Epistle: Galatians 4:4-7 (Christmas 1: Series B)

Reading Time: 7 mins

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.

If there is anything the Apostle Paul in Galatians or Martin Luther in the Reformation should impress upon you, it is the fact that when it comes to our redemption, when it comes to the King reclaiming His once-usurped Kingdom and citizens, when it comes to being saved, God is the prime mover. The LORD is the primary actor. God determines the appropriate moment for the new age to break into the old and how it will be so. It is the Father who sends first His Son and then the Holy Spirit (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!

What this means is believers baptized into Christ do not have to scrutinize the verity of their salvation, of their being adopted by God, of their family status, of their being justified before the holy Law of God because of their doing, their skin color, their diet, their religiosity, and/or their asking Jesus into their heart. All of it is like circumcision or uncircumcision: They mean nothing in the economy of salvation. Christ busies Himself with accomplishing salvation; race, age, sex, ability, or even intelligence notwithstanding. The Holy Spirit busies Himself with applying that salvation, without notice of race, age, sex, ability, or intelligence. The Father busies Himself with basking in the glory of it all because everything is a gift! The answer is, “Everything is already done,” by Christ!

That is what Paul is getting at in Galatians 4. He spells out the great confidence Christians ought to have since God has covered all our bases by sending Christ who is “born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law so that we might receive adoption as sons” (verse 5). It is the Christmas story yet again.

In 4:1–7, having already dealt with the purpose and function of the Mosaic Law (it exposed sin, segregated humanity into Jews and Gentiles, and trained all who were under the Law [both Jews and Gentiles] that they needed God’s grace and mercy which He promised Abraham or else we would bear the judgment of the Law for our guilt and treason) and, secondly, that there was another way for humanity other than the oppressive bondage and condemnation under the Law. Namely, that a new relationship with God and each other exists “in Christ.” Paul brings his argument to a close in verses 1–7. The thrust of all he says here is that the believer’s life is to be lived not “under the Law,” but “in Christ.” By this contrast he means the Christian life 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 good news, not good advice. Receive it and you have received the Gospel of Christmas.

The big picture is that all are under God’s Law. All are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. The problem is we do not even begin to do this. That means we are constantly guilty of treason against the King’s commands and this King will deal 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 this 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 we may 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.

 It is a totally new way to be human: Free in Christ.

Verses 3 and 4 bring 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 who are 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 into His family. He does not wait around for humanity to instigate a reclamation project. 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 a new, 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. One does not act in a regenerating way to be regenerated. God regenerates and the baptized express the repentance and faith of regeneration. That He regenerates is the good news.

The elemental spirits are always looking to enslave believers by putting something in the way of a true understanding of redemption: Judging and appraising one another with performance-based comparisons, which is usually followed by pride, haughtiness, and ostentation. These elemental spirits creep in and rob the baptized of the freedom of having been justified freely by Christ’ work which satisfied both the demands to do the Law and the demand to suffer the penalty for breaking the Law and having that justification applied to us and proclaimed in public by the Lord Himself in Baptism.

Paul then kicks it into overdrive. He does not leave us to make inferences as to what he is getting on about. 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 it precisely because He was born of a woman. Because He was, it meant He was also born under the Law. Because He was born under the Law, it meant, being sinless and yet perfectly human, he could redeem those under the Law. The woman of whom Paul speaks is the blessed virgin, Mary. God the Son was born of a woman, which makes Mary the mother of God. What is more, it was her body, her blood in Him, that constituted the Word made flesh who bore our sins and washed them down a tree.

 God the Son was born of a woman, which makes Mary the mother of God.

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, with Paul himself marshaling out this basic confession of faith as a “bona fide” fact in his day. 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.

If the virgin birth is historical, the place to begin is with the documents. Start with Luke’s testimony. Luke was a careful historian who wrote accurately and had the opportunity to talk with those who knew the Messiah. He made inquiries to find out what happened in the early days of our Lord’s life and even before His birth, including interviewing Mary herself. Three conclusions follow. First, the idea of the virgin birth is not some later addition to Christianity but is present in the earliest sources, closest to the event. Second, the virgin birth was not invented by Luke (or any other early writer) but was learned by him from the earliest and most reliable of all witnesses, Mary herself, and those to whom she passed on the information. Third, if that is true, we conclude with the extant records that the virgin birth is a fact of history by the very same means which we ascertain the factuality of any ancient event.

So, what? Why is it important for us to confess and remember 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 a 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 could stand in your place. If the point of that representation is to fulfill your obligation under the Law, He is going to need to be perfect and free from original sin. Christ does this by side-stepping normal human procreation, being conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary.

It is important because it offers an essential corrective to the slanderous accusations of Islam (and others) which come from Muhammad’s ignorance concerning Mary, the Holy Trinity, and the nature of the Messiah’s incarnation. The same can be said of Joseph Smith and the confected teachings of Mormonism.

Jesus assumed the existence of Adam after the Fall and put the chains of the Law on Himself, unshackling us in the process, setting us free to be people of God, sin removed, His righteousness set in our place. This allows us to receive the Holy Spirit who bears witness that we are the children of God and heirs of the Kingdom. Who does not need news like that in times like these, with a new year looming containing little to no promising news?


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out 1517’s resources on Galatians 4:4-7.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you preaching Galatians 4:4-7.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Galatians 4:4-7.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!