Summary: The Galatians responded to the gospel, grew in their faith and had a close relationship with Paul. For some unknown reason after receiving their freedom in Christ they took a turn back to bondage. They started following the regulations of the law.
Whales are one of the most impressive creatures on earth. It’s amazing even to watch a film of them swimming in the ocean. They are an inspiration with their strength, majesty and freedom.
But tragically with their immense size they become trapped when they have come too close to shore. For the beached whale the strength and freedom they had in the open water is gone. A beached wale is a horrible sight and the freedom the whale enjoyed in the open water vanished as the whale becomes enslaved by the sandbar.
There was a situation where beached whales were rescued. Teams of people kept the whales wet while others worked to get the whales free from the sandbar that would cause their certain death if something were not done to help them. Once they became free they could return to the open water.
The rescue worked, now free the whales returned again to the deep water to enjoy their freedom. But for some unknown reason one wale turned around and headed back for the sandbar and became beached again. Why? No one knows why this whale would return to the sandbar and be enslaved again as a beached whale.
In the book of Galatians we find that Paul is perplexed. He loves the Galatian believers and they have done something as perplexing as the whale that was freed from the sandbar then would return to the sandbar again as a beached whale.
The Galatians were living in spiritual bondage. But by the grace of God Paul visited the region and told them about salvation in Christ. Paul ministered in Galatia in all three of his missionary journeys. They responded to the gospel, grew in their faith and had a close relationship with Paul. For some unknown reason after receiving their freedom in Christ they took a turn back to bondage. They started following the regulations of the law. They came to Christ by grace but they were deceived to think they must continue by works and merit.
Their relationship with Paul was fractured, their joy was lost and they found themselves back in spiritual bondage, like a whale headed back to the sandbar. Paul pleads with them not to continue in spiritual bondage.
Why turn back?
Why would whales with freedom turn back to the sandbar and get themselves beached again? Why would a butterfly with the freedom of flight want to return to crawling around as a caterpillar again?
Paul has been tough with the Galatians. He started his letter by calling them foolish. He has been scholarly too; reasoning with them in a deeply theological way. Now he becomes tender. We see his pastoral heart here. He reminisces about their formally close relationship and calls them back to living in spiritual freedom. We see him express his deep compassion in these verses.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9But 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? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
In the Old Testament we read and wonder why Israel would get freedom from Egypt and want to return to slavery again. Why would the Galatians of the first century with freedom in Christ want to turn back to the regulations of the law? Why would a Christian today saved by grace return to the bondage of sin?
It is perplexing. It makes no sense. Paul is perplexed because what they have done is so foolish.
Formally the Galatians lived as slaves in spiritual bondage. The Galatians worshipped false gods. In Acts 14:8-20 we read that Paul healed a crippled man in this region. It attracted a crowd and the Galatians mistakenly thought that Paul was a god who had come down in human form. They called Barnabas Zeus and they thought Paul was the god Hermes. The crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But Paul called them to turn from these worthless things to the living God (Acts 14:15).
They were saved and he told them Galatians 3:9 now you know God. They experienced a relationship with the living God. Paul rephrases his statement to be more technically correct and says; rather now you are known by God. This better describes their relationship with God. Not to allow the impression that they earned their salvation or merited it.
Your salvation is God’s initiative. You did worship dead idols in the past but now you worship the living and true God. Why turn back?
How can we understand it when someone who responds to God, gives evidence of repentance and faith, then is baptized as a testimony and then turns back. It is Perplexing!