Son or Slave…which are you?


Galatians 4:1-20

Slavery…what a terrible reality.

Slavery still exists in a variety of ways in our broken world.  Years ago, I was introduced to “Run For Their Lives.”  It’s a movement to raise money to set women and children free from sex slavery around the world.  Just because we can’t see it from our front porch here in Crozet, VA, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in large volume.  In fact, even here in North America, the abolition of slavery is relatively young.  There were 371 years of slavery from Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492 to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.  However, there have only been 153 from the Emancipation Proclamation until today–not even half the time of official slavery on our continent.

Galatians 4 introduces us to two extremes that could not be further apart–slavery and sonship. Upon our physical birth we were born as slaves.  Not necessarily as slaves to someone else, but slaves nonetheless.  We were born as slaves to both sin and the law.  This internal law (aka “morality code”) is the remnants of our mother and father’s decision to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Before they ate, they drew their value and life from God Himself.  After they ate–after they sinned–they now had a knowledge that they didn’t have before.  As Paul speaks of in Romans 2, all of the sudden their conscience was either defending them or accusing them based on what they did.  They saw each other naked and this new found slavery demanded them to cover up and hide.  They had been naked the entire time, but all of the sudden they had become slaves–slaves to the knowledge of right and wrong.

It’s hard to see the knowledge of right and wrong as a slave master.  It is.  We must reread Genesis 2 and 3.  God said when their eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil, they would die.  We tend to think that the knowledge of good and evil is the goal of the christian life.  We try our best in our churches to simply instill principles for godly living, to help define what is good and what is evil, etc, so that our people would do what is good and not what is evil.  That sounds like a good thing to do doesn’t it?  Again, if it’s such a good thing, then why was the consequence of obtaining this knowledge of good and evil death?

If you fast forward numerous generations to the life of Moses, we read about how God put to tablet and parchment this knowledge of good and evil that had been in humanities’ hearts since Adam and Eve, into what we know of as the Mosaic Law.  No Jew was surprised at any of the Ten Commandments.  This law had been written in their hearts their entire lives, but was now manifested in a written code.  For example, murder was already wrong before God said, “Thou shall not murder.” We know this because when Moses murdered the Egyptian (Exodus 2), he hid the body and then ran for his own life.  How did he know it was wrong?  The knowledge of good and evil was written on his heart.  Every one of us experiences this same thing.  Our conscience alternatively accuses us (when we do wrong) and defends us (when we do right)– Romans 2:15.

Is this so bad?  Why is this a big deal?  Why is this “slavery?”

Well, here’s the deal.  Our slavery to this knowledge of good and evil results in us viewing everything by what this slave master says of us.  If we do good, we feel good.  If we do evil, we feel evil.  This is a dangerous slavery.

If, before you were born again, you did some really excellent things, maybe you volunteered, maybe you took in foster kids, etc, the result tends to be one where we determine our intrinsic goodness based on the actions we’ve done.  Our internal slavemaster–the conscience–is defending us in these times.  It’s telling us, “Look at you!  Way to go!  You’re not bad at all.  You’re a really good person.  You are good!”  There’s no denying that the activity is great!  But the slavery is to then determine the reality of our compatibility with God based on our good behavior.  This is dangerous.  We will lose each time.  As God told Adam and Eve, this slavery brings death.

Let’s look at the other side.  Conversely, if you are now a born again believer with a new human spirit birthed from God Himself and you royally mess up, the result tends to be one where we determine our intrinsic goodness based on the actions we’ve just done.  Our internal slavemaster–the conscience–is now accusing us.  It’s telling us, “Look at you! Look at what you’ve just done.  Look at how huge that sin was.  Look at how ugly, wicked, and debased that was.  How can you be right with God now?  How can you ever even think of being right with God in the future?”  Look, there’s no denying the behavior was wicked and horrible, but the slavery is to then determine the reality of our compatibility with God based on the wicked behavior.  This is dangerous.  We will lose each time when we listen to the slavemaster of the conscience (aka the law) that is written in our minds and thoughts.

The slavery is the slavery of determining who you are based on your actions.  The truth is we are who we are based on our birth.  If we are in Adam, it doesn’t matter the “good or the evil,” we are incompatible with God.  Conversely, if we are in Christ, the “good or the evil” we do does not determine if we are compatible with God.  We aren’t less compatible or more based on our behavior through that old slavemaster, the law, says so.

Why is this so hard to see?

One of the reasons this slavery to the knowledge of good and evil is so hard to see is because most of us don’t even know we are enslaved.  Most of us have become so accustomed to determining our fellowship with God by what our old slavemaster says that we can’t imagine what it would be like any other way.

Harriet Tubman is quoted as having said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”  You see, by the time of the Civil War, many slaves had not only been slaves their entire lives, but their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and even beyond that had been slaves their entire lives.  Slavery was the only thing they knew.  Tubman’s frustration is that these “thousand more” didn’t realize the condition they were truly in because they had never experienced what freedom could be.

As Paul writes this letter to the Galatians, it’s important to remember that the majority of the christians in Galatia were also multi-generational slaves.  And here is where we find the majority of Christians today–living as slaves though they have actually been set free.  I have no scientific data, but I would easily guess that eight out of ten christians believe that their conscience in them is a good measuring tool to help them determine their fellowship with God.  If their conscience is accusing them, they must have slid from God some.  If their conscience is defending them, they must have slid a little closer.

This behavior based fellowship with God is the very thing Paul is so livid about.  The Galatians had started off so well, but then the Judaizers had come to town and resurrected their slavery to the knowledge of good and evil.  Paul’s whole point of Galatians 4:1-20 is to remind them, and us today too, of:  1. what Jesus actually accomplished,  2. which Spirit we now have (one of slavery or one of sonship), and ultimately  3. how that so drastically affects our lives today here and now.

  1. What did Jesus actually accomplish?

As we’ve already said, we were born under this law of slavery to the knowledge of good and evil.  This was put to tablet and parchment with Moses and the Israelites to show them and us, our true condition and to lead us to Jesus (see 3:15-29).  Now that we are clear on our inability to be compatible with God because of the 613 boney fingers of the Law condemning our every wrong action, we need Someone to rescue us from it.

Enter Jesus!  Jesus was born under this same curse of law so that He might actually redeem us who were under its curse.  Galatians 4:4-5 says that he did this so that we could go from slaves to this law to actual sons of God!  Think of what that means.  Are we slaves of God or sons of God?

  1. Which Spirit we now have (one of slavery or one of sonship)?

A slave is simply always doing whatever the master says to do.  There’s no fellowship, just commands to live by.  Any fellowship that is developed between the slave and the master is dependent up on the slave’s ability to perform what the master wants, when he wants it, how he wants it.

Now think of a son!  A father creates his son.  When a father is staring into the face of his son, he is seeing himself as his very genes now make up his son.  Before the son could ever do good or bad, obey or disobey, the father loves his son, defends his son, and puts his own life on the line for his son.  Sure a father leads, guides, and instructs his son, but in a completely different way from a slave.   A slave obeys in order to be right with the master.  A son obeys because he is loved by his father.

Paul says we have been given the very Spirit of Jesus into our new hearts by which we cry out “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6).  God has given us the very Spirit of His own Son so that we could be sons of God just as Jesus is the Son of God.  “Abba” is the Aramaic way to say “dadda” or “poppa.”  It is oozing with intimacy.  One of the most monumental parenting moments for most parents is when their toddler starts saying, “Momma” or “Dadda.”   We love to hear our babies call out our names.  That same Spirit is given to us from God.

Far too often we see God merely as our Master instead of our “Dadda.”  I know I used to think it was irreverent to consider God my “Dadda” to the point where I even corrected a teenager who once started off a prayer by saying, “Hi Daddy…” If this is so irreverent, then why would God Himself give us the very Spirit of His Son through which we now cry out, “Daddy!”  It seems to me that He’s done this so that we can actually walk each and every day in actual fellowship and intimacy with God–on our “best” days and on our “worst” days!

  1. How does this so drastically affect our lives today here and now?

How do you pray?  Do you pray in such a way that you think you’re speaking to a slavemaster or to daddy?  Do you worry with what you say, how you say it, and whether or not He’s even listening?  Do you feel like you have to pray in such a way that you say good things about Him before you would ever think to ask something from Him (this is how I was taught to pray)?  Do you feel like you have to clear the air with all your wrong-doings before He’ll listen to you?

You may be able to ascertain how you view God (slavemaster vs daddy) by how you pray to Him.  If we feel like we have to keep an appointment, follow certain formulas, and never ever ever fall asleep while praying, you may be seeing God as a slavemaster.  However, if you’re honest, if you talk to Him like you talk to a friend or like your own dad, if you share the deepest secrets of your heart because you know how much your heart matters to Him, if you know that expressing your fears, hopes, dreams, concerns, troubles, temptations, and even sins with Him will never change your intimacy with Him, you may be seeing God as your true “Dadda!”

Seeing God as your “Dadda” doesn’t just affect your conversations with Him.  It affects your walk with other brothers and sisters here in life today.  Think about it, if you are growing more and more in love with God because of the revelation of His love for you, then what happens in your love towards other believers when you realize God loves them just as much as He loves you?  You will naturally love the ones that your “Dadda” loves.  His love is in you!

Look at Galatians 4:12-20!  When the Galatians were clearly seeing God as their “Dadda” back when Paul first presented Jesus to them, what did they do?  They served the needs of Paul as if Paul were an angel.  Paul showed up beaten, bloodied, and bruised from both robbers and being beaten by the Jews.  The response from the young Galatian believers was pure love. No one instructed them to love Paul.  They just did it naturally as they realized how much God loved them and how much He loved Paul.  They were even willing to pluck their eyes out and give them to him. I’m not sure about you, but that’s love!  This love doesn’t come from a relationship to a slavemaster. It comes from intimacy with Daddy!

Don’t take my word for it!

Read Galatians 4:12-20 on your own!

Questions to Consider:

  1. Is it possible that you are living still enslaved to the conscience’s approval and accusations?  If so, why?
  2. What would specifically happen in your conversations with God if you were to operate from the Spirit of sonship you have been given?
  3. Have you seen your love towards other believers as a command to obey or as the overflow of God’s love towards both you and them?
  4. Why do you think God wants you to live free from the approval and accusation of the conscience?
  5. If God wanted you to live as if you were a slave to either Him or to the knowledge of good and evil, why would He have given you the Spirit of sonship?
  6. Look at Galatians 4:19, in the context of Galatians, what does it look like for Christ to be formed in your life? Is this simply salvation or is this living by the righteousness of Christ Himself?
  7. Do you live in a slavery to the knowledge of good and evil and are unwilling to live in the freedom we now have in Christ because you simply don’t realize you are living as a slave?  Would you be willing to ask God to reveal any slavery in which you may be living?  If He wants you to live as a son, don’t you think He’ll show you?
  8. Do you see freedom from the knowledge of good and evil (aka. the law) as an invitation to anarchy?  To what is God truly inviting you?
Son or Slave…which are you?

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