Paul rebukes the Galatians for their return to legalism (Galatians 4:8-11)
Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, March 10, 2019
Christ saves us, Christ rescues us, Christ changes our lives. Think about the change in John Newton:
Perhaps no one since Paul has grasped the meaning of this tremendous transition more completely than John Newton, the former slave trader whose remarkable conversion is reflected in his famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.” As John Stott tells the story of Newton:
He was an only child and lost his mother when he was seven years old. He went to sea at the tender age of eleven and later became involved, in the words of one of his biographers, “in the unspeakable atrocities of the African slave trade.” He plumbed the depths of human sin and degradation. When he was twenty-three, on 10 March 1748, when his ship was in imminent peril of floundering in a terrific storm, he cried to God for mercy, and he found it. He was truly converted, and he never forgot how God had had mercy upon him, a former blasphemer. He sought diligently to remember what he had previously been, and what God had done for him. In order to imprint it on his memory, he had written in bold letters and fastened across the wall over the mantelpiece of his study the words of Deut 15:15: “Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee.” Stott, Only One Way, 110. Far from leading Newton to a life of quietism and inaction, the doctrine of sovereign grace propelled the former slave trader into one of the most remarkable ministries in the history of the Christian church. In his sermon on the “Sovereignty of God,” Newton exclaimed: “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God almighty! Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints! This is the God whom we adore. This is he who invites us to lean upon his almighty arm, and promises to guide us with his unerring eye.… Therefore, while in the path of duty and following his call, we may cheerfully pass on regardless of apparent difficulties, for the Lord, whose we are, and who has taught us to make his glory our highest end, will go before us. And at his word, crooked things become straight, light shines out of darkness, and mountains sink into plains. Faith may and must be exercised, experience must and will confirm what his word declares, that the heart is deceitful and that man in his best estate is vanity. But his promises to them that fear him shall be confirmed likewise, and they shall find him in all situations a son, a shield, and an exceedingly great reward” (A Burning and a Shining Light: English Spirituality in the Age of Wesley, ed. D. L. Jeffrey [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 438).
Christ changes all of us. Christ keeps us from falling into sin as well. Today, we look at Galatians and we notice how Paul rebukes them for going backwards. They were saved and now they are going backwards. They were saved from paganism and ritualism and now they are going back to legalism. Let’s look at the passage.
Paul rebukes the Galatians for their return to legalism.
Serve Christ and rest in His grace, don’t be a slave to anything or anyone other than Christ.
Let’s read Galatians 4:8-11:
However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
- Notice in verses 8-9 Paul rebukes them for going backwards.
- In verse 8 Paul says that they “at that time” did not know God.
- This was a previous time. This was before they were sons and daughters. This was before they knew God. This was when the Jewish people were living under the “guardians” or “managers” or “tutors” (3:24 and 4:2). This was when the Jewish people were living under the law. They were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.
- They were gentiles so they were not enslaved to the law, they were enslaved to pagan gods.
- They are going backwards. Christ has set them free and why would they go backwards? Why go backwards?
- Paul says that they were slaves.
- Now, in their case they were not slaves to the law. They were slaves to false gods.
- Look at these other passages:
- 1 Co 8:4f With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” 8:5 If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords)…
- 1 Co 10:20 No, I mean that what the pagans sacrifice is to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons.
- Ga 4:3 So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world.
- Take note, here, everyone is a slave to something. Even today, if you are not serving Christ you are serving someone or something else. They were slaves to paganism.
- In verse 9 there is a transition, “but Now…” Now, they know God. Or, the passage specifies, they are known by God.
- The biggest deal is that they are known by God.
- This is true for us. Don’t miss this, the biggest deal is that God has made Himself known and saved us. He has saved us! God has intervened so that we are known by Him.
- But they are turning back to something “weak” and “worthless.”
- Why would they turn back to something “weak” and “worthless”?
- That is exactly what Paul is asking.
- Col 2:20 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world?
- Notice the emphasis on enslavement continues. The repetitive nature continues. Paul says they want to get into these “elemental things.” These would be the Jewish law for Jews and the paganism for gentiles. Paul says they are enslaved all over again.
- Listen, we must not go backwards in our faith. Serve Christ and rest in His grace, don’t be a slave to anything or anyone other than Christ.
- We will come back to that.
- Notice in verse 10 Paul gives an example of how they are going backwards.
- Verse 10: They observe days and months and seasons and years. This is an example of how they are going backwards. They are going back to legalism.
- This is current, so I think it is Jewish days and months and seasons and years. One source shares:
- Paul linked four measurements of time, each of which likely refers to certain aspects of the Jewish system of religious feasts. Thus days could refer to the weekly Sabbath observance as well as to other feasts celebrated for only a day; months, to the new moon rituals mentioned in Num 10:10; seasons, to the great annual feasts such as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (cf. 2 Chr 8:13; Zech 8:19); and years, to the Year of Jubilee, the Sabbatical Year, and the New Year celebrations.
- Further: It is quite possible, of course, that the expression “days, months, seasons and years” was a kind of double entendre referring at once to Jewish calendar dates and pagan cultic observances. Thus Paul would have been saying to the Galatians, “If you fall prey to the lure of the Judaizers, you will find yourselves just as captivated by the oppression of the astral deities as ever you were under the old paganism.”
- In another text Paul says Col 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days—
- Let’s talk about some applications:
- There is no salvation in legalism, we must only trust in Christ (verse 10).
- There is no salvation in days, months, years, etc, only Jesus (verse 10).
- We must understand that our salvation is not in attending Sunday worship or even taking communion.
- We must understand that our salvation is not in Christmas and Easter worship, but only Jesus.
- We must not turn back to things which Jesus has delivered us from (verse 9).
- Jesus has saved us, why turn back?
- Jesus is making us more holy, why turn back?
- We must rest in Christ allowing Him to deliver us from sin and sins.
- We all are delivered from past sin, don’t turn back. Maybe you were delivered when you were saved, don’t turn back. Maybe you were delivered since you have been saved, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to alcohol? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to pornography? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to drugs? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to self and self absorbed? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to materialism? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to fear? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to worry? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to another religion, wicca? Secret societies? Islam? Buddhism? Hinduism? Mormon? Jehovah’s Witness? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to sports? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to atheism? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to agnosticism? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- Were you a slave to work? You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- You are free in Christ, don’t turn back.
- We must understand that we all serve something and we will serve Christ. We must understand that apart from Christ we are a slave to sin and sinful ways. We will not be slaves to anything other than Christ. (verse 8)
- We must not be a slave to a political ideology.
- We must not be a slave to sports.
- We must not be a slave to materialism.
- We must not be a slave to knowledge.
- We must only be a slave to Christ.
- We must stay true to Christ and only serve Him.
Don’t return to past sins:
In 1999, 25-year-old Christopher Miller was arrested after he forced employees into the back room of the Stride Rite shoe store on Hooper Avenue in Toms River, New Jersey. After a 15-year sentence, on Friday, March 21, 2014, Miller was released from South Woods State Prison in New Jersey. The very next day, Miller, now 40 years old, took a bus from Atlantic City to Toms River and went to the same shoe store.
Employees tell police that he entered the store and demanded cash, telling two workers to go to the back room. When the employees refused, Miller became agitated and took the cash register drawer, which had $389. He then took the workers’ cell phones and fled on foot. Police say he was found a few blocks away, with the cash stashed in a gutter and the phones in a garbage can.
Toms River Police Chief Mitchell Little speculated, “Maybe [prison life is] the only life he knows, and the only thing he could think of was going back to the same store and doing the same crime again—getting caught and going back where he was taken care of and told what to do and getting meals and shelter and everything else.”
Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 314–315.
Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 317.
Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994).
Adapted from Brian Thompson, “Man Leaves Prison, Robs Same New Jersey Shoe Store 15 Years Later: Police,” NBC News (3-26-14)