If there is anything Saint Paul in Galatians or Luther in the Reformation or, for that matter, all of the texts through Advent and Christmas should impress upon you, it is the fact that, when it comes to our redemption, God is the prime mover; the Trinity is the primary actor. The Lord determines the appropriate moment for the new age to break into the old and how it will be so. It is the Father who first sends His Son and then the Spirit of His Son (we cannot get them to come). God set the terms of the Covenant (not us). The Lord fulfills the Covenant (not us). The Lord applies the Covenant (not us). The Lord determines the composition of His family (not us). God gets all the credit (we get none). He gets all the glory (we get all the benefit). There is no, “I got saved.” Rather, it is, “You have been saved.” This is why it is called Good News! Preach it as such through Christmas. Now is the time to glorify God and revel in the joy of our salvation.
Preachers may want to articulate the upshot: those baptized into Christ do not have to scrutinize the verity of their salvation, of being adopted of God, of being justified before the holy Law of God because of their doing, their skin color, their diet, their religiosity, their asking Jesus in your heart. It is all like circumcision or uncircumcision, they mean nothing in the economy of salvation. Christ busies Himself with accomplishing your salvation; race, age, sex, ability or even intelligence notwithstanding. The Holy Spirit busies Himself with applying that salvation, without notice of your race, age, sex, ability or intelligence. The Father busies Himself with basking in the glory of it all because it is all gift!
The Gospel is Good News, so hear some: the burden is lifted, grace is being outpoured, judgment has passed over us and onto the Messiah, who in turn gifted you in Holy Baptism with the Spirit of God. Thank you, Jesus.
That is what this pericope from Galatians 4 is all about, as Paul brilliantly juxtaposes the burden of the Law with the delight of the Gospel. It spells out for us the great confidence we ought to have in the fact God has covered all our bases by sending Christ, “born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v.5). It is the Christmas story again.
If the preacher takes 4:1–7 as a unit, we find Paul having already dealt with the purpose and function of the Mosaic Law (it exposed sin, segregated humanity into Jews and Gentiles, and admonished all who were under the Law [both Jews and Gentiles] of how they needed God’s grace and mercy He promised Abraham or else we would bear the judgment of the Law for our guilt and treason). We also find there was another way for humanity than the oppressive bondage and condemnation under the Law, namely, that a new relationship with God and each other exists “in Christ” – so we do not have to ignore God and pretend we are not going to be held accountable to His rule or, alternatively, live toward one another like Mel Gibson after a few drinks. Having established those critical points, Paul brings his argument to a close in verses 1–7. The thrust of all he says here tells us the believer’s life is to be lived not, “under the Law,” but, “in Christ.” This reality, this truth is to be lived in the full freedom of mature sonship, and not in slavery to a legal code precisely because Christ has been, like them, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem them from the burden and curse of the Law. Again, that is news; good news, not good advice. Receive it, and you have received the Gospel of Christmas.
Again, the big picture is how we are under God’s Law. We are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. Problem is, we do not even begin to do it, and that means we are constantly guilty of treason against the King’s commands. This King will find you and He deals with His enemies…. unless someone intervenes by representing us and both fulfills our reasonable obligation to the King and takes the just penalty for our rebellion, so we need not bear it. Once that takes place, then with our sin and guilt removed and the hostility between us and the King totally removed, we are not only ushered into His restored Kingdom, but we are now fit—cleansed—to be indwelt by His Holy Spirit so we need not live like we are obligated to fulfill the Law by ourselves and be justified in His sight by our own doing. Rather, having been freely justified on account of what Christ has done for us and being united to Him so we can never stand accused, the Holy Spirit leads us in paths of righteousness as free children – heirs of the promise – redeemed from the burden and curse of the Law, so we can call God our Father rather than our Judge. It is a totally new way to be human: free in Christ.
Baptism preaches easily from this text. Baptism frees us to live by the leading and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. If Christians would own this simple truth and rear their children in the identity gifted to them in Holy Baptism, then think of the dent it would put into anxiety, depression, and confusion, to say nothing about our “achievement society” hell-bent on self-justification by “being enough” or “having enough.”
Paul wants to stress God’s initiative and performance under the Law to save us from the consequences of the Law. So, Christians do not dream up human performances as the fulfillment of some obligation to God and the basis for initiating a saving transaction. Do not conjure up standards for “authentic” Christian living, a “higher” Christian life. Do not deal in categories of law; enjoy the Gospel.
Verses 3 and 4 bring us the Gospel through a striking contrast between God and the elemental spirits or principles of the world. Whereas, under the latter, we are utterly helpless, like dead Lazarus decaying in a tomb, God acts in a powerful and decisive way for us and upon us. God is manifest in His Son to set free those captive to the Law—be it the Law given to our father Adam, the law of nature written on our consciences, or the Mosaic Law given at Sinai. He takes orphans like us into His family. He does not wait around for humanity to instigate a reclamation project through the UN and then rush in to endorse our attention-getting efforts to reconcile with God and each other. He does the reclaiming Himself and, if that were not enough, sends His Spirit to incite in people awareness of what He has done. We call it conversion, being gifted with the faith of Christ. Think of it this way: the very word which entails what God has done to us—regeneration (being made anew, remade, “born again” if you will)—is always prior to our conscious responding. Our recognizable conversion is the product, the result of having been regenerated. You do not act in a regenerating way in order to be regenerated. He regenerates and we express the repentance and faith of regeneration. That He regenerates is the good news. Be ye regenerated is not a new command but an impossible command. I can no more make myself born-again or initiate the process than I could my own natural conception. So, say, “Amen,” and doubt nothing God has said about you, beginning at your baptism.
Paul then kicks it into overdrive. It comes out as plain as one of the first creeds of Christianity: God sent forth His Son, “born of a woman, born under the Law.” Jesus was wholly human with all the consequences relating to that precisely because He was born of a woman and because He was, it meant He was also born under the Law, and being sinless and yet perfectly human, He could redeem those under the Law. That woman of whom Paul speaks is the Blessed Virgin Mary. God the Son was born of a woman. This makes Mary the Mother of God. What is more, it was her body, her blood in Him, which constituted the Word made flesh who bore our sins and washed us clean on a tree.
We profess belief in the virgin birth of Jesus as not only part of the Christmas story but a true part of the total story of redemption. That is why it has a place in Galatians. It was a historic fact. It was remembered and confessed in the apostolic era. Saint Paul himself marshaled out this basic confession of faith as a bona fide fact in his day, and since that time it has been codified in the Creeds we confess as orthodox Christians in the words of the Apostles’ Creed: he was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. Scholars admit that within two years of the resurrection of Jesus, the Church was confessing His death and resurrection, as well as His virgin birth. So, do not cower from it or from the Virgin Mary. There is no Christmas story without Mary. There is no blood in the veins of Jesus without Mary. Preach it. Preach it boldly. Own the fact of Jesus, “born of a woman,” or else you do not get the triumph of the One, “born under the Law.”
Why is it important for us to confess and proclaim the Virgin birth? It is important because of its place within the total story of redemption. God would have to come and rescue us, and He was not going to do it any other way than being born under the Law so He could redeem us from the burden and curse of the Law. The birth of Jesus the Son was necessary to provide mankind with a person who could qualify as the redeemer of humanity. A dog cannot represent you, and neither can a goat, nor a bull, nor a sheep. Only a real human being with real human flesh and blood can embody your need. And if the point of His representation is to fulfill your obligation under the Law, he is going to need to be perfect and free from original sin. Christ does that by side-stepping normal human procreation and being conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Galatians 4:4-7.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Galatians 4:4-7.