Paul taught we can’t earn our salvation but by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), while Jesus taught we must be worthy to receive salvation (Luke 20:35-36) which is by keeping God’s commandments (Matt 19:16-19; Rev 22:14). Jesus never taught salvation by grace anywhere. The grace Jesus taught is conditional (Matt 22:1-14), reversible (Matt 18:21-35) and expiring (Luke 13:6-9) – given only to become righteous and holy before being cut off.
In this fourth chapter of Galatians, we will look into how Paul using the law as a straw man to reject what God spoke to Abraham to deceive gentile Christians with promises that are not theirs.
Straw man fallacy
Gal 4:1-7 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Paul begins this chapter by saying, we are sons of God because Christ redeemed us from the law. What? When was the last time the gentiles were under the law? Why should Christ even require to redeem gentiles who were never under the law?
A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man” (Wiki)
Here Paul is using the law as a straw man. Let us explore why Paul is using the law as a straw man.
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
1Pet 1:23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever
The first point Paul puts forward is that the gentiles become children of God through adoption because of Christ redeeming gentiles from the law. But, as we see above, Jesus and His disciples never taught adoption but being born again.
One might wonder what is the big difference. When Paul is referring to adoption, he is using it to show, the person being adopted by God cannot do anything to get adopted. This is contrary to what Jesus taught where we must be sinless for God to accept us as His children.
John 8:34-35 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.
1John 3:9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
According to Jesus, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. Only those who do not commit sin are His sons. This is the same explanation what John writes in his letter. Whoever is born of God does not sin.
Hence, no one is going to become children of God by adoption as Paul lied, but we being sinless before God.
Paul is upset
Gal 4:8-14 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
So, what did the Galatians do that made Paul upset? The text seems to suggest that the Galatians were turning back to other gods but they were following the law as we read later in Gal 4:21. However, instead of Paul showing Christ’s teachings to follow, he wants the Galatians to be like him and he became like a Galatian to the Galatians. The true reason why Paul doesn’t show Christ’s teachings to the Galatians is because Paul doesn’t know what Christ actually taught. He never referred a single parable, nothing on the life of Jesus except communion, death, resurrection and baptism. He only knew what the early Christians preached and shared among themselves.
Gal 4:15-20 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.
Here, Paul is speaking ill of those who persuade the Galatians to follow the law. What the Galatians did is indeed wrong for they were never given the law anytime, nor they where under it anytime. However, what Paul falsely claiming a promise was also wrong which we will look deeper in the next section.
Paul’s False Promise
Gal 4:21-31 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar– for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children– but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.
While it is true that the Galatians had no reason to follow the law since they were never under it nor was it given to them at any time, the way Paul attacks the law using it as a straw man and falsely applying the promises of Abraham to the gentiles is completely wrong.
Have the gentile Christians become children of promise? Is it by faith we also become children of Abraham? Absolutely not!
Gen 17:7-10 “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;
A gentile can never become a descendant of Abraham, ever. The law does not allow it nor does it have any provisions for it. Can a gentile even inherit the promise given to Abraham? Absolutely not! Even after circumcision, a gentile can neither become a descendant nor inherit any promises of Abraham reserved for his descendants. But Paul cunningly threw away the requirements of the covenant spoken by God Himself (e.g., circumcision), then made the gentiles Christians as Abraham’s descendants and even applied the promises for Abraham’s descendants to gentiles Christians. How far will Paul go in throwing away God’s spoken words to deceive gentile Christians?