Do You Wish To Be Enslaved Again?
Key verse 4:6-7
“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
Not many people believe in the existence of and activity of demons and evil spirits. But there is a kind of darkness in this world that is not of this world. Even many among “Christians” do not take this crucial Biblical teaching seriously— to their loss. But in doing so, they disregard the counsel and wisdom of our Lord Jesus and of his apostles. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:1-2) What the apostle is saying is that this world is literally the devil’s domain and he has the power to work in those who do not belong to Christ but to the world. He deceives them using their own ignorance, arrogance and pride until their hearts and minds are dulled and darkened to do his will. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians of this supernatural war going on in the unseen world, which so many people are ignorant of: He tells them that their real struggle is: “… against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) Peter clearly says to us: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) James also says: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) The apostle John tells us: “But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:3) The devil and his demonic forces are as real as the sun and moon and stars in the skies. And they are working to destroy the world and especially to fell Christians
How do these forces work? The wiles (tricks, deceit) of the devil are many; and some are visible and some are invisible. All the evil works in this world that we see happening, as well as all its practices of corruption (including the dark arts of magic, witchcraft, astrology, divination and such), have their origin with the devil. But apart from what we clearly recognize and see as evil, the Bible tells us that the devil’s wiles are also mostly subtle and unnoticeable, hidden from our eyes, not openly revealing themselves in their dark nature. Jesus puts it like this: “For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect— if that were possible.” (Mark 13:22) Jesus clearly tells us that devil’s work is so subtle that they would deceive even the “elect”— that is the believing children of God. And Paul explains why the devil’s workers would go almost unnoticed, especially by believers. In other words, the devil easily deceives unbelievers because they accept corruption and evil and mistake them for what is normal and natural. But how about the believers? Who can deceive them when they are able to recognize good from evil? Paul gives us a clue as to where the devil’s work is done underhandedly. He explained to the Corinthian church how the devil works among them. He says: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) There, you have it! The way the devil deceives believers is by masquerading as servants of righteousness!
Consider what he is saying here! “A servant of righteousness.” In other words, the servants of the devil take on the appearance of something righteous and good, moral and godly. Clearly if Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, his servants should be able to disguise themselves as servants and workers of godliness and of righteousness. Satan and his demons are able to do the most destructive work in a church or in a believer by pretending to be servants of righteousness. What kind of righteousness are we talking about? The kind of righteousness that is ignorant of God’s grace and which seeks to establish its own righteousness taking the credit for it. (Romans 10:3) Satan and his demons are experts in enticing church goers to make God’s commandments their ticket to self-righteousness. Satan doesn’t care if you try to keep the 10 commandments or any other commandments in the Bible for that matter, as long as you yourself try hard to keep them, and then take the credit yourself for keeping them. Actually Satan would gladly encourage your decision to guard yourself from sin— keeping yourself moral— and religious— being good and obedient— as long as you do to gain righteousness on your own, as long as you tell yourself that doing so makes you special and better than others who are not able to. That is why Satan tricks believers, because Christians want to— are inclined— towards doing what is good and righteous. The trick is to make them work hard at it, and feeling that they have accomplished something. Satan does not mind if you attend church or teach Sunday school, or pray more than others, or if you lobby to keep “in God we trust” on the coin— as long as you rely on yourself (and here is the clincher) instead of relying exclusively on the Spirit of God and then take the credit yourself rather than give the glory to God.
This is exactly what Paul is telling the church here in Galatia. Don’t be fooled by demons and by demonic teaching. Don’t turn away from Jesus Christ and his grace, and become again a slave of demons and of their teaching. Look at what he tells them in verses 8-11. “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 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 forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” (New NIV)
When you look at several translations of these verses, you come to realize that in verse 8, “Formerly, when you did not know God … you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods”, in saying this, Paul is clearly talking about the Gentile (non Jewish) Christians who before conversions, worshiped idols in all shapes and forms. Sex and free sex idols, abnormal sex idols, prosperity idols, good fortune idols, health and success idols, horoscope idols, magical charms idols, money idols, and such. They were slaves to such things as are all people who live their lives without God and pursue all that the world has to offer. Even if what they pursue is noble, it belonged to the kingdom of the air, where the devil and his demons rule. So, their lives were devoted to the pursuit of happiness. They had no idea that all their desires were unholy and ungodly, and subject to God’s judgment. Then Jesus was preached to them, and they believed in him, repented of their sins, accepted him into their hearts, and God did some marvelous transforming work in them. God gave them his Spirit, and they became sons and daughters of God. Now they had been set free from slavery to demons who are not by nature gods at all, but are demons. But in verse 9 Paul is struggling for them when he says: “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces”? Did Paul make a mistake here? These Christians were not actually going back to the worship of idols— to those miserable forces! They were rather influenced to listen to those who were encouraging them to get circumcised as a sign of purification and acceptance by God into his family, and influenced to obey the Biblical laws God so graciously gave them. What else were they doing? Verse 10 tells us that they were observing special days and months and seasons and years! They had begun to observe dietary laws and keeping holy days.
What is wrong with that? In doing so, it made them feel better about themselves— gave them a sense of security that they were indeed the good and obedient children of God. It gave them a sense that they were now doing something to keep themselves in God’s salvation and pleasing to God. It gave them a sense of assurance that they were earning the right to be God’s children, and worthy of the promises and blessings of God. What is wrong with that? Here is what is wrong with that— they were setting aside the grace of Jesus, and the work of the Spirit in their lives and exchanging them for works and for extra merit. This is one of the most demonic of all of the devil’s work. All the churches in Galatia were being taken in by this teaching. So many believers and churches in history have fallen in this trap. They accept the grace of Jesus and are blessed with his Spirit, then instead of walking in the Spirit and acknowledging the grace of God, they set it aside and work hard at being a Christian. Doing things and following traditional Christian practices, which eventually makes them believe that they are being sanctified by their own observances and hard work. What’s wrong is the setting aside the grace of God and what Jesus did, and the Spirit they received in order to pursue blessings and sonship through their own effort! It seems that in verses 8 and 9, Paul equated this kind of activity to demon worship, and to turning back to slavery to demons.
Our duty as servants of the Lord is to help believers beware of the devil’s deceitful methods, his wiles, his schemes to fell you and draw you back from God’s grace and the Spirit’s work. Satan doesn’t take a break with us. He is constantly trying to deceive us in order to turn us back from God’s one sided grace, from the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, from living the humble repentant lives God would have us live, from acknowledging that only by his grace and his own work, that are we born again and saved from demons and this demonic realm. And only by faith in Jesus we are sons and daughters, and inherit the blessing. And he is always trying to masquerade as an angel of light and a servant of righteousness. Beware!
To the early Christians in Galatia who did not know better, Satan came with circumcision and with the righteous law. He convinced the Galatians that after they received the Spirit of God, they now ought to make every effort to please God and grow spiritually by obeying the law, by observing certain eating criteria, by honoring holy days and by becoming obedient to the laws of God. They needed only be subject to the Spirit of God, learning from him, and growing in him, depending on him in all things— always always acknowledging the grace of God above all else— the “not I but Christ” faith. They needed only live by the Spirit and trust God absolutely with his own power and work in their lives. To these early people, following the law again, after being rescued from damnation by the grace of God alone was a stumbling block— the work of demons. What we want to understand is how is it that they were so easily deceived?
The pure simple faith in Jesus and his grace is not easily kept pure in the heart. Why do we so easily turn away from the grace of God, and his marvelous Spirit work and fall into tricks that make us want to work hard at being a Christian? It is Satan’s deception! But on a personal level, because by depending on the grace of God, and on the Spirit’s work, God reshapes and molds out hearts and minds such that we no longer live— but Christ lives in us, and that goes against our natural inclination. In other words, to depend on the grace of Jesus and the Spirit’s work, we have to die to ourselves so that Christ Himself might live in us. Technically we love that and want that! But the reality is that in every human heart there is a strong and powerful urge to be praised by others, to be noticed by others, to be admired by others, to be honored by others. Just as the sun naturally rises every morning, so also we are drawn towards things (ideas and actions) that make us look great, and we resist such things that make us look small and insignificant. But when the grace of God comes into our lives, and the Spirit is working, the “self” takes a back seat while Christ takes his place on the throne of our hearts, and governs our live. Our faith resists it because faith wants to do away with our “self” reshape and mold our new lives into Christ’s image, so that we are no longer able to boast about anything good that we ourselves do. Faith wants to reshape our lives in such a way that Christ grows more and more in us, while “myself” reduced so as to get no glory, no credit, and slowly fades away! That does not appeal at all to my sinful nature that wants to live and show itself. We naturally resist such faith to completely depend on God’s grace and the Spirit’s work who wants us to transform us in such a way as to give all the glory to God and we get nothing, no credit, no merit, and nothing to boast about or to feel good about that we are doing.
This may be our stumbling stone here to Christian faith that he did all, and continues to do all, and continues to work in us in order to produce less of us and more of Christ. This faith which Paul is defending is what stumbles us to make us fall back to working on our blessings and on being a Christian that others can say, “Wow, you are really mature. How long to you pray every day? How do you do it? Teach me how I can be a spiritual man— like you. Teach me how I can grow to be just as popular as you are, just as influential as you are, a good well balanced— not easily tempted— Christian like you.” That is what stumbles most Christians. If the Galatians fell for that, we too ought to be careful. Our love for men’s praises is so powerful that it hinders us from trusting Jesus completely, because Jesus’ purpose— the Spirit’s purpose— is to remove from us any and every ground for boasting in us and to put it all in God. It was Jesus who accomplished redemption for us on the cross. He did it without our help. He continues to do it by the Spirit who lives in us, growing us in his image— with out our help. He himself alone deserves all the glory and the boasting. The Spirit will mold our hearts and minds to retreat into the far background, so that Christ can receive all the praise and honor and glory due him alone. So in a sense, faith in Christ and in his work is easy because you just have to believe what he has done for us. But in another sense, faith in Him is the hardest thing because I and you and you hate being molded and shaped by Christ in such a way that gives us no glory and honor but give him all the glory and honor for what he wants us to become. John the Baptist had it right when he said: “he must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) Paul also had it right when he said: “so that no one may boast before him.” And “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:29-30)
Now let us see the words that can truly fight Satan and all his deceitful and underhanded work to make us revert from the work of the Spirit, to working for our blessings and sonship in any way, shape or form. Read Galatians 3:26-4:7. Verses 1-7 read: “What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Yes these words are a deterrent to all wiles of the devil to enslave us to demonic teachings and practices— when we believe them and stand in their truth accepting the blessings and the grace of sonship— and pursuing the wisdom that God wants to give us through them. At God’s appointed time, the Lord Jesus came born of a woman, born under the law, fulfilling the law and dying on the cross for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification. Through faith in him, he poured upon us his abundant blessings, the greatest of which is the Spirit of God, and the right to be his sons and daughters. So that, we of all people can call God “abba”, father, my father. “It is finished” Jesus said on the cross, meaning that nothing else needs be done. When we believe this, we no longer live by the flesh and by our own effort try to live the Christian life and boast in our small works and victories, but we live by the Spirit, not in boasting in anything, but in dying to self that Christ lives in me and form and reshape me into his own image. I am glad that there is nothing I can do to add to what he had done for me. I am glad that what he began in me he will see it to completion. I am glad to melt into the background and disappear, not wanting even a small pat on the back for anything that I have done, but giving him the glory honor and praise. Lord, all my Christian works are like filthy rags, and I am blessed to trust in your own work alone. Bless your name.