21 March • Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Lent
1. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
4, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed an issue that had crept into churches in the province of Galatia. In their midst was a group of Christians from Jewish background who insisted that their Christian Gentile counterparts had to be circumcised, in order to be authentic followers of Jesus.
As a Jew who from a young age was immersed in Jewish teachings and practices, Paul discerned that this teaching reeked of legalism which went beyond what Christ had taught and required. Paul’s dramatic encounter with the living Jesus coupled with his deep understanding of Scripture led him to insist that the Jewish Christians were actually preaching a different gospel which didn’t lead to freedom in Christ, but to enslavement to Jewish tradition. This teaching was poison in the church that needed to be removed!
In Galatians 4 therefore, we read of Paul correcting the error and instructing believers about their status as children of God. There was a season in their history when relationship with God was regulated by rulebook practices and traditions. That era was necessary, but it was over. Now, a new freedom, a new experience of sonship and heirship had been introduced. We must not cling on to the old, but embrace the new. Being an authentic follower of Jesus didn’t require circumcision and other Jewish religious “justification-by-works” type add-ons that were insisted!
It is interesting to note that churches are not exempt from persuasive “false gospels” even today. These invite believers to embrace non-essential add-ons in worship and prayer life. Because of the Jewish origins, they are sometimes claimed as more authentic and essential to true spirituality.
The challenge arises when these religious practices and superstitions are promoted to the point where the Gospel’s focus is displaced. In this situation, adherents are recognised merely by the way they parade peculiar practices, not by how the Spirit of God is molding his children and changing them as they die to self and yield to the Spirit.
In the face of this challenge, Paul’s counsel to the Galatians remains relevant today. Don’t be “bewitched” (Gal 3:1), but have a clear understanding of the foundations of faith and the demands upon the faithful. Will you be discerning?
Lord, protect your sons and daughters from teachings and spiritual practices that cause us to lose sight of the Spirit’s transforming work in our lives and our relationships with each other.
Dr Calvin Chong
Associate Professor (Practical Theology)
Singapore Bible College