Galatians 4:8-11 (NIV)
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 principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
In view of the Galatians establishing a living relationship with God through faith in Jesus, in view of them receiving the Holy Spirit and being transformed by His work in their lives, in view of their status as mature sons and heirs, Paul is dismayed that some of them had been persuaded to turn back to being slaves and taking on the status of immature children, trying to earn their salvation through the ceremonial law. It made no sense to him.
Paul is also concerned that, by submitting to the demands of the Judaizers to approach God in their way, the Galatians were actually serving men; and not only mere men, but men who were not as spiritually advanced as they were! They had been taken in by the solemn rituals and ceremonies that had the appearance of godliness, but without any spiritual power. They had been taken in by lengthy, high-sounding prayers full of fine sounding formulas, but which never reached God’s throne.
It has been the way of mankind ever since Adam and Eve decided to be their own gods by disobeying God’s command and choosing to eat from the forbidden tree. Man-made religion, full of wonderful sounds, impressive philosophies, and even awe-inspiring buildings seems more attractive, more tangible, more real than a relationship with God established and maintained by faith.
But such man-made religions, even those based on God’s original commandments and teachings, cannot save. Those who practice that kind of man-made religion and teach others to do the same are condemned as Paul noted earlier in his letter (Galatians 1:8-9). This was the same error that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and teachers of the law for (Matthew 23:1-36). They had surrounded God’s clear commands with their own interpretations, rituals, and ceremonies, and had created from them their own man-made religion.
On the other hand, true relationship with God is neither established nor maintained by ritual and ceremony (although there are a couple of divinely established ceremonies that are a part of it). It is established by faith in the finished work of Jesus in His death and resurrection and maintained by constant communion with God through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and by the resultant obedience to His commands moment by moment. None of that can be accomplished through man-made religion or man-made rituals.
Father, there are many man-made religions in the world today. The vast majority of them are focused on placating their god or gods through appropriate rituals, prayers and obedience. But only the true faith, established by Jesus and taught by Paul and the other apostles, talks about our ability to enter into a Father-child relationship with the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, with true heart obedience springing from that relationship, not obeying from fear, but from love. It’s an amazing thing! Help me to not only live out this faith every day, but to share its secret with everyone I meet today. Amen.