Religion is Satan’s great blinding agent to God’s grace (2 Cor. 4:3-4). “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now, after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal. 4:8-9). Paul’s logical mind rivaled that of a brilliant attorney. Point-by-point, the apostle clearly showed that the law did nothing to give life and in no way contributes to a believer’s ability to live the Christian life. This can be a frightening truth. If God’s law does not govern our behavior, what will? It just seems right to us that we need some religious system to help us behave. However, before these Galatians knew the true and living God, they were in bondage to false gods like Zeus, Hermes, Diana and Aphrodite. Why, after becoming free in Jesus Christ and becoming adult sons with all the rights and privileges of sonship, would they want to go back under the slavery of any religious system – including keeping the law.
People get so caught up in religious activity that they cannot see that God, in Jesus Christ, has done everything necessary to give them life and peace. Even after discovering God’s wonderful grace, there is always a fleshly tendency to want to go back under an ego-feeding religious system. “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain” (Gal. 4:10-11). Paul feared that the Galatian Christians were on the edge of going back into a bondage that would rob them of their joy. He encouraged them instead to be like him. “Brethren, I urge you to become as I am” (Gal. 4:12). Paul became free and comfortable with his relationship to Jesus Christ. His greatest desire was to know more and more about the One who had saved him, and he was not going back under the bondage of the law with its rules and regulations and stiff penalties for those who couldn’t measure up. There was neither joy nor power in that.
The believer’s relationship with Christ is characterized by love and trust, not rules and penalties. After a strong Biblical argument for grace, Paul appealed to their emotion. “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth” (Gal. 4:13-16)? God had possibly given Paul an unsightly physical problem that was to remind him of the reason that he was in this world and not in heaven (2 Cor. 12:7-10). But his message so magnified the work of Jesus Christ that those who believed immediately took their eyes off Paul and put them on Christ. The words to a familiar song say it all: Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
While the Galatians were in fellowship with Jesus Christ, they had received Paul as an angel of God. But now that they had taken their eyes off the Lord Jesus Christ and had begun to listen to the religious frauds around them, the results were devastating. The very one who had brought to them the gospel of grace had become their enemy. Paul realized that his position of grace was not a popular position with the religious crowd, but it was still the truth. “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them” (Gal. 4:16-18). These self-righteous Jews secretly wished to enslave the Galatian Christians by enticing them into their religious lifestyle. They did so by pretending to exclude them from their little fraternity. “Oh, you probably do not have what it takes to be one of us anyway,” they might have said. They delighted in seeing these Galatians work and squirm under their bondage. When Christianity becomes a fraternity of religious works and self-imposed rules, those who out-hustle the rest of the crowd and those who know the rules will run the show. Those who do not know the rules and can’t out-hustle the elite will become second-class citizens in the organization. These religious groups will often use words that flatter and a cheap, easy kindness that will seduce the unsuspecting into the organization.
“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). It was obvious that the Judaizers were telling them one thing and the apostle Paul was telling them something else. “Who are we to listen to?” they might ask. “How am I really saved?” “Maybe salvation does involve works.” “Maybe I am not saved once forever.” Because babes in Christ have doubts and questions and need time and teaching to grow up in the Lord, the facts of the gospel must be repeated to them over and over again. Paul did not mind patiently going over the new birth process with the Galatians until Christ was formed in them. The word “formed” comes from a root word “metamorphosis.” It brings to mind a little caterpillar in a cocoon which, if given time, is transformed into a beautiful butterfly. Likewise, the new Christian, if taught the Word of God, given the freedom to walk in fellowship with Christ, and given adequate time, will be transformed into the beautiful image of Christ. Paul’s use of the phrase “my little children” is not unusual for him at all. He often used the analogy of a child’s physical growth to illustrate the new Christian’s spiritual growth. According to Paul, the three stages of spiritual growth that mark the life of the new believer are (1) Christ being formed in the believer (Gal. 4:19), (2) Christ becoming at home or comfortable in the believer (Eph. 3:17), and (3) Christ being magnified in the believer (Phil. 1:20-21). The Galatians were not yet spiritually mature enough to stand up to the religious charlatans, but Paul was not going to leave them at the mercy of this religious crowd. Blessings!