“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…”
In 4:1-7, Paul illustrates the believer’s privileges because of his status in Christ as compared to those who live under the law. This section further develops 3:23-26.
Now I say that the heir,
Paul gives an illustration of an heir of an entire estate who lives under a slave guardian.
as long as he is a child,
The word “child” here means small child. This person is obviously too young to take responsibilities of adulthood. A slave/guardian told this child when to get up, when to go to school and disciplined him.
Roman custom did not specify an age when a person became ready for adulthood. When the father deemed the heir ready, he celebrated this time by a festival known as Liberalia held on March 17. At this time, the heir received his toga virilis (coat of adulthood). The boy burned his childhood toys at this festival. This person now has authority over the slave that governed him as a child.
does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all
A person who operates under the law is no different than a child who is heir to an entire estate and placed under guardianship. He was a legal heir but he did not have the privilege of utilizing his legal rights to his estate. The law was the guardian (3:24-26) that watched over believers in the Old Testament. A Christian who reverts to the law puts himself back under slavery.
Believers under grace have certain rights with God.
As long as we operate under the law, we live like a slave. God will hold our rights in abeyance until we claim them. It is possible to have a million dollars in liquid assets and never use those assets.
A child is as happy with a quarter than with the promise of hundreds of dollars because he cannot grasp the value of wealth. Christians have great assets but do not use them because they do not acknowledge their privileges in Christ. They do not realize that they can utilize their assets because they are now adult sons positionally in Christ. They seek to gain God’s approbation by what they do. They do not realize that they have God’s favor because of the death of Christ.
The Christians should take possession of their possessions in Christ like the owner of an estate. What a day of liberation that would be! Under grace, we can claim our possessions in Christ like a person who claims his millions at age 18.
None of us can escape the condemnation of the law by what we do. The purpose of the law was to show us our sin, not to save us from sin. That is why we forsake self-effort in an attempt to appease God. We throw ourselves on the finished work of Christ who appeased God fully. Our rights with God come from Him alone.