By Priya Samuel
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (Gal 4:8-20).
My family loves the food I make. But from time to time, my husband will add a little something to his plate of food to ‘enhance’ it. What an insult! To think that a touch of even the smallest thing could improve my exquisite dish questions my connoisseurship. In my mind, adding to my meal changes the meal entirely.
The math in the book of Galatians is that the gospel plus something equals a false gospel. And a false gospel is no gospel at all. Any attempt to add or modify justification by faith alone is a mockery of the work of Christ and an exaltation of man.
The Galatians had repented of their idolatry and works-based religion, and received the gift of salvation through faith in the person and work of Jesus. But now they were tempted to earn God’s favor by works again (circumcision and observing days) implying that Christ’s death wasn’t sufficient to save.
In Galatians 4:8-20, Paul uses three ways to entreat his audience to hold on to Christ alone.
First, Paul questions their absurd attempts to return to slavery by contrasting their former state as pagans to their current state as Christians. As pagans, when they did not know God they worshipped idols and were caught up in a cycle of trying to keep the law to save themselves. But this had no effect because of their sinful nature. When they came to know God, they were freed from those futile efforts. So turning back to law-keeping, even the law of Moses, to establish their righteousness meant returning to slavery and denying God.
Second, he reminds them of the joy and blessedness that they felt when they received the true Gospel, despite the repulsiveness of the messenger.
Third, Paul points out that he is not their enemy. He exposes the evil motives of the false teachers who made much of the Galatians merely for their own wicked ends. They wanted the Galatians to glory in them, not God.
Sadly, we are also tempted every day to revert to our former ways. Good things like prayer, bible reading, church attendance, submission to our husbands, parenting, homemaking, hospitality, pursuit of modesty, marital fidelity or purity, can all be pursued either with sinful motives or God glorifying motives.
We ought to examine our hearts to see why we do what we do. Because of our sin nature, often it is for self-glory or the glory of our traditions. We want to find favor with other people. We fear consequences. We want to earn brownie points with God.
If our pursuit of righteousness is not informed by the knowledge of God and his work on the cross, then we deny the grace available to us through Christ. Let us not be like the Galatians, who chose to add things to Christ’s work, rather than savor it for what it is for us.
Priya hails from Hyderabad, India. She is a pastor’s wife and a full time mom of three boys ( Rohan, Aryan and Daven). Her husband Anand is an Associate Pastor at the United Christian Church of Dubai. When she is not enjoying her cup of tea or studying the Old Testament Scriptures to see how they point to Jesus, she enjoys watching crime scene investigation serials or reading a good book.
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