity, not the Bible. Paul intends to build his argument on common assumptions that everyone can accept.
In this case, Paul uses the example of a covenant. In doing this, Paul is playing on the broad meaning of this word. A covenant can be a binding agreement between two parties. This is the word used for the agreements between God and various persons in the Old Testament (examples: Genesis 6:18; 17:21; Psalm 89:3).
It is obvious that the promise to Abraham (and, through Christ, to us today), given about 2000 B.C., preceded by centuries the law of Moses (about 1450 B.C.). The Judaizers implied that the giving of the law changed that original covenant of promise. Paul argued that it did not.
To begin with, once two parties conclude an agreement, a third party cannot come along years later and change that agreement. The only persons who can change an original agreement are the persons who made it. To add anything to it or take anything from it would be illegal.
If this is true among sinful men, how much more does it apply to the holy God? Note that Abraham did not make a covenant with God; God made a covenant with Abraham! God did not lay down any conditions for Abraham to meet. In fact, when the covenant was ratified Abraham was asleep! (see Gen. 15). It was a covenant of grace: God made promises to Abraham; Abraham did not make promises to God.
2. To Whom else was the promise made (v. 16)?
But Paul revealed another wonderful truth: God made this promise, not only to Abraham, but also to Christ. “And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Gal. 3:16).
Paul notes that God made this covenant of promise with Abraham through Christ, so that the only two parties who can make any changes are God the Father and God the Son. Moses cannot alter this covenant! He can add nothing to it; he can take nothing from it. The Judaizers wanted to add to God’s grace (as though anything could be added to grace!) and take from God’s promises. They had no right to do this since they were not parties in the original covenant.
3. What did Paul say about this covenant promise being “confirmed” (v. 17)?
In the final analysis, the strands of Paul’s argument become a single rope. Here, Paul makes the obvious point of the validity of the covenant promise with Abraham in light of its having been confirmed before of God. Paul uses language that reminds his readers of the process of having a last will legally confirmed by the proper authorities. For both Paul and the readers, there is no higher authority than God, so there should be no quibbling over this point.
Paul again uses his great knowledge of Scripture to bring a chronological point to bear: the law was given to Moses 430 years after the promise to Abraham. This factoid is taken from Exodus 12:40,41, where the time of Israel in Egypt is given as exactly 430 years. The nation of Israel was in existence, albeit as slaves in Egypt, for more than four centuries without having the Law of Moses.
Again leading to Paul’s concluding historical point: the law, coming much later, cannot disannul the promise given to Abraham. Abraham’s covenant and promises are still in effect.
Paul brings all of this to a simple conclusion (in verse 18 of our lesson) regarding keeping a promise: Among people of honor, promise always trumps law. For example, if I promise to pay you $25 to mow my lawn, I am bound by that promise. If you cut my grass and then I claim I need not pay because there was no written contract, I would be breaking my promise. I may or may not be legally in the clear, but I have not kept my word. God always keeps His word. He always keeps His promises. Humanly, there are times when I may be unable to keep a promise due to circumstances beyond my control. There are no circumstances beyond God’s control. The Lord God always keeps His promises.
What Do You Think?
How do people react when they know they are going to inherit something? How should that reaction be like and unlike our reaction to our heavenly inheritance?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
IT’S TIME TO GROW UP!
One of the tragedies of legalism is that it gives the appearance of spiritual maturity when, in reality, it leads the believer back into a “second childhood” of Christian experience. The Galatian Christians, like most believers, wanted to grow and go forward for Christ; but they were going about it in the wrong way. Their experience is not too different from that of Christians today who get involved in various legalistic movements, hoping to become better Christians. Their motives may be right, but their methods are wrong.
This is the truth Paul was trying to get across to his beloved converts in Galatia. The Judaizers had bewitched them into thinking that the law would make them better Christians. Their old nature felt an attraction for the law because the law enabled them to do things and measure external results. As they measured themselves and their achievements, they felt a sense of accomplishment, and, no doubt, a little bit of pride. They thought they were going forward when actually they were regressing.
Paul took sought to convince the Galatians that they did not need legalism in order to live the Christian life. They had all they needed in Jesus Christ.
Children in Bondage (Galatians 4:1-3)
4. What did Paul mean by a child is no different “from a servant’’ (Galatians 4:1)?
Paul uses another illustration from the everyday life of his readers. Paul uses the word “child” one of tender years (Gr nepios) in contrast to (Gr teleios), one full grown. He is illustrating the spiritual immaturity of those living under the law and who are being prepared for faith in Christ.
In the households of Paul’s world, a child and a servant are treated the same. Neither is independent of the commands and whims of the father of the house. It makes little difference that one of the household children might be the oldest son, the eventual heir and head of the family. He is not enjoying the actual possession of his promised inheritance. As a child, his inheritance is only a potential that awaits future realization.
Paul’s meaning is clear and his purpose is plain. He is warning the Galatians against becoming entangled in the bondage of the law, and he is encouraging them to enjoy the spiritual liberty they have by faith in Christ.
5. How did Paul compare bondage of the law to that of a temporary tutor (v. 2)?
Paul indicates that the time for an inheriting son was “appointed of the father” of the household beforehand. During childhood, the male heir is under the supervision of tutors and governors. In a prosperous household, the father may employ various adults who have direct control over the children.
Wealthy families in the ancient world usually had their children educated by private tutors. The tutor was well educated himself, and it was his responsibility to supervise the learning activities of the youngster(s). This included study in academic subjects as well as social graces and royal obligations. This tutoring might be only for a few years, or it could last all through childhood. But whether few years or many, the tutoring was temporary.
For example, the great philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was hired as the tutor for Alexander, age 13, the son of King Philip of Macedon. Aristotle taught Alexander medicine, philosophy, religion, morals, logic, and art. Three years later, Aristotle was dismissed because Philip went off to war, and Alexander took over the regency of Macedon. Aristotle’s job had been to prepare the person later known as Alexander the Great for the responsibilities of government, and the time came when that period of preparation ended.
So it is with the Law of Moses. Paul says the law was a tutor to bring us to Christ (compare Galatians 3:24). With that function now fulfilled, the tutor is no longer our master. —J. B. N.
6. What did Paul mean by being “in bondage under the elements of the world” (v. 3)?
Paul moves from the household to the spiritual realm. He teaches that when the law is the controlling factor for the people of God, they are actually in bondage to the elements of the world. The contrast could not be greater. The household custodians (the law) are controlling while being beneficent in purpose and intent. The true bondage is to something far more sinister and malevolent. This was the spiritual condition of the Jews under the age of the law. The law, you recall, was the “guardian” that disciplined the nation and prepared the people for the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:23-25). So, when the Judaizers led the Galatians back into legalism, they were leading them not only into religious bondage, but also into moral and spiritual infancy and immaturity.
Legalism, then, is not a step toward maturity; it is a step back into childhood. The law was not God’s final revelation; it was but the preparation for that final revelation in Christ.
Redemption in Adoption (Galatians 4:4-7)
7. What does the expression “the fullness of time” mean (Galatians 4:4)?
The expression “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) refers to that time when the world was providentially ready for the birth of the Savior. In simple, beautiful words, Paul injects Jesus into this story of human bondage. At the right time, God sent His answer to the world. This was his Son, the Word become flesh (John 1:14). This reveals Christ’s pre-existence, His deity, and His authority. His arrival into the human realm was unlike anything from Gentile religions and myths. This Son was truly human, made of a woman. Not only a human birth but a Jewish birth, subject to all the ordinances of the law.
8. If Jesus was born under the law, how then could He redeem us (v. 5)?
Paul’s point is that Jesus was necessarily born a Jew because He was to enter the household of those under bondage to the law and set them free. As a Jew, Jesus was under the law (v. 4, above), but not a slave to the law, for He was without sin. He did not need to be freed from law or sin himself, and thus was able to serve as our Redeemer.
As verse 5 states,God’s Son was sent with a clear mandate: “to redeem them that were under the law.” This continues the language of slavery and bondage. To redeem a slave is to buy the slave’s freedom. But the redeemed are not just freed slaves; they are adopted as children into the household of God.
9. Name one immediate benefit Christians receive as sons and heirs (v. 6)?
Being a person of faith has immediate consequences. As adopted children, Christians receive the benefits of the unadopted Son. Foremost of these is the “Spirit of his Son,” sent into our innermost beings. It is the presence of God’s Spirit in the life of the believer that marks him or her as truly a child of the king (see 2 Corinthians 1:22).
Paul never understands the gift of the Holy Spirit to be an afterthought in the plans of God. The mission of the Son was more than the cross and atonement for sins. By solving the sin problem of believers, the Holy Spirit may come and dwell in our hearts. It is then that we truly begin to act like children of God. We can pray, Abba, Father! The word Abba is a term from Paul’s childhood, an affectionate term like “Daddy” or “Poppa.” To say Father is to claim the status of a son.
10. What else can we look forward to as heirs of God through Christ (v. 7)?
The progression is clear for Paul and the readers. We all start as slaves, serving law and sin without any hope of freedom. “Through Christ” we are adopted as sons and daughters, full members of the household of God (see Ephesians 2:19). Our status is changed from slave to son. Since we are true sons, we become heirs, and the first installment of our inheritance is already given: the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13,14). We are awaiting the second stage: the public declaration at the return of Christ when “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:1-3). We are “sons and heirs,” and the best part of our inheritance is yet to come (see 1 Peter 1:1-5).
POINTS TO PONDER
1.No man can add to, or take away what God has already ordained in Christ (Galatians 3:15,16).
2.We should praise God because He is a promise keeping God! (vs. 17,18).
3.There is a time for everything. Our Heavenly Father has appointed people over us, as well as good things in store for us (Gal. 4:1,2).
4. At the right time, God sent His Son to redeem us, that we might receive the full rights of sons (vs. 3-5).
5.Because we are now sons and heirs, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (vs. 6,7).
From Slave to Son
Even though slavery is illegal in almost every nation today, it is estimated that millions of people are enslaved in underground economies worldwide. Even so, slavery is not something most of us have experienced firsthand. The idea of being a slave owner is repugnant to us. The thought of being a slave is horrifying. We want nothing to do with slavery, even though we have not encountered it personally.
Paul’s teaching on how we transition from slave to son may be difficult for some to understand. Don’t let it be. We have all experienced oppression and lack of control in our lives, whether that might be in our employment, relationships, or experiences with government agencies. Expand those experiences to this: to never, ever being in control and always being oppressed. This was the lot of the slave in Paul’s day. He or she had no meaningful rights or privileges, except those provided by the slave owner. While a “good” slave owner may have made this tolerable, the life of a slave was a day-to-day existence without hope for the future.
Now imagine being the son or daughter of a perfect father. This is the parent who never loses his temper, who never gets drunk and wastes his paycheck, who never abandons you, who understands your pain. This perfect father is our heavenly Father. He gives us His most precious gifts: His Son as a sacrifice for our sins, His Spirit as a comfort to our souls, and His inheritance of eternal life with Him. Through God’s provision in Christ, we gain the spirit of adoption, and we can legitimately cry to God with our loudest voice: Abba, Father!
God of Abraham, we thank You for Your promise of blessing fulfilled. We thank You that we are no longer bound by the law, but free to live in Your grace. We thank You that we have become heirs with Christ. We pray in His name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
God’s promises to Abraham are ours in Jesus.