Continuing to work my way through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He’s frustrated with his children in the faith (4:19). Having been saved by grace they are being persuaded to now rely on their good works. Having known redemption from the bondage of the weakness of their flesh, they are being convinced that external religion is the way to freedom. Instead says Paul, by going back to their religious A,B,C’s they ran the risk of being trapped again in slavery.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
(Galatians 4:8-9 ESV)
The weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. That’s what I’m chewing on.
For the Jew in the congregation, the world was the world of the Mosaic law. The elementary principles were practices distinguishing them from the rest of the nations. Yet practices which, though they set them apart as holy, could never produce holiness in them. Practices which, while looking like righteous living, could never justify them through their own righteousness. Practices which, even with their best efforts, showed only that they needed more than practices to walk in freedom. They needed the good news of a Savior come through whom, and in whom, they could be justified by faith.
For the Gentile, their A,B,C’s of spirituality had always been about what they could do to appease their gods and so, they were happy to tack on legalistic lessons from those who preached a gospel of Jesus+. Jesus + circumcision. Jesus + adherence to dietary laws. Jesus + observance of various “days and months and seasons and years” (4:10).
Paul makes clear that resting on the A,B,C’s of religion is no way to grow in your redemption. To settle for pious practices is to settle for a phony freedom.
Instead, freedom is found in the pursuit of growing into our adoption (4:4-7). No longer is it about doing the basics right in order to feel righteous. Instead, it’s about growing in righteousness because we have been made right with God. Adopted as children of God. Deemed coheirs with Christ. Indwelt by the Spirit of Christ so that we could know the practical reality of “Christ formed in you” (4:19).
To settle for the basics, the bare minimum, the A,B,C’s of pious, go-through-the-motions practices is to settle for nothing. Worse yet, it is to surrender to a form of bondage that also blinds us. Thinking we are growing in Christ we are actually atrophying. And that to the point where we are back to where we began. Slaves once more.
Oh, beware the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.
We have been saved to be saved. Set apart to be sanctified. Deemed holy to be holy. Credited with righteousness to grow in righteousness. Begun by the Spirit, to be completed by the Spirit. Received by faith, finished by faith. And that, a faith which pursues the things of God in the power of God according to the will of God.
All by the grace of God.
All for the glory of God.