Paul begins the chief metaphor of chapter 4 in the last verse of chapter 3. "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Paul illustrates how humanity is meant to inherit incredible, immeasurable blessings from God. But until we change from being simply "children" and become "heirs", that inheritance is not ours. As only children, in this metaphor, we are not only unqualified to receive all of God's blessings, we are also like "slaves". By this Paul means that we are burdened with the requirement of obeying God's laws perfectly. Without putting our trust in Jesus, the only alternative is to perfectly obey God in order to earn our place in heaven.
On some level, we seem to recognize this need, and religions all over the world incorporate some list of requirements we need to fulfill before going to heaven, becoming enlightened, or whatever the case may be. We seem to know intuitively that without positive action on our part, we fall short. However, what we don't realize is that no amount of positive action that we are capable of will ever be enough. As we saw last week, God's standard is perfection, and only Jesus has lived a life that matches that standard.
One of the initial blessings of being an heir comes from God's Spirit, living inside of us. That concept alone is mind-blowing if we spend time thinking about it. The entire, infinite God, uncontainable by all the universe, is somehow fully present in the hearts of those who trust in Jesus. We are also entitled to share the intimacy that the Holy Spirit shares with God. The word "Abba", used in verse 6, is a term of close familial affection, similar to a baby's, "dada". With sin still staining our record, we could never have this kind of close relationship with an all-perfect, righteous judge. But because of Jesus, that judge becomes our loving, protective and tender Father.
Paul saw that the Galatians were returing to some life patterns they had developed before becoming Christians. Patterns that prioritized pointless, powerless activities attempting to "earn" them good standing with God.
Paul implies that the Galatians have forgotten the great relationship they had developed with him and are now treating him like an enemy because he is communicating truth to them. Although we want to make sensitivity a foundation for our communication, we should always be prepared for truth to be offensive and often rejected (at least initially) by those we share it with. Especially when the truth expressed calls for change. This is true for both Christians and non-Christians.
Paul makes a great point regarding zealousness (or we might say "sincerity") in verses 17-18. Being sincere and passionate for what we believe in is good. But sincerity is only valuable if what we believe in is true and good.
Next week we'll look at the rest of this chapter and the Old Testament story that it refers to.
Coffee House Question
When do you think being zealous can be harmful? When can being zealous be a really great thing?
Next Week: Who's yo' mamma?