There are a number of themes that run through the symphony of our teaching. Foremost of all is the supremacy of Jesus Christ and the good news about him. We proclaim him (Col 1:28). We want you to know the story of God’s glory and joy in the Lord Christ. Alongside that great theme, which is so prominent in this letter to the Galatians are the themes of God’s sovereign grace and new covenant theology that are also prominent in this letter. We do not usually use the terms Reformed or Calvinistic on the one hand, or NCT on the other, because we desire people to follow Christ and not any system of theology. But we are not ashamed to own the terms among those who understand what they mean. I said all that to say this. The passage before us reveals the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace, just as 1:16 did. We preach truths as they appear in the text. We do not go searching for verses that we hope might support our doctrinal preferences. This is another reason we usually preach or teach through whole books of the Bible. However, we may preach or teach from important biblical ideas, when we think necessary. Paul has just completed a great statement about the adult sonship or adoption of new covenant believers. He has emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to our adult sonship. Now he starts to apply the teaching to his readers to keep us walking or living in the grace of God. He will strengthen this appeal by referring to the truth of God’s sovereign grace.
Here is the connection of this section with what precedes it. If you were a slave and are now are an adult son of God, how can you turn back into any kind of slavery? How can you in your practice repudiate the freedom that Christ the Redeemer purchased for you? We should notice that this section is primarily rebuke rather than instruction. None of us are naturally warm toward rebuke. In my thirty years as a pastor, I’ve never had anyone call me up and ask, “Hey Pastor Dave, why don’t you come over so that you can rebuke me for an hour?” We flee rebuke, don’t we? But then you can put this on the back burner and mull it over later: If I resist rebuke, then how can I expect to profit from the Scriptures as we serve one another in love in this body of believers (cf. Gal 5:13; 2 Tm 3:16; Col 3:16). But now, let’s look at our section for this morning.
I. The change that the Galatians had experienced (4:8-9a)
– The Spirit in the NTS constantly appeals to us in this way: from old way of life to new way of life.
A. Their former way of life
1. They did not know God. This knowledge is not the knowledge of information but the knowledge of relationship. When we know God in a saving relationship, we know him as the God of sovereignty, holiness, grace, and love. How many worship an illusion, because they do not know the God who reveals himself in the Bible!
2. They were enslaved to false gods. We must understand what is meant by false gods. The supposed deities are not who people think. They are not really a deity, because there is only one God. By nature they are not gods. But there are spiritual agents involved. Paul elsewhere (1 Cor 10:9-20) calls these spiritual agents who represent themselves as gods demons. The worship of false gods is one form of Satanic bondage (cf. 2 Tm 2:26).
B. Their new position and way of life
1. Now they know the Lord. This is a basic blessing of the new covenant (Heb 8:11). Yet there is legitimate growth in this knowledge of God (2 Pt 3:18; Eph 1:17).
2. Observe Paul’s zeal for the reality of God’s sovereign grace as he speaks to this point. He does not want to give them the wrong impression. It was not by any merit, worth, or work that the Galatians had come to know the Lord. God’s knowledge of us precedes our knowledge and creates ours (cf. Rm 8:28-29). It did not “just happen” that they came to know God. Instead, Christ by the Holy Spirit knew them and sought them and brought them to him to give them his overflowing grace!
Apply: So then, the apostle reminds them that their relational knowledge of the Lord is purely a blessing of grace, not connected with their works or spirituality. Do you know this? Do you rejoice in the grace of God in your life? Or are you vainly working to try to know God? God is not found by our intellectual, religious, or spiritual efforts. He makes himself known by grace through the preaching of the good news of his Son.
II. The contradiction in their present way of life (4:9b-10)
A. He briefly reminds them of what they ought to enjoy in Christ.
1. To be a son or daughter of God means to be free. We must understand what the Bible means by freedom. It never means to be released from our obligation to love, to serve, and to live for the glory of the true God. Freedom is the absence of restraint in our fellowship, worship or relationship with God. Slavery to sin and Satan restrains the unsaved person from loving, serving and living for God. Bondage under the law covenant restrained the old covenant believer in these matters also, because the sacrifices of the law could never cleanse the conscience (Heb 10:1-2; 9:9). Even for believers, there was always guilt that was covered, but not satisfied and taken away. On the other hand, access and boldness set forth the freedom of the new covenant believer (Eph 2:18; 3:12; Heb 9:14; 10:22).
2. This freedom of relationship with the living God produces a way of life of righteousness, peace, and joy (Rm 14:17-18; 15:13; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Eph 1:18; 3:14-19).
B. But Paul has to confront them about their present sorrowful state. Their gospel position was not producing a gospel condition. They were good news people with a bad news way of life. Something was wrong!
1. What were they doing? They were turning back to weak and miserable principles! In the strictest sense, they could not return to them, since they were never under them. But to seek merit in their observance was the same as their old reliance on superstition. Whatever is unable to bring us to the living God is a “weak and miserable principle”.
2. How were they doing it? They had relapsed to Jewish or law covenant practices.
a. There are three ways such ceremonies could be used. First, they could be used in relation to Christ—as signs and shadows of his coming. This was the true use of believers who lived under the law prior to the events of the gospel. Second, they could be used without Christ—only as religious customs, whether before or after he came. Third, they could be used against Christ—supposing there is some kind of religious merit in their observance.
b. “When certain days are represented as holy in themselves, when one day is distinguished from another on religious grounds, when holy days are reckoned a part of divine worship, the days are improperly observed” (Calvin, cf. Col 2:16).
Apply: This should warn us of the danger of invented holy days. Not only do some do this, which may or may not be within the boundaries of Christian liberty, but then they teach that there is some special merit in keeping them. And that certainly is against God’s grace in Christ.
III. The concern Paul had for them (4:11)
A. Paul was interested in people
1. When he said, “I fear for you,” it was not an “I fear for my ministry.” The minister of Christ is judged on his faithfulness to Christ and the gospel, and not by counting heads.
2. The Christian minister wants people to enjoy the blessings of the gospel (cf. 3 Jn 4). He is most happy when people are rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
B. Paul questioned the real results of his ministry among them.
1. Understand Paul’s perspective. It is one thing for a minister of the gospel to hear his people saying, “I do not deserve to be a son of God.” That might be the evidence of true humility by one who realizes his sinfulness. (However, they might also be saying it because they do not comprehend the freeness of gospel grace.) But it is quite another matter for a servant of Christ to hear people say, “We don’t want freedom. We want to live by the law.” Or, “we want to live by outwardly observable standards of behavior. Just tell us how to measure up.” Paul wondered if the Galatians really understood what the gospel of grace was.
2. A minister can only evaluate by what he sees. He cannot see into the heart, and he has no access to read the Book of Life to see if his people’s names are written in it. Let me say something plainly. It is heartbreaking to see people have little apparent interest in the gospel after one has invested years of his life for their well-being. That is what Paul means when he says, “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”
Apply: So then, does your life in gospel grace create joy in the hearts of other believers? Or does your lack of love, joy, and peace produce anxiety and concern? God intends for us to live in a way that brings joy to him and his people. This can only happen as we remain in Christ and the gospel. Do you love the Lord and the gospel message? Today can be the start of a new life for you! Believe in Christ and then stand firm in that belief.
Pastor Dave Frampton
When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit First Baptist Church