I took a midway break throught the Galatians study, but it is time to get back to business. :-) Chapter 4 really begins with the end of chapter 3. 3:26-29 is a transitional passage of certain importance. Paul brings about another climax in thought for the Judaizers, as well as the Gentile believers, here. In context, he provides the ultimate definition as to what a genuine believer looks like (contrary to the Judaizers' concept)...and it is this definition that all of the Galatian believers need to internalize. "You are all sons through faith in Christ Jesus" (3:26 ). Jesus is the unifier, not regulations or traditions. Paul spells it out clearly -- everyone who has been baptized into, converted to Christ...regardless of race, gender or social status...is a son or daughter of God. This effectively ties together the whole of chapter 3...there can indeed be unity even though there is some significant diversity in these churches. Paul, once again, invokes Abraham to make his case, as all of these believers are not only children of God, but children of the promise to Abraham (as he revealed earlier in chapter 3). Kingdom living triumphs over all other philosophies, attitudes and practices.
He continues this thought process into chapter 4, by saying that even though Judaizers and Gentiles might have literally or figuratively been children of Ishmael at one point, they are no longer so...now they are all children of Isaac or children of the seed of Abraham. (He will come back to this point at the end of the chapter). They were once slaves, but now they all are sons...and it is because of this, that they are all heirs of the kingdom. Some of the Gentiles may have followed the elementary principles of their day with regard to philosophies, traditions, cultic practices (see Paul at Athens in Acts 17), but now relationship with Jesus puts all of those concepts in their proper perspective -- they are worthless in comparison to a relationship with God in Christ (vv.8-11). Just a side note regarding vv.10-11...I have heard these verses taken out of context in order to describe why Christians should not keep holy days (such as Christmas, Easter) today. It is important to note that in the Roman letter, Paul says that people can keep special holy days if they so choose to do so, and not do so if they choose not to practice such (Romans 14:1ff). The issue, once again, is not holidays or circumcision, but living with respect for each other in love. Paul's point is that he does not want the Judiazers over-emphasis concerning keeping holy days to be a dividing line for the church. The Gentile believers have allowed themselves to be easily influenced by the Judaizers in this respect. The Judaizers should not enforce their holidays and other practices on the Gentile believers as a litmus test to determine whether or not they are genuine Christians. Paul recognizes the severity of the problem for the Galatian churches (vv.17-20), and his tone reflects the critical nature of his concern.
As Paul introduced Him in chapter 3, the key to the discussion, once again, is the presence of the Holy Spirit. If these believers have the Holy Spirit present and at work in their lives, then they are going to learn and grow in their understanding of spiritual concerns. Paul is building his case regarding the importance of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual battle for the soul. He will continue to make this case throughout the remainder of the letter. (I will address the presence of the Holy Spirit and the modern day believer shortly). He says that the Galatian believers no longer experience "joy", one of the fruit of the Spirit (v.15). This is due to the fact that they have traded "spiritual" living, as they learned it in Christ through Paul's example, for "legal" living according to the regulations of old. It matters not what age, era, or what have you, that people live...folks will never come to spiritual thinking, living through regulations and traditions. Keeping the law, regulations only serves to quench the Spirit, rob people of their joy. If these matters are not kept in proper perspective, they can and will only serve to hinder spiritual growth.
Paul concludes his argument by returning to an illustration regarding Hagar and Sarah, wives of patriarch Abraham. He builds quite a case over several verses (21-31), but his point is this -- those who were supposed to be children of Isaac have behaved like children of Ishmael, being persecutors, hateful toward their brethren...just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the child of the promise. Indeed Paul's point, once again, is that all who live by faith are children of Isaac, whether they are Jewish or Gentile in their origin. This had to be radically difficult concept for the Judaizers to grasp, but one that they needed to understand if the church was going to function and prosper. At the same time, the Gentile believers had to find Paul's message liberating and refreshing. Jewish and Gentile Christians are going to have to submit to figuring out a way to work through their challenges and grow together.
As I mentioned when I taught this in class -- in our fellowship, we have often made baptism the litmus test as to whether one is a believer or not. This is interesting and ironic, given the fact that Paul makes whether or not a believer has the Holy Spirit the litmus test as to whether one is in Christ (3:14, 4:6,7, as well as Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:16 even Acts 2:38 and 39, et. al.). The point is this...not everyone who has been baptized lives like a spiritual person, filled with the Holy Spirit. There are a host of people who have had a baptism...religious and otherwise...who do not practice or experience kingdom living. This is precisely what Paul is saying regarding the Judaizers. They may have put on Christ in baptism, but they do not in any way behave like people who have a relationship with Christ. This can be just as great a challenge for people today as it was for believers then. We must be careful that we do not allow our traditions, practices to take away our love for the brethren, and thus, we look like the Judaizers of old in spirit and practice. However, in relationship to the discussion, no one can experience kingdom living without the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. And, as Paul (Romans 6:1ff, etc.), Luke (Acts 2:38-39, 8:1ff, 16:29ff, etc.) and other NT writers point out, no one can have the Holy Spirit present and working without some conversion involving baptism. What does this mean? This may look different to different people. I do know that I have a lot of Christian friends in my life who may not look like me, act like me, practice their faith exactly the same way that I do, but who have the Holy Spirit and are a vibrant part of the kingdom of God. This is the proof of discipleship to the greatest degree.