During this time of childhood, Paul describes it as a time of bondage under the elements of the world. What are those elements? This is not a trivial question just for theologians. It is a practical one for us because if we find out that we are still trapped under those elemental issues, then we are still responding like children. We are living like we are adults still under the sway and guardianship of our parents and that is not a good place to be.
Let’s begin with a question Paul asks in Galatians 4:9: “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?” Do you see what he is asking? There is something wrong with desiring to be in that kind of bondage to what he calls the weak and beggarly elements. What are these? In the very next verse he says, “you observe days, months, seasons and years.” What does he mean by this?
Let’s look at a couple of other passages and then draw some conclusions.
Colossians 2:8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
Colossians 2:20-22 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
So we can see from these passages that the elementary principles of the world involve man-made religion, human rules and regulations, religious exercises that are not from God and similar things.
In addition, God has said that even his law was given to keep us under its guardianship until adulthood came. That adulthood came with the coming of Christ. When an person is a child, he needs to be told what to do about virtually everything. He doesn’t have the maturity to know which vegetables he should eat and that he shouldn’t play in the street. He doesn’t know it’s good to go to bed at a decent hour to get a good night’s sleep. But when adulthood comes, he essentially has the maturity to make these kinds of decisions for himself.
In the religious realm, before the coming of Christ and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit, people needed to be told what to do and how to live. Humans innately develop religious rules and regulations to guide them and God gave his commandments to his people to serve that same function.
But after Christ and the Holy Spirit came, believers are recipients of the benefits of the New Covenant which promised a new heart, new motivations, and the presence of God’s Spirit (Galatians 3:14; Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Under these circumstances the guardianship of the law is not necessary. A Christian has within himself the resources to follow God and do the things that are pleasing to him. He is an “adult” in the sense that he has “grown up” spiritually. He has the internal resources he needs. He is treated by God as an adult son. There is obviously more growing to do just as in physical adulthood, there is a big difference between an adult 25 year old and an adult 60 year old in terms of wisdom and experience and so on.
So the bottom line for the person who is in Christ is that the days of the guardianship of the law are over. It did it’s job in the first part of human history but now in Christ it’s responsibility has been completed.