As anyone knows who has ever made a New Year’s resolution or tried to follow the advice in a self-help book, it’s all too easy to go back to our former habits. Despite good intentions, old ways of life die hard. They’re what we do automatically, without thinking. To follow through on a choice to change takes radical commitment.
In today’s reading, Paul warned the Galatians: Do not go back to your old ways! If they accepted a corrupted gospel (1:6–7), that is what would happen. In the past, when they were enslaved by sin and pagan religion, slavery was a result of ignorance (v.8). But now that the gospel has been preached to and believed by them, they should know better. They are now in a relationship with God and are known and loved by Him. Thus, going back to the “weak and miserable” old ways makes no sense (v. 9).
In these verses, Paul essentially equated legalism with paganism, which no doubt shocked the Judaizers. Both are unequivocally condemned as false religion. The mention of “observing special days and months and years” is a shorthand reference to rituals and legalism, that is, to the merit system of the Law (v. 10). Did the Galatians really wish to go from adulthood back to childhood or from freedom back to slavery? Would they really hand back or betray their spiritual inheritance? Had Paul wasted his efforts in ministry with them (v. 11)?
It’s as if they didn’t trust the gospel of grace. Out of human pride, they wanted salvation to be by works rather than by faith. They wanted at some level to deserve it or earn it. Paul would have none of it, and vehemently pleaded with them to stay true to the gospel.
Apply the Word
We rejoice in knowing God, but we have even more joy and comfort in the truth that God knows us completely and perfectly (v. 9). Even when Satan attacks us with doubts, and even when our own hearts condemn us, we can “set our hearts at rest” in God’s presence because He “is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19–20).