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Summary: God requires believers to live holy lives because they are children of a holy God and desire to love and worship Him (Matt. 5.48 ).

November 6, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

Chapter III.C.1.a: Because of their Return to Bondage (4:8-11)

Galatians 4.8-11 (KJV)

8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Introduction

While salvation is the free gift of God (Rom. 6.23 ), it brings with it serious responsibility (Luke 12.48 ). God requires believers to live holy lives because they are children of a holy God and desire to love and worship Him (Matt. 5.48 ). That obligation was to the unchanging moral and spiritual principles that forever reflect the nature of God; however it did not include the rituals and ceremonies unique to Israel under the Mosaic Law as the Judaizers mistakenly claimed.

Commentary

8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.

As a missionary for Christ, Paul continued the battle which the synagogues had been waging for centuries. The Jews never ceased to ridicule idols and denounce idolaters.

Paul is reminding the Galatians that they had been idolaters before coming to Christ. Prior to their conversion, they had been ignorant concerning the one true God, and they were in bondage to false gods such as Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14.11-13 ). But a great change took place and they came to know God (salvation from the perspective of a man), or to be known by God (salvation according to God’s perspective). They did not at first know and love God until He first loved them and called them to become His dear children. However, even though they had come to know the true God, the Galatians were turning back. Paul was amazed and dismayed. Did they understand they would be going back to a state of religious slavery?

Paul describes their idols of wood and stone as “no gods”—nothings. In 1 Corinthians 12.2, he called them “dumb idols.” They were nothing; they could say nothing and they could do nothing. He is telling them that idols are not real, they are made by men, and therefore they cannot make themselves real to those who worship them.

What really happened when the Galatians turned from grace to Law? To begin with, they traded liberty for bondage. When they were ignorant sinners, they had served their false gods and had experienced the tragedy of such pagan slavery. But then they had trusted Christ and been delivered from superstition and slavery. Now they were abandoning their liberty in Christ and going back into bondage. They were “dropping out” of the school of grace and enrolling in the kindergarten of the Law! They were destroying all the good work the Lord had done in them through Paul’s ministry. They must not bring into the church of Christ the old paraphernalia of magic and superstition, nor could they imagine that the laws and customs of Moses would add to their assurance of salvation in Christ.

The word then means here “the time when they were servants” (Gal. 4.7). And the phrase ye knew not God refers to the time before coming to faith in Jesus Christ when they did not know Him as far as His eternity, His power as Creator, and His holiness is concerned. No unsaved person can really know God. Before they were saved they worshipped the Greco-Roman pantheon of nonexistent deities.

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

One of the strong influences that led the Galatians to Christ was their quest for a knowledge of God. But there were two kinds of knowledge and two ways of seeking it. The way of Christ was hard, requiring men to bear the cross and live in moral fellowship with Christ. The way of the mystic was easy, to become one with God by eating a sacrament, accepting a creed, obeying a law; by keeping an eye on the stars and observing lucky days and special seasons; or by climbing the mountain of speculation where one could say; “I know God, I am in tune with the infinite; I can tap the resources of the Universe; I am God, and God is I.” All this was the essence of idolatry because it was self-worship and self-salvation.

“After that ye have known God,” that is, after you were saved you began to know God, because we can know God only because he first knew us, just as we choose Him because He first chose us (John 6.44 ), and we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4.19 ).

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