The Apostle Paul wrote a strong letter to the Christians in Galatia in an effort to prevent them from moving backward in their faith. He posed this question to them:
"But now that you have come to know God, or rather now that you have come to be known by God, how is it that you are turning back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things and want to slave for them over again?”
– Galatians 4:9
It appeared to Paul that the Galatians brothers, having accepted the teachings of Jesus, were beginning to turn back to their areas of comfort – the Law Covenant and the Jewish festivals. He told them:
“You are scrupulously observing days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that somehow I have toiled to no purpose respecting you.”
– Galatians 4:10-11
Christians today do well to examine the counsel of Paul to the Galatians. Though we are far removed from the Law Covenant and the Jewish festivals, we need to guard against turning back to them, even in a symbolic way. We need to ask ourselves: “Are we moving forward in our faith, or are we turning back to the weak and beggarly elementary things?”
In Chapter 1, Paul begins:
“I marvel that you are being so quickly removed from the One who called you with Christ’s undeserved kindness over to another sort of good news. But it is not another; only there are certain ones who are causing you trouble and wanting to pervert the good news about the Christ. However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.”
– Galatians 1:6-8
Apparently, some were changing the original message about the Christ and presenting it as a new understanding – a new gospel – another sort of good news! Paul frowned on this. He counseled against using human reasoning and calculations to distort the good news:
“For I put you on notice, brothers, that the good news which was declared by me as good news is not something human; for neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught [it], except through revelation by Jesus Christ.”
– Galatians 1:11-12
In Chapter 2, he set forth his credentials as a teacher of the true and original good news, as well as his experience with the apostles in Jerusalem – the “outstanding men” (2:2) – who formed the headquarters, so to speak, for the Christian congregation.
Paul revealed that, when in Antioch, he had a dispute with the leading apostle Peter (Cephas) who, along with other Jewish Christians, was “putting on a pretense” of faith:
“For before the arrival of certain men from James, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he went withdrawing and separating himself, in fear of those of the circumcised class. The rest of the Jews also joined him in putting on this pretense, so that even Barnabas was led along with them in their pretense. But when I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas before them all: ‘If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do, and not as Jews do, how is it that you are compelling people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?’”
– Galatians 2:12-14
Paul did not want the Galatians to fall victim to the same confusion and hypocrisy. He explained that Christians are declared righteous by faith, not by works of law (2:16), and that the Law Covenant and the Jewish ways were dead to us (2:19). He counseled:
“I do not shove aside the undeserved kindness of God; for if righteousness is through law, Christ actually died for nothing.”
– Galatians 2:21
Never may that happen!
In Chapter 3, he asked them:
“Are you so senseless? After starting in spirit are you now being completed in flesh?”
– Galatians 3:3
Yes, initially, these brothers accepted the teaching that they are declared righteous by their faith. They began the race in the spirit. But over time, they came to accept “another sort of good news” and, instead of moving forward in their faith, they sought to complete their course by returning to the olden ways. Have we today imitated the Galatians? If so, we need to readjust our thinking and our teachings to conform to the true good news.
So that the brothers were clear, Paul gave them a brief history lesson on the promise of God, the Law Covenant, and the gift of the Christ. At Galatians 3:15-18, he explained that the promise to Abraham that God would bless the nations by means of his seed was validated by God 430 years before the Law Covenant, and that the Law Covenant did not invalidate that promise.
But the Law did serve a valuable purpose. “It was added to make transgressions manifest” (3:19). Paul continued:
“However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law, being delivered up together into custody, looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed. Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.”
– Galatians 3:23-25
There was no longer any need for the Law Covenant. The Christ had arrived and the promise to Abraham was being fulfilled:
"You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one [person] in union with Christ Jesus. Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.”
– Galatians 3:26-29
There is no middle ground. At one point, they were all under Law. But with the advent of the Christ, they were all freed from the Law and counted as “sons of God.”
In Chapter 4, Paul revealed that some were having difficulty with the concept that they were all the seed of Abraham and sons of God. They did not feel like sons:
“Now I say that as long as the heir is a babe he does not differ at all from a slave, lord of all things though he is, but he is under men in charge and under stewards until the day his father appointed beforehand. Likewise we also, when we were babes, continued enslaved by the elementary things belonging to the world. But when the full limit of the time arrived, God sent forth his Son, who came to be out of a woman and who came to be under law, that he might release by purchase those under law, that we, in turn, might receive the adoption as sons.”
– Galatians 4:1-5
The transition from slave of God to son of God is accomplished through no work of our own. It was manifest merely by Jesus’ arrival. He became our new teacher, and the work of the Law was complete. Now all that was left was for us to receive our adoption as sons and part of Abraham’s seed – the original promise. When we receive our adoption, we have a stirring in our spirit:
“Now because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts and it cries out: “Abba, Father!” So, then, you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.”
– Galatians 4:6-7
Our sonship is simply a matter of fact. We are no longer slaves, but sons. Really, do we not all refer to God as “our Father?” Do we not speak of him to our family as “the Heavenly Father?” hen we engage in heartfelt prayer, are not our hearts compelled to refer to God as “my Father?” Yes, our spirits cry out “Abba Father!” All of us who are walking by spirit! The Galatians needed to understand that.
Notwithstanding this tremendous gift of sonship, the Galatians were “turning back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things” (4:9). They were refusing the gift, and going back to their old tutor, along with its seasons and festivals and their corresponding meanings (4:10). It was as if the Christ had never come. Paul lamented:
“I fear for you, that somehow I have toiled to no purpose respecting you.”
– Galatians 4:11
Have Paul and all the faithful apostles toiled to no purpose respecting us? Has the Christ “actually died for nothing” (2:21)? Are we looking back to the promises given to those under the Law Covenant, or are we looking forward to sharing in the promise made manifest in the Christ?
Paul concludes the 4th chapter with the symbolic drama of Hagar and Sarah (4:21-31). He tells us that Hagar represents the children under the Law; whereas Sarah represents the free children of the promise – the sons of God. And what is the fate of the children under the Law?
“Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? ‘Drive out the servant girl and her son, for by no means shall the son of the servant girl be an heir with the son of the free woman.’”
– Galatians 4:30
There is no place for the children under the Law. They are driven away, outside of God’s provision. They have no share in God’s purposes. We see why Paul called it a perversion to reject the offer of sonship (1:7).
In Chapter 5, Paul reminded them:
“For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.”
– Galatians 5:1
In verses 2 through 6, he tells us that going backward in our faith will be of no benefit to us. It will result in our falling away from the Father’s undeserved kindness.
Apparently, in the Galatian congregation, there were some making trouble and causing divisions based on this very teaching (5:7-12). Instead of engaging in quarreling, Paul offered a statement that could serve to unite the brothers. He said:
“For the entire Law stands fulfilled in one saying, namely: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Galatians 5:14
This ‘saying’ could serve to satisfy those who were looking back to the Law Covenant and those who understood their freedom as sons (5:13). Yet, he continued to point them toward the Christ and the need to walk by spirit, not by flesh (5:16-26).
In Chapter 6, Paul concludes the letter with counsel to those who have spiritual qualifications to try to readjust those who are taking some false step in their faith, rather than merely boasting as having the true understanding. As spiritual men and women, they should sow with a view to the spirit (6:8), manifesting the fruitage of the spirit (5:22-23), especially toward those related to them in the faith (6:10).
What about us today? Can we apply Paul’s counsel to the Galatians? Can we readjust one another to the true good news without backbiting and devouring one another? If not, we will be annihilated (5:15). And if those who have been turned to “another sort of good news” do not readjust, they will reap corruption from the flesh they so eagerly seek to save (6:7-8).
Neither do we want our brothers to fall into the same folly as the “outstanding men”. If you have come to accept your adoption as a son, do not put on a pretense in front of those who count themselves as part of the “circumcised class!” Let the reader use discernment!
If you find yourselves or your loved ones turning back and looking to serve the “weak and beggarly things,” we pray that you be as courageous as Paul in readjusting them with a spirit of mildness, helping them move forward in their faith.
“The undeserved kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with the spirit you [show], brothers. Amen.”
– Galatians 6:18