Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians with a return to that much-loved topic of circumcision. It may just be the cumulative effect of the whole letter, but this chapter strikes me as giving the clearest picture of his opponents and their motivations yet.
This chapter takes me back. My freshman and sophomore years of college, the leader of the campus Christian Fellowship was big on the first verse: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” You know how some verses you memorize deliberately, and some verses you end up memorizing accidentally just through exposure? The head of the Christian Fellowship was so big on this verse that I accidentally memorized it through exposure.
Tick off another verse for the Sara Groves Watch. When I read Galatians 4:7, I could instantly hear the line from the bridge of her song “The Word,” “We are no longer slaves, we are daughters and sons.” And if I had to pick a summary statement for this chapter, it’d be verse seven here: “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” It’s about being children of God.
Paul’s got a two-pronged argument here for those among the Galatians who would want to hang onto the Jewish law and insist that it’s necessary for salvation. He starts with a contrast between law and faith, similar to his arguments in the first handful of chapters from Romans, then moves into one based on chronology. But before we get into all that, I just want to note: the Galatians are by and large not Jews themselves! But they’ve bought into this false gospel from diehard Jewish legalists that being a Christian means getting circumcised and getting your kosher on and keeping the Sabbath. Which, honestly, strikes me as a serious feat of persuasion, getting predominantly Greek Gentiles to adopt the restrictive legal code of a minority religious-ethnic group that enjoys no particular popularity in the Roman Empire.
In his letters, sometimes Paul gets theological, and sometimes he tells stories. Yeah, the categories have some artifice to them—stories are often theological, and theology can take the form of a story—but in today’s chapter, Paul continues telling the Galatians the story he started this letter with.
Welcome to Paul’s letter to the Galatians! Now that we’re into a new book, let’s keep talking about counterfeits like we did yesterday.