by Rev. Jesse Burns

Luther, writing about our redemption in the Smalcald Articles, states, “Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised, even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed.…On this article rests all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. ”[1] The doctrine of justification, the teaching that we poor sinners are saved by faith in the gracious work of Christ alone, can and must never be compromised. If this article of faith is given up, the whole Christian faith is damaged.

In the first seven verses of chapter 4, St. Paul lays out a beautiful description of how “in the fullness of time 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.” Now, because of Christ’s work, sinners who were once enslaved to the elementary principles of this world are no longer slaves but sons of God. As sons of God we are truly free — free from sin, death, and hell.

Read Galatians 4:8-20.

  1. In verse 8, St. Paul writes that the Galatians were in slavery when they “did not know God.” Luther writes about the knowledge of God: “There is a twofold knowledge of God: the general and the particular. All men have the general knowledge, namely, that God is, that He has created heaven and earth, that He is just, that He punishes the wicked, etc. But what God thinks of us, what He wants to give and to do to deliver us from sin and death and to save us—which is the particular and the true knowledge of God—this men do not know.”[2]
  2. We might say that a “general knowledge” of God is to know that there is a deity. How is a general knowledge of God different from the particular knowing–that is, believing in–the one true God? If knowing that there is a god is not the same as believing in the one true God, then how can we know the true God? By what means does God make Himself and His work for our redemption known to us in a clearer, less general way?
  3. In verse 9, St. Paul asks the Galatians, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” God makes Himself known to us through Holy Scripture. Again, Luther, “Therefore the statement, ‘You have come to be known by God,’ means ‘You have been visited by the Word; you have been granted faith and the Holy Spirit, by whom you have been renewed.’”[3] If the Galatians came to know God through the Word of God, then what had they turned from by turning back to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world? How was that a return to slavery?
  4. In verses 11-16, Paul reminds the Galatians of his time in their midst and how they received him “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” Then he asks if he had become their enemy by telling them the truth. Luther comments, “Do not regard me as your enemy because I have scolded you severely, but regard me as your father. For if I did not love you intensely as my own children and know that I was very dear to you, I would not scold you so severely.”[4] Why might Paul’s words of truth, in this section and in the whole letter, have felt like a scolding to the Galatians? How does such a “scolding” ultimately serve the pure teaching of justification?

St. Paul calls the Galatians to remember who they are in Christ Jesus. He reminds them of their former slavery, the freedom they had received through the proclamation of the Gospel, and how they had faithfully received that word from Paul, even bearing with him in his infirmities. Ultimately, Paul was calling the Galatians back to the only faith that justifies–faith not in their own works but in Christ alone. Like the Galatians, the baptized Christian has been called out of slavery and into sonship with God. Yet, again, like the Galatians, the baptized believer continues to live in the fallen flesh and often encounters false ideas about justification. They are numerous and ever around us. Therefore, the Christian is always in need of being reminded of our redemption from slavery and the sonship we have received by grace through faith in Christ.

To that end, O Lord, continue to make Yourself known to us through Your Holy Word and in Your Holy Sacraments. Grant that, by Your Word, we would ever be reminded of who we are in Christ and preserved in this one true faith all the days of our lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Rev. Jesse A. Burns is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ventura, Iowa.

[1]           The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (T. G. Tappert, Ed.). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959., page 292.

[2]           Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (Ga 4:9). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House., page 399

[3]           Ibid., 401

[4]           Ibid, 423