Paul having established the dignity of the Galatian converts as children of God and heirs of the Abrahamic promise moves in verses 8-11 to their failure to live up to their heavenly status as heirs to God’s promise.
Paul, in verse eight and the first half of verse nine again contrasts their former life with their present one. Formerly, he points out, they had served as slaves to false gods, but now they have come to know the true God. That is good and what Paul’s mission was all about. That being to rescue people from delusion and spiritual ignorance and slavery. The enabled them to become acquainted with God as Father rather than someone or something to fear.
Verses eight and nine are framed in terms of knowledge. For the Christian in Galatia they had advanced from not knowing God to knowing God. But Paul adds a strange twist with the words, “or rather to be known by God” (verse 9).
We as humans do not gain salvation by becoming more knowledgeable, rather it is the God who knows us who seeks us and sends the Son to rescue us in our enslaved plight (verse 4, 9). The fact that the Lord takes the initiatives in the plan of salvation is the theme all through the Bible (see Genesis 3:9; Luke 15:4, 8; Luke 19:10). That is good news for us today. As noted above, it was also good that the Galatian converts had responded positively to divine initiative and had turned away from false religion.
The church and Christian believers in Galatia had started down the right course, then comes the “but” in verse nine, but no they were beginning to drift in the wrong direction. As a result, Paul asks them how it is that they are turning “back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits.” He pointedly askes them “If they want to become enslaved again?” For Paul, returning or going back to the old Jewish system as advocated by the Judaizers was the equivalent to returning to paganism in terms of its enslaving results.
The Galatian converts could certainly understand the impoverished nature of the pagan approach to religion, but had a hard time seeing the Jewish laws as having the same characteristics, especially since the law-pushing Judaizers seemed so sincere as they came preaching “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6).
We can thank God, that Paul would not compromise here. To him any reliance on Jewish ceremonies and law for getting right with God was just as faulty as worshipping false gods (Galatians 4:8). Which is interesting since he had been trained as a Pharisee, yet testifies to the intimate relationship He had with Christ on that dust Damascus road and his subsequent conversion. Paul knew that neither the Jewish ceremonies and law were weak and impoverished in that there was no saving power in them, for they only pointed to Christ who is the source of our salvation.
Yet, this is precisely where the Judaizers sought to lead Paul Galatian converts. Faith was not enough according to the Judaizers, they must add to their faith, the law. According to the Judaizers, this was the only way to get right with God.
The Judaizers reasoning was that since you have taken the first step of faith, then you must take the second step to come into harmony with the Jewish way so that you can become genuine children of Abraham. According to the Judaizers of old and many teachers of Christianity today, this is the only way of progress for the Christian believer.
NOT SO!!! Paul exclaimed, To turn back to the old law amounts to slavery. Instead of marching toward the goal of heaven, they would be moving in reverse.
The Galatians were becoming involved in the observance of days, and months, and seasons, and years. it sounds like they were becoming subject to the complete ceremonial law. Even today, like the Galatia church of old, modern day Christians are resorting to these old laws and principles, which found their fulfilment with Christ, who was born and lived; crucified, buried and was resurrected that we would no longer be slaves to the law, but like Abraham becoming saved by grace through faith in His atoning sacrifice.
Some Christians today would also say that weekly Sabbath was also being talked about, but this would be inconsistent with the rest of Paul’s teachings. They use Colossians 2:16, and 17 to support this, but when Paul wrote that to the Colossian church, he was cautioning them about keeping these old ceremonial laws as well. Explaining how these law, had been fulfilled in the coming of Christ.
It is important to also point out that it had to do with new moons and sabbaths which were “a shadow of things to come” (KJV). But the weekly Sabbath did not point to these things that were fulfilled at the cross, it pointed back to the work of God in creating this world (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11). In this way, the weekly Sabbath existed before the Jewish laws given through Moses. It also had a different purpose. The ceremonial time periods anticipated the arrival of Jesus (Colossians 2:17), whereas the weekly Sabbath is a remembrance of God’s past work as creator and Savior (Exodus 20:11).
Paul’s point, while it is true that Paul consistently protested against returning to the ceremonial calendar of the Jew, even the observance of a valid Lord’s Day or Sabbath would be wrong if one were doing it toward salvation as the goal. We cannot gain salvation by any work that we perform and this is the point Paul has continued to drive home up to this point. Paul’s understanding of justification will not allow anything to be added to faith, there is no meritorious weekly Sabbath observance and most certainly not the ceremonial law of the Jewish colander.
For the modern Christian one of the main reasons or lesson of Galatians 4:1-11 is that we need to remember who we were and who we have become as Christians. Before we met Christ we were enslaved to false ideas and inadequate ways of getting right with God and condemned by the penalty of the broken law. But through faith in Christ and His solution on Calvary to the curse of the broken law we have become a part of the family of God and heirs of the kingdom promises made to Abraham. If we are to make true progress in our walk with God, we need to avoid the weak and beggarly things as a way of getting right and staying right with God. The only thing that we can truly rely on is God’s amazing grace. And that we can receive, as Paul so often repeats, is only through faith.