In the previous section which we looked at last week, Paul equated the law to a servant, and those who were under the law as held in captivity to it. Being under the law then was portrayed as being a slave. And in contrast being set free by the grace of Christ was correlated to being made a son of the Father by adoption.
And because you have been adopted as sons, he says in vs 6 “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
The result of sonship is that we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, so that He is the law of God written upon our hearts, and we are not under bondage to the law written on tablets of stone. That’s the big difference between the old covenant and the new covenant by the way. The difference is in the old covenant, we were told what we could and shouldn’t do, but we had no spiritual strength to keep it. But in the new covenant, we have been given the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, through whom we are able to obey.
John said in John 1:17 “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” And of that grace he says in vs 16, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”
When we think of grace, we are often guilty of thinking of it in only one dimension. But the scripture says He gives us “grace upon grace.” Grace is being given the forgiveness of sins when we haven’t done anything to earn it. Grace is being given new life by a reborn spirit. Grace is being adopted into the family of God. Grace is being given the Spirit of Christ to dwell within us. Grace is being given an inheritance in heaven. Grace upon grace upon grace.
Because we are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, because we are sons, we are no longer a slave, and if a son, then an heir through God. Vs 8, “However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.” Before you were saved, you were slaves to those things which are not gods. They are not actually gods, but we acted as though they were gods. We were ruled by sinful passions within us. We were held in captivity to sin. We worshipped the things of this world which are not actually gods, but yet we worshiped them as gods. We served the elemental things of this world.
That’s natural. When you are unsaved, you are blinded to the truth and so you worship things that are not gods. As it says in 2Cor. 4:3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So before we knew God we were blinded to the truth and thus worshipped the elemental things of the world.
Vs 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?” Paul says “But you Galatians who have come to know God, and to be known by God, (that’s a reference to their salvation, to being adopted as sons) have turned back to worship elemental things once again, and become slaves all over again.”
Now notice he is not saying they were enslaved to the same elemental things as they were before they were born again, but they were enslaved to things which are just as weak and elemental as those things, but in a different form. What sort of elemental things is he speaking of then?
Well, he answers that question in vs10 “You observe days and months and seasons and years.” What is he referring to? He is referring to the Sabbath, to the festival days, to the various rites and rituals and ceremonies that were prescribed under the Jewish law. These things had the appearance of religion, but denying the power of religion.
Paul spoke further about that in Colossians 2:20 saying, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all [refer] [to] things destined to perish with use)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, [but are] of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
In particular, the ceremonial laws of the Jews were what was in question here in Galatia.The Judaisers had come to the Galatians with a different gospel, a gospel of faith plus works, particularly the ceremonial, outward signs of their religion such as circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, observing certain festival days, and possibly dietary laws.
And you know, similar things are proposed by some churches in 21st century Christianity. There are some churches that advocate that you cannot enter heaven unless you have been baptized. Some say that you must keep the Sabbath. Some have advocated for the dietary laws of the Jews to be practiced. Some have taken up the practice of certain festivals such as the festival of booths.
I don’t have time to address all those practices this morning. But I will briefly address the idea of keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was observed from sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening. It was basically observed on Saturday. Those that attempt to make Sunday into the modern Sabbath are misinformed. It has to be the 6th day of the week.
But after the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week, the disciples started assembling together on Sunday to commemorate Christs resurrection. It was called the Lord’s Day. There are multiple references to the church meeting on the first day of the week in the New Testament, but I am not going to take the time to look them all up for you this morning. But as Peter said, to keep the law of the Sabbath then is to put yourself back under a yoke which neither the apostles nor the fathers were able to bear.
However, this verse in Galatians 4:10 is a very important verse to support the view that the Sabbath is no longer required to be kept. Another good one is Colossians 2:16, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” The short answer is that if someone tells you that you must keep the Sabbath then they are advocating a form of legalism which is exactly what Paul is admonishing the Galatians for here.
And because of that concern, Paul says in vs11 “I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” I fear for you because you are going into legalism, which is a form of enslavement. I fear for you because you are trying to be justified by works. I fear for you because you are rejecting the perfect satisfaction of Christ’s sacrifice for trying to achieve salvation by works.
Listen, that’s the tragedy of the Roman Catholic Church. I know some very sincere people in the Catholic Church who believe in God, they believe in Jesus Christ, but they are trying to find favor with God through the rituals and ceremonies and works that are taught by the church. And I fear for them. I met a very nice Catholic man the other day and had a long talk with him. He seemed to have a very sincere belief in God but I fear for him that he is laboring in vain, because he is trying to absolve his sin by going to mass, trying to attain righteousness through taking the host, trying to attain heaven by being baptized, and other such works that they prescribe.
Paul fears that he has labored over the Galatians in vain, because they are turning back to such elementary things. One commentator said that it was as if the Galatians had dropped out of Grace University so they could go back to learn the ABC’s in kindergarten. So he continues in vs 12 “I beg of you, brethren, become as I [am,] for I also [have become] as you [are.] You have done me no wrong.”
This is an obtuse statement. There are many different attempts at interpreting what Paul means by this statement. But I think what he is saying is he was not living like a Jew, even though he was a Jew. He was living as a Gentile, though a converted Gentile. He was not trying to keep the Jewish ceremonial laws for the purpose of gaining favor with God.
I think we can back up that interpretation by looking at what Paul had to say to the Corinthians in 1Cor. 9:20-23 he says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”
Paul’s practice was not Judaism, but the new covenant of grace through faith. And so he could say be like me, not like the Judaisers, for I have become like you Gentiles for the sake of the gospel.
Then he adds a statement that is even more difficult to understand in that context. He says “you have done me no wrong.” I think it would be better if it was put with the next verse rather than with vs 12. Because I think he’s quantifying what he is about to say next, by saying, “you haven’t hurt my feelings, that’s not why I am saying what I’m about to say. You haven’t hurt me, I’m not rebuking you because I got my feelings hurt by you.”
So what was he about to say that needed to preface with that? Vs 13, “but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus [Himself.] Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
When Paul preached the gospel to them originally, he had a bodily condition that was afflicting him and in some way that had caused him to be in that region while he was recovering or dealing with that condition. There has been much discussion among Bible scholars over what sort of condition it was. I’m convinced from the context that it was a condition in his eyes that caused him near blindness and perhaps at that time there was some sort of corruption in his eyes that made it difficult for people to look at him.
I think it’s probably the same thing that Paul spoke of when he said God sent him a thorn in the flesh. 2Cor. 12:7-9 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
I think this interpretation is further borne out in this passage in Galatians when he says that if possible you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. It’s also indicated at the close of this letter when he says, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” In other words, his vision was so poor that he had to write in large letters to be able to see. That’s probably the reason he relied upon another person to write his letters for him, but he signed them with his name which was scrawled in big letters.
But that’s all really a side note to the main point he is making, that in their initial reception of the gospel there was a great sense of blessing that they had in their salvation. They understood their salvation was by grace through faith. And when they understood the truth, their salvation was a source of joy, of blessing. But with the adding of legalism, the joy or blessing was diminished or had even disappeared.
Imagine that you have been locked up in prison because of some financial fraud of millions of dollars that you had committed. But someone had intervened upon the legal system on your behalf and paid your debt and court costs and had been able to secure your freedom. Upon being set free you are filled with joy, gratefulness for being set free from the condemnation of the law and the penalty you could never pay. But imagine some time after you were set free, you found out that you were required to repay all that debt to the one who had set you free by becoming their indentured servant. I suppose it would not take long for that joy to turn to bitterness knowing that you would spend the rest of your life working to repay this person. That’s what legalism does, it requires you to repay by your enslavement what had been paid on your behalf to set you free. And the result of that enslavement is to lose your joy and become embittered.
Not only had the Galatians lost their joy or sense of blessing in their salvation, but they guilty of looking at Paul with hostility. He says, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” I can tell you the answer to that. Yes. The pastor that tells the wayward Christian the truth becomes his enemy. It’s the shoot the messenger syndrome. That is the cost of being a pastor, you lose friendship with those you serve because you step on someone’s toes. But I can tell you that the faithful pastor doesn’t step on toes deliberately to offend people, but because he must say what the Bible says and be faithful to God’s word, irregardless of whether or not it’s what people want to hear.
In light of that, Paul tells the Galatians what the Judaisers are actually trying to accomplish by telling them something other than the truth. Vs.17 “They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.” When Paul says they wish to shut you out, he literally means to “lock you up.” For now, the Judaisers are courting the Galatians, but once they have alienated them from the grace of Christ, the legalists will demand that the Galatians serve them. Legalism is almost always associated with some kind of religious bondage. They seek you, they seek your attention, but not for your advantage, but for your disadvantage. They seek to take you into bondage with them.
Many cults use a similar technique informally known as “love bombing.” They initially overwhelm a prospective member with attention, support, and affection. Yet it isn’t really a sincere love for the person; it is really just a technique to gain another member. Remember, the truth will make you free, but the falsehood of the false gospel will enslave you.
Paul continues in vs 18, “But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you.” The Galatian Christians were no doubt impressed by the zeal of the Judaisers. The legalists were so sincere, so passionate about their beliefs. Paul agreed that it is good to be zealous — but only in a good thing. Zeal in the service of a lie is a dangerous thing. I’m often amazed at the zeal that the adherents of the false gospel have, especially when compared to those of the truth.
Paul knew this well, because before he became a Christian, he had plenty of zeal; even to the extent of persecuting the church. Later, Paul looked back at that time of great zeal in the service of a lie and deeply regretted it. But Paul wanted the Galatians to be zealous for what is good when he was absent, not only when he was present among them.
Paul concludes this section by saying he wishes he could be present among them now. Vs.19 “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you– but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” Paul wishes he could be present with them and change his tone, for he is perplexed about them. I would paraphrase that, he is worried about them.
And why is he worried about them? Because he feels like he is having to give birth to them again, spiritually speaking. They were born again at the first proclamation of Paul’s gospel, but then they turned back to elementary things, legalism. So he says, I am in birth labor again with you, until Christ is formed in you.
What Paul is not saying is that they have lost their salvation and they need to be born again, again. It’s necessary to have a second birth, but not a third or a fourth birth. I think he is talking about sanctification, being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. As we mature in our faith, it’s necessary to be conformed, or recreated in the image of Jesus Christ. And we do that by yielding to the leading of the Spirit of Christ within us.
As Paul said in vs 6, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” It’s as if to say, “Father, not my will, but your will be done.” It’s the power of God in us that conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. It’s not being conformed to Judaism or to some collection of ceremonies that brings about our sanctification. But it’s walking in the power of the Spirit that accomplishes the purposes of God. It’s having the Spirit of Christ formed in you as the ruling, controlling power in your life. To be born again is not living according to some decrees that regulate the flesh, but living according to the guidance of the Spirit of Christ within us. Having a new spirit, a new heart that is yielded to the Spirit of Christ is the key to a victorious, joyful Christian life.
That’s where Paul is going in this letter. He is developing an argument that says we are to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. He says in chapter 5 vs [Gal 5:18 “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”
Let me conclude by reading this passage from Romans which speaks of this doctrine of living by the Spirit, and I will just read it without exposition as a closing summary of this message this morning. Rom 8:9-15 “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
I trust that you all have received that adoption as sons by the regeneration of the Spirit of Christ that is in you. You must be born again. If that is not your experience, then call upon the Lord today for forgiveness of your sins, that you may be born again of the Spirit and receive the Spirit of Christ to dwell in your hearts by faith.