Galatians 4:9 - But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
A Change of Address
When we lived in darkness – when we were of the world – it made perfect sense that we lived as the world lived. We were a part of its system. You might say it was the very air we breathed.
But when we were delivered from that bondage, ignorance, and darkness, we were made into something new. Paul described us as new creations. To paraphrase the Apostle elsewhere,
“When I was a worldling, I talked like a worldling, I thought like a worldling, I reasoned like a worldling. When I became a new creature in Christ, I put worldish ways behind me.”
It is therefore sad to observe how the Apostle had to address the Galatian believers and ask them why they were turning back to their old, dead ways.
It’s difficult to admit how shortsighted we can be on a daily basis. If we don’t keep Christ daily before us, pursuing him with all God’s grace and our might, we inevitably find ourselves drifting back to the world and its ways of thinking. And such worldish thinking will soon lead to worldish living. What’s so frightening about this process is that even as it happens, we don’t seem aware that we are becoming enslaved to those “weak and miserable principles” all over again.
Why Do We Do This?
The question is indicting: Why would we ever want to go back to such thinking and living once we have been freed from it? Why do we seem to prefer bondage to freedom at times? It’s almost comical how we, like the Israelites, begin romanticizing how great the leeks and onions were in Egypt and forget about the fact that we were slaves there. Why do we do this?
There are probably many good answers. No believer, I hope, truly thinks the world is preferable to the things of God. I don’t think being out of shape is preferable to being healthy. But one skipped workout at a time – over a period of undisciplined living – and a person will find himself struggling to walk up a flight of stairs. That was never the intention, but it was the consequence.
Similarly, a little disobedience and sloth here and there and one day a person will wake up terribly out of shape for the Kingdom. In truth, they will be downright unfit for it.
I’ve discovered in my own life that I tend to do the things I want to do. It’s no more complicated than that. I may dress it up in elaborate excuses and rationalizations, but at the end of the day that’s all they are. Can you relate to that?
Don’t Ignore God’s Means of Grace
Thankfully, those who are genuinely in Christ will not be able to return to their old ways without feeling the disciplinary rod of the Holy Spirit. God is not content to watch his children become remolded in the world’s image.
By God’s magnificent grace, the smoke detector goes off long before the fire blazes out of control. God awakens and disciplines those who are his own and gets them/us back on track again. But even here he does not “do” all the work for us. We can still choose to sleep in instead of pray and study. We can play instead of worship on Sunday mornings. Fill in the blank with those temptations that continue to call you back to your old life. We will have those choices ever before us.
But if you cry out to your loving Father for help, his grace will abound once more to rescue you from your chains. And if you rely on him daily and practice those things he promised will make you spiritually healthy, you may find you have to be rescued less often.
Loving Father, you have redeemed me and adopted me into your family. You desire that I imitate you in my daily life. But all too often I feel the pull of my old life, the lure of sinful desire. Those weak and miserable principles seemingly cast a spell on me. Show me how awful, ugly, and untrue they really are and how they will only entrap and enslave me to a horrible bondage. Please let me see how wicked they really are before I give myself to them. Enable me by your grace to grow in grace. Control me with your Spirit so that I will both desire to, and be able to, live fully for you. In the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.
The World Around You
A few years ago the men in our church’s men’s ministry studied the words of the Apostle Paul to his young son in the faith, Titus. In chapter three of the letter that bears his name, Titus was instructed to encourage the people entrusted to his care to not be like the world around them – foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating (Titus 3:3). He then reminded them of something very important with these words: At one time they too were… just like that.
Paul told Titus that because of God’s love, the redeeming work of Christ, and the renewing and washing work of the Holy Spirit, the Christians in Crete were no longer like the world around them.
Have You Changed?
That fact, very naturally, brought up a painful question in our group discussion: What if we still are like that? What if we’re still like the world around us? One possible answer to the question was even more painful: No change in your life may mean you aren’t in Christ... that you haven’t been redeemed, washed, and renewed.
We’re all at different places in our relationship with Christ. And, of course, we all walk at different paces with him. Thus, we won’t all look alike. Yet, if we can’t look back at our lives a year ago, two years ago, or five years ago and see some sort of growth, some level of maturation in faith, love, godliness, and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, then we may well need to ask the question: Am I truly in Christ? Of course, only God knows the heart, and this isn’t about others judging you. But it is about each person making an honest assessment of himself or herself.
There’s no getting around the fact that true faith in Christ will result in a changed life. We can’t possibly remain the same.
Facing the Music
About eight months after I graduated from college, I went back to visit a few friends who were still there. I also returned to share with them the news that God had called me into ordained ministry, and I would be heading off to seminary soon. I was very excited. I was also a bit nervous. Why was I nervous? Well, I had not always lived a godly life while in college. I knew it and I knew my friends and fraternity brothers knew it.
What happened? Well, my closest friends thought my news was great and wished me well. Others laughed me out of the room. I absolutely deserved it.
Glory to God
I give glory to God, and God alone, that 34 years later I can point to real change in my life. And, as the old saying goes, while I’m not where I pray I will one day be in my faith, by God’s grace I’m not where I once was. I don’t know if I was the chief of sinners way back then, but I certainly was competing for the title. That fact makes the following words from Paul all the more precious to me.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15b-16)
If God could work in Paul’s life, as well as my own, then he can work in any person’s life. I praise God for the truth and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change lives.
Where Are You?
So where are you now compared to where you once were? Do too many of the descriptions in the New Testament of the unbelieving world still describe you? Are you moving on to maturity with Christ, training yourself for godliness day by day? The progressive nature of growing in Christlikeness means it will never end on this side of heaven. But faithfulness to Christ does require we get started. We start with rebirth. We continue by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of God’s grace and Spirit. Are you moving forward? Have you started yet?
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Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: (Proverbs 23:19)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.