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Studies In Galatians

Standing Fast In The Liberty By Which Christ Has Made Us Free (See 5:1)

Galatians 4:8-20


“Oh, Pastor, I am getting so forgetful in my old age. I just can’t seem to remember anything. I wonder if I have Alzheimer’s disease.” Certainly such thoughts and fears have been expressed more than once by shut-ins and others. And whether it is a matter of little import such as remembering where one laid down a pencil, or something more serious such as forgetting that one left a stove burner on high, the loss of memory has wide-ranging consequences.

When stories are told of people with amnesia, it is usually considered an affliction and many problems are solved by the recovery of memory. Our schools also teach courses in history because it amounts to a kind of amnesia for a people to be unaware of what has happened before their own time.

When it comes to our relationship with God, memory is even more important. Consider Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest. He was busy cursing and swearing that he knew nothing of Jesus, until the Lord looked at him and “then Peter remembered the word of the Lord” (Lk. 22:61). This led to Peter’s contrition and eventual restoration as an apostle.

Or think of the women going to the tomb on Easter morning, perplexed and fearful when they saw the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and the angels who suddenly stood by them. The angels reminded them of how Jesus had told them that all this would take place, and “then the women remembered his words” (Lk. 24:8). They returned form the tomb with fear and great joy!

Many years later, when Peter wrote his second epistle, he urged believers to grow in grace, adding to their faith goodness, and knowledge, and perseverance, and brotherly kindness, and love. If anyone does not have these qualities, he says, “He is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (2 Pet. 1:9).

Dangerous Forgetfulness

When Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, they too were in danger of forgetting the path on which the Lord had set them in connection with Christ Jesus. They had been rescued from worshiping as gods things that were nothing of the kind. In their idolatry they had imagined that their status with “the gods” depended on outward things such as rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices.

From this they had been rescued by the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ. If they remembered that, how could they now go over to Judaistic teachings which taught that their status with God depended on outward things, such as rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices? “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal. 4:10).

But if they remembered how God’s gospel had brought them joy, and how grateful they had been for it, even when it came from an apostle weakened by illness and infirmity, how could they now think that the one they had considered an angel from God had become their enemy, and hid from them the true way of salvation?

Childhood Memories

Paul was certainly agitated and upset when he penned this brusque letter, but he also revealed to them the reason for his manner of writing: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.”

The apostle was thinking of them as his dear children in mortal danger, and thus his warning was swift and strong. He was not concerned that they be his followers, as the false teachers were. He wanted them to be like him only in their reliance on God’s gospel so that Christ might be formed in them. He wanted to talk to them face to face and then his tone could change as he saw the light of understanding dawn in their eyes. The written letter did not permit such adjustment of tone, but a face-to-face meeting was not possible and this matter could not wait until it was.

Paul knew how easy it was for Christians to forget their Way and take the side road of reliance on (their own) outward deeds for their status with God. They were very zealous, but just having zeal does not ensure that one is on the right road.

It was the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ that had taught them to say “No” to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12), and now they were in danger of thinking that it was simply saying “No” that would keep them safe. The Old Testament laws said a mighty “No” to many things, and some might imagine that a stronger “No” equaled a stronger faith. Thus the gospel could be by-passed, and Paul’s preaching among the Galatians would have been completely unnecessary!

Did this reminder jog the Galatians’ memory so that they once again found their joy in Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Consider that the letter was not cut into strips and burned in the fireplace but preserved among the churches to this very day.

For this we thank God the Holy Spirit, for through the reminder of Paul He has also reminded many a Christian of how God remembers him or her (Gal. 4:9) in Christ Jesus.

May such a memory also be ours.

— Prof. Paul Schaller