In Galatians 4:5–7, Paul expands on his theme, stressing that Christ has now “redeemed those who were under the law” (vss. 4, 5, ESV). The word to redeem means “to buy back.” It referred to the price paid to buy the freedom of either a hostage or a slave. As this context indicates, redemption implies a negative background: a person is in need of being liberated. 1
From what, though, do we need to be freed? The New Testament presents four things among others: (1) freed from the devil and his wiles (Heb. 2:14, 15), (2) freed from death (1 Cor. 15:56, 57), (3) freed from the power of sin that enslaves us by nature (Rom. 6:22), and (4) freed from the condemnation of the law (Rom. 3:19–24, Gal. 3:13, 4:5).
We often speak about what Christ has accomplished for us as “salvation.” Though true, this word is not nearly as vivid and descriptive as Paul’s unique use of the word adoption (huiothesia). Although Paul is the only New Testament author to use this word, adoption was a well-known legal procedure in the Greco-Roman world. Several Roman emperors during Paul’s life used adoption as the means of choosing a successor when they had no legal heir. Adoption guaranteed a number of privileges: “(1) The adopted son become[s] the true son . . . of his adopter. . . . (2) The adopter agrees to bring up the child properly and to provide the necessities of food and clothing. (3) The adopter cannot repudiate his adopted son. (4) The child cannot be reduced to slavery. (5) The child’s natural parents have no right to reclaim him. (6) The adoption establishes the right to inherit.”—Derek R. Moore-Crispin, “Galatians 4:1–9: The Use and Abuse of Parallels,” The Evangelical Quarterly, vol. LXI/No. 3 (1989), p. 216.
If these rights are guaranteed on an earthly level, just imagine how much greater are the privileges we have as the adopted children of God!
Read Galatians 4:6, realizing that the Hebrew word Abba was the intimate word children used to address their father, like the word Daddy or Papa today. Jesus used it in prayer (Mark 14:36), and as God’s children we have the privilege of calling God “Abba,” as well. Do you enjoy that kind of intimate closeness to God in your own life? If not, what’s the problem? What can you change to bring about this closeness?