Will I turn my back on grace and return to religious rules, regulations and a legalistic culture? What will happen if I do? Will become a slave of someone besides my Master Jesus?
I don’t want to be enslaved again to someone besides Jesus. The good news is that Jesus has set me free.
What really happened when the Galatians turned from grace to Law? To begin with, they abandoned 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 the Messiah and been delivered from superstition and slavery.
Now they were abandoning their liberty in Jesus and going back into bondage. They were “dropping out” of the school of grace and enrolling in the kindergarten of Law! They were destroying all the good work the Master had done in them through Paul’s ministry.
8 But in the past, since you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things that by nature are not gods. 9 But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elements? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? 10 You are observing special days, months, seasons, and years. 11 I am fearful for you, that perhaps my labor for you has been wasted.
Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Ga 4:8–11). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
The phrase weak and worthless elements tell us the extent of their regression. They were giving up the power of the Gospel for the weakness of Law, and the wealth of the Good News for the poverty of Law. The Law never made anyone rich or powerful; on the contrary, the Law could only reveal man’s weakness and spiritual bankruptcy. No wonder Paul weeps over these believers, as he sees them abandon liberty for bondage, power for weakness, and wealth for poverty.
How were they doing this? By adopting the Old Testament system of religion with its special observations of “days, and months, and times, and years” (Gal. 4:10).
Does this mean that it is wrong for Disciples to set aside one day a year to remember the birth of Jesus? Or that a special observance of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, or the blessing of the harvest in autumn, is a sin?
Not necessarily. If we observe special days like slaves, hoping to gain some spiritual merit, then we are sinning. But if in the observance, we express our liberty in Christ and let the Spirit enrich us with His grace, then the observance can be a spiritual blessing.
The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Disciples are not to legislate religious observances for each other (Rom. 14:4–13). We are not to praise the man who celebrates the day, nor are we to condemn the man who does not celebrate. But if a man thinks he is saving his soul, or automatically growing in grace, because of a religious observance, then he is guilty of legalism.
Our evangelical churches have many different kinds of observances, and it is wrong for us to go beyond the Word of God in comparing, criticizing, or condemning. But all of us must beware of that legalistic spirit that caters to the flesh, leads to pride, and makes the outward event a substitute for the inward experience.
I started out strong. I imagine you did too. And then … Something happened. Or several things. We went off to college to new found freedom. A parent dies and we feel lost. Our marriage didn’t turn out like we thought it would.
It could be the worries and distractions of the world and the deceitfulness the superficial pleasures and delight of riches choke the word of Jesus out of me. And it yields no fruit. I stop growing.
And then … BOOM I “backslide”. I’m back in bondage to legalism and missing God’s goal.
Disciples of Jesus must deal with the issue of maturity. My walk with Jesus requires a radical reordering of my priorities, changing over from pleasing myself to pleasing God and learning to obey God and King Jesus.
The key to maturity is consistency, perseverance in doing those things I know will bring me closer to God. These practices are referred to as the spiritual disciplines and include things such as Bible reading/study, prayer, fellowship, service, and stewardship.
No matter how hard we might work on those things, however, none of this is possible without the enabling of the Holy Spirit within us. Galatians 5:16 tells us that we’re to “walk by the Spirit.” The Greek word used here for “walk” actually means “to walk with a purpose in view.”
Later in the same chapter, Paul tells us again that we’re to “walk by the Spirit.” Here, the word translated “walk” has the idea of taking things “step by step, one step at a time.” It is learning to walk under the instruction of another—the Holy Spirit.
Being filled with the Spirit means I walk under the Spirit’s control. As I submit more and more to the Spirit’s control, I will also see an increase in the fruit of the Spirit in my life (Galatians 5:22–23). This is characteristic of spiritual maturity. I want this.