Galatians 4:4–5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Some of Paul’s statements on the Mosaic law and the old covenant believer are hard to accept at first glance. Consider his depiction of all people as enslaved to “the elementary principles of the world” prior to Christ (Gal. 4:1–3). In other words, all people before Jesus’ first advent, Israelites and Gentiles alike, were bound to sin and found God’s law, whether on the Gentiles’ consciences or within the Old Testament, to be a burden and a cruel taskmaster. Yet the upright lives of men such as King Josiah (2 Kings 22:1–2) and the love for the Law in passages like Psalm 119 seem to cast doubt on the words of Paul. John Calvin explains this apparent contradiction in his commentary, noting that Paul’s view of the Law assumes the experience of Israel as a whole: “The apostle describes not particular persons…. Some men were endowed with extraordinary gifts, but they were few, and the whole body did not share with them.” Many individuals lived in freedom under the old covenant by faith, but the nation’s experience as a collective body is a different story altogether. The punishment of exile, in particular, revealed the depth of Israel’s depravity (Lev. 26:14–39).
With Christ, this period of slavery ended. Paul speaks of the Savior’s coming in “the fullness of time” to redeem those under the Law and give them the adoption of sons (Gal. 4:4–5). Jesus’ work is the turning point of history, the time His Father appointed for the formal adoption of His people as His heirs (vv. 1–2). Numerous commentators have noted how the ease of communication and travel available in the Roman Empire during the first century AD allowed for the rapid spread of Christianity. Through the eyes of faith, we can acknowledge God’s providential ordering of events in order that the time might be ripe for His Son to procure salvation and have His gospel declared worldwide.
Jesus was “born of a woman,” a reference to His full humanity, and “under the Law” (vv. 4–5), which means, John Calvin, tells us, that “Christ chose to become liable to keep the law, that exemption from it might be obtained for us.” On our behalf Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law that we might share with Him the rights and privileges as children of God.
Augustine comments on the differences between us and Jesus: “We are sons of God through his generosity and the condescension of his mercy, whereas he is Son by nature, sharing the same divinity with the Father” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 8, p. 54). We who trust in Christ alone have the right to be called children of God (John 1:12); thus, we can count on His loving provisions and discipline to make us holy.