Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (of should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? – Galatians 4:8-9 NET
Why would anyone who had been set free from slavery ever voluntarily subject themselves to it again? That is Paul’s question in this section of his letter. He reminds the believers in Galatia that they were at one time slaves to the basic principles of this world. In other words, they had been subject to the sad state of affairs made possible by the fall. They had been under the constant influence and control of Satan, their own sinful flesh and the world. At one time they had been slaves to their so-called gods – gods that didn’t even really exist. Theirs had been a pointless and hopeless existence attempting to search for release by turning to false gods that offered false hope. But Paul reminds them that “in the fulness of time” – at just the right time – God sent his Son to buy them freedom. Jesus Christ had bought them out of slavery and set them free. As a result, they were no longer slaves, but God’s own children, adopted into His family. They knew the one true God and He knew them. But now, as a result of the influence of the Judaizers, these so-called Jewish believers who were attempting to convince the new converts in Galatia that they must keep the law and adhere to the rituals and requirements of Judaism, the Galatian Christians were becoming enslaved again. Paul accused them of “trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years” (Galatians 4:10 NLT).
Paul plead with them to live in freedom, not slavery. He begged them to not return to the same kind of slavery from which Christ had set them free. Paul’s greatest desire was that Christ would be fully developed in their lives. But he knew that a return to those basic principles of this world would hinder their spiritual growth. Even as believers, we are all still under the influence of Satan, our sinful flesh, and the world. We can still fall prey to the temptation to earn favor with God through our own self-effort. The enemy would love nothing more than to enslave us again to a life of works and pride-based effort. He wants us to see God as a task-master who demands what we can’t deliver. He wants us to live in fear of God, not as children, but as slaves. Satan doesn’t want us to see ourselves as God’s children, but as His powerless pawns, condemned to try to keep Him pleased in order to escape His punishment and earn His favor. But Paul won’t stand for it. And while he can’t personally visit them, he does the next best thing – he writes them and pleads with them. He speaks truth to them. He exposes those who would do harm to them. Because unless they learned to embrace their freedom in Christ, they would never truly grow in Christ. Those who see themselves as slaves will tend to live and act as slaves. But those who truly understand that they have been freed from the basic principles of this world will enjoy all that freedom brings. They will relish their status as children of God. They will take advantage of His indwelling Spirit and allow Him to do in them what they could never have done on their own.
Father, we live in a fallen world and we are surrounded by the basic principles of this world. Ever since the fall, mankind has been in a hopeless quest to rectify their relationship with You. They have been searching for You. They have been trying to figure out to fix all that is wrong with them and with the world in which they live. But You have provided the solution through Your own Son’s death. You have set us free from having to search for a solution or from having to earn back Your favor. But it is so easy to fall back into that old mindset. It is so easy to think that nothing is free and we must do something to get You to love us. But it’s all a lie. Keep us focused on the truth. Keep us aware of the fact that we are free in Christ. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men