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Going back to Legalism
Gal. 4:8-20


Paul is telling the Galatians that after they were saved, they are getting back to their former bondage. They are now sons of God yet the false teachers specifically the Judaizers managed to deceive them and draw them back to legalism

I. Their Past (Gal. 4:8)
A. When ye knew not God. The Galatians were former “heathen”, and they had no knowledge of the true God. They were idolatrous, they worship the false Gods and they are in bondage in serving them. It is a fact that man is a religious creature, He was made to worship and he will worship someone or something. That’s the main reason why idolatry exists in the world.

B. Now, after that ye have known God (Gal. 4:9) – To know God and be known of God speaks of a personal relationship. The gospel had been preached and they had turned from their sin and idols to the true and living God. They knew God and God knew them. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Yet having come to know the true God, the Galatians were turning back. They are turning back from grace to Law. They are abandoning their liberty in Christ and going
back into bondage. How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? The question implies surprise and indignation that they should do it.

“To the weak and beggarly elements” means to the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law. On the word “elements”, they are called “weak” because they had no power to save the soul; no power to justify the sinner before God. They are called “beggarly,” because they could not impart spiritual riches.

II. Legalism (Gal. 4:10-11)
A. Under the influence of the Judaizers the Galatians had at least begun to observe the Mosaic calendar. They kept special days (weekly sabbaths), and months (new moons), and seasons (seasonal festivals such as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), and years (sabbatical and jubilee years). (Col. 2:16.) They observed these special times, thinking that they would thereby gain additional merit before God. But Paul had already made it clear that works could not be added to faith as grounds for either justification or sanctification.

B. I am afraid of you; he was fearful that they were depending for salvation on Jewish ceremonies, not on Christ; in which case his labor to bring them to Christ would be lost. There have always been cases where the new believers were brainwashed to depend for salvation upon the observance of rites, forms, and ceremonies, rather
than on Christ. In such situation, there is reason to fear that all efforts to bring them had been in vain.

Illustration 1: Points to Ponder
Does this mean that it is wrong for Christians to set aside one day a year to remember the birth of Christ? Good Friday, the ascension, celebrating Thanksgiving Day 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 New Testament makes it clear that Christians 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.
Many denominations have 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.

Illustration 2: Legalism
The cross of Christ is the only real corrective for legalism. In Matthew 5, James rescues the law from the legalists. We human beings have discovered several ways to reject God’s law. We can defy the law, taking the antinomian stance, “I am my own person, I do not need law.” Or, like the scribes and the Pharisees, we can reduce the law to hundreds of rules we can keep.
For example, the rabbis “fenced” the Sabbath commandment with 39 categories of possible violation. Each category was then broken down into specific rules. They debated whether one could wear a wooden leg or a brooch on the Sabbath. Would this be “carrying objects” on the Sabbath?
Legalism begins with reverence for God’s law and ends in making the law trivial and absurd. The legalist runs the risk of at least three sins. First, he loses sight of the Lawgiver in reducing the law to rules. Second, he reduces God’s great claims upon us to manageable rules he can keep. He then loses sight of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. (An old African proverb asks, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.”) Third, having lost sight of the holy God and his own sinfulness, the legalist becomes self-righteous and judgmental of others.
In Matthew 5, Jesus restates the law as the Word of the holy God. He is not fighting the liberals; he is taking the legalists to task for reducing the law to bite-sized chunks. “The holy law of the holy God cannot be watered down so easily as you think,” he says. “Anyone who reduces the great claims of the law is least in the kingdom. For example, you do not kill. Do you hate? You are proud because you do not commit adultery? Do you lust? You give your wives a legal paper of divorce; what about your commitment to live with them until death do you part? You stay inside the law in your business dealings, but is your word your bond? You live by ‘an eye for an eye,’ but do you love your enemies and pray for them? You must not reduce God’s great claims upon you to a list of rules you can keep.”
In view of Jesus’ teaching about the holiness of God and this law, what do we see in the cross of Christ? The cross was the sin of sins. But why? Because the Jews and Romans broke the law, “Thou shalt not kill?” Yes, but is that all? Was there not also a law which said that blasphemers must die (Lev. 24:16), and did not many in Israel sincerely see Jesus as a blasphemer? What happened that day outside the walls of Jerusalem was not only the breaking of God’s law, it was also the rejection of the holy and loving God who gave the law, the prophets, and even His own Son. The sin was not just the breaking of the law, but the breaking of the Lawgiver’s heart. Jesus was crucified by the most conscientious legalists in town.
As we stand before the cross, we see a love so wide, so deep, so high that all human beings come within its reach. In the cross, God reaches out once again to those who refuse to acknowledge His law and to those legalists who trivialize His law and declare themselves righteous. All our human pride and pretension is shattered on the rock called Golgotha. The cross is the only real correction for legalism. Bible Illustrations – A Treasury of Bible Illustrations.

III. Paul seeks their affection (Gal. 4:12-20)
A. While Paul’s attitude toward the Galatians was guileless, the legalists had improper motives (Gal. 4:17-18). The apostle spoke the truth (v. 16); the Judaizers used flattery. They wanted to alienate (ekkleisai, lit., “to lock out”) the Galatians from Paul and his teaching so that they would be shut up instead to the false teachers and their influence. In an interesting double use of the verb “be zealous” Paul said that the Judaizers were zealous to win over the Galatians so that the latter would be after, Paul nonetheless insisted that the intention must be honorable, but in the case of the Judaizers it was not.
B. The apostle, on the other hand, had always had good motives regarding the Galatians. Addressing them tenderly as my little children (teknamou, an expression found only here in Paul’s epistles), Paul compared himself to a mother in the throes of birth pangs. He had experienced this once for their salvation; he was in travail
again for their deliverance from false teachers. But a sudden change in metaphors occurred with the expression until Christ is formed in you. Paul longed for these believers to be transformed into (morphothe,
lit., “take on the form of”; morphe in Phil. 2:6-7) the image of Christ. This expression describes the Christian life as a kind of rebirth of Christ in a believer’s life.
This is in fact God’s ideal and purpose – for Christ to live His life in and then through each believer (Ga. l 2:20). Yet the apostle was perplexed about the Galatians because he felt their spiritual development was being arrested. He had a deep desire to be with them so that he could speak gently, though firmly, concerning his grave concerns.

IV. Conclusion:
It is folly to revert to Legalism. Sad to say but there are Christians after they were saved by grace through faith with no works go back to legalism and lose sight of what Christ have done for them.

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