Summary: Paul appeals to his dear children,in love. This sermon asks (amongst other things) about how we give and receive rebuke.
Thinking back about 20 years I had a friend who was a slave to alcohol. It controlled his life. After a heavy night of drinking he would wake up the next day and need a drink. However, after he made a profession of faith in Jesus his life began to change before my eyes. He never stopped alcohol completely but his priorities began to change and he began to take on the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He still had rough edges, but the Lord was working on him, and I have no doubt that he genuinely desired to follow Jesus and to be a disciple of Jesus. Sadly, when I last met him, he had become a slave to drugs, and he also seemed to be drinking heavily again. As for now, I have no idea where he lives and I have no idea what his relationship with Jesus is like. You are possibly thinking about people that you know who have been saved by Jesus; saved from being slaves to all sorts of things; yet who now have become slaves to something else, and have stopped following.
As I’ve been thinking about my friend (Richard), and as I’ve been praying for him, I’ve been asking the Lord that Richard would remember that he is a son of God. If Richard were standing here now I would want to throw my arms around him and plead with him to allow Jesus to rule and reign in him all the days of his life. Perhaps we could spend a moment now, praying for people that we know who have turned back and once again become slaves to sin.
(4:8) Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. (NIV)
There was a time when the Galatian Christians worshipped various ‘gods’. They were slaves to those ‘gods’. In other words their lives revolved around them, and their actions were controlled by them. However, Paul reminds the Church that they were not even real. They were inventions; and in their former ways of living they were slaves to invented gods!
Before coming to faith in Jesus, they had tried to keep favour with those pagan ‘gods’ by indulging in pagan practices; and it’s not necessarily helpful to talk about what those practices were. So I’m not going to talk about them! What’s important is that they were slaves of false gods. Before coming to faith in Jesus they were slaves to sin and they were dead in their sins.
Brothers and sisters this is the real situation of several thousand people living in our community right now. Those who do not know God are slaves to practices, and ‘things’ other than the one true God (Yahweh, that Father of Jesus Christ). Just as some of us were, many in our community now are slaves to money, possessions, houses; the decorations within houses, fitness training programmes, sun tans, alcohol, drugs, sex, adultery, fast cars, and that anti-Christian pass-time ‘retail-therapy’. Buying things will never be a solution to loneliness, or discontentment, or boredom, or any of our other problems!
The only long term solution to loneliness, or discontentment, or boredom, or any of our other problems is through faith in Jesus (3:26).
(4:9) But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (NIV)
The Galatian Christians have come to know God. They have been baptised into Christ and have been clothed with Christ (3:27), but Paul corrects himself. Our faith in Jesus, our relationship with Jesus does not begin with ourselves, and it does not begin with our decision to follow him. Our relationship begins with God. He knows us. He made us. He searched for us and we have been found by him.
So why, asks Paul; why are you turning back? Why are you turning away from the gospel of grace?
Why are you forgetting that God has reached down to us? Why are you turning back to trying to reach God, or be acceptable to God by trying to please him? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
They left behind pagan ways, a life of slavery to false gods and came to faith in Jesus; but now they are once again succumbing to rules and regulations – weak and miserable principles.
Friends, I believe St. Paul would challenge us to be careful not to add rules and regulations to the gospel of grace. As we and others are freed from the slavery of sin and the slavery of addiction to sin, we must be careful not to draw up a long list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’.