Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (verses 8-20)
Which would you rather: to be a slave or a full-fledged member of the family?
I’d opt for “family member” any day, no question. This incredibly privileged position is the one Paul has just affirmed we have in Christ (Gal 4:1-7). We have been adopted into the family – the Spirit cries out within us, “Abba, Father.” It is a cry that is intense and true. We are daughters and sons and heirs. What privilege. What joy.
Why go back, then, to a position of slavery? Why be enslaved “all over again”? But this is exactly what the Galatians were choosing. Those from pagan background had been “slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” Jews and Gentiles both had been “in slavery under the basic principles of the world” (Gal 4:3) – in other words, they had adopted religious teachings that focused them on outward, physical observances, like “special days and months and seasons and years.” Religiously, they had laboured under these rules. Why go back there again?
But this is what the false teachers in Galatia were urging them to do. Indeed, more strongly, they told them it was required for salvation. So, the Galatians, like witless sheep, were “turning back to those weak and miserable principles.” Can you understand why Paul is so incensed?
But do we do the same? We have been given full forgiveness in Christ. We have been adopted into God’s family with all the privileges of heirs. We not only know God, but, more wonderfully, we “are known by God” – we are in intimate relationship with the Almighty Lord of the universe. Amazing. Our position is secure. Why, then, do we ever look anywhere else for our security?
But do we? Are we tempted, like the Galatians, to judge our spiritual well-being on the basis of our own faithfulness in keeping certain spiritual acts of devotion, rather than purely and simply on our relationship with Christ? Do we follow “rules” in order to feel approved? What is our motivation? Sons and daughters obey their Father out of love, but slaves do it out of duty. Which motivation is ours?
Do we tend to put extra requirements on those around us? Are there “special days and months and seasons,” or church services and devotions and do’s and don’ts, that we expect others to live by in order to be fully accepted as spiritually sound? Do we exalt our own denomination’s theology, or our own political leanings, into litmus-tests of spirituality? Have we strayed from faith alone in Christ alone?
The flip side of this whole discussion, of course, is that we have been truly and fully and eternally saved if we have placed faith in Jesus. Rejoice in that reality. Live in it securely. Don’t ever leave that sure foundation. And walk in joyful, confident, free obedience to the Lord, knowing you are a deeply loved, adopted child of the King.
Father, I come to you as your child, standing in your grace, fully forgiven and secure. In your presence I have right-standing, simply because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Thank you. Let me never put confidence in any other source. Let me never heap extra requirements on those around me. By your Spirit, strengthen me in my inner being that I may live in the full dimensions of your love. To Jesus’ glory. Amen.
Reflect: Take the old hymn once again and reflect on it all day.
“My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”