Elementary Principles

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“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:1-7).

What does Paul mean when he refers to our lives before Christ as being, “Enslaved to the elementary principles of the world?” There are two ways to understand this saying. First, at a surface level, it may refer to sin, or the life of sin. We understand that before Christ we were slaves to sin. But now that we are in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin.

But there is another way to understand this passage, and it’s similar to Colossians 2:8 and Hebrews 5:12. In these passages, the Greek word, Stoicheia, refers to ritual practices like circumcision, feast days, festivals, and so on. We recognize these things as part of the Mosaic Law. Paul confirms this a few verses later in Galatians 4:10 when he says, “You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” Paul did not want his readers to be under the law because the law could not give them an inheritance in Christ. “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

The Law was important because the law provided a way to manage our sin through ritual observance and sacrifice. But, now that Christ has come observance and sacrifice have become a thing in our past. For, in Christ we have perfect observance of the law and a perfect sacrifice that deals with our sin once and for all. So, through Christ, we are no longer under the “Elementary principles of the world.” Rather, we begin our new lives under the, “Basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12), and grow from there. 

Memory Verse

“Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:6-7). 

Application

Now that you are no longer a slave to the world, how can you express your faith in Christ that makes your exalted position known to others, as a witness to them about Christ?

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