Free to Grow
June 29, 2003 © 2003, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
What was our spiritual life like before we knew God? Upon knowing God for the first time, we find there is much to learn of who He is and what His purpose is in our lives. Are we mature in Christ the instant we receive Him? Paul refers to new Christians as Babes, to be fed spiritual milk. We are not mature Christians. Discipleship is a process that brings us closer in our relationship to God and affords as a greater understanding of His plan and purpose revealed in His Word. We are instructed in God's word to have a desire to learn of God, to learn more of Him.
1 Pet 2:2. As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
Are we expected to require spiritual milk all of our days, or are we expected to mature in the faith?
Heb 5:13-6:1. 13For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.
The Bible clearly teaches that we are to grow and mature in our faith. Have you ever noticed that some people grow in the faith quickly, demonstrating a deep understanding of their faith at a young age, where sometime there are others who are advanced in years and still want to understand no more than the basic gospel?
What are some things which keep us from growing in Christian maturity?
What can you do to help prepare yourself for growth in your spiritual walk? Some actions might include prayer, personal quiet time, personal Bible study & devotional times, corporate Bible study, and worship attendance. How many people consider worship attendance to be the only necessary Christian activity in the Christian life? How much is a person with such an attitude going to mature in the faith? Certainly worship attendance is very important, but attendance is a relatively passive endeavor and does not usually afford a balanced discipleship experience. Faith is characterized by a relationship with God, not by the successful accomplishment of a set of rituals. Religious ritual practices may serve to remind us of our relationship with God, but cannot replace prayer and Bible study.
Growing in our faith from the point of a spiritual babe, as Paul describes, is a process that involves action on our own part.
Rom 12:2. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
The first step is a change in attitude which will cause us to place a priority on these things which help us in our spiritual walk. How does this attitude change come? Faith in God is characterized by one's yielding to the Spirit rather than to one's own base desires, or the desires of the world. This is why the scripture states, "Believe on the Lord Jesus" or "Believe on the Name of Jesus" and you will be saved. The Bible does not simply say believe in Jesus. James 2:19 reminds us that the demons believe in Jesus and they tremble.
The passage of scripture in this study was written to Galatian churches which were not growing spiritually. They were being obligated to leave the doctrine that Paul taught and return to the previous lifestyle and culture of the Jews. If the Judaizers had their way, the people of the church would be simply Jews who believed in Jesus. They would be placed back into the bondage of the Jewish law, and the law would be their Lord, not Jesus.
But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Do you know who the current President of the United States is? You probably do. Does he know who you are? Probably not. What would have to be different in your life for the President to know you personally? You would have to develop a relationship with him. Just as a relationship would have to develop so that you would never again be strangers, when you came to faith in Christ you have a relationship with God. Paul notes that if we have this kind of relationship with the Creator, why would we turn our backs on Him and the resource He provides us, and turn back to the world and ourselves for answers, a source that has never and never will be sufficient?
In what way do we look to ourselves or to the world for authority? When Paul uses the word "enslave" he is referring to our placing ourselves back under the authority of one other than God. What worldly authorities does God have to compete with in our lives? Sometimes within the church that might include church ritual, or even church dogma. Some Christian or cultic Christian churches teach that church rules and law supercede scripture. This is not different from what was taking place in the Galatian churches. There are other authorities that we may submit ourselves to including possessions, debt, people, etc.
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
Some people misunderstand this verse and use it as a legalistic argument against the observation of holidays. Some go so far as to reject celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and even Christmas and Easter. This is not what Paul is referring to. By referring to "special days" he is describing holidays which themselves are their own authority, and separate from God. Remember the background of these people. The Gentiles previously worshipped earthly gods of fertility, rain, sun, etc. The point is that God is not the center of the old pagan observations and the people are slipping back into them. This includes both Gentile and Judaic traditions. What are some worldly holidays and traditions which Christians might be better off forgetting? One might be the ancient occult practices that are the basis for the "Eve of All Hallows", or Halloween.
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
Obviously, Paul is quite concerned about what is taking place. He states that he feels that his efforts on them may have been entirely wasted as he sees the church turning away from their faith and back to the world culture. This becomes quite a challenge for us. Consider for a moment where you are in your Christian walk, and compare it with where you were a year ago. Where do you intend on being a year from now? Are you moving closer to God, or closer to the culture of the world? Is the effort of God's spirit wasted on you? How might we affirm that God's spirit is not wasted on us? Certainly a Christian who desires a full relationship with God will have a true desire for obedience, spiritual growth, and a better relationship with God and with people.
Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. 13Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. 14And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
Paul calls on the Galatians to remember back when the Gospel was first spoken to them and they accepted it. Paul came to them because of his health. Though we don't know the nature of the malady, Paul used the contact with the Galatians as an opportunity to share the Gospel with them. They welcomed him, despite his infirmity, which was apparently a scornful one. Some "scholars" feel that he contracted malaria in the lower geographic regions and went into the highlands of Galatia to recover, and that this malaria affected his vision as well as his appearance. (See the next verse.) Instead of being treated with scorn, he was received in joy as if he were an angel of God, or even Christ himself. A true understanding of God's love for us and the salvation he brings should being us Joy, and cause us to receive with joy those who would bring us His word. Those who are turning them from the faith are not angels of God. Anyone who would espouse a gospel that turns people away from developing a relationship with God is not an agent of God, but rather serving as an agent of the evil One.
Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
What happened to the Galatians, according to this verse? They have lost the original joy that they experienced when they learned of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul describes that their original joy was so great they would have given him their own eyes. Again, apparently, the health problem that Paul suffered may have had something to do with Paul's vision, and he confesses that the people were so accepting of the true gospel that they were willing to give him their vision if they could.
Do Christians live their pilgrimage in joy? Consider the appearance of their countenance most of the time. We usually look happy or joyful in response to circumstances which bring us particular pleasure. Apparently, things of the Lord are often not included in this list. We often approach worship service, prayer meeting, Bible study, prayer and meditation with an opinion or appearance of oppression and doom. Joyful hymns are sung to frowns. Whole denominations used to consider it heresy to smile in church. It seems that some Christians still share that doctrine. What causes us to lose that joy? How can we get that joy back, or cause the joy we have to grow?
Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? 17They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
Here Paul describes the polarization that occurs in the fellowship when doctrinal differences arise. He sees the people polarized behind the opponents of the Gospel and tells them that, though they are zealous, their efforts are to no good. Often polarization in the church occurs when zealous leaders differ in their teaching. What should we do when we see such polarization taking place?
- Seek the Holy Spirit, in prayer, to determine if the truth is being taught, and being taught in love.
- Do not follow an individual. Stay with the Spirit.
- Speak to an individual who seems to be striving against the Spirit.
How can we tell that a leader is striving against the spirit? Usually there is an evidence of a desire for power and control, the desire of putting requirements on the gospel which they themselves profess, often to the degradation of others who reject those requirements. Such motivations are worldly, and consequently ungodly, and destructive to the gospel. A second way we can see strife is when the individual is not acting in love.
But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
Paul describes that there is a place for zealousness. What are some good purposes to which zealousness is appropriate? A Christian can become excited when sharing Christ, a testimony, in nurturing and teaching others, and in encouraging one another. Zealousness is characterized by excitement. We see excitement in the crowds when the home team scores a touchdown ... that is zealousness. Should a Christian be any less excited when a lost soul is eternally saved? Their are many circumstances that allow for excitement in the faith.
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, 20I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
Paul describes the experience he feels as like reliving the pains of childbirth, since he must make up for so much lost ground due to the wandering from the truth that the Galatians have experienced. It took a lot of prayer and a lot of work to bring the Galatians to salvation, and Paul would prefer to not have to repeat it. Paul states that he is really perplexed by this situation and would like to be there to straighten things out, and restore his relationship with them to what it originally was. His "voice" would not be one of rebuke as he is using now, but rather one of confidence in their faith, one that he experienced when he was last with them.
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 22For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. 28Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. 30Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. 31So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
Galatians 4:21-31 is another description of the concept of the Law of Liberty. Paul uses the contrast of the experiences of Sarah and Hagar to describe the difference between those who have been given the Gospel and either responded or wandered away from it, losing its power and inheritance. Hagar and her descendents fully rejected God and His promise to Abraham, and those people have been in bondage to sin to this day. People who respond to the Gospel in faith are, as Sarah and her children, recipients of the inheritance. People who follow a different gospel are like Hagar and her children to whom the inheritance has not been given.
Paul is accusing the Galatian Christians as being children of Sarah but choosing rather to become children of Hagar, returning to the manner of life which existed prior to the receipt of the inheritance. We are to live as children of Sarah, as we have been called.
- Paul's fear that the Galatian believers were turning from God and were returning either to basic legalism as encountered in Judaism or to the pagan worship of spirit beings should warn us against reverting to false religious ideas or to worldly ways and standards.
- Paul's preaching to the Galatians in spite of a physical problem can encourage us not to let physical problems or other discomforts and distractions prevent us from serving Christ effectively.
- Paul's approach to the Galatian Christians about what appears to have been a change in their attitude toward him because he told them the truth should remind us that people sometimes resist the truth. Sometimes we will be rejected.
- Paul's warning concerning the false teacher's motives can lead us to examine closely the motives of religious teachers.
- Paul's desire that Christ be formed in his readers can remind us that part of our purpose as Christians is to grow spiritually and to help others grow to be more like Christ.